Etiquette at the Movies

People have been going to the movies since 1897, yet sadly there is still a need to write about how to act there. Feel free to spread this Etiquette Tip far and wide. Perhaps my two cents will make a difference to the movie-going public.

What’s the first thing you think I will say about Etiquette at a movie theater? It is the first thing nearly everyone mentions to me as their biggest pet peeve at the movies. You guessed it . . .

1. Turn off your cell phone. I cannot except any excuse for a ringing cell phone in the theater or at any event OR MEETING (and that goes for pagers and alarm watches, too). Even the most inexpensive phones can be turned to “vibrate” or “meeting mode” with just a couple of steps. Theater managers post signs and present cute on-screen reminders. Everyone just needs to get in the habit. Please. Here’s my tip for those rare occasions when you must take a call while at the movies or similar situation: When it vibrates, immediately press the talk button on your cell phone to cease the ringing. You immediately whisper, “One moment please.” That’s it—nothing else. Do not say “Hello,” as that will prompt your caller to begin talking. After you exit the theater resume the conversation by stating, “Thank you for waiting—I was in a movie theater and couldn’t talk until I left the room.” Some people think text messaging is a remedy for not talking in a theater. These people are wrong. The glare and glow of the cell phone is just as disturbing as the ring and noise of a conversation. Leave the phone alone and just enjoy the show.

2. Be on time! The starting time of each film is posted in the newspaper, online, and at the theater. There’s no excuse for entering the theater and disrupting those who were courteous enough to arrive on time.

3. Be patient in line. No one enjoys an impatient person who constantly appears to be rushing and pushing his or her way through a line. Remember, there is no amount of shoving or complaining that will make the line go any faster.

4. Choose your seat with care. Look around as you find your seat. Once seated, remove your hat or any other item that could block the sightline of those behind you. Especially if you are tall or see a short person behind you, choose your seat with sensitivity. Here’s a quick story about a situation that happened to me while attending a late afternoon movie and inspired this month’s tip. My husband and I entered the theater to find only about a dozen other viewers seated at various locations in the theater. We chose seats in the middle of the theater in the middle of a row with empty seats all around us. Two big guys entered the theater and chose to sit literally in the seats right in front of us. The taller of the two sat right in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. The theater was practically empty, why did he choose to sit directly in front of little ol’ me? He literally blocked my view of the screen. I tapped the man on his shoulder and asked, “Could you please move a couple of seats either way. You are blocking my view?” I will not quote his response here, but I will say it was not friendly or favorable. We had to move to other seats…

5. Sit once and remain seated. No one likes to be seated beside or behind someone who gets up and leaves their seat several times before or, worse yet, during the movie. Plan ahead. Visit the restroom before taking your seat. Buy all the refreshments you may want and make all the calls you must before the movie begins. If you know you may have to leave during the film, choose a seat near the aisle and, preferably, near the rear of the theatre.

6. Refrain from ALL unnecessary talking once the film has begun. If you must talk, make it no louder than a whisper: If the person sitting next to you asks you to repeat yourself, then you know you are in the realm of the correct volume. Stop and think: Am I speaking at a volume even the person in front of me can likely hear? If the answer is yes or even maybe, then you are probably speaking too loudly. Holding side conversations, even in a whisper, can be heard. Make NO side comments. Also, laughing too loudly, especially when no one else is getting the joke, can be terribly annoying.

7. Always face the back of the theater when entering a row of seats. When entering a row to find a seat or leaving your seat to go toward the aisle, never allow your buttocks to be the face of neighboring people. Because of the way we bend as we sidle between the seats, our rear-end extends farther backward than our knees or chest. If you are facing the rear of the theater, your buttocks may touch the backs of the seats in the row in front and maybe even the back of the heads of a few people sitting there, but, if you face forward, your rear is in the face of all the people you pass—not a very positive appearance.

8. Check the ratings. Only bring children to movies that are content appropriate. Children—beginning about age four—will enjoy going to the theater to see appropriate movies. Until then, enjoy videos at home or hire a sitter when you want to enjoy a first-run feature. A noisy baby or a bored child who becomes disruptive bothers everyone in the theater.

9. Be quiet with every movement. Most candy, popcorn, and other food items sold in theaters are served in relatively quiet wrappers. Even so, try not to make excessive noise while eating or drinking. Don’t scrunch papers or boxes, don’t rattle or chew on the ice in your drink, don’t slurp the last of your drink through the straw, and, if you are eating something very crunchy, keep your mouth closed while you chew very gently and quietly.

10. Stay to the end of the film. Some people, including my husband, enjoy viewing the credits at the end of a film. Especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area where many films are made, the name of a friend or acquaintance may scroll by. If you are a person who does not enjoy viewing the credits or know you may have reason to leave the theater during the film, try to sit in an aisle seat or toward the back of the theater so you can exit with the least amount of disruption.

11. Showing “too much” affection in public: A darkened movie theater may feel like you are in a world of your own, but you’re not. Leave such displays for other private locations.

The Question of the Month:  
Why are people so mean spirited these days? I am curious to know what makes people feel the need to have power over others in situations that serve no purpose, like the man who nearly ruined my movie experience. I wonder if there is anything we can do to help turn this seemingly epidemic around. Please submit your comments on our BLOG page at Your responses could be the subject of a future tip.

Question:  What other items do you have to add to this list?  Do let us hear from you by locating this article at  You may also reach us at  If you enjoyed this article and want more, subscribe to our “Etiquette Tip of the Month” newsletter—at no charge—filled with great monthly tips on all sorts of topics from international business and social etiquette and protocol to everyday life subjects.  It will be great to have you as a member of our happy family of subscribers at

Happy Practicing!

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2 Responses to "Etiquette at the Movies"

  • Bluebirdsinging says:
    • Syndi Seid says: