woman using phone in movie theatre

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Barbenheimer brought out the rude theatergoers—and everyone noticed

During the Barbenheimer craze, people were filming and taking photos of both films, sometimes with the flash on.


Tiffany Kelly

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 5, 2023   Updated on Aug 7, 2023, 7:39 am CDT

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Movie theater etiquette is often talked about online. Last year, I wrote about people sitting next to a stranger in an empty movie theater. Now, with Barbie and Oppenheimer taking over the box office, the theaters are not empty—they are packed. And theatergoers are getting annoyed at other attendees who are distracting others from the main attraction. Most movie theater chains run a message before a movie begins that tells everyone to silence their cell phones and not talk. Yet during the Barbenheimer craze, people were filming and taking photos of both films, sometimes with the flash on. Alamo Drafthouse even addressed it on social media.

The Wall Street Journal covered the trend this week, writing, “If you want to see clips from the hottest movies, just go to TikTok.” The publication interviewed several theatergoers who encountered people on their phones during their movie screenings. On Twitter/X, people were telling their own stories of attendees disrupting their recent movie experiences. 

“Three adult women were loudly talking during the emotional peak of the Barbie movie,” writer Sophie Vershbow wrote

“When I left oppenheimer (which had a well-behaved audience) I passed two theater employees patiently explaining to a soaking wet woman that they wouldn’t help her identify the people who poured their drinks on her in Barbie bc she was on her phone,” another user said.

“There was a guy during this screening of oppenheimer who checked his phone constantly and i mean like multiple whatsapp conversations, scrolling on fb and ig, i think he even heard some voice notes and i, like a maniac, held off until i saw him on the exit line to confront him,” said another person

Did movie theater etiquette suddenly change with the release of Barbenheimer? No. But people who don’t see movies often, or don’t see sold-out showings often, are now becoming more aware of it. I’m a person who usually goes to see at least one movie a week in theaters, and I’ve noticed bad movie theater etiquette for years. Most of the people who I’ve seen on their phones aren’t even answering important messages; they’re just mindlessly scrolling on multiple apps

The difference now is that people aren’t just using their phones because they’re bored—they are also taking photos and videos and uploading them to social media apps during or directly after the movie. There is a sense of theatergoers wanting to document their experiences, like they do at concerts. We didn’t see this as often before apps like Snapchat and TikTok became popular. 

Why it matters

A lot of people (myself included) like to go to the movies as an escape. For a couple of hours (or three, if you’re watching Oppenheimer), you can escape from your world and into a movie world. [Enter Nicole Kidman’s speech here.] To me, part of that escape is not using your phone. But it’s clear that not everyone feels the same way. To some people, movies are a live event, and they want to document attending that live event. Even if it disrupts everyone around them

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*First Published: Aug 5, 2023, 6:00 am CDT