13 Things a Movie Theater Employee Won’t Tell You

Find out behind the scenes info about your favorite place to see the next blockbuster.

By Ilana Strauss
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    1. Why does it smell so good? The popcorn has chemicals in it to make its aroma fill the theater.

    2. “Extreme Digital” is actually lower quality than IMAX digital. We use it because it’s easier to maintain.

    3. For the first month or two of screening, money from ticket sales goes to movie studios. Theaters rely on concession stands to make money. That’s why concessions are overpriced. Popcorn costs almost nothing to make.

    4. I know all the methods you use to sneak in. I just don’t always care enough to kick you out for it.

    5. The only foods I trust are the popcorn, drinks, and boxed candy. I wouldn’t eat the pretzels, hot dogs, or nachos.

    6. Chances are, if you complain to the manager and he sides with you, he’s just putting on a show to calm you down. The manager might pretend to yell at me for a minute, but he’ll pat me on the back the moment you’re out of sight.

    7. Combination deals don’t save you money at some theaters. You’d pay the same price if you purchased the items separately.

    8. Think you’re saving calories by ordering a small popcorn? That “small” popcorn could have been a medium last month.

    9. Stop getting angry that your food isn't ready. Microwaves can't cook frozen pizzas in 30 seconds!

    10. No, I can’t give you extra cups. Everything is inventoried at the end of the night.

    11. Your suspicions are correct. Sometimes I sweep excess food under the seats. Movies often end every few minutes. Sometimes, three or more screenings end at the same time. I don’t always have time to clean everything up.

    12 Yes, movies start late. But they almost always end on time – otherwise, the ushers wouldn’t know when to clean up. Theaters tell you to come in early so you have time to watch commercials and previews.

    13. Popcorn keeps for a day or two. Many customers confuse warm with fresh.

    Sources: Movie theater employees in California, Illinois, and Indiana

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    Your Comments

    • John

      I have a story I could write. Top 10 things movie goers won’t tell theater managers.

    • Jason

      I worked at a theater, and most of these are true. I trust the hot dogs, pretzels and nachos just as much as I would at any fast food joint. You take the same risks with any prepared food. We always threw away the popcorn and hot dogs at the end of the night, or the employees took them home.

    • Dave

      I haven’t done a movie in a long time. Maybe I’m getting old, but they have absolutely no entertainment value for me anymore. Going to a theater seems to be such a waste of time.

      • CD Jorgensen

        …and money. Rare is the movie that is worth paying $15 to see immediately, especially when I’m paying for at least one other person. I almost always wait for it to make it to the discount theater, come out on DVD, or arrive on Netflix.

    • Lorenzo Porricelli

      I have worked in exhibition for almost 40 years, and this article is such a lie. Theatres are highly regulated and inspected, and cleanliness and freshness are the pride of every chain. Popcorn is never kept, and it is popped almost continuously to keep up with the demand. The grade of corn used is the highest available so it gives the biggest kernels when popped. there is no chemical in popcorn, it is plain corn seed and nothing more. How stupid. It is being cooked in canola oil and you smell it cooking, just like any food being cooked. Additionally, most theatres in America use two brands of hot dogs, which are all beef, made in Chicago, and rated as top in the field. The line about all the money going to studios is make-believe, with most movies settled at 50-60%. And all the stuff about pushing dirt under seats is stupid and a lie, all theatres have people to clean theatres, as well as janitor crews that scrub the theatres nightly. And by the way, trash bags are scented, so theatres would never use them, and what for? Theatre’s poppers, even older ones, can keep up with huge crowds at the theatres and pop continuously. No one would want to bother popping and storing, it has no purpose or need. Further, theatres don’t bid for movies, that ended more than 30 years ago. The article is a pack of garbage, just like the people who wrote it, and who contributed to it. The ones who claim to have worked at theatres didn’t do it on this planet, unless they were working at adult theatres.

      • waitaminutedoggy

        This article is just bait to draw hits on their website, this publisher is in decline, it’s an obsolete magazine.

    • TinaP

      We know people smuggle in food also… Most of the time we just don’t care. (I smuggled in the stuff I didn’t get for free when I watched a movie – still do! Even thought I don’t work at one anymore.)
      If you do get caught, it’s because someone is being grumpy!
      When I worked at a movie theatre, my boss told us his favorite part was kicking kids out of R-rated movies on Friday and Saturday nights. It made his day. :)

    • Mel Veal

      some are true and some are NOT true. I have worked at 3 different movie theaters and….. 1.) We don’t keep our popcorn for days. I have popped 10+ batches in one shift. 2.) It is true that every cup is inventoried and NO, I cannot give you an extra cup so you can share. I get asked this ALL DAY, EVERY shift. 3.) The pizza is frozen. 4.) Combo deals do save you money (well at least the one I work at). 5.) movie theaters do make their money off concession. That is why it is so expensive.

    • http://www.sternlight.com David Sternlight

      I have not been to a movie theatre in 10 years. I subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and keep a list of the latest films I want to see when they show up. Theatre prices have become unconscionable, due to the greed of the motion picture industry and their “creative accounting”. Same with live plays and concerts. They have become exorbitant, even adjusting for inflation. I have better (technology) things to spend my discretionary income on. Same for my wife. As for the younger set, I can recommend they read “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, a good life-long cautionary tale.

    • mohox13

      ALL OF THIS IS A LIE! I’ve worked at two different theaters, all of my friends work at different theaters, NONE of this is true.

      1) Chemicals. It’s popcorn seed, coconut oil that has butter flavoring and butter color, and a butter flavored, orange salt. The optional butter is a different butter flavored coconut oil. Popcorn always smells good, no secret chemicals are subconsciously making you buy popcorn. It’s really not bad for you if you opt out of butter and don’t add any salt to it other than the salt it’s popped with.

      5) All of the various pretzels, nachos and cheese I’ve made in my day are exactly what they say they are. Most companies use the same soft pretzel brand you buy in the frozen section at the store, they just come in bigger boxes. The cheese is a “pasteurized cheese product” but everyone knows that. Same thing that’s on easy mac or Kraft American singles or Velveeta. If you ever want to know what’s in your food at a theater, ASK. I’ve read food labels to guests a thousand times. We’re not hiding anything from you.

      9) It’s against health code to use a microwave to cook food for guests, unless it’s a specific kind of microwave and even then, no one uses those. Most places have a turbo chef, the same thing they toast your sub in at Subway. It’s a super hot, fast oven, and keeps things crispy instead of radiating them into a soggy mess.

      13) NONE of my employees, employers or friends in the theater business have EVER used popcorn that was not popped that day and we don’t store it anywhere besides the popper you see in front of you. We go through it so fast, you’re not going to get a bag that’s more than a few hours old EVER. Yes, it does keep, yes it is safe, NO, your theater DOES NOT save it in trash bags and reuse it tomorrow. I’ve taken trash bags of popcorn home for my roommates before, never would I serve it to a guest.

      Don’t buy into this nonsense. Most theaters have tons of discounts or lower priced showtimes that make it affordable. And yes, the ONLY money we make is from concessions. So if 200 people buy a ticket but only 50 of them buy concessions, we’re only profiting from those 50 people. All of that other money goes to film distributors and Hollywood. Believe it or not, we do care about the customer. If we didn’t have happy customers, we would be out of the job. No one is trying to trick you into anything. You’re an adult, make your own decisions on what food you think is safe or healthy and what you’re willing to spend.

      Another note, theater employees MUST work EVERY holiday. Yep, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years. Almost all of them will not close early and will be slammed on holidays so the whole staff has to work. Don’t be a jerk and see a movie on a holiday. We have families, too.

      Reader’s Digest, I’m disappointed in the fool you’re allowing yourself to become. The printed word is sadly dying and your “journalists” or “writers” are failing. Hard.

      • TinaP

        The movie theatre I worked at used popcorn that was popped that night on the next morning. We bagged it in a trash bag and warmed it in the machine along with fresh popcorn when we started our shifts… I’m not sure why you sound so offended by that accusation, but it sounded right on to me.
        Nothing about it sounds disgusting, in my opinion.

    • skye4

      What would be wrong with the nachos? I really wanna know.

    • puapuapua

      What 11 year old wrote this poor excuse for a story? Sounds like something someone made up to sound like a know it all.