Features and Columns · Movies

Sneaking Snacks — Why, When, and at What Cost?

By  · Published on September 20th, 2016

Dear FSR

What are the ethics of purse-smuggling?

Image via WikiHow

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,

In my time going to the movies, I’ve been known to smuggle a few outside snacks into the theater in my purse. The gouged prices seem completely unreasonable and I don’t THINK I’m hurting anyone ‐ am I good?


The Rolo Han Solo

Dear Rolo Solo,

I get it. I really do. In many places, especially big cities, it’s cheaper to get a steak and a bottle of wine than popcorn and the tall cola advertised endlessly in pre-show movie ads. It’s highway extortion and we all understand it as an industry standard. When there are nearby bars and sources of more edible fare than dog-toy hot dogs and molten plastic nachos, the true move of a high roller is to buy you and your date the concession combo and be the enviously-watched gluttons of the theater.

But is the alternative move to shove a Gatorade and some candy down your pants?

We may not be the goodiest two-shoes around, but here at FSR we like to make sure everyone enjoys watching movies ‐ oh and obeying the law, that’s important.

So regardless of where you fall on the snack-smuggling debate, we’ve got a few guidelines for the hypothetical situation where you may find yourself in a movie with unsanctioned food:

No stinky food. That means cheese, chili, pickled things, fish, or variously ethnic takeout.

No slurping, clinking, scraping, or other noise ‐ if you’ve gotta munch, keep it to yourself.

Don’t bring anything but finger food, I don’t care WHAT ideas those watermelon-smuggling teens gave you.

No messy foods. Don’t leave a splatter, drip, or crumb for those poor minimum-waged teens cleaning the theater after you leave. They have it hard enough as it is.

Aside from these, just play it cool. Act how you normally would in a moviegoing environment ‐ with quiet respect for those around you.

That’s just as important for not talking or jostling seats as it is for not blasting your neighbors with your foodborne stink waves. This isn’t just common courtesy; it’s the best way to deter snitches. You stay discreet and nobody’s going out of their way to tattle. You start slopping your curry during a quiet part of a whispering indie, your ass is grass.

But but but but but but but. Here’s the thing.

There’re two reasons to reconsider your subversive snacking: fear of repercussions and an understanding of economic realities.


This may not be outright theft ‐ in fact, no laws are broken at all ‐ but things can quickly become embarrassing. While the “no outside food” policy is “basically up to them to enforce,” a police spokeswoman said, if you’re caught and booted you’ll be given a trespass warning. Come back and the police will arrest you. Sneak booze? If you’re a raging ass about it and make a scene, you could get a ticket for violating open container laws. Most places that’s a small fine.

However, if you’re truly stupid and try sneaking a friend in the back way with an armload of fast food, you could be held on felony theft of services charges. That’s not a good look for a few bucks saved on Junior Mints.


The prices are jacked up for good reason. Buying films is expensive ‐ theaters will be charged upwards of 70 percent of the box office revenue to show the films ‐ and theaters almost never make that money back in pure ticket sales. If they did, they’d have to double or triple ticket prices and then nobody’s happy. So they spread the cost over their other monopolized commodity, concessions.

Sure popcorn is marked up more than 800% from kernel to large bucket and a Coke sees its value go up almost 600% on the inside ‐ theoretically the theaters are the only ones with food at that point of the game so they can charge you whatever they please. Concessions may account for about 20% of most theaters’ gross revenues, but they represent around 40% of their profits. Huge investments in digital tech and 3-D have sunk lots of costs into running a nationwide theater chain, so the push for overpriced popcorn is higher than ever.

But I’d much rather you shove a sweet-and-salty middle finger to the AMC looming inside your local mall than to your local indie theater trying to bring a little culture to the community. Suck it up and buy a drink, it’ll pay for itself with the feeling of keeping a struggling business afloat.

So what’s the verdict here? If you’re not a dick about it and it’s a national chain showing Suicide Squad on ten screens, sure put some Skittles in your purse. You’re staying fit and resisting temptation? Have a bag of nuts or dried fruit in your pocket.

We’ll be cool about it, you can trust us.

Do indie theaters deserve this kind of treatment? No, they just want to survive and pursue their passion. But, as humorist Randy Cohen has said, just because you’ve bought a movie ticket doesn’t mean you’ve “agreed to buy their food [or] be subjected to popcorn-sniffing dogs and the cola detectives”.

Play it cool and we’ll bring the Sour Patch Kids,


Do you have a question for FSR? Tweet us with the hashtag #DearFSR, ask in the comments, use our member’s only chat, or e-mail us at [email protected]

We’ll be back answering your questions every Tuesday!

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