The average price of admission at American Movie Theaters rose to $7.96 in 2012 and is up for the 18th consecutive year spanning back to 1994. With ticket prices on the rise, it is becoming more important than ever to carefully manage your theater-going experience. Getting a great value while seeing the best possible presentation of this week’s big opening requires some attention to detail. Following these tips will help ensure your next trip to the multiplex is worth the buck.
Tip #1: Choose the right theater
Not all theaters are created equal, so before ever leaving home it’s important to select the best venue.
About 70% of America’s 39,000 movie screens have digital projection (meaning they no longer show 35mm film). For some film die-hards this is a negative, but to the average moviegoer digital projection means more consistent, reliable quality of image. Plus, a digital image doesn’t suffer wear and tear, so the movie will look just as pristine on the last day of its run as the first. A simple phone call to the theater can help you find out if the screening you’re planning on attending is using digital projection or screening a film print.
When deciding where to see a movie, I also factor in the “culture” of the theater. By culture I mean the values of the theater, the types of patrons it attracts, and the types of movies it shows.
If I’m going to see a serious, independent drama with Oscar buzz, I’m heading to a smaller theater that shows a lot of art films. My experience has indicated that the patrons at these theaters will generally be older, more serious moviegoers who don’t giggle through love scenes and even stay for the credits. These theaters tend to more strictly enforce cell phone policies and minimize distractions more effectively.
On the other hand if I’m out for a weekend thrill with the latest superhero movie, I’ll head to the giant 20-screen multiplex. This is probably the theater with the loudest speakers and a young, rowdy, enthusiastic crowd– and while they may be distracting on occasion, there’s something wonderful about feeling the electricity in a giant theater when everyone is on the edge of their seat.
Tip #2: Sit in the right seat
I’m sorry to say it, but if the theater you’re attending does not offer reserved seating, you’re going to have to show up at least half an hour before the previews roll. Speaking as a filmmaker who has seen his own films projected in large theaters, it is absolutely essential to be seated just behind the center of the theater if you are going to experience the movie the way it is meant to be seen (and heard!).
Sitting the proper distance from the screen will allow you to see the whole screen while relaxing your eyes. If you find yourself sitting close enough that you must shift your eyes or even turn your head as action crosses the screen, you are going to wear yourself out in a two-hour movie.
Most movie theaters are equipped with some variation of surround sound technology, meaning the sound comes from not only behind the screen, but also from speakers to the left, right, and rear of the audience. These speakers are calibrated so that the sound they emit is properly balanced to the ear of a sound technician. So don’t you want to sit where he sits? A good rule of thumb is to find a place dead center about two-thirds of the way to the rear of the theater. Sit too far to one side and any loud noise on that side of the frame with drown out the dialogue. Sit too far forward and you’ll miss out on the subtle rear channels that help immerse you in the world of the film. Too far back and those same rear surrounds may distract from the action on the screen.
Tip #3: Pick the right show time
For some movie connoisseurs, the shared experience of watching a movie in a crowded theater is part of the draw that makes a trip to the theater worth the price of admission. But using a bit of common sense to pick the right show time can be the difference between sharing your experience with crying toddlers, unchaperoned teens, die-hard franchise fans, or even an empty room. Once again, these rules aren’t hard and fast– but a bit of experience will help you understand the best time to be at the theater.
For a highly anticipated release, you might consider venturing to a midnight premiere screening. Everyone at the theater will be excited to see the film, and that electricity makes for a movie going experience unlike any other.
If you don’t enjoy fighting the crowds, consider a weeknight screening. Tuesday and Wednesday nights are low-traffic nights for theater attendance– but the audiences are still mostly adult after 7pm. Go to a weekday screening on your day off, and you may run into the unpleasant surprise of parents toting young children to a matinee, or even a pre-school field trip if your target is an animated or family film.
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