Thursday, May 29, 2008

Longing For The Lines!

When Iron Man first opened, I took my son and his friend to a Saturday 5:30 showing. We had a soccer game that afternoon, so the plan was that we would rush home, change clothes and then head to the movie theater and arrive around 4:45. With any luck, the line wouldn't be too long and we would still get good seats. As we arrived at the AMC Theater 24, I noticed the lack of hustle and bustle in front of the building. I ran over to will-call to receive my pre-paid movie tickets in anticipation of an early sell-out. It was 4:45 on the nose as we walked into the lobby of the theater. I was fully prepared to witness a line that went on for miles. And yet, there was nothing. Walking into that empty, line-less lobby was like Fast Eddy walking into a closed pool hall. It was embarrassing as hell and pretty damn heart-breaking. A bad sign of the times.

We took our time getting our sodas and our popcorn, then we found the exact seat we were looking for and plopped ourselves down with plenty of seats on either side of us. I apologized to my son and his friend for being there so early. And as we saw the same looped commercial for a local eye-care center for the third time, I apologized again. And as we finished our soda and popcorn before the movie ever began, I apologized yet again.

Growing up, part of my summer blockbuster experience was waiting in long lines. Lines across malls. Lines around the block. Lines blocking major intersections. Making small talk with my friends about the awesomeness that awaited us. Leaving two or three hours before a movie even started, anticipating the lines. Oh, those glorious lines. A line meant the movie was awesome, even if it wasn't. A line meant the city was alive. Something was happening and people were lining up to get a gander. Getting through that line was a badge of honor. Sitting in the corner seat in the first row was still great because you had earned the right to be there because you had stood in line and the aching feet were your scars to prove it. The truth is, the mega-plex is to blame. Gone are the days of the one or two screen theaters. Of movies playing once every 2 hours rather than once every 15 minutes. If there is a single theater, it usually plays independent movies, or $3 second run movies. Suburbs are filled with the 12 and 24 and 32 screen theaters and the downtown theater is just a faint memory.

Of course the studios love it because that means more screenings per day which means more money in the pocket. A release on thousands of screens is something to brag about in the halls of Hollywood. And yes for most, it's better. For those who don't see movies as something to plan evenings around, all of this is convenient. But if part of your criteria for seeing a movie is convenience, than I'm sure there are 45 copies of whatever just came out available at a Blockbuster near you. But that ain't me.

To me, movies should be an event. Something to talk about the next day. Something to plan for. Some might argue that there are no lines because there are no good movies anymore, but I'm not buying that. Iron Man was a good movie. A great summer blockbuster. One that I sure as hell would have waited in line for, had there been one. Man, I miss those lines.

For more movie nostalgia, check out Where Were You When and Kansas City's 1973 Cinema.


Allen Lulu said...

The overabundance of pop culture "noise" (multi-plexes, ipods) make it too easy to get the product, thereby creating no special quality as bands, tv shows and movies all scream louder and louder to be heard.
But, with ready availability comes the end of "specialty".
Blockbuster lines came into being in the 70s when movies were still somewhat of an event and studios hadn't an inkling of how to handle them. Do I miss them? Not really. What I miss are movies that are deserving of long lines.
I feel as though I've already seen Iron man and Indiana Jones, the former I will catch this weekend with my wife when we have a family member/sitter, the latter just does nothing for me.
Sadly, I recall standing on line for Temple of Doom (the first, I believe, pg-13 movie, or one of....) and there is no desire to see this one.
What we are witnessing is the end of pop culture as art for the masses and truly just concocted product.
It will change again, but not a moment too soon for me.

Jason Adams said...

Come see a movie on opening weekend when you're here in NYC, Piper. You can fill up on all you're craving of this supposed joy of waiting in lines with a bunch of unwashed, obnoxious hooligans. Whee!

PIPER said...

allen l.

Well said and good point about the segmentation of everyone. There's too much stuff to do for everyone to join in on one thing.


You make it sound so inviting, how can I resist.

Adam Ross said...

Great post, it got me to thinking how I'm going to explain to my son how good the movie-going experience used to be, when tickets weren't $20 (in 2016 money) and you actually had to work to see a movie on opening weekend.

My memories of long lines take me back to Lloyd Cinemas in Portland, the city's first true modern cineplex, built in the late 80s and at one point one of the most profitable cineplexes in the country. Anyway, it was constructed to facilitate long lines, with lengthy overhangs on either side where large crowds could avoid the rain. Good times.

Fletch said...

It's not really a rule, but a chief axiom that I live by is "the grass is always greener."

This is a prime example. You're nostalgic for the lines and the sense of anticipation, but I'd bet that when you (or I or most anyone) were in those lines, you were pissed at how long it was taking and how your feet hurt and how the guy in front of you smelled and that the guy in front of him cut into line and so on and so forth.

Lines suck. Multiplexes offer convenience. I like convenience. Sure, I kind of miss the hustle of bustle of a packed midnight showing of Star Wars or something, but it's kind of miserable when you're actually in it.

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

I miss the lines, excitement and anticipation for the big films. It's not as exciting to go when it's a half filled (or less) theatre. Also, the looping commercials are a deterent to showing up early at all! There are so many latecomers nowadays.

The last regular release I lined up for was Return of the King. Other than that the only line ups I find are in a festival setting, which I go to more and more.

PIPER said...


It's entirely possible that lines are a "nice idea" and not really good in reality. But I don't remember bitching about them. I remember just out of college, waiting in line for a haunted house for a couple of hours. It was good chatting time with my friends.

Now a line to bar? That's idiotic and I won't wait once second for a line to a bar. I can get drunk anywhere.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

I've got to say, I don't remember there being many lines, even back in the 70's and early 80's. I guess I was just lucky.

But then again, I've had pretty much nothing but multiplexes all my life.

With IRON MAN and INDY on 4 or 5 screens in some theatres, playing every 30 minutes, it would have to make A LOT of money to fill up those theatres and create lines.

On Friday or Saturday nights you still see lines though.

Garrett Sorrels said...

There is something about it.
The small town i'm from has a 6 screen cinema. 4 of the 6 screens play older movies and those movies are discounted, but there are two screens that only play new features. You go there on a Friday night and there is a line to get in and a line for the concession stand. Its kind of nice.... maybe part of it is the nostalgia and maybe part of it is having the face to face time with the parents and see old friends that are also waiting in line.

Anonymous said...

Great fng post

Fox said...

I'm dreading the day when the big screen is gone. Sure, it will always be around for nostalgia, but if films start releasing on the street the same day that you can download them on iTunes, then that will be a black day.

There is no place better to watch a film than in the theater. No place.

Don't get me wrong, I watch movies at home constantly, and Netflix is a godsend for film buffs outside of major cities. But if the big screen ever goes then a major part of the art of cinema will go too.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

I hate frigging lines. I hate them when I wait in them at the DMV and I hate them when I wait in them at the multiplex. I hate them in the dark, I hate them in the park.

I plan my movie going around my best guess at when there will be no friggin' lines. My son and I saw Iron Man at the first showing here in Tuscaloosa Alabama (Motto: we like dogs for the usual reasons too), and there were no lines. Of course, it was at the 1:45 showing on a Friday afternoon.

Evan Derrick said...

Yes, yes, yes Piper, I totally agree with you. I was actually sweating it when I realized I was only going to be 10 minutes early to a 10PM showing of Indy on Memorial Day weekend. No worries...there was hardly anyone there because, as you said, the daggum thing was playing every 30 minutes on the nose.

Films, to me, are events. One of the best film experiences I can recall was driving 3 hours to the only theater in Florida that was showing "Capturing the Freidmans," and I freaking loved it. Waiting in line for "The Phantom Menace"? Awesome. Even though the movie blew, the anticipation and excitement from the fans waiting hours in line was candy to a cinephile.

I, too, miss the 'event' films. Mourn the passing of an era.

Megan said...

Ah, memories.

Nice post, Piper.

PIPER said...


You write of the "event film" and its passing. Its this reason why I was so disappointed with how Grindhouse was marketed. I thought it would have been an excellent idea if Tarantino and Rodriguez went from city to city promoting this movie on select theaters. From there, it could have gotten a general release. But just as they were trying to bring back the double feature, they could have brought back the "event film". Only they screwed it up.


backing JA up here. In NYC you still get lines. And even if you don't have a "line" you'd still better get there early --even for a non-event if you want the best seats.

but i know what you're talking about. I think my 3rd or 4th movie memory in life was waiting in line for Superman (1978) and marvelling that I was standing out by the highway and the box office was this tiny thing in the distance (one screen giant theater) beyond the vast parking lot.

I also remember with total clarity how absolutely exciting the line was (stretching even further --same theater) when The Empire Strikes Back (1980) opened.

* (asterisk) said...

There's barely a movie released these days worth queueing for. Least of all yet another comic-book movie.

You like lines? In January I went to see the band Avenged Sevenfold playing in London. I headed to join the line. By the time I got to the end I was back where I started, at the front of the venue. It had taken me almost 10 minutes to walk all the way around the block, by which time yet more people had got there before me. It was no fun. The gig was great, though.

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