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10 Hacks for a More Pleasant Movie Theater Experience

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In theory, the movies are great, right? You roll up to the theater with a friend or your significant other, and get in line to buy your tickets. But wait: the movie you had planned to see is sold out. No matter. You settle for the next best thing, then head to the concession stand … where you proceed to spend $30 on two popcorns and two sodas. Mildly annoyed, you take your seats—all the way up front, because those are the only ones available—crane your neck, and watch as the opening credits roll. Then, just as the action gets good (and your neck has adjusted to that unnatural posture), you feel a familiar pressure on your bladder.

While you'd be justified in swearing off the movies forever after an evening like that, we promise there's a better way. Here are 10 tips to help your trip to the local theater be what you hoped it would all along: fun. 

1. Buy tickets in bulk. 

Bulk tickets are usually about 25% or more off the regular ticket price, and can be purchased at Costco or Sam’s Club. AMC Theaters offer premium Gold E-Tickets, which are somewhat unrestricted and can be used at any time, day, and AMC location (but expect to pay an extra surcharge for 3D and IMAX screenings). 

Cinemark offers a bulk ticket program called Platinum Supersaver, while Regal Cinemas offers Premiere Movie Tickets for deep discounts. In addition, AARP and AAA members can get up to 40% off regular box-office prices for AMC, Regal, Bowtie, and Showcase Cinemas across the United States.

If you're feeling bold, you can also go directly to the customer service desk and (politely) ask for discount tickets. Sometimes, they’ll just give you a coupon or voucher. Most theaters also offer discounts for anyone with a valid military, student, or senior citizen I.D. card. 

2. Give these apps a try.

Like Netflix for theater-goers, Moviepass lets you see as many flicks as you want (excluding 3D and IMAX movies) for just $30 a month.

Runpee is exactly what it sounds like: an app that lets you know when you should use the bathroom. It features every film currently in theaters and pinpoints long scenes that don't include a crucial plot twist, a great comedic moment, or an exciting and thrilling action sequence, buzzing you to let you know it's time to run for the toilet. 

Cinemark’s mobile app boasts “Cinemode,” a feature that dims your screen, silences your phone, and gives you rewards like free popcorn and soda upgrades if you don’t touch your device while watching a film at a Cinemark theater. 

3. Choose your seats carefully.

Not all seats are created equal. Audio technicians usually check the sound about two-thirds of the way back and in the center of the auditorium, which means this is the best place to sit for crisp, clean audio. If you sit too far off to the side, the sound might be softer than in the center. 

4. Consider bringing earplugs.

While the film industry standard for sound is 85 decibels, many theaters actually turn up the volume—to the point where certain scenes hit 130 decibels. (For comparison, that's about how loud a jet is when it takes off.) Unfortunately, there are no regulations forcing theaters to comply with industry standards or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended safe level, which is about 85 to 90 decibels. With that in mind, it's a good idea to pack a pair of earplugs just in case—especially for any children in your party. 

5. Don't be afraid to walk out.

If you’re about 20 to 30 minutes into a movie and you realize that you just don’t like it, most theater managers will let you swap tickets to watch another. If nothing else strikes your fancy, ask for a voucher that can be redeemed on your next visit. 

If fellow audience members, not the plot, are the problem, most theaters will try to make it up to you with free tickets or concessions. 

6. Choose your snacks wisely.

If you're not rebellious enough to go the outside food and drink route, stick with popcorn and boxed candy when you place your order. Hot dogs and nachos may be warm, but they're not usually fresh.

Wonder why you're forced to fork over so much cash for a drink and a snack? It turns out theaters don’t make much money from the movies they screen. Up to 70% of the ticket price goes to the distributor and studio, while theater owners get the rest. Because theaters depend on concession sales for most of their profits, they charge accordingly.

Still, you shouldn't feel guilty if you can't seem to resist the siren song of the (very pricey) popcorn stand. Some theaters will connect the exhaust from their popcorn machines to vents in the auditorium in order to sell more buckets.

7. Grab an extra straw—for your popcorn.   

Placing a simple straw between the butter machine's nozzle and your popcorn will more evenly distribute the butter inside of your bucket. 

8. Keep an eye out for free screenings.

New movies often screen for press, media, and fans weeks before they’re set for release. Studios want to generate advance buzz, and it doesn’t cost them much to rent out a theater and let critics and fans watch films early. While these special advanced screenings are usually closed to the general public, there are a number of websites and services that can help you get access. Sites like Gofobo, See It First, and Get Screening are good places to start. 

9. If you're paying for IMAX, make sure you're getting the full experience.

The standard IMAX screen size is about 72 feet wide by 52 feet tall, but some theaters just can’t accommodate those sizes, which means some IMAX screens are smaller than others. For example, in NYC's Times Square, the IMAX screen at the AMC Empire 25 is just 58 feet wide by 28 feet tall, compared to the IMAX screen at the AMC Lincoln Square in Manhattan, which is a whopping 97 feet wide by 76 feet tall. (Even on the smaller screen, you're paying the same premium IMAX price.)

IMAX’s theater locator and IMAX or LIEMAX? are resources you can use to help you find the right theater. Once you're there, try to snag a seat anywhere in the center of the top five rows. This way, you have a good view of the entire screen and get the best sound experience at the same time.

10. Sign up for a loyalty program.

The more you spend at a certain chain, the more rewards you get. AMC Stubs, which costs $12 a year to join, gives its members $10 for every $100 they spend on tickets and concessions. Regal Crown Club is a free program that gives members credits towards discounts on concessions and free tickets. 

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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