Vaping, drunkenness and fights – survey finds cinema behaviour worse than ever

recent poll by geek merchandise gurus, Merchoid, reveals that a staggering 87% of moviegoers have encountered bad manners from other audience members on their recent trips to the cinema. Blockbusters like Barbie topped the charts not only at the box office, but also when exploring the movies most affected by poor audience etiquette.  

The most common bad behaviours uncovered in the Merchoid poll, which had around 1,000 respondents, include:

  • Talking over the screening (64% of audiences)
  • Taking phonecalls during the screening (29%)
  • People throwing popcorn or other food (19%)
  • People vaping in the screening (18%)
  • Verbal arguments (11%)
  • Drunkenness (10%)

In July, box office earnings soared to their highest since December 2019 as Barbie, Oppenheimer and a craving for real-world experiences pulled audiences back to the big screen in the highest volumes seen since pre-pandemic times.

Both Barbie and Oppenheimer shattered records by raking in over £10 million on their opening weekend. The movie hype drew audiences of all ages back to movie theatres in droves, but after several years getting used to watching films in the privacy and comfort of our own homes, it appears the en mass return to actual cinemas also sparked some unexpected drawbacks. 

86% of those who watched Barbie found themselves frustrated with other audience members talking during the film, and phone use and texting were also top grievances. Across all movies viewed by respondents in the Merchoid poll, roughly 64% complained about audience chatter. Oppenheimer fared considerably better, with only 15% of its viewers reporting a negative experience, though talking during the film remained the most common peeve.

Wordlwide, 29% of all cinema attendees reported disturbances from people taking phone calls, while 19% noted instances of snacks, like popcorn, being tossed around. 18% cited vaping from other guests as disrupting their experience, while 11% experienced verbal arguments and a shocking 10% had to deal with drunkenness.

Merchoid’s E-Commerce Manager Michelle Kelly observes:

The cinema industry is at a critical juncture, with even big names like Cineworld facing existential threats. Our survey results highlight an urgent issue that can’t be ignored—poor audience behaviour is diminishing the cinema experience, deterring some moviegoers altogether. 

The Barbenheimer meme, playing off the contrast between the two films and their release dates generated mass hysteria on social media with many choosing to see the films back to back. Social media users playfully discussed pairing Barbie with a cocktail-filled bottomless brunch and then transitioning to cigarettes and black coffee for Oppenheimer or vice versa. 

Perhaps that’s why some moviegoers rocked up at their respective cinemas inebriated before Barbie or Oppenheimer had even started. Incidents of disruptive behaviour, excessive phone usage, and unruly conduct have been widely reported. But interestingly, it’s not just in cinemas that bad behaviour is rife. Concertgoers have been pelting musicians with objects, most recently the rapper Cardi-B

Bad behaviour at live events like concerts and cinema screenings could jeopardise the future enjoyment and accessibility of such experiences for everyone. Many participants in Merchoid’s survey expressed a preference for watching movies at home, a habit that was ingrained for many of us during the COVID era. This extended period of home viewing might have diminished some people’s self-awareness when returning to cinemas and live events.

Streaming services and big-screen TVs offer a cinema-like experience at home. And, when you factor in the costs of tickets, popcorn, and drinks, going to the cinema is a significant investment,” notes Michelle Kelly, “If people don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth due to poor audience behaviour, they’ll simply stay at home next time.

Recent episodes of rowdy behaviour in cinemas leave the question: Will bad behaviour encourage people hold fire on cancelling their streaming services, so they can stay home instead of heading back to cinemas?

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