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Reveling in our absolute worst times at the movie theater for your enjoyment

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We should’ve just stayed home and watched Netflix

After a year spent sequestered away in our respective living rooms, large portions of the United States have emerged from other side of the pandemic and moviegoers are slowly but surely returning to the air-conditioned embrace of their favorite theaters. Despite mixed reactions, F9 bounced back at the box office with nearly $70 million at the box office — Vin Diesel said “da movies” and people showed up to da movies.

Here at Polygon, we love the movies — so much so that just last week, we put together a list of some of our favorite movie theater experiences. But there is an inevitable side of co-existing in a dark, enclosed space alongside a mass of complete strangers. What happens when the vibe is not only off, but goes all wrong?

As a counterpoint to last week’s roundup, this week we’ve put together a list of some of the movie theaters experiences that made us wish we had just stayed home and watched Netflix. If nothing else, at least these abysmal times at the movies make for some entertaining conversation fodder. Commiserate in the comments about your own woeful moments.


Dude looking at nudes during Akira

Kaneda skids his motorcycle in Akira Image: Funimation

Two years ago my friend Axel and I went to the Logan Theatre in Chicago for a special screening of Akira. What with it being one of our all-time favorite movies, we were ecstatic to go see Katsuhiro Otomo’s magnum opus for the first time on the big screen. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30 odd years of life, it’s that sometimes ... look, otaku just don’t know how to act right in public.

The movie was great, unsurprisingly, that is up until a man two rows in front of us chose to start being both very loud and very wrong during the sequence where Tetsuo is being tested by the clandestine government agency tasked with keeping tabs on potential Espers, insinuating that Otomo’s 1988 post-apocalyptic action film had somehow (impossibly) “ripped off” Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 cyberpunk classic Ghost in the Shell. Strike one. Next, this man had the audacity to start sighing loudly before starting to fiddle away at his phone on full brightness in the middle of a sold-out theater, demonstrating not only candid disregard for his fellow patrons but for the film itself. Strike two. Nevertheless I remained committed in my attempt to ignore him because again, this is one of my favorite movies and I will not allow anyone to kill my vibe that easily.

I kept on getting distracted by the nagging glow of his phone screen in my periphery. Against my better judgement, I finally glanced over and my jaw dropped. This dude was scrolling through NUDES ON HIS PHONE. Strike three, I had enough. I let out the longest “brruuuuuuuuuuuh” under my breath as I leaned over to my friend to ask them if they wanted to leave, which we promptly did. Even if we got the guy kicked out, there was just no restoring the vibe at that point. —Toussaint Egan

The man who made a calculated decision to sit on me during Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey in full astronaut gear in Interstellar Photo: Paramount Pictures

Almost an hour into Interstellar, an older couple came into the theater. I was sitting next to my dad, who’d already seen the movie but insisted that I come with him during my Thanksgiving break because it was exactly the type of movie that he wanted to see with me (don’t get me started on father-daughter space movies). Anyway, the older man eyed me and at first I didn’t think anything of it. But he and his wife kept hovering over our seats, muttering to each other.

Finally, the man sat on me. Like, he looked between me and my father, decided he’d take his chances humiliating the college student instead of sitting on the tall, buff Eastern European man, and decided to sit on me.

He got really rude at my surprise, saying that we were sitting in the wrong seats. And as it turns out — surprise! — it was actually he who had the wrong seats (we were in, like, nine and 10 and he and his wife were looking for one and two). Of course, he didn’t apologize or anything, which just pissed me off even more. I told him to fuck off, then got in trouble with my dad for using bad language, which kinda dampened the whole father-daughter bonding experience.

Good movie, though. It really broke me (in the best way) and as I drove back to university the next day, I couldn’t stop sobbing. —Petrana Radulovic

Punch Hour 3

Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 3 Image: New Line Cinema

I don’t put much stock into spiritual ideas like omens and foreshadowing, but all the signs were there the night we went to see Rush Hour 3.

We shrugged off Omen #1 in the parking garage. As we made our way toward the theater, we saw a group of men passing around a bottle of Malibu rum to one another. We laughed off the absurdity of several men drinking straight liquor out of the trunk of someone’s modest midsize sedan.

I mistook Omen #2 for a blessing. After we bought tickets, I noticed how the other people in the lobby were congregating and chatting it up. I decided to take advantage of everyone’s gabbing by making our way to the auditorium first. We ended up getting the best seats in the house. I would see these people again soon.

I thought Omen #3 was more of an odd set of coincidences than a warning. As folks entered the theater, they came in waves, all clearly together. Not only that, each new group’s appearance was met by hollers and greetings from other filmgoers. This happened nearly a dozen times. Were we the only group of friends that didn’t know each other?

Omen #4 should’ve been an obvious sign but I dismissed how almost everyone in the room was having full volume conversations during the trailers. Surely, they would be quiet during the film. Thankfully, I was half-right. As the film began, with a cheerful and silly opening with Chris Tucker, the crowd was silent, except for their appropriately loud laughter.

Immediately following the film’s intro is where everything deteriorated.

What happens next in the movie, and I can only assume this is what happens because I wasn’t really paying attention, is that Jackie Chan meets someone important and then I think they blow up? My memory is foggy because the moment Tucker was off screen and Chan was on, the auditorium resumed their conversations. One such conversation’s volume amped up so much that a group near the talkers began arguing with them. Their arguing turned into shouting and eventually, a full-scale brawl among the entirety of the bottom section of the theatre. It was like a Looney Tunes fight where arms and legs came poking out of a large cloud of smoke.

Not to be outdone by the lower section, the upper section’s patrons, all of whom were sitting next to us, decided to join in. Completely full and massive sodas were thrown into the brawl like fizzy Molotov cocktails. A poorly thrown plate of nachos with cheese pelted our friend’s girlfriend in the back of the head. As pretzel bites, Whoppers, and Junior Mints flew from our section like catapult fire, we decided to exit the theater as quickly as we could. Outside, we spoke to the theater’s management who offered us either a refund or tickets to another screening. We decided to see Superbad instead. It was OK. —Jeff Ramos

That time Blade just didn’t work

Actor Wesley Snipes raises a gun in a scene from the film Blade Image: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo via Polygon

When you buy tickets to a movie, your main hope is that the movie works. When the lights finally go down, the title card will appear and everyone will enjoy the film together. But that didn’t happen when I went to see Blade at my local, and now defunct, Alamo Drafthouse.

It was 2019 and I’d somehow avoided seeing Blade for 25 years. My wife Jamie — my fiancée at the time — loved Blade, and began questioning the wedding we were planning when she discovered my dark secret. Naturally, I immediately got us tickets when I saw our Alamo Drafthouse was doing a screening.

But when the lights went down and the movie opened on the Blood Rave, the sound was only coming out of a single speaker located somewhere in the bottom corner of the theater. Have you ever watched the Blood Rave from Blade in almost complete silence? Where you can hear the person next to you breathing slightly louder than the rave music? I have.

A few moments in, an Alamo employee slightly raised their voice over the one speaker, telling us they were working on it. Minutes later, they revealed that the movie was just gonna be like that for the entire runtime. We decided to bail, which came with a lot of fun refunds and check signing, as one traditionally orders food to go along with their movie at the Drafthouse. My wife dumped her boozy milkshake into a to-go cup and we slipped out the back.

For all the disappointments that came with our Blade experience, we salvaged the evening by renting Blade at home and ordering pizza. So the next time you hear a theater fill with sound and think “this is maybe too loud,” consider the alternative and enjoy your film. — Ryan Gilliam

The time a libertarian took me to see Atlas Shrugged: Part I on a date

Photo: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Is there really any more you need to know about this? Almost exactly a decade ago, I went on some dates with a libertarian film major. On one of those dates, he took me to see Atlas Shrugged: Part I.

The one thing I will say in his defense is that he told me up front that the movie was going to be terrible and he’d gotten the tickets for free. We will leave the idea of accepting free tickets to a screening of an Ayn Rand-inspired movie unexamined in this writing.

The movie was, indeed, terrible. You don’t have to take my word for it, Roger Ebert said it was “the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault.” But Roger Ebert didn’t stand on the subway with his date afterward, making a mental note not to invest any capital in this relationship. —Susana Polo

Terrifying drunken racism at Pulp Fiction

John Travolta and Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction Photo: Miramax

I’ve written about this one before in response to this exact question back when I worked at The A.V. Club, but hey, it’s been 12 years, I wouldn’t hesitate to retell a story I last told at a party 12 years ago. My husband and I used to go to a charmingly run-down Chicago music venue called The Vic pretty regularly for cheapo last-run double and triple features, accompanied by terrible pizza and overpriced drinks. They called it Brew & View at the Vic, and it was normally an extremely chill time with a quiet crowd, watching sometimes ridiculously awful movies to go with the awful pizza. Think “A chance to revisit 2001’s Friday the 13th movie Jason X since we somehow missed it in theaters” level of bad.

But one weekend, they had a special event, a Quentin Tarantino double feature of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, hosted by a local shock jock. The whole thing was a mess — because the radio personality was there, the security and weapons checks were much more thorough than usual, and we spent an hour and a half in line for a venue we usually just walked into at showtime. There was a liquor store across the street from the line, and it was a bitterly cold Chicago winter, so people were regularly seeking liquid warmth, and getting blotto in the process. I remember a young woman in a miniskirt behind me miserably pressing her bare legs against her companions, trying to get warm, then snuggling up to an active radiator inside the venue, and burning herself, and barely feeling it because she was so drunk and numb from cold.

Anyway, by the time we all got in, there was a lot of seething resentment in the crowd and a lot of people had pre-gamed hard with bottles of hootch from across the way, and the crowd mood was mean and ugly. And people started screaming at the screen from the get-go, cheering on any act of violence, and yelling for worse. I particularly remember during the scene where Bruce Willis is trying to evade Ving Rhames, and a passerby gets shot, hearing a cheer go up, and a howling group chant of “Shoot the fat bitch! Shoot the fat bitch!” And a little later, when the rednecks are raping Ving Rhames, the group chant was “Fuck the N-word! Fuck the N-word!” My husband and I quietly slipped out of that theater as soon as we could. I’ve never been in a movie theater that felt so much like the moment before a riot. —Tasha Robinson

Clash of the Titans in shoddily post-converted 3D

Sam Worthington barring his teeth as Perseus in Clash of the Titans Photo: Warner Bros.

Remember when 3D was all the rage? You don’t, because the technology never quite took off. Not that the movie studios didn’t try to make fetch happen. After the success of Avatar, every major release received a 3D version to lure in viewers and score a few extra bucks. There were movies that put the effect to great use — Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the Ghostbusters remake, and Wim Wenders’ Pina come to mind — but 3D, and specifically the post-conversion process, was mostly a cash-grab, and it rightfully burned the fad to the ground. Here’s hoping James Cameron’s Avatar 2 proves why 3D has a place at the movies, occasionally.

My worst moviegoing experiences are tied to 3D. Coming in number two: Seeing the post-converted Captain America: The First Avenger in a multiplex where the air conditioning was out and the theater was sweltering hot. I could barely see the picture half the time due to foggy 3D glasses. Layers of miserable.

But the number one offense was the Clash of the Titans remake. As Tasha detailed in our story about our favorite moviegoing experiences, Clash is an idiotic, bombastic Greek mythology action remake that is prime for post-drinks viewing. I saw the movie stone-cold sober, and just weeks after Warner Bros. Pictures announced that the film would arrive in 3D, despite not being planned as such. You have to remember, Avatar was such a phenomenon that, despite there only being a few weeks before Clash of the Titans’ planned release in 2010, a studio was willing to throw ungodly amounts of money and crunch-time labor to capitalize on the 3D buzz. But Clash director Louis Leterrier hadn’t conceived a single shot for the 3D effect, and with most of the movie rendered with hyperactive CG and shaky handheld cameras, the post-conversion effect created a retina-tearing hell. I have never had such a viscerally awful time in a theater, and I’ve seen several Human Centipede movies. This was the blockbuster equivalent of Un Chien Andalou’s opening scene, except I was the animal eye and blurry Sam Worthington was the razor blade. I love movie theaters, but this era was torture for anyone paying premium price just to watch the damn things. —Matt Patches