Hacking The Movies
July 29, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite, less-obvious moviegoing/movie theater hacks?

I want your movie hacks that make going to the movies more enjoyable/affordable. Hacks that are especially clever, even if they're illegal are also of interest to me. I want to hear about more than the typical 'sneak food in' and 'stay in the theater all day, hopping from movie-to-movie' tricks.

However, if you have a particularly interesting 'sneak food in' trick, I'd love to hear it.

I'm also interested in using technology at the movie theater. For example, there's an iPhone app called "Run Pee" that tells you when the best time to use the restroom is and fills you in on what you missed while you were away.

Maybe you know of the best place to sit for an optimal auditory experience? Where's the best place to sit for a 3D movie? The front? The back? I want all the cool tricks you guys know.
posted by plasticbugs to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know about auditory, and obviously, that's going to depend heavily on the sound system in the theatre.

But, back when I was a film student, the general wisdom was that for the optimum visual experience you want to divide the screen length in half and be roughly that far away from it. Gives you a good feeling of involvement without making you crane your neck.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:23 AM on July 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

Some theaters provide various local organizations with discounted tickets. Some of these are professional organizations, some are charities. You could consider joining one of these, or helping the charity out.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 AM on July 29, 2009

Bring an extra paper or plastic bag you can stuff in your pocket.
Buy movie popcorn.
Pour all that popcorn into extra bag.
Layer popcorn in original bag with salt and that horribly delicious butter.
posted by spec80 at 11:37 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This tip has a quasi-legal/ethical status, but oh well.

Whenever my friends and I go to the theatre, we always use the little kiosk to buy tickets with our cards in the lobby. And we always buy senior tickets for a nice little discount. The teenagers tearing tickets rarely check. I've been caught once in three years, and I see ridiculous amounts of movies. I just feigned ignorance and went back to pay the difference. Otherwise, I'm sure it's saved me >$100 over the years.

Give us poor college students a break, right?
posted by Precision at 11:37 AM on July 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

As further justification for my wrongdoing, our local theatre doesn't offer a student rate. I thought that was still the norm?

posted by Precision at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2009

I HATE movie theater popcorn but I LOVE pop secret's homestyle popcorn. I pop just before I go out the door to the theater and put it in my "purse". I don't really carry one but have one for this occasion. I also but movie candy from the grocery store for 99 a box. Then I suck it up and but the 5 dollar soda (But that is only when I go to the big places like Loew's etc).

When I go to places like my favorite theater

I am happy to eat only what they sell - and hey, they put REAL butter in their popcorn and make their own lemonade- with real lemons!
posted by beccaj at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2009

If you happen upon a theater that is multistoried, check to see where the elevator is. Most of them are before you pass through the ticket-taker's place. Some of these higher floors have elevator exits past the point of ticket takers. In fact, on slow times, like Saturday morning or any matinee, the theater might just post one ticket taker at the ground floor in front of the escalators. Walk in like you own the place, go directly to the elevator, take it to the highest floor and go to your theater. Buy a coke at the concession stand (even if you sneak in your own food) and just go from theater to theater.
posted by mattbucher at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2009

missing link: movie theater
posted by beccaj at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2009

Not a trick for improving your experience, but I read somewhere that theater owners earn a larger percentage of the ticket price in the second or third week a movie is showing than during opening weekend. Since I patronize a small, locally-owned cinema, I wait a week or two before seeing a movie. The crowds are smaller, and it makes me feel less guilty about going on discount night and skipping the snack bar.
posted by Knappster at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't really consider this much of a "hack," but I'm known among friends and family as the guy who doesn't take any crap from anyone at the movies. If someone's gibbering away a few seats behind me, I always say, "Can you please not talk during the movie?" in a voice that's slightly louder than the volume of conversational speech. I have a fairly deep voice, so it usually tends to embarrass people into silence.

Another trick I use to ensure a quality experience is to tell my often-late friends that the movie starts half an hour before it actually does.

Finally, it's pretty simple to theater-hop in the larger chain multiplexes, though I never go to a crowded premier unless I've bought a ticket -- it's too likely that the show will sell out and I'll actually wind up screwing a paying customer out of a seat.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:48 AM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: I am taking this in a different direction.

When I was 14, I walked into a movie theater in Jerusalem, Israel, and happened to notice a piece of paper sticking out from between the upholstery and the plastic. I unfolded the paper, pretty confident it was a piece of garbage but too voyeuristic to put it down.

It turned out to be a letter that the previous occupant of the seat had left, mostly a shout out in the dark kind of thing. Cool part was that he had left cryptic directions based on landmarks inside of the hall. During the intermission (yea, in Israel the movies have intermissions), I followed them and found a candy bar sitting on a ledge.

Best candy bar I ever tasted. And now I try to leave similar notes when I catch movies. It's a whole new level of fun. And it's a great story to tell dates.
posted by eytanb at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2009 [36 favorites]

You may be able to get free popcorn if you volunteer to be a secret agent at a Regal Cinema. It's both legal and satisfying!
posted by Oddly at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2009

One of the local theaters has given up caring about outside food in the theater, and only request that you not bring in hot drinks (there are a few coffee shops within a block of the theater). I really don't think most theater employees care if you bring food and snacks in, because they're probably being paid minimum wage and they sneak in food, too.

If you get annoyed at people talking, you could see if there are assisted listening devices available. Then you won't get distracted by the constant sound of others.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:09 PM on July 29, 2009

I got a few free movies and lots of free concession food last year by being a "secret shopper" for a local (South-eastern) movie chain. Pretty good for the 5 minutes it took to fill out an online form afterward.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:19 PM on July 29, 2009

My friend's trick (he posts here, so perhaps he'll chime in with more details): feel free to respectfully complain if there is anything about the movie you just saw that isn't ideal, in terms of picture/audio quality, annoying people who wouldn't shut up, etc. You don't have to demand free tickets, but often stating that you're a loyal customer who was disappointed in this outing will net you a number of free tickets equal to the number of ticket stubs you can show the manager.

Bonus points: if you know you're going to do this after the movie, ask people leaving your theatre for their stubs.

In college we went on a dorm trip to see a midnight screening of some blockbuster movie, there was an annoying problem with the projector that messed up a few minutes of the movie, and my friend collected stubs from a few dozen students. Free movies for a year!
posted by adamk at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2009

I like to bring a beer with me to the movie. I open it during the previews and enjoy it through the start of the movie.
posted by bdc34 at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to the matinee -- not so crowded, ticket's cheaper; but may find a bunch of talkative older people in th audience.

Personally, I'm now forced to wait outside the theater until at least the previews begin, because the commercial advertisements have become so loud and cringe-worthy. Often this applies to the previews as well.

A trick for access I've never tried is when a crowd is leaving the cinema, walk slowly backwards among them to gain entry w/o a ticket.

Heretical suggestion: don't bring in or buy food. Stop eating during the movies! The food's better elsewhere, and all the munching and wrapper-rustling is so annoying!
posted by Rash at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2009

And if the movie really sucks, starting out, bail -- leaving within ten or 15 minutes, they'll refund your ticket price. You can also claim receipt of an critical, unexpected call -- must return to the office ASAP.

A variation -- with big multiplexes I've found that if you arrive late, missed the beginning so want to abort, but bought tickets for the now-sold-out show earlier in the day, you can get a refund. Sometimes this works hours later, or even the next day.
posted by Rash at 12:39 PM on July 29, 2009

You can sit anywhere for that "optimal sound experience", since they always crank it way too high anyway.

We always bring in fast food and bottles of Heineken. No one cares. We do it to avoid the lines. Even outside beer is cheaper than the beer or soda inside.
posted by Zambrano at 12:48 PM on July 29, 2009

I always buy tickets at the ticket kiosks in order to avoid long (or short) ticket lines.

If you have a credit card with a rewards program, you might be able to get free tickets thru it.
posted by puritycontrol at 1:03 PM on July 29, 2009

often stating that you're a loyal customer who was disappointed in this outing will net you a number of free tickets

Yeah, back during a particularly unpleasant patch in my life, I was an asst. manager at a chain theater. Maroon polyester suit and everything. People could come and tell me they had a bad day and I would throw free tickets at them just to get them out of my face. I used to keep a pad of them in each pocket, like six-shooters so I could just throw them at pain-in-ass customers.

Just be nice, those people have an awful job.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:17 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I'm going with a bunch of people, we always pick up extras of the heavy duty cardboard trays they give out at the snack bar. Order a big bag of popcorn and tell them to LAYER the butter on the popcorn (no more drowning in grease on top, only to find sad dessicated popcorn at the middle and bottom). Then when we get to our seats, we can split the popcorn evenly among all of us using the cardboard trays as our popcorn holders on our laps. Voila - No more greasy laps! Sometimes I secretly pour M&Ms into my friend's popcorn, and I love the shock they get when they find the secret candy in a mouthful of popcorn.

I'm nice that way.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friends and I often bring a bottle of cold wine in (in one of those freezer sleeve things) and use the cups from the water fountain. Makes movies much more fun.

I *love* the idea of using the listening devices to drown out chatterers and wrapper-rustlers.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2009

Although I honestly never use this to sneak into theaters, I learned it from an acquaintance who did. It basically relies on the social engineering idea that if you look like you belong most people will believe you do. So, the next time there is a long line at the ticket taker just bypass the line and walk past them casually and deliberately. I've done this many times at many theaters without ever being stopped. It probably only works when the lines are fairly long, though. If they are short I just submit to the process.
posted by ydant at 1:45 PM on July 29, 2009

This isn't particularly hacky, but if you go to the drive-in you can legally bring in food (takeout chinese is my favorite), beer (if you're an adult), smoke, and talk all the way through the movie. It's a great way to see the movie with kids with the fidgets [they can run around in the back if they get bored and when they get tired out you can put them to sleep in the car]. I like to go in a pickup truck or station wagon and turn the back into a giant pillow-filled hang-out pad. Good for snuggling. Bring WARM clothes if you are sitting outside because on clear nights it can get really cold.

Also, for normal theaters, some of them have those crying rooms for parents with kids. You can see if it's available and then you get your own room where you can talk through the movie. I never talk during movies in the theater because I like to be polite, but if I was the only person in the threater [or in my car, or in the crying baby room] you can bet I'd yammer through the whole thing.

I also figure out where the bathrooms are before the movie starts because nothing's worse that running out for a pee during the movie only to figure out that the bathrooms are on a totally different floor and you don't know how to get there. I wound up in the alley outside the movie theater once, that was a pain.
posted by jessamyn at 1:47 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

When, as a teenager, I worked in one that was pretty old and decrepit back then. The walls and front were covered in curtains (or whatever they're called), not carpet-walls like a lot of multiplexes I've been to in more recent years. Anyhow, if you pulled up the skirting-curtain under the screen, you'd discover that the area behind the screen was a storage space for all sorts of things (chiefly old posters and cardboard displays).
posted by K.P. at 1:49 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I used to work at an adult-movie theater where the area behind the screen was a storage space for semi-public sex.
posted by box at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I bring food to theaters, but I don't sneak it in. I'm brazen about it. I have never once had a theater employee tell me I couldn't bring in food, perhaps because I make it very obvious that I'm not trying to pull a fast one on anybody. Sometimes I'll bring in an entire pizza and offer slices to people around me.
posted by nushustu at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you bring in food, particularly messy food, please be kind and throw it out yourself. I will never forget having to clean the remains of a four-person chicken dinner that the customers had just left on the floor.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:49 PM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nips. They go with everything. A nip or two of Captain Morgans in your Coke and you can make it through the 'splodiest summer movie. Some vodka in an Icee and that paint by the numbers romantic comedy doesn't seem so bad.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:58 PM on July 29, 2009

Jalapenos from the nacho area are yummy on both popcorn and hot dogs.

Some fountains will let you get just the soda water without the syrup in it at the drink dispenser; I prefer this to a bucket of sugary soda, plus the concession people will often give it to you for the price of water in a regular-size bucket-er, cup if you ask.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2009

This is nasty, and I probably shouldn't admit to this... but here goes:

When I was a teenager, one of our favorite hacks involved the "one free refill" popcorn policy at our theater. The theater staff would mark a big "X" on the bottom of popcorn buckets for which the refill had been claimed. Oftentimes, people would either leave on the floor (or toss out) empty popcorn buckets without cashing in the free refill.

You can see where this is going, right? The trick to convince yourself that it wasn't entirely nasty to reuse somebody else's popcorn bucket was to keep a buzzard-like eye about you and pick them off as soon as they were put down.

Yeah. I seriously doubt I would do that today, but it did net us a *ton* of free popcorn.
posted by kaseijin at 3:29 PM on July 29, 2009

Is there a sign at the theater that says you can't bring in outside food or drink? Admittedly, some theaters actually do have such a sign, but many do not, and if they don't say you can't bring in outside food or drink I see no reason to make that assumption. Go the brazen route as nushustu recommends. Bonus if you bring something in that's fairly different from anything the theater sells, as then you can say you're a very picky eater/drinker and don't like anything they sell, or that you're on a very specific diet, in the unlikely event that you're challenged.

Oh, and that new theater near me where they didn't put in any drinking fountains at all to get you to buy their drinks? I just plain don't go to that one, despite the fact that it's a nice theater in every other way.</peeve>
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:41 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: I used to go to the movies a lot (not much else to do in Tallahassee, really), and noticed that when handing the ticket-taker the tickets for my girl and I, he would rarely check to see if I had handed him multiple tickets or not (he'd just tear whatever I handed him and hand me back the stub). I got the idea that maybe I could just hand him a single ticket and my receipt (which is the same size as a ticket) instead of two actual tickets. Sure enough, it worked. I got caught maybe one out of twenty times I tried this, and then I just pulled the, "Oh! Stupid me!" thing and went back to purchase another ticket without further trouble.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:32 PM on July 29, 2009

Ok, my favorite. I'm going to (ethics be damned!) tell you how to cut prices in half.

In a multiplex, time your movie ending right, so when it ends you can walk into another. The timing has to be right (10x easier now with mobile devices)....but I once saw 3 movies back to back that way. Yes, you may have to 'pretend' to go to the bathroom - but really...non of the staff seems to care too much..
posted by filmgeek at 5:16 PM on July 29, 2009

i don't know about the theatres you're visiting, but the movie theatres i go to seem to be really, really cold all the time. too much A/C, i guess.

anyway, my friends and i take blankets with us to the movies. it's better than wearing a sweater because if we get too warm, we don't have to squirm out of it while trying not to block someone's view with our flailing arms. and what's even better is if there's no one in front of you and you can put your feet up. feet up + blankets = awesome. especially in reclining chairs.
posted by gursky at 6:25 PM on July 29, 2009

if you are in chicago, the big ol'chain movie thing up western by logan blvd offers $6 tuesdays WITH FREE POPCORN AND FREE REFILLS for any movie.

they also have a five dollar club that you sign up for online and after a couple of weeks have passed, you can see a movie for five dollars! bargain!

i think it's kerasote? maybe.

now, to optimize your $6 ticket + free popcorn, you have to go during a school night, no summer ones. and the late movies are preferable.

a serendipitous discovery late one night is that placing jalapeno and onion slices within your popcorn strangely mimics the taste of a delicious tamale. also, nacho cheese is pretty good over popcorn but it's best to be prepared and bring a fork if you wish to make this decision.

add in your cute little bottle of cheap tequila from the mexican dep (easily hidden in your ladyfriend's very large, very fashionable bag) and you, my friend, you have dinner, drinks and a movie for six bucks. DONE.
posted by chickadee at 8:08 PM on July 29, 2009

Yeah, one thing to definitely keep in mind when sneaking around in theaters -- whether it's to poach movies or bring in outside food or booze or whatever -- is that at the big multiplexes, the staff very probably doesn't give a shit what you do. And even if you do get caught, what are they going to do? Make you produce a ticket stub which you can pretend to have lost? Kick you out? Ban you from the theater? The consequences, if they exist at all, are not dire, so leave your apprehension at home.

Of course, I wouldn't advocate doing stuff like this at small indie theaters, partially because of the difference between cheating a small business and cheating a huge corporation with million-dollar executive salaries, and partially because those theaters are usually so small that it's easy for any transgressions to be spotted by the staff.
posted by hifiparasol at 10:57 PM on July 29, 2009

Semi-legal? I dunno what laws regarding alcohol you have where you live, so YMMV. I find cheap red wine (a twist-top cabernet works particularly well) and movie popcorn are surprisingly tasty together. Even my most gourmet friends are amazed by the meshing of the flavors. Sneaking in a full bottle of wine requires some thought, but to contain the wine discretely I usually ask for two cups and claim I'm going to use them to share the popcorn in order to get them for free.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:10 AM on July 30, 2009

AMC theaters let you bring in outside food. I have brought my takeout boxes in dozens of times, and we brought in a grocery bag to Harry Potter.
posted by soelo at 8:35 PM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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