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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Before You Go: ‘A Night at the Movies’

CRL columnist John Gray on the perils of moviegoing.

The people who run the movie theater have turned me into a felon, a bona fide snack smuggler of the first degree. Oh, don’t wag your finger and judge me, I guarantee they’ve done the same thing to you. See if this sounds familiar.

You grab your sweetie and crumb munchers and head off to see the latest Pirate movie where Johnny Depp does his Keith Richards imitation for the 20th time. After circling the mall for an hour to find suitable parking, you venture inside and financial reality hits. The movie tickets alone are going to run you $50, and that’s before any of you gobble down two jumbo-size tubs of popcorn (tips on the proper way to add fake butter later), four drinks and several boxes of chewy, gooey, guaranteed to yank the fillings out of your teeth, treats. Personally, I love the Swedish fish. Whatever your flavor, trust me, you’ll be spending north of $100 on yummy snacks and a bad movie.

Before you even walk in the theater you have two choices—take out a second mortgage to pay for the treats or stop by the CVS three doors down and stock up. This, unfortunately, means you must implicate your spouse and children in this slightly illegal act of smuggling the contraband in. I say “slightly” because it’s not like sneaking a bottle of Poland Spring into the movies will elicit an indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Still, you feel guilty having your four-year-old hide a Kit Kat bar in her Hello Kitty boots. Oh, and trust me, she’ll be talking about this moment in therapy 20 years from now. “And that’s why I keep picking the bad boys, doctor. At an early age, my parents turned me on to a life of crime!”
As tempting as it is to sneak in a bottle of Diet Pepsi, I almost always opt to spend the extra money on a fountain drink at the theater. This affords me the opportunity to be “up sold” by the young, perky, sales clerk, on the benefits of getting the large soda and popcorn combination for “just a dollar more.” Never mind that they are already charging me $6 for a drink that’s three-quarters full of ice. “The best part is you get free refills,” she adds, hoping to close the deal. I can see the cup is twice the size of my bladder but what the heck, I’m in.

I know what you’re thinking, “But John, what if I haven’t had lunch yet? Won’t all these treats and a large drink spoil my appetite?” The answer is no because you can bring your lunch right into the theater. Oh, I’ve seen it. Not that long ago I went to a matinee of a Liam Neeson movie—you know, the one where men with strange accents kidnap his daughter for the 12th time and he kills everyone in Europe to get her back. Anyway, the movie time coincided with the lunch hour and a woman to my left—God as my witness—came in with an entire combination platter from the local Chinese restaurant. We’re talking chop sticks, egg roll and fortune cookie. I think her fortune said, “Entire theater will soon smell like General Tso’s chicken.” Trust me, it did.

Twice during the movie, the guy in the red vest walked up and down the aisle with his flashlight but the aroma didn’t even faze him. I think the people running these theaters have just accepted the fact that their customers are doing more smuggling than Pablo Escobar, which is fair play, considering what you spend to get in.

It wasn’t always this way. The first movie theater, as we know it, opened in 1905 in Pittsburgh. It was called the Nickelodeon because that’s what they charged to get in—just a nickel. As their popularity grew, so did the price and here we are today. I don’t go to the movies as much as I used to, partly due to the price but mostly because I’d rather stay at home. With Netflix, Redbox, HBO, Showtime and the rest, you have about a thousand options and, of course, the snacks are cheaper, too.

Oh, I promised to fill you in on proper popcorn procedure at the movies. Whatever size you buy, they’ll ask you if you want butter. I use the word “butter” loosely here because I’m not really sure what that hot yellow liquid is, but it sure tastes good. They’ll likely have the bags already filled to the top and try to hand it to you. Being polite you’ll want to take it. Rookie mistake. Tell them to dump out half, squirt in a bunch of the butter, fill up the rest with popcorn and top it off with more yellow stuff. Healthy? Not a chance, but you didn’t want to live forever anyway. Who wants to be around when they release “Pirates of the Caribbean 30: Jack Sparrow’s swashbuckling adventures from the nursing home?” Not me.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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