It’s become pretty fashionable to hate going to the movies. You’re surrounded by crying babies, iPhone-wielding teens and clueless chatterers. After having paid upwards of $20 for your ticket and almost that much for stale popcorn and watered-down soda, no less. Meanwhile, you’ve got your 50-inch flat-screen HDTV at home connected to your 4k Blu-ray player with free food in the fridge and as much or as little company as you want. Why go through the hassle of actually going to a movie when all you’re sacrificing by staying at home is crossing current releases off the menu?
Because no matter how many people you can fit in your house, it’s nothing compared to the communal power of the shared moment.
When I saw Captain America: Civil War on Thursday night, it was almost more rock concert than movie. People clapped for the Marvel logo. They cheered for every familiar character beat they knew from the comics. They laughed at every joke. And being part of that energy made the movie feel bigger. We were this happy mob telling each other it was okay to react as broadly and as loudly as we wanted. We were among friends. And that feeling was underlined when I saw the film again on Saturday with a much smaller crowd. I felt myself bracing for the big reactions from Thursday night, and coming away slightly disappointed when they weren’t quite the same. While it was still a great movie, it was no longer an experience.
And that’s why I try to go on opening night as often as I can. Those are the people who want to be there. Who’ve been waiting to be there. Who likely know as little about the movie as possible. So the surprises are bigger. The reactions are louder. The feelings are more intense. The audience will never again be that large. And that feeling will never again be the same.
A boisterous crowd convinced me Attack of the Clones was better than The Empire Strikes Back for a few hours. A raucous audience erased the technical glitch that made us have to sit through the previews twice before a midnight showing of The Avengers. That first early showing of The Force Awakens felt like a tent revival. Yes, that wave of emotion might make a bad movie seem better than it actually is. But I’ll take that over sitting with a dozen listless people realizing it’s a bad movie.
So yes, please take that crying baby to the lobby. For the love of God, turn that iPhone off. And pay attention so you don’t have to ask so many questions. But by all means, laugh, cheer, cry, shout, and have a good time. We’re all in this together.