Former Movie Theater Employees Reveal The Tricks And Shady Secrets

Since the first movie theater was established in 1905, they’ve have become engrained in American culture. While you might think you know everything about the American cinematic experience, we’ve dug up some movie theater secrets that might surprise you.

Popcorn Profits

While it may seem illogical, movie theaters actually profit much more from concessions than they do from tickets sales. Especially in the first few months of a movie’s release, most revenue from ticket sales goes straight to the studio that released the movie.

movie theater - popcorn

Good Ole’ Popcorn

Unlike most foods, popcorn doesn’t need to be served fresh out of the pot. One advantage for theaters when it comes to serving popcorn is that customers can’t always tell how old their popcorn is. In one extreme example, an anonymous movie theater employee admitted that on quiet nights, extra popcorn would be stored in trash bags and kept in the back room until anywhere between two and five days later, when they would heat it back up and sell it to moviegoers.

movie theater popcorn

Two For One

Many theater employees have confessed that they really don’t mind movie-goers who want to catch a second flick after buying just one ticket. As long as you go about it in an inconspicuous and nonchalant way, its unlikely that a theater worker will go out of their way to bust you. It is important, however, that you choose a second movie that won’t be sold out because if you take an actual customer’s seat, you could run into some trouble.

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Cinemas Have Stepped Up Security

Following the tragic shooting at the midnight screening on The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012, many movie theaters across America banned midnight screenings altogether. In addition, after Cinemark’s attorneys admitted that better security could have prevented or deterred the gunman, American cinemas started taking greater security measures. While in recent years, midnight showing have began to show signs of making a comeback, the impact from the events in Aurora are still felt across the country.

Concession Creativity

Movie theater employees know when you’re trying to sneak in food and they don’t care. Strategies range from the most obvious to far more subtle. While most people stick to sneaking in food in purses, bags, or jacket pockets, plenty of daring movie-goers are willing to risk it all just to save a few bucks at the concession stand. Some of the most ridiculous methods we’ve seen include stuffing baggy clothes, faking a pregnancy, and even filling an empty baby carseat.

movie theater snacks

Holding Your Cup Since ’81

Sometimes the simplest innovations can make a whole world of difference. In the case of American cinema, it took over half a century before a very necessary change was made. The first movie theater seats to come equipped with cup-holders didn’t appear in theaters until 1981. Considering the first movie theater was established in 1905, we can’t help but wonder what took so long for movie theater managers to realize that their customers needed a comfortable place to keep their drinks?

Work Hard, Perk Hard

One great perk of working at a movie theater is that employees get to screen all the movies for free before they are available to the public. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense because how else will the ushers know how to answer movie-goes questions if they’ve never seen the movies? In addition, it’s important to regularly test the projector and sound systems without a real audience in case there is a need for maintenance.

movie theater

Big Sound Big Consequences

According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, the noise level in some theaters may leave moviegoers at risk for future hearing problems. Theaters that show action movies, in particular, can contribute to the hearing loss of audience members and leave them with ears ringing, similar to the feeling one may experience after attending a loud rock concert. Of course just seeing one loud movie won’t make someone go deaf, but repeated exposure to high decibal sound systems can wear down hearing over time.

Cut It Out With The Combos

Most food and drink combos don’t actually save you any money. So before you upgrade your order to get that large soda or fries that you didn’t initially plan on buying, pull out your calculator or phone and check your math to make sure its actually worth it. In most cases, combo deals at movie theater concession stands don’t really offer any benefits aside from the convenient box that keeps everything together, which for some people might actually be worth the extra couple dollars.

Big-Time Gaming

Once upon a time, employees of movie theaters used to take advantage of the hours when theaters weren’t in use and play X-box video games on the big screen. Today, however, as a result of constantly changing theater and projector technologies, the process of setting up gaming consoles to work in the theater has become far too difficult to pull off like they used to. Just imagine how crazy it must have been to shred a Guitar Hero riff from the back row!

movie theater x-box

Crying For Your Money Back

If you pay for a movie and end up in the same theater with a screaming baby or group of unruly teenagers, theres a good chance you’ll be able to a refund or free pass for another day. Most movie theater employees and managers care about customers’ experiences. After all, it’s important to them that movie-goers come back. If you decide to share a bad experience with a manager, just make sure to go about it in a polite manner.

Pirates Walk The Plank

While most movie theater employees will let the minor infractions that occur on a daily base slide, such as customers bringing in outside food and drink, people catching a double feature, and kids sneaking into R-rated movies, if you think you can get away with piracy, you’ve been poorly mistaken. If theater employees catch you with a camera in the theater or filming a movie on your phone, they will not hesitate to call the police and have you arrested.

movie theater cops

Independent Films Are Finding The Big Screen

While everyone loves a high-budget action or adventure blockbuster, the rise of the digital camera has simplified the process of producing a quality movie and has opened the creative doors to low-budget independent film makers interested in making movies focused on gripping and powerful storylines as oppose to bigger movie studio productions centered around intense and often overwhelming special effects. If you appreciate these cheaper artistic projects, you may be in luck as more and more movie theaters in America have started showing independent films.

movie theater film

The Unexpected Clean-Up

It turns out that some moms are so invested in the kids’ films that they bring their babies to, that they won’t even leave the theater to change their baby’s diaper. An even more disturbing trend, these moms won’t even throw the dirty diapers in the trash but instead toss them under the seat. On behalf of theater employees everywhere, we’d just like to remind these moms that there is a huge difference between cleaning up spilled popcorn and cleaning up a baby’s dirty diaper.

movie theater

The Smell That Sells

If you’ve ever caught yourself suddenly craving popcorn the moment you enter a cinema, there is a reason behind this. Movie theaters have special techniques to ensure that the buttery, irresistible scent encompasses every single corridor of a movie theater. These tricks include using a mixture of coconut and canola oil when popping as well as covering popcorn in mysterious, unnamed chemicals. In addition, it has been shared that special vents are used in the popper to encourage the smell to spread.

Leave Your Popcorn In Plain Sight

The obvious, best case scenario for movie theater employees is for you to simply throw away your trash on your own. However, if you’re feeling particularly lazy, make an effort to leave your mess on top of your seat as oppose to underneath. You might think you’re being sneaky by tucking that half eaten box of popcorn and empty soda cup where nobody can see, but in reality you’re just making someone’s job much harder than it needs to be.

movie theater mess

Concession Scam

According to numerous sources of data, an ounce of movie theater popcorn costs more than an ounce of quality steak from a fancy restaurant. With this information, it would be far more logical to splurge at a nice restaurant before you head to the cinema, instead of filling up on movie snacks. In addition, popcorn bought at the cinema can be up to 8 times more expensive than your grocery store. So if you decide to bring outside snacks, your secret is safe with us.

Theater Cleanliness Will Have You Floored

While movie theater workers may clean between screenings, there’s a good chance they miss a few spots. This has to do with the fact that several movies often finish at the same time or within a few minutes of one another. Most of the time, the workers responsible for cleaning the theater will really only have enough time to pick up some trash and sweep the floors. After the last screening of the night, the floors are cleaned and mopped properly.

movie theater cleaning

Preview Predicament

Even with the most up-to-date theater technology, sometimes mistakes happen. Most of the time, this is on account of human error and usually they really aren’t a big deal. Every now and then, however, previews for films catered to adults make there way into the previews before a kids’ film. In 2016, an unfortunate error occurred when a California theater accidentally showed the preview for Seth Rogan’s raunchy animated movie, Sausage Party, to an audience of children and parents waiting to see Finding Dory.

Thirty Minutes Or Less

For the most part, there is really no reason to complain to a movie theater worker. For starters, they are well aware that tickets and concessions are overpriced. They don’t assign the prices so save your complaints for the theater’s manager. There is, however, an exception. If you’ve seen less than 30 minutes of a film and are unsatisfied at the half hour mark, there’s a chance that if you speak with a manager politely, they will give you a refund to see a different film.

movie theater

It All Ads Up

You’ve probably noticed that more and more ads and commercials have been playing before the previews starts. This is because theaters are doing everything they can these days to make money outside of ticket sales. Every year, revenue from these ads has been increasing 10 to 15% as they become more common. So while there’s a good chance you find them annoying, ads and commercials are helping to keep your local movie running, allowing you to keep seeing the movies you love.

movie theater ad

Pre-Programmed Projectors

In the mornings, projectors need to be turned on and programmed. But after the process of loading and queuing the daily schedule of movies, previews, commercials and ads, there’s really no need for anyone to be in the projection booth for the rest of the day. A lot of things have changed since the early days of film, the biggest difference being that most theaters are now equipped with automated digital projectors, which are more expensive, but allow theaters to play movies from digital film-makers.

movie theater projector

Box Office Bottles

Movie theaters are finding new ways to bring in money all the time. One of the latest trends thats slowly but surely becoming prominent in cinemas across the country is the implementation of alcohol. Theaters like Arclight Cinemas and certain AMC locations have already started offering 21 and up screenings, complete with a full bar. Considering that over 70% of the average movie theater guests are over 21, serving alcohol almost always increases food and beverage revenue without sabotaging candy, soda, or popcorn sales.

movie theater bar

Popcorn Popularized After WWII

While popcorn was always enjoyed as a snack, and was even served in movie theaters before you could see feature films, it did not become a true staple of the American cinema experience until sugar rations during WWII forced American moviegoers to search for a substitute for candy, which was a temporarily commodity. After the war, the sugar supply returned to normal and candy returned to concession stands. But popcorn had already left its mark and was there to stay.

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Corporate Control

While you might think that each movie theater would use feedback and suggestions from their own specific audience in order to determine which movies they screen, it’s actually a matter of cooperate preferences. Unless the theater is a privately-run business, the theater manager has no control of which movies get played. So if you have any complaints or requests, your best bet is to look up your theater’s cooperate headquarters because most likely the manager at your local theater can’t change much.

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Problematic Pretzels

If you’re thinking that a pretzel is your best bet for a snack, you should think again. It turns out that the process for keeping the pretzels warm also dries them out pretty quickly, leaving you with something that might be a bit too crispy. However, if you bite into your stale pretzel and its get something you were expecting, feel free to politely let a theater employee know and most likely, they’ll be happy to bring you a fresh one.

Don’t Be That Guy

When it comes to pushing the boundaries at movie theaters, it’s important to know when to cut your losses because certain infractions can get you black listed. Trying to film a movie is probably the fastest way to get banned forever from your favorite cinema, and will most likely land you in some legal trouble as well. Excessive attempts to scam the theater and inappropriate behavior or funny business with a significant other can also potentially get you kicked out.

movie theater

Better Late Than Never

When it comes to catching a movie, it is never a bad idea to be fashionably late. While every movie you see will usually end exactly according to the time listed, allowing theater employees the time they need to clean up as much as possible before the next screening, they will typically start much later than the theaters will tell you. This strategy ensures that every audience member is seated and comfortable just in time to see advertisements and previews.

Not As Sneaky As You Think

It is pretty obvious to movie theater employees when unsupervised kids try to sneak into R-rated movies. What the workers at the theater will never tell you, however, is that, as long as their jobs aren’t put at risk, it really doesn’t bother them. So if you want to sneak into an R-rated film, don’t hand them an obvious fake ID. Simply buy a ticket for the movie playing in the theater next to your film of choice and be as inconspicuous as possible.

movie theater

Your Gum Goes Nowhere

We’ve all been guilty of it at one point or another. You’re chewing gum and there isn’t a trash within arms reach so you casually check your surroundings, spit the flavorless gum into your hand, and stick it to the underside of your chair or table. Lots of moviegoers do the same and guess who cleans it up? Nobody. Daytime theater employees tend to leave that kind of dirty work for the night crew, who in turn avoid it unless they’re specifically asked.

movie theater