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12 Rules of Movie Theater Etiquette That Everyone Should Follow

Keep these courteous habits in mind when you attend a movie, and you'll be sure to have an enjoyable and hassle-free experience. Don't forget the popcorn!

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Arrive on time

Showing up on time for anything is just common courtesy for everyone around you—and the movie theater is no different. Luckily for people who are habitually late, most theaters list their showtimes for when the commercials and trailers begin—up to 20 minutes before the actual feature film starts. This gives you plenty of time to arrive to the auditorium, find your seats, and grab concessions without missing any of the movie—or annoy everyone by walking in after the lights go down. If you’re going to a very popular film and you know it’s going to be full of people, show up about 20 minutes before showtime to find the best seat in the house.

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Sharing the armrest

When an auditorium is full of patrons, it’s tough to declare ownership on an armrest and cup holder when you’re sharing it with a complete stranger. Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, told Reader’s Digest: “Watch the body language of the guest next to you. There is not a right or wrong way, you just don’t want to take over both sides.” If someone is using the armrest, sharing will be tricky. But if your neighbor removes his or her arm for more than a few minutes, you can claim it for yourself for as long as you’re comfortable. Learn the 13 secrets that movie theater employees won’t tell you.

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Don’t hold up the line

Since most theaters show a number of films that start at different times, understand that although you may have plenty of time to peruse the snack bar offerings, the person behind you may have 30 seconds or less. Try to make your snack decisions before you reach the front of the line, and have your cash or card ready. This way, everyone gets to where they want to go on time. One of the best parts of theaters is that they usually serve the same items at all times: soda, candy like Junior Mints and Sour Patch Kids, and popcorn, so it’s easy to make quick decisions.

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3D glasses

While 3D glasses often come wrapped in plastic, it doesn’t mean they’re completely clean. Most theaters just take a used pair and seal them in plastic, and re-use them for the next customer, instead of using brand-new disposable ones. Consider bringing a small alcohol pad to disinfect a pair of 3D glasses. If you don’t have an alcohol pad, you can simply go to the nearest restroom and clean the 3D glasses with soap and water.

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Saving seats

One of the most stressful things about going to the movies on a busy Friday night is the possibility of saving a few seats for friends and family. While you are allowed to save a seat, it’s rude to save a whole row in a good spot. “To make sure you get a good seat at a popular show, you will have to get there in enough time to pick a prime spot,” says Gottsman, who is also the author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. “Avoid saving a row for people who may or may not show up, or don’t have the courtesy to get there on time. Those who are prompt should be rewarded. When it gets close to starting time and your friends have not arrived, let the seats go for people who are waiting to sit down,” she says. “Common sense says you don’t want to take all the choice seats for people who aren’t there to sit in them. If you have a family of five and two or three are in the lobby, save the seats for a few minutes.” You should also brush up on these social etiquette secrets you’ll only learn in etiquette classes.

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Tall people

If you’re tall, you know that you have to be sensitive to the smaller folks around you. Try to sit near the back of the auditorium, so you don’t obscure the view of shorter individuals behind you. The same rule of etiquette goes for people with big hair. And if you wear a big hat, take it off to enjoy the movie!

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Smartphones and talking

At this point, everyone knows it’s rude to talk during a film or use their smartphone, and yet here we are. It’s disruptive and rude to everyone seating next to or behind you. The only words that should be spoken out loud are “Excuse me” if you have to use the restroom. And turn off your phone—or put it in silent or airplane mode—so you’re not tempted to use it and annoy the people around you. Check out the most iconic film and movie set locations you can visit in real life.

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Disruptive neighbors

Sadly, people often flaunt the rules by chatting with friends or texting during a movie. You can either ignore the problem or move seats. Etiquette expert Gottsman’s advice: “Contact the management and let them handle it. Change seats if possible or talk the manager about getting your tickets refunded and go to another show. It’s inconvenient, but sometimes your options are limited and you don’t want to put yourself in an unsafe or terribly awkward position.”

“Ask yourself if you really want to get involved,” she continued. “Chances are, the person who is rudely talking or texting is not very sensitive and he/she may not respond to you with courtesy. You may or may not want to incite an argument.

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Bathroom break

Sometimes nature calls, but hopefully you can take care of this before the feature film begins. If you’re unsure you’ll make it through, choose a seat on the aisle so you won’t disrupt other moviegoers. Duck down as you leave the theater so you don’t block the anyone’s view, and quickly exit and re-enter the theater.

And here’s something great for those with tiny bladders: The smartphone app RunPee will tell you the best time to take a bathroom break during a movie, so you won’t miss any pivotal scenes. Just be sure to check the app long before the movie starts—no cell phones in the theater!

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Who doesn’t love babies? In a movie theater, almost everybody! Bringing a baby to a movie is just rude to the audience and your child. Remember that a startled baby is a squalling baby; given how loud theaters are these days, you can protect your offspring by hiring a babysitter. After all, if you’re attending to a baby every five minutes, you’re not going to get much from the movie anyway. Instead, try some to watch movies at home until your child is old enough to handle the movie-going experience. On the other hand, these are the etiquette rules even experts don’t follow anymore.

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Movie talk in the lobby

When it’s over, you’ll find yourself caught up in the excitement of a good movie as you head back through the lobby. Just remember there will be people walking in to watch the very same movie—or planning to see it soon. Keep any spoilers and details about the plot to yourself. According to Gottsman, “Be mindful of the people who are there to watch the show and you don’t want to give a critical part or the ending away. Keep your volume down.”

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Garbage time

While it’s easy to just leave your empty popcorn containers on the floor or under your seat, theaters are not giant trash cans that happen to show films. Be sure to throw away any trash, such as empty soda cups and candy wrappers, on your way out of the auditorium. Although there are clean-up crews who come in after every movie to tidy up, they have limited time to get the theater ready for the next group of moviegoers. It’s also the right thing to do to clean up after yourself because movie theater employees don’t have enough time to properly clean up auditoriums after each screening. Next, find out the most iconic movie in every state.