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7 Movies That Sent People Running Out of Theaters

Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

The Lumière brothers were said to have caused quite a stir when their 50-second short film, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, premiered in Paris in 1896. Unaccustomed to the sensory experience of moving footage, audiences experienced a jolt of panic when an oncoming train seemed to be speeding directly toward them.

Over the years, the story has morphed into people fleeing from the theater entirely, though that’s not likely. Since the Lumières, however, many filmmakers have been successful in driving moviegoers out of their seats. The latest addition: Robert Zemeckis, whose film The Walk is quickly becoming notorious for its dizzying depiction of wire-walker Philippe Petit’s journey between the Twin Towers in 1974. The perspective of Petit more than 1300 feet in the air is reportedly too much for some to take. Here are seven other films that couldn’t keep audiences in the dark for long.   

1. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Lines wrapped around the block for the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel about a young woman possessed by a demon. They quickly realized it was the cinematic equivalent of a hot pepper: something to be endured rather than enjoyed. News footage like the compilation above portrayed stricken filmgoers who had fled screening rooms out of sheer terror; one fainted in the lobby. “I just found it really horrible and had to come out,” one says. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” By the time the film premiered in London, ambulances were parked outside.

2. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1998)

Launching the found-footage genre with an economical story about filmmakers threatened by an unseen force, The Blair Witch Project was a sizable box office hit and remains one of the most profitable films ever ($22,000 budget, $240 million gross). But the documentary-style format, with actors jogging or falling over with a camera in hand, prompted waves of people getting motion sickness in aisles, lobbies, and bathrooms. The Associated Press reported Atlanta-area theaters were on puke patrol for most of opening weekend. “Someone threw up in the men’s restroom, the women’s restroom, and in the hallway,” said a theater manager. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, another theater manager made announcements before screenings to please vomit outside of the screening room.

By the time Cloverfield's (2008) handheld photography was churning stomachs a decade later, theaters wisely posted signs warning of a "roller coaster" effect. Instead of barf bags, theaters handed out refunds.

3. 127 HOURS (2010)

film still from 127 hours
Fox Searchlight

From the get-what-you-pay-for department: Audiences that streamed in for director Danny Boyle’s account of hiker Aron Ralston, who got himself wedged in a cave and had to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife, found themselves bearing witness to James Franco wedged in a cave and amputating his own arm with a pocketknife. Many, many people fainted; some vomited; one person fainted, was hauled away in an ambulance, and returned to the theater to declare the film “excellent.”

4. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

It’s not necessarily shocking that the unflinching violence of a Quentin Tarantino movie would prompt audience evacuations: 1994’s Pulp Fiction lost patrons when Uma Thurman got a shot of adrenaline in her heart. But Reservoir Dogs is notable for the people it pulled from their seats. When Michael Madsen’s character began an unsolicited ear amputation of a hostage during an industry screening, the late Wes Craven (creator of The Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street) fled the theater.  

5. FREAKS (1932)

Freaks film
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Tod Browning’s infamous portrayal of a circus sideshow with revenge in mind was a harrowing experience for filmgoers. Not strictly a horror film, its large cast of “actual” circus performers with a myriad of deformities was unsettling. Freaks suffered mass walkouts upon release, viewers unnerved by missing limbs; MGM insisted on editing the film after a woman claimed she was so aggrieved during a screening that she suffered a miscarriage.  

6. IRREVERSIBLE (2002)

Panned for its depiction of a brutal assault, this revenge film from director Gaspar Noé prompted viewers to head for the exits—but not necessarily because of what was shown onscreen. Noé admitted to using a 27 hertz frequency of bass that can’t be picked up by the human ear during the movie’s first 30 minutes. Known as infrasound, it's been known to induce panic and anxiety in a manner similar to vibrations created by earthquakes. Paranormal Activity (2007) used a similar technique.

7. THE LION KING (1994)

the lion king
Walt Disney Pictures

In the proud Disney tradition of maiming parents came The Lion King, where tiny Simba learns to fend for himself after his father is trampled during a stampede. The animated tragedy proved so intense for younger viewers—Disney’s key demographic—that they had to be temporarily relocated to the lobby until they calmed down.  

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain
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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
iStock

Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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