'Transformers' or 'Titanic': Why do you go to the movies?

You rocked my world the other day. In my last post, I despaired — some might say kvetched — about how today’s economic challenges are causing Hollywood studios to stick to “mass market” tastes at the expense of  more interesting projects. Or as I put it, at the expense of stuff for adults. Then, on the comments board, I read this: “Milk and (500) Days of Summer were good movies, but I’m glad I didn’t pay to see them in the theater. While Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe totally sucked, I enjoyed watching them on the big screen. I don’t want to sit in a theater with 200 other people watching a thought-provoking movie in total silence or hearing people cry. I go to see huge explosions, [and] hear loud SurroundSound or people laughing at the same things I find funny. That deserves $10!”

And you know what? This hit me as an utterly reasonable explanation of movie-going psychology — and utterly alien to how I have traditionally approached the activity. The logic doesn’t substitute for what I think is Hollywood’s need to continue to make stuff for adults, if studios want to retain adult consumers. But I understood in a flash that, for this commenter, the “quality” of the movie is much less important than the group experience. At least for him: I’m making a sexist assumption, based on clues including the mention of G.I. Joe, the mention of total suckage, and the declaration that group crying isn’t pleasurable.

I love the bigness of the picture on the theater screen. I love the real-time flow of the event, with no pause buttons.  I love the shared privacy of the movie theater. Also, by the way, I love to cry with strangers, and can remember just how much blubbering was going at the time of the Titanic pic above. But, no doubt: Home viewing is convenient, it’s cheaper, and it lets you choose who sits next to you. And can you get the full flavor of Milk or (500) Days of Summer at home? Probably. G.I. Joe? Probably not.

So I’m turning this back to you. How does going to the movies differ from watching a movie at home? Do you enjoy going to movies that totally suck, for the pleasure of sharing the suckitude? (Is that a guy thing?) And how do you decide whether a movie is worth the price of a ticket rather than the price of Netflix?

Comments (183 total) Add your comment
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  • Bren

    This is somewhat off topic but Titanic is still totally one the best movies ever. Kate Winslet could make reading the menu at Burger King and Oscar worthy performance.

    • roux

      Agree, Kate Winslet rocks!! And Titanic is the one movie I really wish I would have seen on the big screen. It’s great on my little tv but I think the effects were to be seen on the big screen. Plus, I love crying with strangers too.

      • Lance

        It was awesome on the big screen but movie seats aren’t as comofortable as your sofa and that was one long movie!!!

      • C.

        When Titanic came out I was 14 years old and my parents were uber protective of our movie going choices. After hearing about the nudity in Titanic, my parents decided that it was not a movie I should see. It was only after my uncle suggested that they needed to let me go if only for the reason that it was a movie that had to be seen on the big screen. So they finally let me about 3 months after the release, but I had to go with my mom.

      • Summer

        I love Titanic!!!!! Its my all time favorite movie!!!!!!!!

      • CindyC

        I saw Titanic on the big screen, opening weekend, and I was 8 1/2 months pregnant. I did have to leave for the facilities once and I was hella uncomfortable, but it was all worth it.

        That was almost 12 years ago and I still remember the chill I got watching that boat break in half on the big screen.

    • Gabriel

      titanic sucked when u see other epics it is weak and sad,try godfather ,english patient ,

      • Jennifer

        Please! Weak and soggy = the english patient….+ boring and pretentious.

      • Matt1

        English Patient… Hard for me to put into words the sucktitude of that movie.

    • Belle

      Absoutely! Saw it in the theatre & own and have seen it 20times on HBO plus own the DVD. I still have tears at the very end when you see the older Rose sleeping/dead & saw the photos of everything Jack wanted her to do in life. Then she is reunited where she found the most happiness and with Jack. I cry like a baby sometimes. Especially when Patrick Swayze died because I just knew his father was right there at the end of his journey waiting for him with a big hug. Actually, I thought the same thing when my mom died, at the very end she was greeted by her mom with open arms. What can I tell you, I’m a sap for happy endings.

    • Ece

      Good luck gentlemen! Bentley and I can’t wait to flloow you over the next week. Even though you haven’t even left and I already miss Josh. Be Safe.

  • Colin

    Here’s the thing: I went to see “Passion of the Christ” in theaters. It was a miserable time, but not because of the film. The film was actually quite excellent, but I would’ve rather watched it alone at home. Watching that movie with a group of people was awkwardly uncomfortable. But seeing a movie like “Terminator: Salvation” in theaters was cool because the sights and sounds of a film like that are made for a giant screen and loud speakers, not a 24″ screen in your living room.

    • Deb

      I would rather watch even Terminator at home. Today you can have a 50 inch plasma and killer surround sound system at home, and get the effects of a movie theater without the people around you disturbing you, you can be comfortable wearing whatever and not have to worry about what your feet are sticking to on the floor of the theater…whatever the movie I prefer watching the DVD at home with friends or alone; saves money and I enjoy it more.

  • Shamrock

    I at times do decide what movies would better on the big screen whether to see them or not. Something like Jaws, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, need to be seen on the big screen. I think Rom Coms are the types of movies you could wait to see on the small screen.

  • Brian

    Duh. This is why I went to see Jurassic Park III and Planet of the Apes in theaters back in 2001. I dragged friends who were like “Why?!” But when they had such a good time making fun of the movies, watching dinosaurs and spaceships fill up a giant screen, and being a part of the crowd they got it. Good times.

  • crispy

    That comment is not reasonable at all! And that commenter should be sterilized. Is is too much to ask that movies both entertain you with awesome sights and loud explosions AND provoke your mind and emotions?

    • Jennifer

      For every single movie??? Of course it is.

  • harry

    for me going to the Big screen tells me weather I should or shouldn’t bring a movie home. If the movie was worth while you will see me picking it up on new release tuesday at best buy.

  • John

    I think that the reader’s argument is a valid one but I don’t necessarily agree. I want to see some of the smaller movies with challenging subject matter in a theater because there’s nothing to distract me. There’s nothing else for me to do but pay attention to the movie as it unfolds, as opposed to at home where there’s a computer, a phone and other such distractions. Having said that I agree that something like Star Trek or Drag Me To Hell might not offer the same pleasures while watching at home. That collective gasp you get from an audience when something surprising happens is much more satisfying than gasping to yourself on the couch at home.

    • Aprilcot26

      You just put my thoughts into words perfectly.

    • Jem

      Exactly! The entire audience cheered en masse when Harrison Ford told Gary Oldman to “get off my plane” or screamed together when the raptor poked its head through the pipes in the maintenance shed, or laughed in unison when Simon Pegg cried “I’m giving it all she’s got Cap’n!”. Can’t get that at home.

    • C.

      I think that this whole idea of collective movie watching in a theater definitely depends on where you live. Some of the best movie going experiences I’ve had were when I lived in LA. I experienced something I never had before in terms of the collective movie going experience which was the laughing, yelling, gasping, singing on such a large scale and it was such a joy! Where I grew up and where I live now in PA – there is no such thing. It’s almost a silent experience…sometimes laughing, (and of course the obnoxious kids making fun of the movie or just talking to be irritating) but nothing on the scale of my experience in LA.

    • L

      Nothing to distract you – you must be one of the VERY lucky few who goes to a movie that doesn’t have 1. someone talking on their phone, 2. someone talking to the person next to them in what they think is a whisper or 3. inappropriately young children and the noises that they make. Please tell me which theater you go to so I can go too. I would LOVE to see a movie in theater, but can’t afford to rent the entire theater just for me.

      • CL

        It doesn’t matter what movie I go to or what time I go, there is always a screaming child or baby at one point in theater. I never brought a child younger than 3 to a movie unless it was a drive in. The worst part is that the parents never bring the child out of the movie, they just let them scream.

      • Lisa

        one of the last movies I saw in the theater was The Birdcage — the place was packed and one woman kept giggling through the whole movie — it WAS a funny movie but her laugh was so infectious that she had the entire audience going for 2 hours :) I can’t even remember what my last movie in a theater but the experience was so bad with people talking, unwrapping candy wrappers, etc. that I said never again – and you know what I think is even more annoying? those blasted commercials — give me a break — i have to admit the drive in is still a great time tho

    • Bobby

      However, sitting around with a bunch of strangers that like to talk out loud just as if they are at home pisses me off. I never understood why, if they paid the same money as me to go see a movie why they would want to talk all the way through it. It’s expensive and makes me mad when people do that. They should just stay at home if they want to talk.

  • Brian

    That said I think any movie is better in a theater, summer blockbuster, prestige pic, indie gem or otherwise.

    • L

      Exactly! I’d rather see any movie on the big screen for that collective experience. But, I will watch some of those blockbusters in the theatres that I would never bother to watch at home. Home is where I watch movies that I really think I’ll like, whereas the theatre is part of the experience.

  • kitkat18

    Wow. That makes complete sense. I realize that the movies I see in theater are big blockbuster hits. I want the whole shebang- movie theater popcorn, surround sound, going with a crowd of friends, the darkness and privacy of the theater, etc. And I watch the thought-provoking movies at home. God, I feel like a victim of a marketing scheme…

  • Audrey

    There are some movies that the theater makes into a good experience, and among my favorites to watch in the theater are the Harry Potter series. They’re good movies, but the experience is magnified by watching them in a huge room full of fans of all ages, and getting that release-party flavor involved. I did see “(500) Days of Summer” in the theater, and I can’t wait to watch it at home and really get the full effect of it. I can’t imagine watching something like “Once” (which, fairly enough, didn’t get a big theater release here) or “Juno” at the theater. And “Titanic” and “Pirates of the Carribbean” just aren’t the same at home.

  • S

    For me it’s plain and simple. No matter what movie you are seeing, going the movie theatre is a pain and a hassle. You spend 20 mins trying to park, 10 min in line buying your $10 ticket, another 20 min waiting in the food line so some 15yr moron can sell you a small drink and small popcorn for like $10, then you have to practically step over tons of people to get to your seat while somehow not spilling your stuff over everybody(in the dark mind you) just to watch a badly written movie with some cool fx. No thanks

    • PJ

      Whatever, grandpa!

    • Ryan

      Where do you live?? I’ve never spent longer than a minute looking for parking. Perhaps you shouldn’t waste your money on the trash food that is sold too. Or you could just get to a movie on time so you don’t have to crawl over people in the dark.

      Nothing trumps watching a movie on the big screen for me, regardless of how many CGI shots the movie has. I enjoyed watching (500) Days of Summer just as much as Star Wars when I was a kid in 1997.

    • Jen

      The size small popcorn and drink are huge! Talk about big proportions. I have to order myself a child’s size just so I don’t waste food (and it comes with a piece of candy too). And the concession stands will provide you with a tray so you don’t spill your stuff…

      • crispy

        I always order small drinks so I won’t have to pee during the movie.

      • Ashif

        I’m not a big fan of gold and silver busaece they’re at all-time high prices. Seems to me that would be buying high and waiting to sell low.

    • Jelana

      I always have a water bottle in my purse. I might care that this is against the rules if the price of a water bottle at the concession stand was less than $4.

    • lola

      Seriously? You’re focusing on the bad things, which are not really that bad at all, instead of the entire experience– the smell of popcorn, the collective gasp of the audience at a particulary shocking moment, powerful speakers, details that might go unnoticed at home, and a whole lot of other things. And really, is the 15y old moron comment necesscary? Not to sound like a prude, but they’re just doing their job like you and I. And who knows, maybe one day they’ll become big famous directors and YOU’ll pay to see their work. :)

  • Maddi

    I like seeing any kind of movie in theaters. Whether I’ll go or not is based on my personal desire to see it– there is no way I am /ever/ paying to watch Transformers 2, but I would have paid $20 to see “Bright Star” if they had given it a bigger release (I was even thinking of driving down to NYC to see it!). There are movies that benefit from a crowd experience or a big screen but with a 50 inch plasma and a group of good friends you can get the same basic experience. The only reason to see something as a group is if there’s going to be interaction, which is generally frowned upon in theaters unless it’s Rocky Horror.

    • Steve

      I had a very interesting childhood; due to religious reasons, my first time actually seeing a movie in a theater was during my first year in college. I remember when I bought that first popcorn; it was $3.50. Expensive? Sure, but to be able to get that bucket of crunchiness, add the yellow butter-like stuff and white cheddary sprinkles, then head inside the theater to see a movie with a group of strangers was drastically different then being at home. Suddently, it wasn’t all about what I felt or thought about the movie, what I ascribed to was the sum of the feelings expressed in that dark, slightly cold room. When I looked around and saw the first girl cry, when I heard the first annoyed “This movie sucks!”, my feelings were intensified. I had a choice; agree with the man in the darkness or attempt to remain uninfluenced by the others. The theater experience is definitely different than the one spent at home in PJ’s on Saturday afternoon. Think about it, how silly would you feel watching a movie in 3-D at home, glasses and all. But in a group 100 people, suddenly that’s okay. It’s okay to laugh at silliness in a group. Even when the lights come up, there is such a closeness and common experience between us all, we are no longer stangers.

  • a person

    I prefer to go see the stupidest sounding movies in theatres than make fun of them with my friends.(we saw Harry Potter #3 3 times in theatres just to make fun of it, along with Four Christmases, and the Ugly Truth) Because they are more fun to watch in theatres. But in reality I prefer more serious romance movies (Pride and Prejudice, The Notebook, Titanic)

    • ppet2323

      And this is why I usually hate going to the movies. Not that a lot of movies aren’t stupid and worth making fun of, but I hate it when I’ve paid $10 to see a movie and then have people sitting behind me talking and laughing through the whole thing. I stick with loud movies in the theaters so this doesn’t drive me insane and keep the quiet, though-provoking movies for home.

  • bedc01

    Well I gave up on the big, dumb, loud hollywood spectacle a long time ago. I have not seen either of the BAYformers movies, nor G.I. joe or anything like those movies. I rather enjoy a movie that has a well written story and characters I can care about. And yes, I do pay to see these types of movies at the cinema

  • Marc

    Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer seeing movies for the first time on the big screen (repeated viewings at home are fine). I just find myself too distracted by other things at home. When I pay my $10 at the theater, I can tune all that stuff out and simply lose myself in the movie (unless I’m distracted by how awful the movie is; e.g. ‘Transformers 2′). Above all else, movies should offer some form of escapism, so I’m willing to spend the extra money to get it. For smaller films like the aformentioned ‘Milk’ and ‘500 Days Of Summer’, I’d rather have this shared experience with as few people as possible. That said, there’s no denying that watching comedies like ‘The Hangover’ or big-budget “event” films like ‘Dark Knight’ and the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy can be more fun with a big (and reasonably well-behaved) crowd. I saw ‘Whip It’ last weekend, and the spirited mood of the mostly female audience was oddly infectious.

    • Lisa Schwarzbaum

      One of my favorite group viewing experiences ever was seeing “Speed” with a crowd for the first time. We clutched one another’s arms and shrieked!

      • Marc

        Sadly, ‘Speed’ was one of those movies I ended up seeing on the small screen, back when I lived in a much smaller town with no movie theaters. I do remember catching a screening of ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ during my freshman year at university, and that was definitely a movie where the shared uneasiness and anxiety of the crowd made for an extra-creepy experience in the best possible sense. Those kind of great “shared” movie experiences don’t happen often, but they’re another reason why I much prefer theaters to home viewings. For me, it’s a lot like going out to see a play or a concert; I treat it as an event, even if I’m being dragged to something I’m not overly keen to see. You don’t show up 15 minutes late, and you don’t talk or text during the performance; you save that crap for home, thank you very much. Long live the movie theater, over-priced food and all.

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