Movie Etiquette: When Is It OK to Laugh/Cry/Scream/Clap in the Theater?

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While writing up the Avengers teaser leak earlier today, I came across a great comment on YouTube complaining about audiences who go apeshit during a movie. The commenter asked, Why the hell do people in other countries cheer and clap during films? Yeah this was cool but how about trying to watch it? Is it an American thing? Having never seen a movie in a foreign country, I can't answer the nationality part, but I can respond to the first part: Because it's so much fun to share in the experience with everyone else. That said, not every movie warrants us to play Mystery Science Theater and talk back to the screen. Here's a guide for when to cheer and when to shut yer trap.

Acceptable: Horror, camp, sentimental dramas

These are the kinds of movies that feel most like a communal experience; it would be criminal to just sit there silently and basically ignore the other moviegoers. Interestingly, the actual quality of the movie is not proportional to the emotion it manages to wring from its viewers: My most fun movie experience so far in 2011 has been a press screening of The Roommate, where my co-workers and I hooted, gasped, and yelled as Leighton Meester creeped on Minka Kelly. (Billy Zane‘s jaunty cap also garnered applause.)

I brought up The Roommate because horror is the genre during which audible reactions are most acceptable. We're all terrified, so we're grateful for anything that takes our minds off the tension on-screen. Humor is a great outlet for our fear, and it comes in two ways:

a) Laughing at the undeniably cheesy parts of horror movies, like bad line deliveries and over-the-top deaths

b) Laughing at other peoples' reactions

The latter isn't meant to be cruel; if anything, it's a relief that everyone in the theater is just as scared as you. Creating those pockets of humor enhance the really scary sequences. Few movies can do this organically; M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

Harry Potter is the best possible example of when it's OK to let out your affection for a sentimental flick. From what I remember of past screenings, Deathly Hallows, Part 2 was really the only Potter film to warrant no-holds-barred reactions. Any real fans have already read the books and know exactly what's going to happen, so it's a matter of waiting excitedly for Molly Weasley's “Not my daughter, you bitch!” line. Also in this category are the loud, wrenching sobs during the requisite deaths and reveals that come with a final movie.

As for camp? The reason I go to every midnight premiere of the Twilight movies is to watch the audience: The starry-eyed fans' boyfriends mocking Edward, preteen girls' lustful screams for Jacob's six-pack, and pretty unanimous laughter at any of Bella's lines.

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