a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Applauding After Movies

I'm not sure when people started applauding at the end of movies they like, because it's sort of a silly thing; obviously the actors on the screen can't hear you, the filmmakers aren't there, the projectionist is in another part of the theater, and the ushers just want you to leave so that they can clean up after you.

But still, it happens all the time. I'm guessing it's part of the whole shared-experience thing; we want to let the other people in the theater know that yeah, we liked the movie too, and wasn't it great that we got to do this together?

I'm guilty of clapping after movies I like, and even I'm not sure why I do it. Sometimes I'll do it just to see if I can get others to follow suit; usually it works. Sometimes I do it after a movie that I liked a lot, but suspect that others in the audience didn't get; probably my way of telling them "Screw you for not liking it, look at all the other people applauding that did".

(I also used to boo commercials that aired before the movie, until my wife made it clear that this was something I should stop doing. Now.)

Ultimately, it's probably just primal. We clap at concerts, and after plays; there's a certain satisfaction at acknowledging work well done. But I can't remember if it was something that happened when I was a kid, at movie theaters.

My earliest vivid memory of it was when I worked in a Long Island movie theater when I was in college, and we had a blind screening of a movie (something that, to my memory, was the only time that happened there); the people bought tickets not knowing what they were going to be shown, though I think they got to stay for another, popular movie afterward, so if the mystery movie sucked they had the expectation of a palette-cleanser later.

Anyhow, at the end of the mystery movie, there was a roar of applause from the audience that shocked the theater staff, because it was so unusual to hear something like this, even though in that context it sort of made sense -- not only was there the expectation that, since it was a screening, someone might be there who cared how they felt, but the packed theater had just gone through the enviable experience of going into a movie with no idea of what you were going to see, and being thoroughly entertained.

The movie was "Back To The Future".


At 9:25 AM, Blogger Dave Olden said...

It feels kinda weird to be getting nostalgic about applause, and it's your fault, Scott.

I remember thunderous sustained applause after Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET: The Extra Terrestrial especially...

Recently, though, the applause — at its most energetic — is nowhere near the energy of what I remember from the 70's and 80's.

... Scott, is this a generational thing? If so, can we reverse the trend?

One of the brilliant things George Lucas did in the original Star Wars, was to have the assembled rebel forces start clapping at our heroes ... and when some else starts clapping it's a cascading thing... and pretty immediately, everyone is clapping.

It worked in the 1997 re-release, too.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I saw Chicago, people were applauding after every musical number as if they were watching it on stage. Then there was a standing-O when it was over. Very weird.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Joshua said...

I am highly in favor of booing any and all commercials shown in theatres - so I'd like to encourage you to keep that up -

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I was a theater manager when commercials first started being shown before movies. There was real corporate concern that audiences would be resistant to it, so there were rules -- the commercials had to be 35mm, shot well, not be the same ones available on TV, and there were only to be 1 or 2.

People eventually got used to it, and now all those rules are out the window. And people used to boo and hiss all the time; now you rarely even hear that.

Theaters are trying to get a little sneakier about it, though. I was in a Regal/Edwards theater last weekend, where they played a 20-minute preshow entertainment block (with some sort of special name with the word 20 in it) that basically alternated features on upcoming movies with commercials, which basically means that it was essentially 20 minutes of shilling something. And that was before the coming attractions started.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Dave Olden said...

In Canada, it's these animated slide shows, stuff about current or upcoming movies, trivia about celebs, spiked with advertising. Plays until the lights go down, when there used to be movie music to get in the mood ...

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

That reminds me of my early theater days, in the pre-commercial 1980s, when before the movie we played cassette tapes that the record companies would send; I don't know what deal they cut, but they were just regular tapes, and unless people asked they had no idea what was playing.

Except a lot of people asked about one tape -- it was Bruce Hornsby's first album (with "The Way It Is"), which hadn't become a hit yet, but it was pretty clear that it was going to.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...

Ads before movies didn't really bother me that much (I'm more or less immune to advertising)... until I started going to the Arclight. About 80% of the movies I've seen in the last three years, I've seen there, and they never show ads, and usually only 3-4 trailers, before the movie.

So now, when I go elsewhere (like the almost comparably-priced Grove) and they show a half-dozen ads before they even start in on the trailers... ugh. It's agonizing.

Here's hoping more theaters adopt the Arclight's model. I'll gladly pay a premium to avoid ads (and considering how expensive "regular" theaters are getting, it's not much of a premium any more -- not nearly as much as it was when the Arclight opened).

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with Joshua! You should GO ON booing commercials!!

And since we're on the subject of applause and the Arclight, I will post my mini-rant here.

Went to see midnight showing of "Revenge of the Sith" on opening day (or opening night...whatever).

My girlfriend chose to come along, even though she's not a huge SW fan, only because I had described to her other SW midnight screenings to her.

She was interested in seeing the movie with the full audience experience - geeks waving lightsabers during the opening credits, thunderous applause and cheering at the introduction of every major character, etc. And the Arclight even promised supposed "duels" going on in the courtyard at regular intervals before throughout the night.

So we bought our tickets a full two weeks in advance and got to the Arclight just under an hour before showtime.

Loitering around in the courtyard, we saw no officially sanctioned duels by the advertised "stage combat" experts, but we did see a lot of folks in costume (though admittedly less than I had expected.)

Eventually, we went into the theater and handed over our print outs (having bought tickets on line) to the ticket taker.

Well, we were bumped from our reserved, painstakinly chosen perfect seats and shunted to a "spill over" theater. The ticket taker glibly assured us we were getting "better" seats. If I wanted "better" seats, I would have reserved them!

Our hearts sank when we saw the theater was less than a quarter full. I tried to complain, I tried to get my original seats back (but my print outs were taken from me, so I didn't even have proof or the exactly location of where they were in the other theater.)

As time dragged on (this screening started a full half hour late), only a handful of additional people trickled into the theater.

No lightsabers. No roaring crowd. No boundless enthusiasm. The last "Star Wars" movie and, for all our time, trouble and expense (Arclight ain't cheap), we could have been sitting at home watching TV.

I was furious. The Arclight double-booking?!? Why was *I* the one who got shunted to a second rate theater, instead of whatever Johnny-come-lately stole my friggin seats???

It's not like we waited until :30 seconds before the show was supposed to start. What happened to Arclight's supposed commitment to customer service? The same theater which eschews commercials, only shows a minimum of trailers and has ushers on had every step of the way to ensure maximum customer satisfaction??

So much for the "premiere" theater going experience...

I still haven't been back.


At 8:26 PM, Blogger Grubber said...

I am wondering if this applauding at movies is an American thing.....I have only experienced it once over here....but grew up in small maybe it is more city vs small town as well. Not sure. But it sure is nice when you do see a movie that is worth applauding.

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Yes, I think it is an American thing.

I have anly seen that once in a conema here. After watching Mr Moors 9/11 film. At the end a woman jumped up and started clapping. She quickly sat back down and looked rather small when she saw everyone looking at her. When we walked out she sounded like she was from New York.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Webs said...

In Quebec, airplane passengers applaud successful landings.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous BenM said...

The only recent movie that had me and the rest of the crowd CLAPPING is "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"...That first aerial fight was something to behold! Haven't seen that type of reaction...ever.


At 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

who are we applauding, the Director, the Writer or the 12 year old actor who pulled down $12.5 to make us cry?

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Matt Waggoner said...


I've been to the Arclight probably, I dunno... sixty or seventy times since it opened (would be a lot more, but alas, having a child = fewer moviegoing opportunities). I can't say that I've ever seen them double-book, and I doubt they did it on purpose. Likely it was some kind of glitch, although the midnight screening of ROTS would be about the worst time for that to come up.

It's a bit late to do something about it now (since ROTS came out 5 months ago), but if you had gone and vocally complained to the manager, you would have gotten all kinds of compensation -- free tickets, whatever. The ushers and ticket-takers and such are, well, you get what you pay for, but the management is very good about making sure customers are happy.

Don't let one bad experience sour you on the Arclight ;)

At 6:35 PM, Anonymous Annabel said...

I have never clapped after a movie and I have always found it weird when people do. I guess it is habit for people. I don't know.

As for the commercials, I heard that there was a lawsuit filed against theaters for playing them. I don't remember the details though.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger writebrother said...

I've always thought applauding after movies was pretty lame, even if the movie is a masterpiece. Now if I'm at a concert or a play then I'll be the first to give props, but applauding at a movie theatre just doesn't make any sense at all to me. In fact I'm inclined to make fun of those that do, but I guess that's just the asshole in me coming out.


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