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The Criticwire Survey: Movie Theater Memories

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by Matt Singer
July 23, 2012 10:01 AM
7 Comments
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"Lawrence of Arabia."
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:

Q: The horrific events in Colorado have shaken and disturbed all of us. People are already asking whether we need to cancel screenings or ban midnight movies, so it feels like an appropriate time to pause and remember the good times we've had in movie theaters. So this week, I want to know: what is your favorite memory from a movie theater?

The critics' answers:

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"My favorite movie theater experiences are when I laughed the hardest. I took my then-girlfriend to see 'Bad Santa,' and there was one scene that was so funny that I literally fell out of my seat. She was so embarrassed, but I just didn't care."

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

"The nice thing about the recent spate of adapted/rebooted/heavily-sequel'd properties is that the most popular characters attract crowds that are fired up to see their geek obsessions on film. When I saw 'The Avengers' at a midnight screening two months ago, the moment following the line 'I'm always angry' got an incredible pop, one of the loudest I've ever heard from an audience. But not *the* loudest: that prize would go to 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,' which I saw on opening night while I was in high school. That crowd was fired up from the very beginning (although, oddly, no one was in costume), and the end of the climactic space battle received thunderous applause. It was the first time I had heard applause in a movie theater, and I'll always remember that film fondly because of it, regardless of how poorly it might age."

Andrew WelchAdventures in Cinema:

"There's nothing all that memorable about a trip to your local theater chain, even for a great movie. Besides making the latest releases more accessible, chains have homogenized the moviegoing experience by offering the same titles in spaces that are more or less the same. That's why my favorite movie memories don't come from the nearest Cinemark, AMC, or Angelika, even though I've seen great movies at all of them. Instead, my favorite memories have come from visiting The Texas Theatre, an hour away from Denton in Oak Cliff. Known for its connection to the JFK assassination, the theater, in recent years, has also become a bright spot for cinephiles in the DFW area, thanks to it's commitment to 35mm screenings of new and classic/hard-to-find films. Without The Texas Theatre, I never would have seen 'The Gold Rush' in a pristine new print, or a Skyped interview with Guy Maddin following a screening of 'Keyhole.' I don't want the experience of going to The Texas Theatre to ever become homogenized, but DFW needs more of what it and its owner, Aviation Cinemas, has brought to the Dallas area."

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

"I have too many truly happy memories of being in a movie theater to choose from. I could pick recent moments like being in a preview audience to see 'The Cabin in the Woods' with co-writer/director Drew Goddard or older memories like when I saw 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' at age 4 and got scared out of my mind. But I’ll go for the experience of seeing 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' in the summer of 2004. It was the Saturday night after the film opened, and I was in a packed theater with a group of co-workers, including the woman who would soon become my girlfriend (and is now my wife). 'Anchorman' holds up exceptionally well even when I watch it at home, but the communal experience of watching Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and others goof around for 90 minutes is something you can’t ever replace. I imagine I got on my friends’ nerves that night, if only because one of the frequent post-movie comments was, 'Boy, Josh, you laughed really hard. And loudly.' But as trite and corny as it may be to say (especially in a time like this), that night was a fine example of the necessity of seeing a movie in a theater. The movie theater experience is important for many reasons; sharing a movie with others, whether they’re friends or strangers, and uniting for a couple hours in a darkened room over the same vision is something to treasure, something we shouldn’t ignore."

Mike RyanHuffPost Entertainment:

"The first movie that I can remember being shown as a midnight movie in the suburbs of St. Louis -- that wasn't a 'Rocky Horror' type movie -- was 'The Phantom Menace.' It's odd to think now, but when that movie was released it was a huge deal. I was in charge of purchasing the tickets for a list that kept growing and growing (and I think there are still a couple of people who owe me money from that night). Everyone wanted to see 'The Phantom Menace' at midnight. I think that a big reason why I loved 'The Phantom Menace' so much the first time that I saw it was because of the group of people that I was with. I wasn't seeing a movie, I was at an event with some of my closest friends. I've written about this night before because, unfortunately, it's also one of the last nights I had with my college roommate and one of my closest friends, Jorge, before he moved away to Chicago, then passed away unexpectedly in 2001. Like the rest of the world, I later learned to dislike 'The Phantom Menace,' but the memory of that night -- the memory of how happy we all were; the memory of pure excitement, accelerated by raw anticipation; the memory of recreating the lightsaber fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul with Jorge in the parking lot after the movie ended -- is much more important than a shitty movie."

Andrew RobinsongmanReviews:

"I guess there are two memories that stand out in my mind when it comes to movie theater experiences. The first is my viewing of Sam Raimi's 'Drag Me To Hell.' While being from Jamaica meant I had to sit through a lot of rowdy crowds in the theater, I think this might've been the first time where I found myself in tune with the crowd watching the movie. Everyone was in sync knowing when to laugh, when to jump and when to call b.s. on the story. It made for a massively fun experience that I've only previously read about from other critics/bloggers. The second was my viewing of 'Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.' This was during my time in Appleton, Wisconsin (oh, college years) and my first time seeing such a massive 'geek' property at a midnight showing. Seeing all of my compatriots dressed in Wookie, Darth Vader, and Stormtrooper outfits, and witnessing the pre-show lightsaber battles was a great experience. No home viewing could compare to that night."

Rania RichardsonCommunity Media:

"Dressing up and enacting 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' was always pretty damn great."

Katey RichCinema Blend:

"I almost don't want to answer this question for all the experiences I'll have to leave off, as if the first time I saw 'Lawrence of Arabia' in 70mm, or when I filled an entire row of friends to see the re-release of 'Back to the Future,' will somehow find out and get angry. But when I think of great moviegoing experiences I don't think so much of actually being in the theater, but the giddy feeling of lightness at the end, when you feel like you've stepped out of a whole new world and you and everyone you saw the movie with are now different somehow. So for that, I have to pick 'Singin' in the Rain,' which was the first film to play in the new theater my college had built. Apparently it's traditional to open a new movie theater with a musical, and though I had grown up loving musicals, I had never seen 'Singin' in the Rain' -- neither had most of my friends, for that matter. It goes without saying that we were blown away, and walking out of there knowing for the first time that Gene Kelly was something the human race had created... it really was a whole new world." 

Kristy PuchkoCinema Blend:

"My favorite memory in a movie theater occurred several years back in the greatest movie theater in New York City, the Ziegfeld. My husband and I had gone to see 'Lawrence of Arabia' in 70mm. On that scale, in the grandeur of that theater, it was the perfect setting for this classic epic, but right after the intermission the film strip broke. Just like it does in the movies, we saw a bit of fire as it sizzled away and then white and silence. The audience was shocked and soon the lights came up and an apologetic usher explained their projectionist wasn't familiar enough with this rare film stock to mend the reel. It seemed our night at the movies was cut short, but as we all began to line up for our refund, a man stood and declared, 'Wait! I'm a film editor, and these (a man on either side of him arose) are my assistants. Can we have a go?' Bewildered, the usher guided him to the projection room. The rest of us shared hopeful murmurs for about ten minutes before he returned with a triumphant smile and a chunk of charred film strip in his hands. He held it high over his head, with his assistants trailing behind, and declared, 'Ladies and gentleman, the glory of 70mm!' Everyone cheered, and applauded as he sat and the lights went down, and Peter O'Toole blazed back into action in front of us. I've had a lot of wonderful moments in movie theaters, but this one was the one where the feeling of community and exhilaration was by far the strongest."

Scott NyeRail of Tomorrow:

"My movie theater memories are long and storied, but it's hard to top the midnight screening of 'Revenge of the Sith.' I was shocked when a few acquaintances mentioned their plans to attend, but by the time we got in line at 5:00, they had assembled an impressive crowd. This was at the very end of our senior year of high school, and served as kind of a summing-up of the whole experience -- we were saying goodbye to 'Star Wars' as we said goodbye to high school. We brought our lightsabers we still had from childhood, raised them over our heads, and ran around the block every hour 'til we were let in. We stormed the theater upon entrance, sitting as close as possible to the screen, favoring the momentum over any real understanding of the film's true merits (or lack thereof). We cheered during Obi-Wan and Anakin's showdown, we booed at the rare appearance of Jar-Jar Binks, and we laughed at Vader's now-infamous 'Nooooo.' Like high school, it might have all been silly and dismissible, but... it didn't feel that way. It felt epic, intractable yet perfectly formed; unending, but impermanent."

Tony NunesDreaming Genius/Fangoria:

"When I first started dating my wife we were still in high school (some 12 years ago) and the movies were our go-to dating location. I remember the small local theater (sadly long gone) in my town of Westerly, Rhode Island well. It's where my friends and I were those obnoxious and noisy teens I roll my eyes at today. It's where I first made the move to hold a girl's hand. It's where I learned what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; write movies. Seeing 'Jurassic Park' in particular was an experience that really resonated with me. That was the first film I remember seeing and hearing physical reactions from the audience. Those seats in that small 3-screen Hoyts theater were my second home. The movies were my safe haven; a place of comfort and wonder. This is what most distresses me about the Colorado tragedy. This place of comfort, a place where I felt free, will now, for many, be a place of caution and paranoia. Where once all we had to worry about was the threat of gum on our seats, we now must contend with the fear of crazed lunatics lurking in the dark. Hopefully this fear won't stick, and the light on the screen will once more renew the sense of escape and exploration the movie theater experience is meant to create."

Jenni MillerJenniMiller.com:

"Some of my favorite memories are of late night or midnight screenings. My mom and her best friend took me and my best friend to see 'Clerks' at midnight at the local art house in Dallas; I can't remember if I could even drive yet. She also took us to see 'Night on Earth.' (I don't really know why I knew these were movies I wanted to see; I certainly wasn't cool enough to appreciate Jim Jarmusch at the time.) When I was a little older, I went with my boyfriend and all his friends -- wonderful, intelligent D&D-playing metalheads -- to see 'Army of Darkness.' It was definitely at night, though I'm not sure if it was at midnight. In any case, some might remember when theaters would play that THX tag before each movie -- "The audience is listening." My friend thought it would be hilarious to yell, "The audience is deaf!" in response. I have no idea why that was so funny, probably because we were teenage jerks. But it still makes me laugh. I am sure we were utterly terrible to be around, but it was so much fun. Anyway, horror movies should be experienced like that, right? A more recent fond memory is of going to see 'Drive Angry 3-D' with a bunch of fellow writers and friends because most of us had to review it and it didn't screen for critics. We were at the Union Square theater, and naturally there were a bunch of dumb NYU students there drinking 40s and being loud. The manager came in and told us all, 'I don't have time for this shit!' Which still makes me laugh."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"In 2000, I was covering the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore. One of the movies showing was called 'AJ's Dogumentary,' which was a terrific little doc about eccentric dog owners and the crazy things people do for their pooches. As a promotional gimmick, the Charles Theater encouraged people to bring their dogs to the screening. Amazingly, about two dozen canines accompanied their owners to the show. Milk Bones were even distributed at the concession stand. The really astounding part is that the dogs were well-behaved (better than some human audiences I've shared an auditorium with, in fact). Many of them actually appeared to be watching the movie! Plus, to the best of my knowledge, no one peed or pooped on the theater floor, which I'm sure was a great relief to the Charles staff. Although inviting animals to a movie theater probably sounds like a terrible idea on the surface, the screening was actually great fun."

James McCormickCriterion Cast:

"I've had many good memories going to the theater but listing all of them would take up too much space, so I'm going to pick out two that I cherish. One dates back to when a little Stallone film called 'Judge Dredd' came out in theaters in 1995. It was July and my brother and I were excited to go see it, so my uncle and my grandmother went and saw the film with us. After it was done, I turned to my grandmother and asked, 'Was that a good movie?' She turned to me and laughed, saying, 'Not in any way possible, except to stay in a cool room for a couple of hours.' It was one of the last moments I remember having with my grandmother before she died, and what was even funnier was she then said, 'Let's go sneak into that Bruce Willis 'Die Hard' film. It has to be better.' 'Die Hard With a Vengeance' was definitely much better than 'Judge Dredd.' My grandmother knew a thing or two about films. The other fine memory I have is when I went to take my girlfriend Danyell to see the second 'Matrix' film, 'The Matrix Reloaded,' for her birthday. Mind you, this was only 4 months into our relationship, our first theater experience together, and it was a sequel of a film we both bonded over when we first met. We were ecstatic going in, after seeing a Picasso exhibit and having some delicious Indian food. After the film, we were still happy, having seen Neo kick ass again, but as I walked her to Penn Station, we realized we found plenty to dislike. Still, over 9 years later, the film has stayed inside my head as a wonderful memory -- even if the movie itself isn't very good."

Scott MacDonaldToronto Standard:

"I began to discover indie and foreign films while in high school in the early '90s, and I got my education from one tiny, scrappy theater in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called -- awesomely -- Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema. It was the city's only rep house, and it was located in the basement of a nondescript walkup in the scummiest part of town. After entering you walked down a dark hallway, descended a narrow set of stairs with a bare light bulb, then found yourself in a small cafe that looked like it was run by the French Resistance: black walls, Parisian-style tables, red and black tiled floor, posters of exotic movies, and a snack counter where you could get sophisticated spices -- curry, garlic salt -- for your popcorn. Beyond that was a 200-seat auditorium, as well as a small video store with amazing stuff you couldn't find anywhere else. Entering Wormwood's was like entering a secret society, but a welcoming one, where movies meant something and high art and low trash were embraced with equal enthusiasm. I had tons of great experiences there (the theater's gone now), but one that stands out is a screening of John Waters' 'Polyester.' Me and my friends were huge Waters fans, and we were stoked to discover the theater owners had scrounged up a handful of the movie's original scratch n' sniff cards. ('Polyester' having been filmed in 'Odorama.') There were only about a dozen, so every time the flashing numbers appeared onscreen the cards got passed around, friend to friend, stranger to stranger, everybody giddily sharing in the communal ridiculousness. It was a great night, the kind that makes you fall in love with movies and moviegoing."

John LichmanFreelance:

"I spent a few minutes thinking about the best moment I've spent in a theater and it's weird. First thing that pops into my mind are all the terrible moments: the loud talkers, lip smackers, crying babies and the one time a dude got off on my leg at 'Madigan.' But that just shows all the number of good things that happened to me a theaters, whether it was cheering at some stupid action moment or seeing Pauly Shore films with my grandpa (née Pop-Pop) since he could easily fall asleep while I laughed. So, don't let theaters become demonized because this one thing happened. Terrible shit happens. But don't take it out in theaters and be afraid. Besides, take it from the guy who wrote that the end of film is awesome -- without theaters it would be terrible. 70mm IMAX will prove it."

Christy LemireAssociated Press:

"It was very hard to settle on one answer, between seeing 'Big' in high school with a boy I had a serious crush on to sneaking into back-to-back showings of 'The Karate Kid' when I was 12 to convulsing with sobs when Patrick Swayze said 'Nobody puts Baby in a corner' in 'Dirty Dancing.' I'm dating myself, I realize. But probably the earliest happy memory, and the one I'm going with, was seeing 'Grease' with the older girls who lived next door to me when I was growing up. I was an only child and I always looked up to them -- they seemed so stylish and sophisticated to me -- so seeing this movie with them felt like a cool-kid thing to do. And it's just such a fun movie to watch with a big crowd. Of course it didn't occur to me at the time that all these actors who were supposed to be in high school were actually 35 years old. How's that for a celebration of the innocence of movies?"

Josh LarsenLarsenOnFilm.com/Filmspotting:

"Sentimental pick: Seeing 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' with just my dad while on a vacation trip. We snuck away from my mom and younger sisters to take in what would become one of the favorite films of my childhood. Snobby pick: A screening of a restored print of 'Sunrise.' Nothing like watching one of the greats on the big screen. Recent pick: 'The Muppets.' Seeing my own kids giggle their way through the whole movie is something I'll treasure (even it's resulted in the soundtrack being played at home 1,938 times and counting)."

Joanna LangfieldThe Movie Minute:

"I can't stop thinking about Christopher Nolan's comment, referring to a movie theater as 'home.' For so many of us, whether we articulated it or not previously, that is true. We not only spend an inordinate amount of time in movie theaters, but for a lot of us, it is the place where we reach in and find our innermost emotions, most astute thoughts, and, yeah, even once in a while, our snarkiest jokes. It is the place we feel safe enough to reach our best selves. I have so many 'favorite' memories of being in movie theaters. There was the time, during a 'Lion King' screening at the old Sutton on 57th Street, I reached for my young son's hand, as Mufasa died. 'I'm ok,' my son whispered. 'I'm not,' I whispered back. There was that first scene in 'Apocalypse Now,' where the palm trees are methodically blown to bits, that filled the huge screen of the Ziegfeld. And I'll never forget falling in love again with animation as I first met 'Beauty and the Beast' at the Disney complex in Orlando. But maybe my most important 'fave' took place at the Garde Theater, in New London, Connecticut, where I grew up. I was a kid, and I went to see 'The Godfather.' Back then, there were fewer critics, and I poured over their words each and every week. We all waited with great anticipation to see this movie, hailed as a landmark. And wait I did. In line to get in. For my popcorn. And, of course, for the essential visit to the ladies' room pre-movie. And then it began. And my little world changed. I had seen many 'adult' movies before then, perhaps too young to fully appreciate or even understand them. But 'The Godfather,' in its full, bloody glory came to me just at the right time. I 'got' that great stories can be even greater when filmed by masters. I 'got' that there's a fine line between florid and flourish. And I 'got' that both established stars and relative newcomers can create characters that sear into your consciousness and stay there, forever. I've seen 'The Godfather' countless times since then, usually on television; when I accidentally flip onto it, I say aloud 'Well, there goes the next three hours of my life.' This is one of those rare films so beautifully made I still, many times later, find new things with each viewing. But there will never be another time when I enter this movie for the first time, discover my personal reaction to it and feel, 'This is my home.'"

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

"For some reason, and it's not a film I really love all that much, my mind keeps coming back to the first time I saw 'Borat.' My friend Joe and I had scored tickets to a free screening that was planned at least three or four months before the film came out, so it was way before there was any of the film's pre-release buzz as the 'funniest movie ever.' I had seen a few episodes of 'Da Ali G Show,' but none of us were prepared for this. Joe and I drove what was at least two hours from my home on a Monday night ('Please Dad! I swear I'll get into a good college!') and then waited from almost 5 p.m. to about 10 p.m. before the film started. I have never experienced or seen that much laughter in a theater. We probably lost at least half the movie due to how much everyone was laughing. 'Borat' isn't some great masterpiece, but damn if I don't think I've ever experienced so much pure comedic delight from a movie than seeing it back then. It was worth every moment."

Dan KoisSlate:

"The time that my future wife and I went with a group of friends to see 'Devil in a Blue Dress' and Denzel got in a knife fight with someone and my future wife yelled, 'Not the face!'"

Drew HuntChicago Reader/The Talking Pictures:

"I'm know I'm in the minority, but I consider the theatergoing experience to be somewhat overrated. That said, seeing 'Jurassic Park' in the theater as a young child was a pretty amazing experience. I remember being terrified and fascinated in equal measure, and I can say it's one of the few times I've ever 'gotten lost' in a movie. Everything seemed so real; everything seemed so magical. I suppose that's the very definition of a 'spectacle,' and I try to keep that sensation in mind whenever I find myself getting frustrated with the Hollywood escapism of a film like 'The Dark Knight Rises.' Most people see movies because they want to be taken to a new world, and while that might not be the way I appreciate cinema, I can see the value it has in mainstream movie culture."

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

"I've flashed on a dozen or so moments and recognize that they have as much to do with what the experience meant to me in terms of personal growth and freedom than the movie on display. First night out with friends without parental supervision? Yes. First date with first girlfriend? Yes. First prurient act in the dark with said girlfriend? Yes. First midnight film on drugs? Yes. First Sunday quadruple feature alone at the local arts multiplex as a Freshman year film student? Yes. First time seeing one of my own films? Yes. First time as a working critic? Yes. First time at Sundance, or a Ziegfeld premiere with the stars present? Yes. You want the titles? They almost don't matter."

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

"To me, one of the most crushing aspects of the Colorado tragedy is it happened in a location that symbolizes a safe and wonderful place. A giant room where you can escape to other worlds and other lives. One of my first memories of that safe and wonderful place was of my mother taking me to a little film called 'Return of the Jedi' in 1983. I hadn't seen any of the other 'Star Wars' films so, as a six year-old, I had no idea of what to expect. Long story short, that experience enabled me to utter the phrase, 'The Ewoks changed my life,' and mean it."

Melissa HansonCinemit:

"I went to a midnight screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' last night. There are several points in the film of complete silence, and it gave me utter joy to be sitting in a packed theater watching those silent moments with people who were just as memorized as myself."

Tim GriersonDeadspin/Screen International:

"When I was a kid, I was raised Catholic and went to church every Sunday. One of the things that's impressed upon Catholics at an early age is the importance of genuflecting and making the Sign of the Cross before you sit in the pew -- I suppose it creates a sense of the sanctity and meaningfulness of the mass you're about to experience. I did this action hundreds of times as a boy, and to me it always felt reverent and mysterious. It was as if I was paying homage to an invisible higher power in the room that I was too young to understand. Well, one Sunday after church, my mom took me and my sister to a movie. We found our seats and, without even thinking, I genuflected and made the Sign of the Cross before sitting down. (I'm assuming I'm the only person who did this for 'Tough Guys,' the Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas comedy.) My mom still laughs at this memory, but I remember thinking in that moment that a movie theater was kind of like a church: Everybody sits down and gives themselves over to this powerful communal experience. I don't go to church anymore, but there are still times when I go into a movie theater that I feel the muscle memory kicking in and have to stop myself from genuflecting."

Bill GrahamCollider/The Film Stage:

"My greatest theater experience that I recall thoroughly was 'The Dark Knight,' well before I became a film critic. I saw it opening night with my best friends in Houston at the IMAX Marq*e. We bought tickets weeks in advance and got there early. The theater has one of the largest IMAX screens in all of Texas and the buzz around the film was extremely high. I had avoided nearly every spoiler possible. Heath Ledger's unfortunate passing provided a dark but already legendary mood. When we were let into the auditorium, we got prime seats near the back. The manager came to the front and announced two things: that cell phones were to be turned off and that they would have ushers making sure this rule was followed. He also requested that we refrain from talking. The crowd on that day was perhaps the most well-behaved I will ever experience. No one left. No one talked. And no cell phones went off. Then there were the IMAX portions that took my breath away and the fact that the film exceeded my already high expectations. Everything about that night was what the theater has the potential to be: larger than life, sheer escapism, and a room full of strangers (and friends) all focused on what's in front of them."

Kenji FujishimaThe House Next Door:

"Honestly, the most memorable movie-theater experience I've ever had came earlier this year at, of all things, the world premiere of '21 Jump Street' at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. I've seen my share of comedies in movie theaters, but hearing the wildly enthusiastic audience response to the film in the Paramount Theater -- one of these beautifully restored massive movie palaces from Hollywood's golden age -- carried its own invigorating exhilaration. (It helped that the movie itself was actually pretty damn funny.) Sure, I've had plenty of other memorable experiences at arguably higher-minded films, but most of those are directly related to the film itself rather than to the whole theatrical experience, audience and all. Hearing the deafening roar near the climax of '21 Jump Street' when a major actor made a surprise cameo appearance (I wouldn't dream of spoiling the surprise for those of you who haven't seen it) gave me a wonderful reminder -- one I haven't felt in a long while, and one which some punk shooter in Aurora, Colorado, is sure as hell not going to spoil for me -- of the pleasures of the communal moviegoing experience. Hold onto positive memories like that, folks, because with the surging popularity of things like instant-streaming and such, how many more chances are we going to have to experience that kind of thing in the future?" 

Jessica ElgenstiernaThe Velvet Café:

"The less you hear from a theater audience, the better. That's a view moviegoers hold most of the time. When you're in a cinema you don't want to hear other people commenting, munching, cheering, crunching, whispering, messing around with their clothes and bags or tapping their cell phones. Basically we pretend they're not there at all. But there are exceptions. There was one time when I found myself in a salon filled to the last spot with the noisiest audience I've ever been in. And I enjoyed every second of it. This happened to me in the beginning of the 80s when I spent a few summer weeks in Brighton attending a language course. One of the theaters showed 'Quadrophenia,' and as a fan of The Who I took the chance to watch it. What I didn't know was that there was a big mods meetup in the city going on at the same time. This meant that the theater was filled with fans far more dedicated than I was, and while I don't think it was announced as one, the screening turned into a huge sing-a-long event. Every line that was uttered or sang was accompanied by a huge choir. I haven't watched the movie since, but I suspect strongly that the experience of it alone at home in front of a TV screen would be far less engaging than the one I had in Brighton. Not every movie gets better when seen in peace and quiet. Some take a big and loud audience to really shine."

David EhrlichMovies.com:

"I've seen a lot of different movies in a lot of different theaters, but the best time I ever had may have been watching Christian Marclay's 'The Clock.' Life-alteringly hilarious pun aside, 'The Clock' is a sublime articulation of the relationship between the unyielding rules of real life and the endlessly possible illusions of film -- as both an affirmation of the cinema and a playfully sobering reminder as to its place in the world beyond the theater walls, it was the ideal viewing experience for the weekend that was)."

Mark DujsikMark Reviews Movies:

"The first time I realized that a theater could have as much of an impact on the memory of a film as the film itself was when I visited Chicago's Music Box Theatre for the 20th-anniversary restoration of Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' (The film itself is best left undiscussed here, for fear of trivializing the horror of Friday morning's events with cheap connections and analysis). As a child of the suburbs, I was only accustomed to the local chain theater and a nearby dollar theater for second-run releases (This was back when a ticket to a 'dollar theater' actually cost a buck), so while a trip to the city was enough of a treat, this was particularly special. The theater itself was built when movie palaces were prevalent (It does not seat anywhere near as many patrons as those buildings), so it had (and still has) a classy art-deco aesthetic that makes one feel as if he/she were going back in time from the moment one walks into its almost-golden lobby. The main theater is adorned with columns and lanterns, and as a friend, my parents, and myself started searching for seats, an organist played happy tunes that ill-prepared my 14-year-old self for what was about to unfold onscreen. A lot of people have been discussing the magic of going to the movie theater since Friday, and that experience was just that: magic."

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

"Right off the top of my head, I'd probably choose one of the many screenings I saw at San Diego Comic-Con, truly unforgettable events like the premiere of 'Superbad' or Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds' or 'Scott Pilgrim,' but in fact, my favorite memory from a movie theater was actually an all-day event for Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' at Lincoln Center where they showed the extended cuts of the first two movies and then 'The Return of the King' with a Q&A session with some of the cast and Peter Jackson via satellite. The day started at 10 or 11 in the morning and extending until 2 a.m. the next morning, but I'll always remember that day because I got to spend all 15 hours with my good friend and favorite person in the world Layla, which made the experience that much more of a joy beyond just watching the movies."

Steve DollarWall Street Journal/GreenCine Daily:

"Not a theater but the backseat of the family car, from around age 6 probably, at the drive-in. There was a coming attraction of a horror movie that featured a giant, glowing skull that flew at the screen and scared the living crap out of me every time. I don't remember the name of the movie, but I never forgot the experience, which I guess was kind of awful but also impossibly thrilling. I'm sure I loved horror movies from that very instant on. More recently, any time I sit down (usually in the front row) for a new, buzzed about (or unknown) film at a festival and get absolutely blown away. That seems to happen mostly at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar at SXSW or Fantastic Fest, but I'd give top prize to the 1,300-seat auditorium in Sitges, where I first saw 'Enter the Void.' It was 8 in the morning and the throbbing in my head -- after a typical night at the Sitges festival where the parties don't even start until 2 a.m. -- resonated with the stroboscopic visuals and droning electronic soundtrack. Oddly enough, it was the perfect hangover cure."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"One of my favorite theatergoing memories was seeing the Coen Brothers' 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' I feel like today there's a lot of ambivalence towards the film (I happen to really like it), but there wasn't a trace of boredom at the screening I saw. The reception was good throughout the whole movie, but by the final musical number, people were standing up dancing, clapping, cheering and stomping their feet in the aisle. It was certainly a rousing moment and a great spontaneous reaction to the joy of the film's music. (Honorable mention to hearing a packed house hoot and holler as Samuel L. Jackson's name came onscreen at a midnight showing of 'Snakes on a Plane.')"

Tony DayoubCinema Viewfinder/Press Play:

"My favorite movie theater memory is a modest one. It's more about the nostalgia I feel for old movie palaces and sadness at how our theater experience has been diminished by the near-extinction of such venues. I recall going to see 'Superman: The Movie' (as it was known then) at Wometco's Dadeland Theater in Miami. It was 1978 and the Dadeland only had two screens, but both had balconies. A sharply dressed usher led us in to the already darkened theater with his flashlight, and showed us to the best seats available. John Williams' 'Superman Overture' played as the audience continued to find their seats. Then the lights darkened further, and the curtain over the screen pulled away just as the one in Donner's film did at the start of the prologue. In subsequent years, the Dadeland would remodel their theater to squeeze two more screens out by converting each balcony into its own room. But this was a futile effort in the face of the multiplex era, where first 8, then 16, then 24 screens would prevail over one with simply 4. The Dadeland would eventually be put up for sale, then razed. But I still treasure this memory, my very first of going to any movie theater. It probably explains why I still love the experience so much despite all of its now attendant hassles."

Erik DavisMovies.com:

"My favorite movie theater experience is probably my first. My mom took to me to see Steven Spielberg's 'E.T.' along with my aunt and cousin. It was the first time I had ever seen a movie on the big screen and it absolutely blew me away. By the end of the film I was a mess, in tears and overcome with emotions. Up until that point no movie had ever brought out those types of feelings in me. I was scared, confused, excited, and overwhelmed. I remember my mom putting her arms around me and talking me through the film's ending. Why the friends had to say goodbye to each other, and why 'home' was so important not just to E.T., but to Elliott and all of us. That experience taught me that the true power of a movie theater is discovery. It's in the discovery of new stories, emotions and connections. In my opinion, no other place challenges us as much mentally and emotionally as the inside of a darkened movie theater. No other place teaches us more about ourselves and why we feel how we feel."

Adam CookMUBI:

"The experience that meant most to me -- or at least the one most fresh in my mind -- took place at last year's Vancouver International Film Festival during the screening of Jafar Panahi's 'This is Not a Film.' It is normal for a VIFF audience to applaud a film they like, but this was above and beyond. When the end credits hit the screen the applause came from everyone, and more loudly than I had ever heard for a film. It continued and increased in enthusiasm as the anonymous credits flashed by, and peaked in its fervent passion as Panahi's dedication to Iranian filmmakers came up. The applause continued even until after the credits were over and the curtains closed. It was a rare moment in the cinema where we transcended our physical presence in the barely comfortable seats of an old theater, and whatever border between the art, the artist, and the viewer all but dissipated, leaving only a unanimous utterance for humanity, evaporating the disparateness of a diverse audience."

Matt CohenMeets Obsession:

"The movies are a place of sanctuary, a place where we can shield ourselves from reality for a few hours, but most importantly it's a shared experience. A magical experience of sorts in which we come together to laugh, to love, to cry, and to let go and surrender ourselves to an illusion. Which is why the events that happened in Aurora on Friday were truly terrifying to me. But rather than give in to the fear, I'd like to remember just how magical going to the movies are and will forever continue to be. I could go on and on about all the great times I've had at the movies with my dad growing up. Since I was about 8 until I was around 18, I used to save the stub of every movie I went to, and I'm sure going through that collection would conjure up many fine memories, but I think my finest moviegoing experiences didn't occur until I was older and discovered the delight of midnight movie culture. Watching 'Evil Dead II' or 'Night of the Living Dead' in the comfort of your own home is one thing, but seeing these cult classics on the big screen in a packed house is a truly magnificent experience. I think my fondest midnight movie memory was when I was an intern at the Silverdocs Documentary festival in 2008 or 2009, and the documentary 'Best Worst Movie' premiered followed by a special screening of 'Troll 2.' The entire original cast of 'Troll 2' was in attendance for a post-screening Q&A and the theater hosted a themed afterparty in the lobby. The screening was oversold and fans stood in the aisles for the entire event. That is true cinematic devotion."

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

"'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,' the second viewing. Yeah, the first screening wasn't all that great -- it's not that good of a movie. But the second time I saw it, I was in the back row with this supervixen. Just as the movie was winding down in the last act, we started to heat things up on our own. It's the closest I've had to sex in a movie theater. A matter of fact, it came to... Oh, I suppose I should say the real answer is '2001: A Space Odyssey' at the Hollywood Cinerama Dome presented in 70mm. Really, I hope one day you have fond remembrances in a movie theater like I have had."

Christopher CampbellDocBlog

"I’ve had many great experiences both as an audience member and as a movie theater employee. And it’s very difficult to weigh my favorite memories inside the auditorium against my favorite memories working in the projection booth and as a manager helping to maintain others’ moviegoing enjoyment (yes, I was one of the good ones). But a certain moment comes to mind as being particularly special. I got hired for my first theater job in June of 1995, just in time to use my first employee pass for 'Congo,' one of my most anticipated blockbusters of that summer (I’d read the book in advance). I was allowed to bring a single guest, so I conducted a raffle for friends and acquaintances at school the week leading up to the film’s opening and managed to, in the process, get everyone excited about attending with me even if they didn’t win the free ticket. That Friday we all filled a good number of seats in the house. And, well, the movie was just awful, embarrassingly so. I took some heat for the choice, but at least up until Amy the gorilla started flailing her clunky robotic signing apparatus, the idea of having organized such an event and being so influential in getting people to see a movie made me feel really cool. If there was ever to be a next time, though, I had to be a lot smarter in my advocacy."

Sean M. BurnsPhiladelphia Weekly/The Improper Bostonian:

"When I was fifteen years old my friends and I went to see 'Goodfellas' at the 10:30 p.m. show on opening night. Seeing Scorsese's electrifying camera work on a big screen at such a young age sent my cinemania into a hyperdrive that's never quite slowed down, and I always point to that as the evening that made clear I would never be able to get 'a real job.' At least not one that didn't revolve around movies. As an added bonus, this particular theater was located across the street from a mob-run strip joint, and it didn't take long to notice that my friends and I were the only people in the audience who weren't 'connected.' Every name in the credits was boisterously applauded with shouts of 'That's Italian!' (As was every savage beating.) The room was rocking with so many roars of recognition by guys who looked and acted so much like the characters onscreen, it felt like my first 3-D movie. 'Goodfellas' played at that theater for over a year. I went to see it ten times."

Ian BuckwalterNPR/The Atlantic:

"My favorite memory of seeing a movie in the theater is also my first -- not necessarily the first movie I ever saw in a theater, but definitely the first I remember. When I was 4 or 5 years old, the campus movie theater at the small college around the corner from where we lived showed 'Doctor Zhivago.' My mother really wanted to see it on the big screen; however she had no babysitter. Since I tended to be a quiet kid who didn't get bored or fidgety very easily, she took me along. The film, surely, was way over my head. But details stuck with me, and are clear in my head to this day: the icicles that formed on Omar Sharif's mustache as he trudged through a snowstorm alongside the railroad tracks; the old-fashioned iron Julie Christie used in one scene, which I recognized because my grandmother used similar ones as doorstops; and the fact that there was an intermission midway through. I think that intermission stuck with me because it made the whole thing seem more like an event somehow. I can't say whether that night helped plant the seed for a lifelong love of film, but what I have retained from that night is the notion that a cinema is a special and sacred place. Sitting in the dark with strangers to watch a movie projected on a big screen still feels like an event to me, and it's one I repeat -- and will continue to repeat -- as often as possible."

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

"I've been lucky enough to attend a number of very special screenings. I caught Jack Cardiff's 'Scent Of Mystery,' the first and only Smell-O-Vision film, on a curved Cinerama screen with Cardiff in attendance in 2005, and have fond memories from my first genre all-nighter as a 16-year-old in the late-1990s, but the screening that I remember most fondly was a relatively low-key affair. It was a humble screening of Carl Th. Dreyer's 'Vampyr,' and it served as the first date with the woman that I would eventually marry."

Monika BartyzelMovies.com:

"It’s hard to pick one. Theaters are a great place to foster favorite memories. I can’t help but think of the first time I saw 'There’s Something About Mary' with some friends, and the zipper scene sent the entire room into hysterical laughter. My friend managed to laugh louder than the rest, as she often did, and I glanced over at her -- but she wasn’t there. I could hear her loud and clear, but not see her -- until I looked down. She had laughed so hard she fell out of her seat and was rolling on the sticky floor. But considering the tragedy in Colorado, I think the top spot goes to my opening night screening of 'Snakes on a Plane.' It embodied all that midnight and fan-filled screenings should be, and often are: friends having a great time with each other and with a theater full of strangers. When the lights dimmed, the 'sssss' noises overpowered the pre-show and tiny rubber snakes were flying all over the theater. It was the perfect environment for the film, an experience that made the film memorable -- something that wouldn’t have been the same at home in front of the TV."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on July 23, 2012:

The Most Popular Response"Moonrise Kingdom"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Dark Knight Rises," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Magic Mike," "The Imposter," "Your Sister's Sister."

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7 Comments

  • Neva | July 24, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    When I was in school, my friends and I had the pact to see every single horror movie in theaters, on opening night, no matter how bad it was. So we went to see The Amityville Horror remake. We took up an entire row, and right before the movie started a large group of people took up the entire row in front of us. Before the movie started I eyed them passing a full bottle of Crown Royal up and down their row, which would be empty by the end of the night. I knew we were in for a good night. Within 30 minutes into the movie, they all started yelling at the characters and the evil house, and we happily participated as well. By the end of the movie, the entire audience had become interactive. It peaked at the dramatic moment where the wife raises the shot gun to Ryan Reynolds' head (her husband), and he says you have to kill me otherwise I'll kill you. Over 100 people in the audience are screaming, "Shoot him! He's going to kill you! SHOOT HIM!" When the wife slowly lowers the shot gun, the audience started booing and throwing all sorts of popcorn and candy and anything else they had on hand. When the lights went up, I took a few minutes to shake out all of the food that had landed in my hair. The whole thing was just wonderful. The only other time that really compared was a little while later when we saw the remake of The Hills Have Eyes, and the main character stabbing a mutant with an American flag got the entire audience chanting USA.

  • em | July 23, 2012 6:49 PMReply

    ah i love seeing movies. i really miss that now that we have a toddler, the last movie we saw in the theater was avatar, i think. and none of my favorite movie memories really have much to do with the movies either. i remember seeing lost highway with my now husband, and as everyone around us left, we made a pact that we would not walk out (and i like david lynch, i just didn't like that one). we were the last people left in the theater. to reward ourselves, we sneaked into the re-release of empire strikes back. i think that was also the night i stole the giant cut out dog that advertised dr doolittle (2?). he was probably 4 feet tall and i just tucked him under my arm and walked out. it was a fixture at parties we threw for years. i also have very fond memories of seeing the descent in the theater. when we finally got a glimpse of one of the monsters, the lady behind us threw her popcorn straight up in the air and hustled out of the theater shouting, "that's not funny!!" good times :)

  • Kenny Cagle | July 23, 2012 1:23 PMReply

    One of my fondest and exciting movie theatere expereiences was when I saw Ridley Scott's Alien in 70MM, 6-track stereo at the UA Cinema 150 in Little Rock, AR. Not only was it the first film I ever saw there but it was also my first viewing of a 70MM film with surround sound. I remember when the lights dimmed and the curtains opened to a huge curved screen my heart started beating faster and I knew I was in for a treat. The sound was awesome and sort of startled me when I started hearing sound coming from the rear speakers and all around. THAT is the way films should be seen. Now I hardly go to films in my home town of Hot Springs because the screens are tiny, you are bombarded with advertising and you have to listen to the sound of the movie playing in the auditorum next door.

  • morrie zryl | July 23, 2012 1:18 PMReply

    anthing at the grand COLONY THEATER on shaker square in cleveland ohio

  • morrie zryl | July 23, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    my favorite memory still exists i operate movie theaters , but memories in 70mm larence of arabia..the able gance's napoleon ...schindlers list....grand scale ...the big W in its a mad world...oh yeh..film not digital

  • Joseph S. Imperiale | July 23, 2012 11:17 AMReply

    The Astonishing Movie Moment Page: The place … Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The year … 1977. I was 11 years old. The movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Its presentation was in 70 mm/6-track Dolby stereo projected on a HUGE Cinemascope movie screen at the South Gate movie theater. It was beautiful. That was experience that made me fall in love with movies. Since then, I have never seen CE3K in a movie theater until last September when it was featured at the Milwaukee Film Festival for its outstanding contribution to cinematography. Vilmos Zsigmond, the Cinematographer who won the Academy Award for CE3K’s cinematography was there. I had the opportunity to tell him that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is just as awesome today as it was when I first saw it 34 years ago when I was 11 years old. It truly is an astonishing cinematic experience.

  • Darrin Navarro | July 23, 2012 11:07 AMReply

    In the late 80s, I was working as an assistant editor on John and Bo Derek's "Ghosts Can't Do It" (understandably considered by some to be among the worst films ever made). The crew was shooting overseas in the Seychelles, but I was stationed in a nondescript building in Hollywood, synching dailies and screening them for executives--I was on a very loose leash. At this time, the Cinerama Dome was running a retrospective of classic 70mm films, and the only showing of "Apocalypse Now" was right in the middle of the afternoon. Until that time, I had only ever seen "Apocalypse" on whatever home video format was available, or maybe on cable, and probably not letterboxed. I calculated that I could be gone for the necessary three-and-a-half hours and no one would be the wiser. Being a mid-week, mid-day showing, there was almost no one in the theater, so I sat right in the Dome's sweet spot: about three rows forward from the center aisle, dead center of the screen.

    A long darkness; the sound of slow helicopter blades emanating from the air itself; Coppola's iconic, accidental opening shot of a tropical treeline, buzzed occasionally by half-seen choppers before exploding in napalm fire. I felt right then that I had never properly been to the movies before that moment, and it was all the sweeter for playing hooky from a very bad movie.

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