How Comfortable Do We Need To Be At the Movies?

By  · Published on January 6th, 2013

“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, we don’t have a theater to share so I’m writing about comfort at the movies instead. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

It used to be that movie theaters tried to compete with home viewing options by offering amenities you couldn’t find in your living room. But bigger screens, gimmicks and special menus are no longer enough. Or maybe even a draw at all. Now it seems the theater industry is out to accomodate us in ways that mimic our experience at home. They want us to feel as comfortable as we would had we never even gone out. That has to be the reason that AMC Theatres has introduced to five of its locations across the country new “comfy seats,” plush power recliners with footrests that are just like (or for some us better than) our favorite movie-watching chairs at home.

Do we need such comfort at the movies? Can we take our shoes and pants off, too? Hold a cat on our lap? Can we all have remote controls so we can pause the screen if we have to go to the bathroom? Presumably theaters will keep the line drawn at decency and personal conveniences that don’t infringe on others’ comfort and enjoyment. However, there is still a possibility that the more comfortable moviegoers are made to feel, the more they’ll be encouraged to act as they do at home. Maybe sitting in a recliner will cause them to forget they’re out and can’t text and tweet during the show.

Obviously I’m considering worst case scenarios, and honestly the only true fear concerning these recliners I ought to have is that I’ll more easily fall asleep. As it is, I’m already noticing I’m getting too old for relaxing movie theater seats, just with the common kind that slightly recline. And I’ve become aware that the couches in some arthouse cinemas are not a good idea for me. Especially if I’m seeing something long and talky like Lincoln. I often miss the hardback auditorium seats we had at school, which were great for keeping students uncomfortable and therefore awake during film screenings. Now I could use a D-Box motion seat to constantly jostle me through my viewing of something like Amour.

But when we go out to the movies, it’s not always for an alert and studious examination of what we’re seeing. Most of the time, for most people, it’s to escape and be entertained, preferably while laying back and having a beer and some chicken fingers. And it’s their own fault or prerogative if they doze off because they’ve chosen a seat just as suited for napping as watching a movie. I tried to think of comparable venues and what might relate in terms of comfort. We don’t have desire such relaxation at church, sporting events and music concerts. Yet none of these experiences is really akin to going to the movies, at least not in the way mainstream audiences see it. They’re not all at the cinema to worship motion pictures or to engage with the film and the rest of the audience, actively and socially.

Usually we just want to pretend like we’re alone in a theater, and a big comfy chair is certainly an isolating tool. Maybe the next amenity that theaters will work on is some sort of blinder system that blocks out other people in the auditorium (and their iPhone screens) from our vision – although we’ll also want audio blockers too, so we don’t hear talkers, smackers, slurpers and even laughers. At that point, why are we even going to the movies? For the big screen? The chance to see a movie at its earliest availability? Just to get out of the house? There are other places to go, such as parks that aren’t designed to mimic your yard and restaurants that serve food that’s better than what you’d have made yourself.

As home viewing experiences continue to improve by following the lead of cinemas – the latest being 3D televisions – but theaters are now following the lead of the home viewing experience, are we just entering a dead-end loop as far as distinguishing the difference between the two? And therefore any reason to go to the movies?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.