'Insidious' in a crowded theater: Are some films better with a loud, talking audience?

insidious

I saw the new horror film Insidious in a crowded theater last night. The film was great — check out Owen Gleiberman’s full A- review — and it’s the first movie in a long time that has literally made me want to run out of the theater and go see a charming 3D-animated children’s movie just to remind myself that there is still joy in the world. (Actually, the last time I felt that way was Paranormal Activity, so maybe I just have a problem with house sounds. In my defense, house sounds are the most terrifying sounds in the world.) Only one thing got me through Insidious: The fact that I was in a crowded, highly reactive theater. Whenever the movie threw a new shock-terror in our faces — some freakish ghost sisters, or a dancing Newsie ghost — everyone in the theater would scream, and then laugh, and then spend about a minute talking about how scared they were and how funny it was to be so scared. (The mostly-teenaged crowd also hurled lots of insults and suggestions at the characters onscreen, all of which are unrepeatable here.) I have friends who can’t stand it when people talk during a movie, but I think I actually I enjoyed Insidious significantly more thanks to my loud audience. Which got me wondering: Are there times when talking in a theater is justified, even necessary?

There might just be certain genres that lend themselves to the loud-crowd experience. Comedies and horror films both strive to inspire a highly specific emotional reactions — laughs and shrieks — and it’s easier to tune into those emotions when you’re in a crowd of fellow viewers. This is why the vast majority of comedies always seem less funny when you watch them alone. It’s also why you only really notice how ridiculously funny Alfred Hitchcock movies are when you see them with a big-screen audience.

Then again, maybe all movies are more fun with a loud audience, as long as everyone is on the same page. I’m really big on the opening-weekend viewing experience, because there’s the feeling in the air that everyone is there for a reason. (Put it this way: You don’t accidentally decide to go see a Harry Potter movie at midnight on a Thursday.) Speaking as someone who is not nor has ever been a teenage girl, I got a huge kick out of seeing The Twilight Saga: New Moon specifically because everyone in attendance was so passionate about the movie. For most of the movie, the opposing clans of Team Jacob and Team Edward were locked in a battle to see who could chant longer and more stridently for their guy. (Jacob won.) Some cinephiles may revolt, but it’s worth pointing out that talking in a movie theater is hardly the provenance of philistines. I had an elderly film professor in college who rhapsodized about his youthful experiences watching movies in Paris back in the’50s, when the Cahiers du Cinema crowd would take over two rows and loudly deconstruct whatever film was playing onscreen.

I suppose you could argue that there are just some movies that demand quiet — sober character studies like The King’s Speech, say, or verite-dramas like The Hurt Locker. But I think there are definitely some films that can be enhanced by audience comments. PopWatchers, do you have any favorite loud-crowd movie memories? Or, conversely, have you had a film absolutely ruined for you by a talking audience member? (I should point out that everything I’m saying here has nothing to do with cell phones. We can all agree that anyone who talks on a cell phone while a movie is playing deserves at least two days in the stocks.)

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Comments (183 total) Add your comment
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  • theBigE

    In college, I saw the original “Tremors” with Kevin Bacon with a packed house that responded with gasps, laughs, and cheers at just the right times. I thought the film was great until I rented it and viewed it on the VCR with a few friends – not the same experience. My brother had the same feelings about “Aracnophobia.” Even “Snakes on a Plane” with a semi-full house on opening day was a decent night at the movies. So yes, a good crowd can really make a film.

    • Scott

      My theater was the best during ‘Inception’. There were so many funny moments like:
      -When Cobb recounts his wife’s suicide. He enters the room and we see his wife on the OTHER side of the building. Everyone yelled “WTF” and we just lost it. We laughed hard.
      -When Fischer opens the vault at the end and we see his dad on his death bed. Everyone was laughing so hard and we kept yelling “DUDE, its just a dream. Your dad is not real”
      -We laughed everytime Ellen Page came on the screen and we laughed at how she walked and talked. Nolan is smart for inserting a pointless character, it adds more to the comedy side of ‘Inception’
      -We laughed at the end when Cobb sees his kids and they’re basically dressed the same as the last time he saw them. We all yelled “Hey, did they not have a good wardrobe department”
      The movie was laugh-out-loud funny. I applaud Nolan for that!

      • Thu Ha Nguyen

        that is one hell of a crowd! nice one. but your last remark is a bit off, they did that intentionally. was it a dream or was it reality? the clothes of the kids in the last scene was a clue for that question. this reminds me, i have to see the movie again …

      • gazmo

        The ONLY time it is acceptable to make loud comments during a movie is when you desperately want to commit suicide but are just too cowardly to do it yourself!!!

      • Ian

        I don’t get your humor.

      • stevio

        WOW! Bad example!!! sounds like your whole theatre was full of ASSES! I would have walked out and demanded a refund!

      • Samantha

        Horrible article. Franich is such a putz.
        And despite his weak denial, he is a teenage girl.

      • Samantha

        Scott = whiny moron. And pathetic liar.

      • TheRealEverton

        NOne of that is funny and it sounds like your audience ruined the movie. No, sorry, it sounds like the people who didn’t understand what was going on ruined it for those that did, with stupid comments. Alleged jokes.

      • Jeff C.

        Folks, please don’t feed the troll.

      • Gazza

        TROOOOOOLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!

        oh well, haters gonna hate.

      • Mike

        Semi-Epic: Me and my friends had gone to see the mid-night Star Trek premier. What seemed like every time Chris Pine(Kirk) appeared on screen, these stereotypical chubby/geeky/loud 20-something girls (mad props) would literally get all hot and bothered and yell sexual innuendo at the screen. They were sitting right in the next row, so every time they didn’t scream I could still hear one of them go “Oh baby.”

        Epic: I saw Pineapple Express in a theater with a bunch of people high off their touches.

        Epicest: Zombieland at the downtown theater in Orlando, 2 am. Everyone had come in from a night on the town, meaning lots of stumbling and inaudible conversations. Once the movie rolled, the crowd was constantly cheering for the heroes, ROFLing, and yelling whatever random funny things popped in their heads when the zombification was going down. This was like being at a wild party or, being in the stadium of a down to the wire championship game of your favorite sport. This was Red Socks vs. Yanks, Jordan Bulls vs. ‘doesn’t matter’ epic.

      • Nicolaaaa

        Mike, I live in Orlando and I’ve seen a number of movies there on opening night. It definately adds to the excitement. One night in particular, went to see Wolverine. The part when he kicks Ryan Reynolds character off of the top of the tower, one guy yelled THIS IS SPARTA and the whole place went nuts. It was an epic moment.

    • Jensen

      My theater was the best during ‘Inception’. There were so many funny moments like:
      -When Cobb recounts his wife’s suicide. He enters the room and we see his wife on the OTHER side of the building. Everyone yelled “WTF” and we just lost it. We laughed hard.
      -When Fischer opens the vault at the end and we see his dad on his death bed. Everyone was laughing so hard and we kept yelling “DUDE, its just a dream. Your dad is not real”
      -We laughed everytime Ellen Page came on the screen and we laughed at how she walked and talked. Nolan is smart for inserting a pointless character, it adds more to the comedy side of ‘Inception’
      -We laughed at the end when Cobb sees his kids and they’re basically dressed the same as the last time he saw them. We all yelled “Hey, did they not have a good wardrobe department”
      The movie was laugh-out-loud funny. I applaud Nolan for that!

      • Samantha

        Jensen = Patheticly unfunny moron.

    • Ian

      I think audience reaction is a different thing than talking in a theater. Enthusiasm is always welcome. Being an unfunny, immature, talky brat is never appreciated.

    • tad

      When E.T. was rereleased, I saw it in a theater packed with kids– little ones. I thought it was going to suck, but they laughed and squealed and cried at all the right moments. It tremendously enhanced watching that movie and made it much more fun. It reminded me what it was like watching movies as a kid. That won’t work for all movies, but for E.T. it was great!

    • Evil Melvin!!

      E, perfectly stated. I agree 1000%!!!

    • Chegui

      I can live with reactionary comments after a big scare or laugh, but I hate that guy who thinks he’s doing comedy at The Improv. For all the movie comedians out there, we didn’t pay to hear your inane (and almost always unfunny)jokes!

    • Mr. Holloway

      One of my favorite movie-theatre experiences was seeing “Signs.”

      I think it’s actually the PERFECT movie for what Darren is talking about here. There’s comedy both intentional and unintentional (when we get to see the ending, obviously), but there are also some honest to goodness frights. (When the alien slips his fingers underneath the door…when we get the glimpse in the grainy home video footage.)

      • Michelle

        The first time I saw Signs, I was home alone…and that scene with the alien slipping its fingers under the door scared the sht outta me.

      • Johnny

        Yeah i agree. That movie still freaks me out ! My friends love watching it with me because i flip whenever i watch it.

    • Nicolaaaa

      My 3 sisters forced to go to see Paranormal Activity with them. I don’t do scary movies. I especially don’t do scary movies in dark movie theaters. In the end, I almost choked on my popcorn and accidently punched my older sister in the face when someone in the theater screamed and I threw my arms out. Needless to say, they didn’t invite me to watch the second one with them. lol

  • Molly

    I actually completely agree. I saw New Moon with my younger cousin and I was surprised how much I enjoyed watching the movie whilst surrounded by chatty 8th graders. They made the movie so much more enjoyable. I feel the same way about horror films. I saw both Paranormal Activity movies in theaters, and during both times the theater had a full audience. The movies were much more enjoyable with people who had the same reactions as me.

    • Deb

      Agreed, I think seeing the Twilight films in theaters with a rambunctious audience is absolutely necessary. I saw the first one at a midnight showing in NYC and that was the best film-going experience I’ve ever had. Since the theater was full of hard core fans it seemed they were all more willing to admit that the film was terrible and not take it seriously. The whole audience howled at every bad line, every constipated-looking serious face by Robert Pattinson, every terrible directing choice. I’ve never laughed so hard during a movie. I saw the movie a few more times in theaters and the audiences never reacted the same way they did that first time. I make a point to see all of them at midnight now.

    • Nerwen Aldarion

      I saw PAranormal Activity in a crowded theater and it was awesome. I think it was the fact that I could feel everyone else’s fear that made me even more terrified while watching it.

    • DocRules

      Paranormal Activity and its sequel were great to see in crowded theaters. The best parts would be when the nighttime sequences began- everyone would reposition and prepare themselves for whatever was about to happen.

      • Pam

        I took my son and his friend to see “Paranormal Activity” before it was even in wide release. The theater was PACKED. There were three college-age guys sitting right in front of us, and they got so scared during the night sequences. By the end of the movie, one of the guys was in the fetal position in his seat. It was awesome!

  • Voodoo

    NO!

    • LOL

      No way. Natural reactions (screaming, laughing, etc.) are fine and expected. However talking should NEVER happen in a theatre.

    • Alicia

      I agree. There is after all a special hell reserved for those who talk in the theater.

      • Mel

        Well, isn’t that… special.

      • JK

        Ah, Firefly reference.

  • John Wallace

    No.

    Just no.

  • TQB

    I saw Deep Blue Sea (the shark movie) in a packed and rowdy theater on a Friday night. The moment when the shark ate Sam Jackson, the place just went bananas. Everyone started rooting for the sharks. It was AWESOME.

    A good crowd always has the potential to turn a crappy or so-so film into unintentional comedy.

    However, one dude on his cell phone can ruin anything.

    • Nic

      I had a very similar experience when I saw Deep Blue Sea in the theatre! Awesome!

  • jk

    Nope, hate it. Anyone talking in a movie, especially in a full theater, is an a-hole. I saw “Benjamin Button” right after it opened in a totally full theater, and two teenage boys next to me literally didn’t stop talking the whole time – and mostly it was about how they didn’t understand what was going on onscreen, which was even more irritating, because it wasn’t even valid confusion. About an hour and a half in to that reallllly long movie, I finally “shushed” them, which is weird to do when you’re sitting right next to someone. I kind of love when a whole theater gangs up on the people talking, though. I saw “Cedar Rapids” a few weeks ago and these kids were talking SO loudly the entire time, and were completely oblivious, which I don’t understand. Like, you’re shocked people are telling you to be quiet in a movie theater? So many people yelled at them to shut up that they left like ten minutes in (I’m pretty sure they had snuck into our movie after theirs had ended but whatever). I do kind of agree with you about being with a reactive audience during a comedy, though. I saw “Knocked Up” in theaters right after it opened, in a packed house. It was before people knew a ton of the plot points, or that the whole crowning scene existed, so it was really fun to have everyone laugh and be surprised and have it be really fresh. But extraneous talking – nope. Never appropriate.

    • Heidi

      I said “only 8″ but somehow it reflected a happy face

      • Heidi

        wait where did my earlier comment go? Strange.

    • Samantha

      Zzzzzzzzzz. Too long. Did not read.
      Whiny ramblers deserve what they get.

      • jk

        Haha … alright, dude. I’m not losing any sleep over you not reading my post on an EW comment section.

      • hedge

        So you’re admitting to having zero attention span? Well,at least you’re honest. And jk isn’t a whiny rambler. You however are an obnoxious twit.

      • Mike

        Samantha waassssaaap gurl, you got pwntded. Oh shizzle yo.

  • Shelby Coman

    No. I saw Insidious Friday night with a crowd full of teenagers. Every time the suspense would build, someone would make some wise comment that made their entire row chuckle and ruined what could have been a scary movie for me.

    • Lyn

      I actually saw Insidious at home, and I think almost all horror movies are SCARIER at home in the dark. The only exception was when I saw The Ring, which I did find audience reactions sometimes added to the film. Like when there was a scene change and a girl screamed for no reason. But if someone says something they think is witty, right before a scare, it totally ruins it.

  • Padraig

    Are there times when talking in a theater is justified, even necessary? Never. Never, ever.

    • PrincessBride

      Unless you’re at a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then audience participation is REQUIRED to get the full experience.

      • Jeni B

        Or at a showing of The Room.

      • Shawn

        Yes! Just had my first viewing of The Room and the audience made it the most fun I’ve ever had in a theatre. SPOOOOOOON!!!!!!*ensue throwing plastic spoons*

  • M

    I think natural reactions are fine. But when I pay an arm and a leg to see a movie, i want to ENJOY it, which means being able to hear and see it. It you want to talk during a movie download it illegally at home.

    • tvgirl48

      I agree. I don’t want to pay money to listen to other morons’ commentary. They may think they’re hilarious, but I just want to watch the movie. Sometimes, it may be fun to hear snark or loud reactions, but I’d say 99% of the time it’s annoying. It’s not like we all made a pact before the movie that we’re going to treat it like Rocky Horror

      • Lyn

        yeah. I saw The Ruins… or tried to in a theater, and even though there was only 6 other people in there with us, a couple insisted on sitting behind us, and say racist ignorant cr@p until I got so peeved off that I stepped over the seat in front of me a stormed off to get a refund. I have never been so furious at a movie in all my life. I think they were purposely trying to bother us because they were racist, but it’s possible they were just ignorant jerks who love to hear themselves talk. I wish that theaters would kick people out for ruining the experience for everyone else, but I have yet to see an usher warn an audience member or kick someone out EVER.

  • Dave

    Well, Rocky Horror is an obvious one

  • Whisperia

    A loud theater can definitely enhance comedies, which are generally funnier when seen by large groups of people than when seen alone or with a small group. But I mostly mean that the laughs are bigger. Talking through the rest of the movie is inappropriate.

    I find that a chatty audience detracts from horror. I saw Paranormal Activity at one of the advance midnight screenings and the film was completely ruined by a small group of teenagers who kept reacting to everything with screams, then laughter, then at least a minute of “ZOMG, that was so scary!” chatter. People in the audience started yelling at them to shut up, which they of course ignored. It completely ruined the tension of the movie. I enjoyed it a lot more when I watched it by myself at home.

    I miss the days when ushers would quietly escort noisy people out of theaters. I’ve mostly stopped going to the theater because talking during the movie seems to be becoming the accepted norm and it drives me absolutely bonkers.

    • crislope82

      so true same thing happened with insidious it just takes the horror feeling out of it…those kids just ruined the movie…talking during the movie is inappropriate, rude, and distracting.

    • Lyn

      ditto. I have never seen an usher even come into to address a problem, only to demand to see my ticket stub, accuse me of sneaking in, and ruin the movie for me. $10-20 a ticket should mean that I get some f-ing quality control in my screening room and commentators should be kicked out.

  • Stess

    I typically enjoy seeing movies in the theater, but one of the more recent experiences I had was seeing “Black Swan” in the theater. Having now watched it again on DVD, I can definitely say it was one I enjoyed a lot more when I wasn’t in a theater full of people (including my older, more conservative parents) feeling very, very awkward at certain scenes. Generally though, I enjoy the theater experience I’m just loathe to pay the extra $ to get it if it’s not a movie I’m totally passionate about.

    • jk

      I kind of want to watch “Black Swan” again too, because even though I think seeing it in theaters made me more nervous and I had a more intense (internal) reaction to the scary/disturbing parts, the audience (which was a full house of mostly 20-somethings, which I am also) was super obnoxious with talking and having loud and inappropriate reactions to certain scenes. I hate when something is played sincerely in a movie and audiences react to it with laughter (unless a film is seriously terrible). My audience laughed at Natalie Portman crying on the phone to her mother after she got the role of the Swan Queen, which I thought was a beautiful scene.

  • Heather

    I have to agree. There is definitely a certain type of film that works well with a rowdy theater. I love going to midnight showings for that reason. They really bring the audience together and it makes it a more memorable experience. Comedies especially are aided by a very vocal audience. It is easier to laugh out loud when everyone around you is doing the same!

    • Brad

      I remember seeing Star Trek II in the movies. At the end, people stood up and applauded; even in the scene when they shot the torpedo that had Spock’s body at the Genensis planet. Also during Return of the Jedi, when Chewy, Leia, Han and finally Luke came in. It a binding experience.

      • PrincessBride

        I loved it in Star Trek II when everyone in the theater realized we were seeing Johnny Slash (gotta be a child of the 80s to know that reference) and in Star Trek II when everyone said “Oh my gosh it’s Reverend Jim” as soon as they heard Christopher Lloyd’s voice (this, of course, was before Back to the Future). And speaking as one of the few people who saw The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension in theaters, it definitely makes the movie more enjoyable if you participate.

      • Han Shot First

        I think you mean a “bonding” experience. Unless you mean too much popcorn and not enough soda left you and the audience sharing a “binding” experience. Ha!

  • Glenn

    Sone theater experiences dont work as well with audience feedback. Just ask Charlie Sheen.

    • Han Shot First

      #winning!

  • ChristopherH

    I get it. There are some unique moments when talking in a theater might enhance the experience. More often than not, however, it is the most extreme form of rudeness. I once sat in front of a woman who wanted to chat her way through The Lord Of The Rings … it was horrid.

    • Heidi

      I think reacting is alot different (and more welcome) than talking about what you just saw.

      • Erin

        Amen to that. I agree with the person who thinks there should be a special hell for those who chat during a movie. React – yes and chatting in the adverts and even trailers is acceptable. But chat in the actual movie – you deserve a massive slap in the face!

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