Lights, camera, shhh: Cell phones aren't the only bad manners in movies

IMAGE: Man talking on cell phone in movie theater
Man talking on cell phone in movie theateraltrendo images / Getty Images/Altrendo

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By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Cell phones in theaters are annoying, though not the only pet peeve of moviegoers.altrendo images / Today

Moviegoers head to the cinema to be transported into a fantasy world -- and they don't take kindly to interruptions that break that spell. Ninety-seven percent of the 28,000 who voted in our survey said that cell phone use in theaters should "never be allowed -- watch the movie instead!" (Although more than 30 percent admit to occasionally using their own phones in theaters. Do as I say, not as I do?)

While cell phone use -- whether for texting, talking or game playing -- is a sore spot, it's far from the only gripe moviegoers have. Chatting, kicking seats, smuggling in smelly food and bringing kids to age-inappropriate films all irritate those who are already paying ever-increasing ticket prices, sometimes with a 3-D surcharge.

"I have 5-year-old twins, so I'm particularly sensitive to small children attending inappropriate movies with their parents," film critic Rob Elder, author of "The Best Film You've Never Seen," told TODAY. "Case in point, I went to a screening of JJ Abrams' 'Star Trek' reboot -- but was so distracted by the fact that there was a newborn sitting a few rows away, it subtracted from my enjoyment. The theater was so loud, I'm sure the kid felt carpet-bombed by the rumbling sound system."

At least one theater chain -- Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse -- does not allow babies in movies except for specified "baby day" showings. The chain has also been widely praised for its zero tolerance policy for texting and talking, a rule that CEO Tim League told TODAY came about after a boisterous audience made him "sick to my stomach." 

"(Alamo has) got the experience of going to the movies figured out," wrote a TODAY reader going by mickeyblueeyes.

Kids in inappropriate movies is the No. 1 pet peeve for Vic Holtreman, founder of "Just as some movies are barely PG-13 and others are barely trimmed down from an R rating, there are also different levels of R-rated content," Holtreman told TODAY. "I'm not talking about 10- to 12-year-olds. Some kids can handle things at a younger age than others. I'm talking about parents bringing a 5- or 6-year-old into some uber-violent film that is bound to give a kid nightmares or a skewed sense of how things are in the real world."

Holtreman said his next pet peeve is as old as time: "continuous, non-whisper talking," along with its modern counterpart, texting/Facebooking.

"There are always going to be rude people as well as polite people," he noted. "I do believe that generally speaking, people are becoming more rude and insensitive -- and that technology has had something to do with that."

A reader who goes by Bizzer agrees. "I can't help but be baffled by the people who talk in the theater, especially when it's random gossip that has nothing to do w/ the movie," the reader wrote on our cell phones in theaters story. "Across the street from the theater I visit is a park. A free park where you can sit around, at no cost to you, and chat to your heart's content. Instead, you come into the theater and pay money? Wow!"

St. Paul Pioneer Press film critic Chris Hewitt calls movie talkers "monologuers," and recently battled with one at a showing of the Mark Wahlberg Navy SEAL movie "Lone Survivor."

Said Hewitt, "I sat in a front of a woman who kept up a running commentary: 'That's so loud,' 'I'm sure they're bad guys,' 'He has to get out of there.' My eyes shot her a ton of shade before, 'Ma'am, we are not in your living room. Please be quiet,' finally did the trick."

Openly texting or talking during the movie should be grounds for ejection, Elder said.

"This isn't a case of an old man's 'Get off my lawn' reaction," he noted. "This kind of behavior underlines a break in the most simple etiquette: Be kind, quiet and don't draw attention to yourself when we've all paid to see something else. No one is interested in your drama, we want to see Sandra Bullock."