Seat & Greet: What’s Acceptable Theatrical Seating Behavior?

By  · Published on November 15th, 2016

Dear FSR

Uncovering the rules of the scooch.

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

I like to see movies with my friends. I guess everyone does, right? When I get there, sometimes it’s hard to find an open area with enough space for everyone so, is it ok to ask people to scooch towards the middle to make room? Is there scooching best practices I should be following?


I Just Want To Seat Four People

Dear Four People (or 4P, pronounced “forp” for short),

This is all in the asking. Well, and the obnoxiousness of your group. And how late you are to the movie. And where you’re trying to sit.

Maybe there are more factors than I thought.

I just got back from a film festival so I know just how important seating, especially next to people you know (and in my case can be trusted not to be on their phones), can be. At a screening of Manchester By the Sea, I had to strategically avoid a critic who can’t contain his self-assessed clever asides and a gaggle of Mexican schoolchildren that had been texting through movies since day one of the festival. Luckily I got there early after the previous day’s screening had sold out hours before, so I got my pick of the cushiony real estate.

But did I ever pity the souls that walked in as the lights were dimming. They were like college kids getting their first apartment without properly vetting the place. Just taking whatever was available and nearby and seemingly without leaks or smells.

A general rule with a group is to arrive at your movie early. If there’s a line by the time you get there, you’re in trouble anyways. The best way to avoid the scooching conundrum is to circumvent it completely by showing up ahead of time. A half hour is probably enough unless it’s the hectic opening night of a superhero movie, kid’s flick, or teen franchise. Then you may need to plan a bit harder, but you also know what you’re getting into. If you show up to a kid’s movie ten minutes late and ask parents and children to get up and then settle back down before the film plays, you’re a demon escaped from Parenting Hell.

Obviously earlier is better and the earlier you get, the more lenience you have with your request. Politeness is key, but it’s more palatable to ask two groups to move a few seats as the theater fills up than to ask an all-but-full row to collect their various drinks, purses, and popcorn bags with holes cut in the bottom just so your pals can snicker together for an hour and a half. Always make sure to ask if people are saving seats and try to be courteous to strangers.

However, if the lights are out and the previews are up, you’re out of luck. Nobody’s doing the midnight shuffle for you now. Go against what Dungeons and Dragons taught you and split the party. Like The Lord of the Rings, it’ll make it easier on you in the long run.

Now here’s where things get a bit tricky. If it’s not a possibility and you’re on a date, you’ve totally screwed up. It’s a snafu. At this point, going up front into the first row theater slums is preferable than returning your tickets in shame in hopes of a better showing later. No rainchecked date could make up for that lack of planning.

If it’s just your friends seeing a big opening night release, it’s more understandable. Split up and reconvene. You saw the same movie. Who cares? When the lights are down, we’re all together anyways. That’s what’s great about the movies in the first place.

So go ahead and try to conduct the positions of strangers to your will like one of those army generals with a swagger stick – just be early and be polite,


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We’ll be back answering your questions every Tuesday!

Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).