Movie Scenes, Movie Theaters

As the clichéd saying goes, “Art imitates life”. And thus, since film is a form of art, it also imitates life. And films that imitate life wouldn’t exist if people weren’t populating theaters to watch them… which is a part of life. Naturally, films have featured some really great scenes in movie theaters. Here are some of my favorites.

Taxi Driver (1976)
The unimaginably awkward Travis Bickle scores a date with the beautiful Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and takes her to the movies. The punchline- the horribly uncomfortable punchline that makes the viewer wince- is that Bickle’s idea of a dream date is taking her to a pornographic film, even despite her protestations upon realizing where he’s taken her. 

Annie Hall (1977)
It’s quite an intelligent scene. It establishes Woody Allen’s neurotic character; the over-the-top film critic guy behind him is someone we’ve all known; breaking out of the line to talk directly to the audience is a neat device; and the Marshall McLuhan punchline delivers.

Donnie Darko (2001)
First of all, a theater showing The Evil Dead and The Last Temptation of Christ to further establish the 1980ness of the film really tickled my nostalgia bone. And what kid in the 80’s wouldn’t have wanted to see The Evil Dead on the big screen just days before Halloween? Throw in Frank the Creepy Bunny Rabbit and a portal in the screen leading to a home intended to be burnt down and you’ve got a cult scene for the ages.

The 400 Blows (1959)
It’s not that surprising that in Truffaut’s mostly biographical work, the hero- Antoine Doinel- would be at his happiest coming out of a theater.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Not unlike when Spielberg opened the arc of the covenant to murder Nazis, Quentin Tarantino used a theater to do the same. Using the Jewish Shosanna Dreyfus to execute the plan further jarred the film from conventional war film fare into revenge fantasy. Her giant, theater screen-sized face looming over them as they burn is an enduring image from a really fantastic film. 

Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese and DeNiro strike again, this time by turning Max Cady into every theater patron’s worst nightmare.

Diner (1982)
Here’s a bit of movie math: Mickey Rourke + mischievous lurid sexual plot + popcorn box + date = movie magic 

Ghost World (2001)
Giving Enid (Thora Birch) a job as a movie theater employee was a really excellent way to unleash the character’s cynicism, piling one glob of theater butter after another on patrons’ popcorn and pestering them to upgrade their drinks.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Richard, feeling the so-called “seven year itch” of marital boredom while his wife is out of town, takes his blonde bombshell neighbor (Marilyn Monroe) to the movies on a steamy summer New York city night. Following the film, Monroe stops atop a subway grate, wherein the rush of air from a passing train lifts her skirt, thereby sending hordes of pre-teen boys in the 50’s into an early puberty. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in movie history and it all happened thanks to two characters going to a movie.  

O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)
One of the funnier scenes in a very funny movie sees Pete (John Turturro) very unsubtly whispering “DO NOT SEEK… THE TREASURE” while Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) volleys back “WE THOUGHT YOU WAS A TOAD”. Given the rest of the film, it’s amazing how cogent and normal that whole exchange seems.

Gremlins (1984)
The menacing slimy green creatures famously overtook a theater showing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a scene that culminated with them singing along to “Heigh-Ho” with the on-screen dwarfs. I speak from experience here- humanizing these playfully malevolent creatures managed to take the pants-soiling fright out of them, if only for a minute, to eight year olds all over the country.

Idiocracy (2006)
The futuristic theater scene was part of a larger sequence detailing just how idiotic the human race had become several centuries into the future. It’s so simple, and yet so over the top, and  so funny to me. If you were trying to come up with the most awful form of entertainment that would win several Oscars (including best screenplay) in an intellectually bankrupt civilization, you’d be hard pressed to top “Ass”.

Zodiac (2007)
I thought it was quite clever that Fincher’s film featured movie patrons watching Dirty Harry, the 1971 film based on the Zodiac killer. It even included, as I recall, a cardboard cutout in the theater lobby of Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan.

Blazing Saddles (1974)
The incredible finale of the film features a fight that breaks out of the imaginary world of the wild west into several modern day film sets and ultimately onto Hollywood Boulevard, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater… which just happens to be showing the premiere of Blazing Saddles. As it turns out, “meta” isn’t such a new concept.


Filed under Movies

11 responses to “Movie Scenes, Movie Theaters

  1. Kelly

    I. Love. O, Brother. And that was my favorite part of the movie. While a lot of the other entries are iconic (Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, Gremlins, etc.), the first one that came to my mind was The Departed. It’s probably because I watched it recently. I love that movie, too. Guess it’s safe to say I love Scorsese and the Coens. Didn’t you do an entry a while back pitting their movies against each other? My memory is horrible sometimes. Btw, I hope you’ve been feeling better.

    • D’oh! Departed was a total miss on the list. It’s funny- there are a LOT of Scorsese films with theater scenes. Departed, The Aviator (which I excluded only because it was a screening room, and not a theater in the traditional sense), Taxi Driver, Cape Fear… I’m sure there are more. Even Boardwalk Empire, which he produced, featured at least one theater scene.

      And you are correct- I did an Iron Director about the Coens v. Scorsese about a month or so ago.

      Thanks for the well wishes. My four day sinus headache finally broke yesterday afternoon. It’s amazing how much more human I feel now just because I don’t have a headache.

  2. I immediately thought of Idiocracy when I saw the title, but the others soon leapt to mind. I’ve seen all those movies except Blazing Saddles, which I intend to watch very soon. Diner was spot-on, I knew you wouldn’t forget Mickey Rourke and the popcorn box.

  3. The movie theater line scene might be the best scene in ‘Annie Hall.’ Definitely one of the funniest.

    What about the Dillinger movie ‘Public Enemies’?

    • I’m not really sure why I left that one out. It’s a great use of the theater scene. IIRC, they even managed the historical accuracy of showing the same film Dillinger was watching when he got busted.

  4. rtm

    Oh that scene in ‘Basterds’ is just wow… that is the movie that made me want to check out other Tarantino movies.

    Btw, my friend Becky LOVES Blazing Saddles, I really should watch that one.

  5. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    I typically use “Ass” from Idiocracy when talking about a bad movie. For example, I would rather watch “Ass” from Idiocracy than watch 27 Dresses starring Katherine Heigl.” Another example would be, ” I would rather watch “Ass” from Idiocracy than “Killers” starring Katherine Heigl.” Yet another example would be, “I would rather watch “Ass” from Idiocracy than “Life As We Know It” starring Katherine Hiegl. Another example would be….

  6. Don

    Not a movie, but one of my favorite theater scenes is from Seinfeld when Jerry and his Girl friend go to see Schindler’s List, and make out the whole time because Jerry’s parents are in town. Then Newman is there and “tattles” on Jerry to his folks! Classic nothingness and laugh out loud funny!

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