SQ Roundtable- Cinema Etiquette: Do’s, Dont’s and opinions on the cinema experience

8 of our Queens recently participated in a roundtable discussing all things cinema etiquette; rules and habits, experiences and their hopes for the future of the cinema experience.

First, the girls were asked their Top 5 rules of cinema etiquette. After reviewing and tallying each response, these are the SQ Top 5 Rules of Cinema Etiquette.

  1. No Phones. At All.
  2. No smelly food and keep crunching and rustling to a minimum.
  3. No Talking, but participate when necessary during comedy laughs and horror scares.
  4. Stay for the credits, show your appreciation for the people who worked on the film.
  5. Turn up 15 minutes before the screening starts as cinemas suggest to avoid having to make people move for you- also, some people enjoy watching trailers.

SQ: What is your biggest cinema pet peeve?

Chloe Leeson: I am personally irritated by everything all the time so to me, everything is the end of the world. Phones are the worst though I think, because I’ve never seen anyone actually doing something urgent on them, its always Snapchat, Facebook or random google searches. Also, Nachos. The smell of that cheese sauce that goes on nachos makes me want to puke.

Alex Landers: No one stays for the credits anymore (unless it’s a Marvel movie – congrats to Disney for training audiences to stay put). Not only is it a courtesy for the entire cast and crew who worked on the film, it’s designated time to digest what you just saw. If the opening credits set the tone, the end credits bookend it and send you on your way. And if you must leave, don’t climb over me on your way out.

Holly Weaver: The thing that not only annoys but also angers me is when people put their legs/feet up on the back of an empty chair. Just because the chair in front of you is empty does not mean you have the right to dirty it up with your shoes! A cinema is a public place, not your living room.

Juliette Faraone: Shushing. It’s a movie, for sure, but theaters are inherently public spaces. I don’t talk too much during most movies, but there are some films that invite crowd reaction and interaction, I think. Why limit that?

Megan Wilson: I can just about stand people eating, but I absolutely hate when people make a huge mess and leave food and packaging all over the seats and the floor. It’s so disrespectful to the people who work there and have to clean up after you.

Millicent Thomas: – Phones. You might turn the brightness all the way down and be slumped in your seat, but 8 rows back that tiny white square is the most distracting thing in the world.

Olivia Kelliher: I find the opening of a movie to be essential to my viewing experience, a time when I dive into the world of the movie and forget everything else. It’s therapeutic, in a way. So I absolutely despise when people think they can make noise during the producer logos when a film starts, especially when that noise is the aluminium crack of a can opening. (There’s nothing worse than a suspenseful score building slowly to the crescendo of the title of a movie and being interrupted by the piercing tssss of a coconut La Croix.)

Reba Martin: What Cord Jefferson calls the Django Moment. I went to go see 3 Billboards, and was having an awful enough time as it is, but when the man (white) next to me laughed a bit too loudly, and a bit too long, at a bit when two (also white) characters were joking over which N-Word to use. Yeah this makes me want to scream and I think I will next time I will so everyone else can feel as uncomfortable and offended as I did.

Millicent at the BFI Southbank, London


SQ: Isabelle Huppert has now famously said that food and drink should not be allowed in theatres; “no snack, no drink, no food, just being focused on movies, no noise”. Do you agree or disagree? Or is there a limit on what should be on offer for consumption?

Chloe: There should definitely be a limit. I don’t think hot food should be in the cinema at all, it smells and can really repulse some people to the point where they can’t concentrate. I love the sound of popcorn rustling though and that should never be taken away, neither should any drinks. Sweets and crisps that rustle however are super annoying, I get that people want to save money and fetch in stuff from outside but really, dragging in a full Tesco bag that you’re going to bend down with your phone light every 20 mins to get something new is not necessary.

Alex: I’m not going to lie that this is my preference – though I might miss the smell of popcorn. I don’t love sticky seats or loud eaters. But there’s something to be said for the down-to-earthiness of a movie theatre. We’ve always had snacks in this space, movies have always been more low-brow than the theatre, so… why change that now? There’s a charm to it.

Holly: I disagree because personally I couldn’t go 2 hours without drinking anything! I do think that messy food such as nachos and hot dogs should be limited for the sake of the cleanliness of the cinema, but popcorn is relatively harmless and the whole experience wouldn’t be the same without it.

Juliette: In my mind there’s room for all kinds of cinema spaces and experiences. The Alamo Drafthouse, for instance, is pretty well known for having a zero tolerance policy with noise interruptions, but other spaces take a more case by case approach. There are all kinds of films, so I think it only makes sense for theaters to reflect this diversity. I for one would really love a women’s-only sleepover theater, where we could all hang in pyjamas, watching movies and chatting all night.

Megan: I personally rarely eat in the cinema, because that’s not what I’m going for. So, in that sense I agree with Isabelle, but I also think it’d be pretty difficult to actually police this in cinemas. Popcorn sales also provide a large ancillary revenue for theatres, so I really can’t see them stopping that any time soon, when ticket sales are declining as it is.

Millicent: – I agree to an extent. Cinemas don’t make a lot off the ticket prices, most of that goes to the companies and distributors behind the film. So the main source of income is the drinks and snacks that people buy. When going with family for the newest Star Wars or something it is a bit of a staple to get a big drink and share some popcorn together, but I don’t think you need to bring a packed lunch! I’ve seen people sneak in McDonald’s Big Mac meals and the smell fills the room, it’s astounding that people can’t go 2 hours without food. It’s just about being considerate of those around you, don’t shake the popcorn bag around during an important scene, it can wait.

Olivia: It’s all a matter of taste and personal need. Though it’s clear that Huppert is well equipped with a small appetite and high attention span, for people with the inverse condition (like me!), a snack and a drink actually increase focus on the film they’re watching. I agree, however, that noise should be reduced as much as possible during the movie, but that should be more of a universal-polite thing than a universal-cinema-experience thing. If I’m chewing a snack and only I can hear it, did it even make a noise?

Reba: For multiplexes, Tango Ice Blasts and Popcorn (Snuck in, obviously) are a big factor for why I go to the cinema. Most blockbusters are so mind numbing you need a massive sugar hit from the a neon slushy to make it through. I get hungry about every 20 minuets, and can’t stay still for longer than 5 minuets, so shovelling popcorn keeps me occupied and then I’m too full and lethargic to fidget.


Lilit Crawford at the Everyman Cinema, Bristol

SQ: Two years ago, AMC Theatres in the US proposed the idea of ‘phone friendly’ screenings, allowing patrons to text and be on social media during film screenings. The head of AMC’s specific quote was “When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their phone. That’s not how they live their life”. Do you believe this is something that could/should go ahead in the future?

Chloe: Absolutely not. Even though I wouldn’t be in that specific screening, a phone-friendly screening of Avengers is still going to run alongside a regular no-phones screening of Avengers which is one less screen for smaller films to occupy.

Alex: No.

Holly: Absolutely not! First of all, if someone is unable to spend 2 hours off their phone then the cinema really isn’t the place for them. Second of all, I think it’s extremely condescending to assume that 20-somethings can’t live without their phones. I’m 21 and I can proudly attest to never having used my phone in the cinema!

Juliette: I disagree with the opinion expressed in the quote, but agree that theaters should allow phones–if not all theaters or screenings, then definitely some of them. I can honestly say I’ve never been bothered with someone checking the time or sending a text during a film. Which is not to say others haven’t experienced disturbances, just that it seems to vary person to person.

Megan: If you want to be on your phone whilst watching a film, watch it at home. GQT cinemas in the US run a satirical commercial before their screenings in which they advertise a ‘revolutionary technology’ known as the ‘off button.’

Millicent: – Absolutely not. If you’re going to see a film specifically at a ‘phone friendly’ screening, you’re not going to see a film. It defeats the purpose of the cinema. You go to take a few hours out of life and watch some art, essentially. Would you suggest phone friendly screenings at a theatre? Yeah, the actors are present so it’s not the exact same; but in both situations, there are people around you who just want to enjoy the storytelling.

Olivia: Here’s where I draw the line. I can understand and appreciate the sentiment behind allowing phones in the theater. It’s 2018, phones are everywhere and so attached to human existence that most can’t part with theirs unless forced to, and ignoring that would be ignoring the changing times. For most aspects of leisure activities, I fall in line with this way of thinking, but the cinema presents a unique case. Because of the light and movement that happen when someone uses a cell phone in the theater (assuming they’re just texting, taking a call would be far worse), phones will always incur a distraction for audience members without their consent. It’s so important that cell phone rules stay strict because they can corrupt the singular, shared experience that the cinema is at its core.

Reba: No. What? Movies are a good excuse to ignore people and my phone for an hour?


Chloe in the Alhambra, Keswick.

SQ: After his mention of millennials, do you think that it is solely the younger generation that are affecting the way we behave in a cinema?

Chloe: I hate to say it, but it has always been the sort of 14-17 age range that has caused me problems. Also parents with young children who allow them to throw food and kick the back of your chair and never ever tell them off.

Alex: No. Re: sloppy eating and sticky chairs – this is gross and it’s been going on for decades. Baby boomers can take their share of the blame. And phone dependence is a cross-generational problem.

Holly: Definitely not. When I went to see Murder on the Orient Express two elderly gentlemen wandered in 1 hour into the film, chatted for 5 minutes and then walked out!

Juliette: Millennials get a bad rap, and I think we’re starting to recognize that. I’m not really bothered by people talking during movies, but wow @ people who think it’s just millennials causing problems.

Megan: Unfortunately, I think young teens do tend to be the most unnecessarily rowdy in multiplex cinemas, but it’s all too easy to generalise an entire age group. Equally, I think it’s older audiences who are almost always guilty of not turning their phones on silent and causing ringtone disruptions.

Millicent: – I wish I could say no but every bad experience I’ve had has been teenagers. Some entitled men have spoken to me horribly after asking that they chill with the rustling, but it’s groups of 15/16 year olds that I’ve seen laughing at heart-breaking moments, taking selfies (with flash?) and throwing bottles and food around.

Olivia: I don’t think it could possibly be fair to charge all of the changes to the younger generation. Sure, we may seem like we’re on our phones a lot more and have shorter attention spans than previous generations, but we are simply a product of the changing environment. I have seen an equal amount of teenagers checking their phones in the middle of a movie as I have middle-aged men taking a call at an incredibly inappropriate time in the movie and doing just as bad a job at whispering to cover it up. The burden is shared by the masses.

Reba: I’ve been to some senior screenings in my time and all I can say is that old people are deaf and have to shout quips and questions louder to each other. Though young people are more disrespectful in a general way in the cinema, I think millennials are maybe a bit too old now. 13-15 year olds cause the real ruckus . I am clearly an old soul *shakes fist at cloud*.

Marie-Célia Cannenpasse in the Théâtre Lumière, Cannes.


SQ: Do you notice a change in behaviour in different theatres audiences; multiplex, arthouse, different countries etc?

Chloe (UK): Yes, Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle is my favourite place on earth because its audiences are so peaceful and relaxed and quiet as opposed to the Vue that I usually have to go to. It is a community when you watch a film in there. It’s rare to see people eating, and if they do you never hear it, and people only seem to drink coffee and wine which is just unreal.

Alex (US): Yes. Though I’ll be honest that even at my latest arthouse experiences, people are walking out right after the end scene – SIT THROUGH THE CREDITS! Know who made your movie! Let the thing you just paid $15 to see sink in a minute.

Holly (UK and Canada): After living in Canada for 8 months I noticed a lot of differences between Canadian and British audiences. When it comes to blockbuster movies, Canadian moviegoers are generally more enthusiastic and won’t shy away from voicing their reactions to what’s going on. When I saw Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War the audiences cheered and clapped and loudly made comments directed at the movie, all of which I strangely enjoyed because it created such a lively atmosphere, which was appropriate for such films, and it really was the epitome of a communal viewing experience. I’ve never had such an experience in the UK, which I think is down to the fact that Brits are generally more reserved and inhibited in public.

Juliette (US): Festival audiences seem to vary wildly in terms of behavior. Some of the best audiences I’ve ever encountered have been at festivals (shout-out to crowds at Ebertfest, who are consistently warm, welcoming, and respectful), but some of the worst have been at fests too, particularly if they’ve been drinking.

Megan (UK and US): In my experience of living in both the UK and the US, the latter’s audiences are far more vocal and enthusiastic in their reactions to a film. I don’t mind this though, when it’s in response to the film, like laughing or cheering. It’s a fun atmosphere for blockbusters! In terms of etiquette though, I think they’re fairly similar. Multiplexes are always noisier, have more food, no matter where you are. I spend a lot of time at the BFI Southbank back in the UK – it’s my favourite place to watch films. They don’t have concessions, and it’s generally much quieter and most of the screens are quite small. It’s a much more relaxed, and therefore immersive, vibe.

Millicent (UK): – Definitely. When I go to a screening at Cineworld, it’s all types of people. When I go to a screening at my local ‘arthouse’ cinema, it’s a lot of people alone, wearing Girls On Tops t-shirts and nodding thoughtfully during a Q&A that may come after. They go to see the film, it’s not a social event.

Olivia (US): I definitely have felt a more visceral comradery among arthouse cinema audiences, where everyone seems to be at a movie because they love movies or are at least invested in the one they’re seeing. Everyone seems to laugh together, cry together, and applaud when moved to together, like a community. There, the disruptions are minimal. However, I think in megaplex theaters disruptions become more routine. People don’t feel like they will be held accountable when they’re put in such a large group setting, so they feel more free to check a text, yell out dumb commentary, or boo when they think it’ll amuse their friends.

Reba (UK): Based on my own experiences I think there’s more of a community at independent cinemas. There are way too few in the UK but that’s another issue. They are so lovely because they differ from place to place, all unique and the programmers and staff work really hard to keep them going and create interesting events. My mum told me that went to see I, Daniel Blake at an independent cinema, that as soon as the credits rolled, someone shouted “fuck the Tories!”, and the whole crowd cheered. When I went to go see it at another independent cinema the woman next to me was in tears and we hugged as the credits rolled. I’ve never been in another country, but my mum’s experience was in the South of England and I saw it in the North which is another article for another day!

Chloe in Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle.

SQ: Do you think that the ease of Video on Demand from the comfort of your own home (Netflix, Amazon Movies etc.) has changed the cinema experience in any way?

Chloe: Yes, I think cinema audiences are obviously dwindling because unless you’re a die hard film fan, or really really into that franchise, a lot of people are just comfortable with waiting till a film is on itunes or amazon and watching it from home. I think Netflix and such is a great way to bring movies home and probably reduces piracy a lot, and the idea of getting your mates round to watch something with no restrictions is very enjoyable, but just because you have your phone out when you’re not paying any attention to Netflix doesn’t mean you should do it in a cinema where lots of other people are paying for an experience.

Alex: Yes, especially concerning phone etiquette. I won’t lie and pretend I don’t (often) watch something on demand in the comfort of my own home while simultaneously scrolling through my phone. Bad habit. Bad habit that a lot of others seem to take with them into the movie theatre. Also, giant reclining seats. I’m not a fan of these monstrosities in my local multiplex. I don’t love reserving my seat ahead of time (I’m sure others do), definitely don’t like anything encouraging me to fall asleep during a film (as I get older, dark theaters increasingly have this effect), and they’re a haven for sticky gross food messes.

Holly: I don’t think it has changed the actual experience, but I think the cinema is a bit less popular nowadays because it’s easier and cheaper to stream movies at home, especially for families.

Juliette: It’s made me more grateful for the theaters still up and running, for sure. It’s made public screenings feel like way more of a communal experience, and I don’t mind that at all. Private and public are just two entirely different nodes of viewing.

Megan: Personally, no. I have Netflix and Amazon and still go to the cinema as regularly as ever. VOD is great for watching and re-watching older films and having nights in, but I’d never choose that over getting to see a new release in cinemas. Luckily I can take advantage of student prices and the BFI’s under 25 £3 ticket scheme, but I also understand why current ticket prices make cinema-going increasingly inaccessible for many people.

Millicent: – Totally, but I don’t think it’s for better or worse. It’s just the option of a different experience! Some Netflix originals are just brilliant, and it’s nice to anticipate a release then sit down on the couch after tea and watch as a family. A bit of a money-saver sometimes I suppose.

Olivia: At least in my own experience, I think theaters are definitely putting more focus on comfort so they can compete with the easy-watching experience of sitting on the sofa with a blanket and microwave popcorn. My hometown theater just put in lounger-chairs, and I can’t say I’m complaining. They’re fantastic.

Reba: I think that films have to prove why they should be shown in the cinema a bit more, especially with the ever-rising ticket prices you sort of want a movie to be cinematic, something actually worth being seen massive with surround sound.


SQ: For you, what needs improving in cinemas? And what do you think should be the next big thing to draw audiences to theatres?

Chloe: Multiplexes are so void of life and passion. The staff should consist of film fans, who can recommend you what to see, who sound excited when you tell them what ticket you’re wanting. At my local they have no idea, can barely get the flavours right on your tango ice blast and also barely do screen checks, so disruption is barely managed, and if you walk out to report it, you miss half the film. I don’t think there is a next big thing, 3D is still plodding along and still no one actually cares about it, and never has. Seeing a film in the dark and quiet is how its always been done and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Alex: In the states, theatre chains with a full dining experience are becoming more popular, and I don’t think they’re a terrible idea. If we’re going to continue eating more and more (not just popcorn and raisinettes) at the movies, it seems like a smart choice to create spaces that are actually made to accommodate dining and watching. Having just been at Ebertfest, can I also say I wish for a resurgence of live organ players? As much as this has zero likelihood of occurring, I do think that investing more in our theaters – making the cinema a truly special place to visit, with or without the film – is key. I don’t feel motivated by a dime-a-dozen multiplex, but I would see almost anything at The Viriginia Theatre. As the old lady who’s screaming SIT THROUGH THE CREDITS, I think what I’m basically trying to get across is that there’s more to seeing a film than the actual film. In a world where we can all see nearly any film at home whenever we please, our theatrical spaces need to be extra special. And that’s not a new concept – in fact, it’s an old one, original to cinema’s birth.

Holly: Although it’s probably easier said than done, I think ticket prices need to be reconsidered to encourage more people to go to the cinema. If I had a pound for every time a person my age has said they don’t go to the cinema because it’s expensive! I think cinema chains need to commit more to having reduced prices on certain days. In Canada I could afford to see a movie every week because Cineplex did half-price tickets on Tuesdays, meaning a ticket only cost $7.25 (about £4). In the UK, however, I believe most chains only take 1/3 off their regular ticket prices, which doesn’t really make much difference.

Juliette: Audio, 100%. I think a lot of effort is put into making the picture just right, but the past ten or so times I’ve gone to the movies, the sound has been ROUGH. Quality sound in film is vital, especially with recent movies like Wonderstruck and The Quiet Place which utilize sound and silence so effectively.

Megan: I actually wouldn’t change anything about cinema going at present. I like it for what it is, which is why I go so often. Introducing new gimmicks (3D, 4D, whatever) to ‘enhance’ the experience really doesn’t interest me at all. I’m just here to sit in the dark and quiet and forget about the outside world for a bit.

Millicent: The main thing is people’s attitudes, I don’t think cinema is a social event. Yeah, we go with our friends then we can talk about it afterwards, but it shouldn’t be expected that you can grab a coffee and talk the whole time like no one else is around you. I think it should be easier to ask people to be quiet, or at least to grab a member of staff and ask them to do it. It seems at most places that staff members pop in and out to check people aren’t filming. However, if I want someone to come off their phone or stop talking, I shouldn’t have to leave the film to ask someone to see to it. At theatres, a member of staff is always in the auditorium, and I think some cinemas should try it. Also I don’t really think there needs to be ‘a next big thing’, the next big thing should be the next exciting film release! We don’t need 3D, we don’t need 4DX; we need brilliant stories and people willing to watch.

Reba: John Waters wrote a great essay in his book Crackpot called ‘Whatever Happened to Showmanship?’; he praises B-Movie directors like William Castle who used gimmicks like insuring every ticket buyer would receive $1,000 if they died from fright, and paid actresses to run out of the theatre screaming. 3D is a cop out!


This roundtable was led and edited by Chloe Leeson. Participants as follows: Reba Martin, Millicent Thomas, Alex Landers, Holly Weaver, Megan Wilson, Juliette Faraone and Olivia Kelliher.

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