Movie theaters are different. And they’re also very much the same. I saw Black Widow, last night, at the theater where I spent my youth seeing every movie that was possible for me to see, every movie my parents would take me to.
The ticket booth with attendants who ask you which movie you want to see and take our IDs to check that we were old enough to attend that PG-13 movie has been replaced by electronic ticket counters. The arcade has been replaced by a full bar. The concession stand has changed from a person behind a case offering you a larger popcorn and drink for just a few cents more, handing you that oversized but oh so enjoyable box of candy that you only feel like eating at the movies to self-serve to a hybrid model. At one point you could get scoops of Blue Bell ice cream here, now, because of COVID, you can only get closed pints or ice cream bars. Even the candy itself has changed. Where I once was purchasing Butterfinger and Reese’s bites, last night I was snacking on Skittles Gummies.
The seats that were once squeezed in, hard as a rock and made my knees ache as my legs dangled over the edge of them just enough to let my feet skim the floor but not touch, the seats that we would have to scramble for once we made it to the theater, hoping we got to sit the perfect distance away from the screen with our entire party, have been replaced with numbered recliners that you prebook when you get your tickets with a tray to place your snacks on so you no longer have to hold them in your lap.
The actual theater, that was once packed with every movie fan imaginable on a Saturday night to the point where you didn’t know if your party could all sit together, was sparsely filled by only those looking for a way to get out of the house or the most avid super-fans willing to sit amongst other people in a time where most movies go to streaming and theaters at the same time.
But, there were still those guys. You know the ones. The guys who think they’re the only ones who matter, who think their conversation and commentary on the movie is more important than the immersive experience for the other patrons. There was that woman. The one who shoots daggers with her eyes at those guys as if they’ll look around to find someone who’s angry at them. And then when they don’t stop talking, she continues to shoot daggers as if they’ll magically get the message. There’s the annoying shusher (that was me, last night, except I did a throaty cough and a finger over the lips and then gave up.)
There’s still that smell of buttered popcorn that lingers around every corner, the feeling of being in a dark theater where the screen is so massive you can forget everything around you, the pounding of the floor in the hall just outside of the individual theaters as action sequences take place. There are the heart-pounding, adrenaline-inducing moments that come with seeing a movie for the first time, not knowing, for once, what is going to happen, when the music surrounds you and engulfs your entire body, and you lose yourself in the story and the characters.
The movies have changed. Fewer people go, the experience is different, and even though I enjoy sitting in my dark bedroom with headphones on, eating snacks I paid a normal amount for, I hope they stick around. Because I still love going to the movies.