"Don't Leave Your Popcorn Bucket Behind": Etiquette Rules From a Guy Who's at the Cinemas Every Week

Rule #1: Thou shall arrive early for trailers.
by Anton Reyes
June 04, 2023
war espejo

(SPOT.ph) In January of 2013, I had the unique pleasure of being able to witness Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in cinemas. The film, which would go on to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects a couple of months later, is best described as a sensory experience. A once-considered “unadaptable story” brought to life on the big screen, vividly capturing what the feeling of faith, in at least the religious sense, is.

After watching Life of Pi, I rushed home to blog my scattered thoughts on the experience of watching the film in the cinema. 10 years on, I can’t remember if there were any coherent or insightful thoughts to be absorbed from the blog post, but what I do remember is that the experience is what kickstarted my routine of catching a movie in the cinema at least once a week. New releases, reruns of old movies, premieres, you name them; the idea that there’s no better place to experience a film than inside the cinema has been so deeply impressed upon me that it’s nowhere close to challenging to keep up the habit.


In the past decade of watching a movie in the cinema every week—these numbers are totally legit, I swear! Just don’t look at my Letterboxd—I’ve, of course, more intricately developed my cinematic palate. However, more importantly, I’ve developed my own second nature of movie theater sensibilities; a do’s and don’ts of acting inside the movie house if you will. 

After all, concerts and the theater scene have etiquette that you must abide by. Cinema, while largely unspoken, does too and it’s time to lay down the law on how to be the best moviegoer you can be—if not for your sake, then for mine, please! I’m trying to watch Vin Diesel give a monologue about family while driving a car through the Mariana trench in peace over here!

Also read: Smackdown: What's the Best Cinema Popcorn in Metro Manila?

Frequent moviegoers, these are the cinema etiquette and rules you should follow:

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Your phone doesn’t need to be as bright as the sun when you open it to text.

The architecture of the cinema asks for one thing: for all those in attendance to be absorbed into the darkness of the chamber and communally experience the singular source of bright moving images. This is what separates the cinema experience from other artistic mediums and even the mode of watching movies at home. You inherently change up the entire experience when you pull out your phone to reply to messages or search up the plot on Wikipedia. If you must do it for yourself, at least set the brightness of your screen to the lowest setting for the sake of the people around you. I promise; it’s a dark room. You’ll still be able to read the screen.

No one needs play-by-play commentary of the movie.

The cinema is definitely not the place for you to activate sportscaster mode and belt out your predictions on what you think will happen in the movie. There’s no one waiting at the end of the screening to bestow you with an award for loudly calling out plot points, nor will anyone stand up and applaud you for exclaiming “knew it” or “sabi ko nga ba.”  Though, there is an award to be given to that one person who had to deal with their date saying, “Oh my gosh, so the boat sinks?” near the end of a showing I once attended of Titanic. I guess some movies aren’t as obvious to everyone.


The cinema isn’t a concert. The actors won’t hear you cheering for them.

In an interview with Empire Magazine, Martin Scorsese once compared Marvel movies to theme parks. While fans of superhero movies and your typical summer blockbusters would contest these arguments, it’s hard to beat the theme park allegations with the increasingly normal behavior of acting rowdy in the cinema. Just remember there are other people trying to escape into the cinematic world too! You can show your excitement but within the confines of your seating space. You don’t need to stand up and cheer, throw popcorn, or scream over the surround sound audio just because, say, Timothee Chalamet shows up for 30 seconds as a character called Captain Overbite or Optimus Prime busts out a laser sword and shoves it down a T-rex Transformer’s mouth—though, I empathize that that would be rad as hell.


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The right armrest is yours, the left armrest is only yours if uncontested.

An unwritten but widely respected rule within the cinema is that you have full claim to the armrest situated on your right. The right armrest and cup holder are yours no matter what, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The left armrest, however, is a bit more complicated. I’d like to argue if the person to your left doesn’t claim your left armrest (which would be their right armrest) by at least 30 minutes into the movie, then you have given a decent window and are now free to claim the left armrest as yours as well. Why let a good armrest go to waste?

If you arrive late, don’t turn on your flashlight.

Another unspoken etiquette for inside the movie house is that if you’re late, you’ve lost the right to turn on your cellphone’s flash. If you enter the cinema after the preceding trailers, sorry, you’ll have to make your way to your seat without using flash. Shuffling through the aisle and blocking the screen are disturbances enough, so there’s no need to add a glaring source of light into the mix. If you need to check the seat number, it’s just common courtesy to use your dimmed phone screen instead.


You’re only allowed one accidental kick of the chair in front of you.

Whether it be due to switching leg positions or simply just testing the limits of your leg space, we’ve all accidentally kicked the chair of the person in front of us. Try as hard as you’d like, it’s just something you can’t avoid. And yes, you’ll go through the whole awkward motions of the person in front of you having to turn their heads to the side as an acknowledgment of “yes, we did in fact feel that.” But that’s the limit before it turns into bad cinema behavior. Just once. If a person behind you has kicked your seat multiple times and shows no signs of stopping, you’re more than entitled to challenge them to a John Wick-style duel at sunrise in Paris (or you know, just do the introvert thing and switch to an unoccupied seat).


Finish your popcorn and bring the trash out.

Cleaning up your empty food packages is less of a tenet of cinema etiquette and more of just plain old good manners. It takes zero additional energy to just carry your bags of popcorn and empty soda cups with you as exit the cinema. There are trash deposits situated literally at every exit, so it’s not like you’ll have to carry your trash with you for a long time anyway.

Also read: Are Hotel Guests Expected to Clean Up After Themselves?

Don’t take your shoes or slippers off in the cinema.

An alarming sight I’m starting to see more and more of at the cinema is that of the person who takes off their footwear in the middle of the movie to expose bare feet. Without fail, they also love to prop up said barefoot so it’s even more strikingly apparent to the people in our row. Don’t be that person. The cinema is not your living room where you can just put your feet up anywhere. It’s not too much to ask to enforce boundaries and hygiene.


Avoid wrapper noise.

Not everyone snacks on popcorn while enjoying movies at the cinema. Some people tend to bring in bags of chips or wrappers of candy, and that’s completely fine. The grievances come when a person struggles to open the plastic packaging, causing all other audience members to listen in on the various crackles and crunches. No harm intended, I’m sure, but a couple of ways to avoid this would be to pre-open your wrappers prior to the movie (during the previews, at the latest) or to muffle the sounds by opening the wrappers underneath a jacket or piece of layered clothing. This small act goes a long way in preserving the sanctity of the space.

No need to put your hands in the air when putting on your jacket or hoodie.

Like when traveling on airplanes, let’s try to keep all arms, legs, and limbs within the confines of our seats when watching a movie. People tend to stretch, put their arms up, or extend their limbs when putting on jackets, but let’s be honest; we don’t need to exaggeratedly extend our bodies like Pennywise when doing so. Be as lowkey and contained as possible, so as not to intrude on anyone’s personal space.


Also read: It's Not a Bus: Here's Why the Back Seats of a Plane Are Best

It’s not rude to tell people they're causing a disturbance.

Lastly, I’ll boldly say it: it’s completely alright to approach a person, a stranger, to politely inform them they’re causing a disturbance and ask them to stop. Whether they’re texting with a bright screen, talking too much, snoring, or breaking any of the other rules I listed above, it’s fine to quietly point out their behavior to them and it wouldn’t be considered rude. Now, there’s definitely the threat of said person escalating the situation, which we wouldn’t want, so choosing the path of non-violence by simply moving to a different seat in the cinema would also be fine. In general, though, there’s no problem in bringing cinema etiquette up to people as long as you approach it with a calm and leveled head.


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