What Is The Protocol For Telling Someone to Shut Up In A Theater?

Last night I saw Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (review here) down at my local theater and throughout the second half of the movie there was some drunk guy a few rows ahead of me would not stop talking. He wasn’t necessarily loud enough to be disrupting the entire theater but definitely enough that I could still hear him from two rows back. I wouldn’t say that it ruined anything for me, definitely annoying, but it was nothing I couldn’t deal with. Now I’ve never been one to tell others to shut up in a theater. I also haven’t been in a ton of scenarios where it was called for.

Between the price of going to a theater and the rise of streaming services and other ways people entertain themselves, generally speaking I’ve found that most people at a movie theater want to be there, thus they’re more likely to oblige by the basic rules: put your phone on silent, stick to your assigned seat (if you have one), and most importantly, no talking. Obviously larger properties like Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc. tend to bring out more of the dummies that still don’t know how to act in a theater. Now if it’s a kid talking, you tolerate the first few times but if you’re a parent you need to lock that down by the time act II rolls around.

The closest I ever came to actually saying something to someone was when I saw The Nice Guys in theaters and 30 seconds into the movie the guy sitting next to me genuinely blurted out “Oh my god! What is happening? I’m so lost!” 30 seconds into the god damn movie as if any of us had different information than what he had. I gave him a glare and he didn’t say anything for the rest of the film, which is one of the most underrated comedies of the last decade but I digress. Part of going to the movies as often as I do requires the acknowledgement that people suck and not every experience will be 100% ideal.

Back to last night. Again, I’m two rows behind this guy. There’s plenty of other people around this guy that would have a much easier time defusing the situation. Here’s a few ways that this could play out:

Tell The Guy to Shut Up

Pros: It could work! Some people just lack the self awareness to know that they’re disrupting others until they’re publicly shamed for it. Plus it’s possible the people in your row give you nods of approval which makes you the hero of the story.

Cons: This could be a disaster. There’s no guarantee the guy listens and even worse, it could start a confrontation. Maybe he gets even louder and maybe he starts yelling back so now you’re the cow that kicked over the lantern and before you know it Chicago is on fire. Plus, in my scenario you need to be loud enough to make yourself heard but not enough that you become the dick.

Leave Your Seat And Tell The Guy To Shut Up

Pros: Now you don’t have to raise your voice and risk disturbing the entire theater. Having a one-on-one convo with the guy could lead to a more peaceful resolution. I know if the roles were reversed and someone told me I was being to loud in a theater I would probably begin to evaporate of embarrassment.

Cons: You have to REALLY be annoyed in order to do this to someone. Especially in my scenario, there’s an entire row of people that could have just leaned over and told the guy to shut up. If I were to have done this, it would have been obvious what I was doing the second I left my seat. Seeing someone leave their seat and directly confront another patron is much more distracting than just letting out a big ol’ “Shut up!” from the comfort of your seat. Not to mention, if it doesn’t work that is a long walk back to your seat. God forbid you have to tip-toe your way around the others in your row.

Tell Someone Who Works There

Pros: This is probably a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ scenario but I’ve seen it done before. I forget the movie but this family sitting in the back of the theater essentially just let their kid run up and down the stairs during the movie. I was sitting middle-middle and they were in the back-left. After about 15 minutes of this someone from my row got up and asked the parents to tell the kid to stop. It wasn’t combative, felt like a fair ask, and it was well handled by all parties involved. They apologized and the kid stopped for five minutes. Once the kid was in his seat he couldn’t stop making noise so the parents just let him go back to the stairs. Then the same guy who confronted the family earlier got up and walked out of the theater only to return with a manager holding a flashlight. The family was so embarrassed that they just got up and left. Obviously I have no idea if there was something going on with the kid or not and I felt bad for the parents and they just flushed $80 down the drain but there wasn’t a sound from the audience for the rest of the movie. It was heaven.

Cons: This is a textbook Karen move. In my scenario it would have caused more of a scene to get up and come back with a third party mediator. By that point you really need to weigh whether or not it’s worth it. Plus, if a situation like this comes to a point where you need to physically remove yourself from the theater then either dozens of people let you down or maybe you’re the problem. Plus, this scenario literally means you have to miss the movie. I’ve never even left a theater to go to the bathroom so this one makes no sense to me.

SPINOFF IDEA: Do theaters have text lines where you can tell them if someone is being disruptive. This would 1000% be abused by teenagers in a theater but feels like it would shut just about anyone up if Big Brother appeared in the theater unprovoked.

Challenge The Guy to a Duel

Pros: Nothing shuts up an out-of-line patron like 10 paces at sunrise.

Cons: Some may view this as you trying to start a fight right there in the theater and that is the absolute worst outcome possible because you risk not being able to see the end of the movie.

We also need to establish the chain of command as to who is responsible for keeping the theater quiet while minimizing disruption.

1. Those Sitting Next To The Guy

Simple: if you’re sitting next to someone talking and making a scene, you need to stop it. There’s a few ways to go about this:

  • “Excuse me, do you mind?”
  • “Hey, could you keep it down, please?”
  • [Evil Glare]

Obviously the latter option is an act of war but some men just want to watch the world burn.

2. Those In The Same Row As The Guy

Talkers have friends too. It’s not crazy to assume that if you have a chatty Kathy in the theater they probably came with someone that is probably sitting next to them. If Option 1 fails, it’s on those in their row to keep it under control. If this backfires, the issue is still contained and likely won’t affect the majority of the theater.

3. Those Sitting Directly Behind The Guy

If the row ahead of you won’t contain the issue then it falls on those behind the guy to put an end to it. Lean forward and use any of the predetermined messaging. Should bigger issues appear, you have the high ground.

4. Those Behind Those Directly Behind The Guy

Based on the scenario this is where I would have fit in. Typically a larger sample size of people who could step up so there is some hesitation to step up and tell the guy to shut up because you’re probably hoping that someone else will do it. Still, a good, swift “Shut Up!” from the peanut gallery usually does the trick.

5. Those Sitting Directly In Front Of The Guy

Yes, turning around is a bitch, especially if you have recliner seating in your theater. Not only is it uncomfortable but if it doesn’t work you are going to be to focus of the guy’s attention now and you have nowhere to go. Plus, they’re the ones bearing the brunt of the volume so it shouldn’t get to this point if needed but this person will likely be the quickest one to act.

6. The Staff

Again, nobody wants it to come to this but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

One day I plan on releasing a Rex Kwan Doe inspired home video series on how to properly address movie theater inconveniences but until then just shut up when you’re in the theater.

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