Listen Up, Ebert! The Movie-Talkers and How to Avoid Them

Roger Ebert made a list explaining the reasons why he thinks movie theater revenue is down. One of the things Ebert said:

“Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls.”

That bit stood out to me. “Fanboys,” in this context, usually means genre movie fanatics. I don’t think those are the people disrupting the movie with talking (“fanboys and girls” tend to be the most annoyed by talkers), so I tweeted:

“Ebert weirdly thinks movie “fanboys and girls” are the ones talking in theatres. He is so, so wrong. IT IS PEOPLE YOUR AGE, SIR.”

The tweet was quickly re-tweeted, by some of my more high-profile peers and friends, gaining me a bunch of new followers (hi!) and a dozen responses that pretty much said this:

“Everyone talks, not just old people.”

I know this is basically true, but I worked in movie theaters for roughly 13 years, and as an assistant manager for more than half those years (assistant managing a movie theater is unlike most assistant manager jobs — you run the floor every night but the weekends, and sometimes even then). Maybe what I should’ve said is that older crowds are harder to shut up.

There’s a noise level expectation if you’re playing something to kids. A movie like CHIPWRECKED is going to have some chatter. They’re kids; many of them haven’t learned any better. The problem is a movie like WAR HORSE is probably going to have the same low buzz of chatter throughout. Only, these are adults, and they should know better.

So, drawing on my personal experience, I decided to break down exactly who’s hardest to shut up at the theater and how to avoid them if attending a movie (in order of age).

1. Children

Parents are usually embarrassed enough to reprimand their chatty kid if they draw attention from other patrons or theater management. There’s the rare case of a parent who feels like you’ve singled out their kid or that, since it’s a kids’ movie, that means kids have carte blanche to run around the auditorium like it’s a playground. I’ve found those cases are rare. Typically, the worse a kids’ movie is, the more chatty the children are.

Avoid them by seeing family films and animated comedies at night. Never, ever go on a Saturday or Sunday during the day.

2. Pre-Teens/Young Teens

These kids will buy a ticket to whatever time is most convenient to them getting dropped off at the movies. What this means is that sometimes a dozen teens will be laughing and going in and out of the auditorium during a movie they aren’t interested in at all, pissing off the people that are there to watch that movie. The good news? They’re typically terrified of theater management and don’t want to get into any real trouble. So, while disruptive, are the least likely to talk back, and usually the easiest ones to kick out of an auditorium.

Avoid them by never seeing brand-new wide release PG or PG-13 rated films after 7pm on a Friday or Saturday.

3. Older Teens

Older teens can be a real pain in the ass, especially if their parents have raised them to be little entitled jerks. You might be able to kick them out, but they might also return with an angry mom or dad who wants your head on a platter for ruining their baby’s night. Older teens also sneak in to more movies than probably any other group, and they tend to like bad comedies and blockbusters. I’ve found that most older teens are respectful — I think they feel like grown-ups when they’re out at the movies; I know I did when I was 16. Cell phones can be an issue, but I can honestly say no one has ever fought with me when I’ve caught them red-handed and asked them to turn it off.

Avoid them by skipping comedies and blockbusters on opening weekend.

4. 20-50

This is a pretty wide age group, and their ability to shut up seems more directly tied to economic status more than a specific age. Trashy people act trashy, black, white, whatever. Generally, you don’t find a lot of troublemakers in this age bracket, and, if you do, they’re serious serial troublemakers, the kind of people you have to call the police to have escorted out of the theatre (which I’ve done a half-dozen times).

Avoid by going to the earliest show of the day or after 9pm on a weeknight. This is when theaters have the least attendance.

5. 50 and up

And we’re back to the kind of chatter one expects from a kids’ movie, with the same problem little kids have — a complete lack of understanding that their “whispering” could possibly be bothering anyone. If someone can’t comprehend how their constant comments or questions could be seen as intrusive to others, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. You have no choice but to become a villain then, picking on someone for doing “nothing.” A lot of older people also believe that if they’re talking about the movie, then they’re doing no wrong. This might be fine in your living room, but living room rules do not apply at the theater.

Avoid by only going to movies geared toward adults Monday through Thursday and only after 7pm.

To re-iterate, this is only based on my work experience, and I realize I’m making broad generalizations and that there are exceptions, but there’s truth here (most especially in the “how to avoid” parts). And, remember, if you ever see a movie “fanboy or girl” talking through a movie, chances are they aren’t actually a movie fanboy.


  1. Pretty much true across the board. Though I’ve no longer got much reason to identify with the teens, I always get kind of annoyed when people complaining about the theatrical experience single them out, because I tend to find myself dealing with many more senior talkers than teens.

    Teens are the top of the bell curve for “bright cell phones pulled out at any time”, though. The part of me that wants to be young and cool figures that these kids naturally multitask better than I do and have been raised on instant communication, so we middle-aged folks should stop trying to condemn the evolution to a more connected society, but it would be a lot easier if phones used e-ink as opposed to something designed to glow.

  2. Today I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes film. It was without doubt the most frustrating experience I’ve had for a while. With the exception of my girlfriend, I was the only one under 50. People had brought themselves packed lunches which they would noisily open and close through the course of the film. One woman managed to do it only during scenes of exposition… It’s as if she thought ‘ooh, the big bangs are over. Let’s eat!’

    Taking my sister to see the first Pokemon movie was quieter and less stressful.

  3. The worst experience I had this year generally involved people in that 20-50 range, specifically like 40 year olds, which I thought was really weird.

    I also have the WORST luck at this thing; I’ve even taken to this strategy now where I’ll wait until almost the last minute before trailers start to pick out the emptiest spot in the theater. Even then, though, this is often foiled when late arrivals inexplicably choose to sit right behind me.

    I don’t understand how all theater chains can’t bring the same culture of something like the Drafthouse–you know, be forceful about this kind of thing. I guess it would cost more money and be more off-putting than these big chains would like to be. I just wish every place had at least ONE safe haven for people who don’t want to be bothered by talkers.

  4. Personally I think the kids in their late teens are the biggest pain in the ass a**holes I have to deal with at the movies. The douchebag Jock-ish “White Rappa” types and their trashy cheap looking girlfriends in particular. You tell these assclowns to shut up and they’ll act like you want to get into a fist fight with them.

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