Should cinema audiences stay put for the credits?

Getting up to leave as soon as the end credits start: is that a bad thing?

The recent piece on this site about ‘credit offset’ brings up an important issue that has been the cause of some heated debate among my friends and dearly beloved recently: should cinema audiences stay put for the end credits of a movie? Should people stay in their seats while anything up to 10 minutes of credits sweep by, or should people get themselves up and vacate the cinema so that the hard-working cinema employees can sweep up their rubbish in time for the next showing?

Now, being a Wittertainee and a cinephile, I am anticipating a stream of irate responses along the lines of “OF COURSE cinema audiences should stay put for the credits! How is this even a question?!”

There are two main reasons for cinema fans’ passionate advocacy for staying in your seats.

Firstly, films are made by more than one or two people. The director and lead actors may be the names on the poster, but hundreds of people put time and effort into making a film, and staying to watch the credits acknowledges that work.

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Secondly, staying put allows the audience time to digest the film and let it settle, the same way a devoted reader might sit for a few minutes contemplating a book they’ve just finished. How much you might feel a film requires a few minutes of emotional recovery and thoughtful contemplation does depend a little on the type of film – I, for example, need to subtly brush tears away and tidy myself up a bit after some films. I particularly remember seeing Senna in mid-afternoon, alone, surrounded by similarly unaccompanied patrons (many of them middle-aged men sounding a bit embarrassed) and no one moved for most of the credits as we all tried to compose ourselves. But even a less emotionally intense film deserves a little pause, a breather to take in the experience, before heading back into the outside world.

Cinephiles, then, are likely to feel that the ‘proper’ way to fully appreciate a film includes staying through the credits, and to feel increasingly annoyed at the speed with which the lights go up and everyone around them pushes past, trying to leave. But it was not always so.

A classic scene from Dad’s Army features Captain Mainwaring gamely trying to respect the end of a film while his platoon stomp and rush for the exit around him – however, he is not sitting through the credits, but standing for the National Anthem, which was played at the end of films in the UK during World War Two. For several decades, the main credits of films, including details such as ‘Color by Technicolor’, were shown at the beginning of the film, not the end. A short cast list might come up at the end to allow people to identify actors they hadn’t quite recognised, but a film was considered to have finished with the final shot of its narrative. While Captain Mainwaring may have felt it deeply unpatriotic for his troop to trample him in their efforts to get out of the cinema, it was the National Anthem they were disrespecting, not the film.

As films became ever more complex productions and the credits list got longer, the main credits were shifted to the end of the film. There was, however, little expectation that anyone would sit through them. This can be clearly seen in the jokes in the credits in films from the 1980s and 1990s. While the presence of joke-credits is one way of encouraging audiences to stay and appreciate the many people whose work has gone in to making the film, the nature of those jokes clearly implies that this was not expected behaviour. Ferris Bueller comes out the bathroom to ask “You’re still here?” and tell the audience “It’s over – go home!”, while the final credits for Hot Shots! tell the audience “If you left this theater when these credits began, you’d be home now.”

There is an argument to be made that when the final scene has rolled, the film – that is, the narrative the audience have been watching – is over. Especially in the days of IMDB, there is no reason to stay any longer (and even if we want to respect all the people who made the film, is anyone really reading the name of the Best Boy? No disrespect to Best Boys, but I suspect not).

There are also genuine reasons a person might need to get up as soon as they can at the end of a film. These include needing to catch a train, needing to pick up children, needing to get to the car park before the three hours’ free parking runs out, and so on, and so forth – all of which are rather more urgent and important than sitting through the credits after the story had ended. The most obvious and urgent reason of this kind is needing the toilet. I’ve seen and heard this mocked a lot among film fans, along with the related issue concerning nipping out of the film to use the toilet during the screening. How can anyone, they ask, be unable to sit for two hours without going to the toilet? Just don’t buy that super-size Coca-Cola (other overly caffeinated sugary drinks are available) and you’ll be fine.

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This type of argument makes my blood boil. You may be lucky enough that you can sit for 2-3 hours without needing the toilet and experience no major discomfort – how fortunate for you. Some of us are cursed with small bladders and it doesn’t matter how much we avoid large drinks, we struggle and can feel extremely uncomfortable sitting for that long without a bathroom break.

Since there are no live actors in a film (and no interval) I fail to see why we should experience increasing discomfort, panic about having an accident and lose all ability to concentrate on the film just so that no one sees a shadow briefly move across the screen as we leave. This goes double for anyone who has made it to the end of the film without a break but really quite badly needs one by that time – there is no reason they should be stigmatised for leaving to use the toilet when the story has ended. And that’s without even factoring in pregnant women and people with bladder problems, who surely should not be cast out of cinemas simply because their need for the toilet may be a minor annoyance.

The answer, as with so many things in life, is surely to find a happy middle ground.

Increasingly often, films include a certain amount of extra material during the early part of the credits. This may be a post-credits sting, or some kind of illustration or animation: nothing as elaborate as the beautiful animations on the 1956 film of Around The World In Eighty Days, which are an impressive short film in themselves, but some kind of artistic flourish or cute little extra, like the Alan Lee drawings on The Return Of The King, the swimming fish in Finding Nemo or the dancing Jeff Goldblum on Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Marvel films, of course, are notorious for including a scene at the very end of the credits, but even these usually put the more plot-significant scenes during the earlier part these days. Perhaps, then, the answer is to stay for a few minutes, absorb the film, watch the first part of the credits, but then accept that most people will want to leave rather than sit through the whole lot?

It’s not a perfect solution. Exactly what counts as the ‘artistic bit’ of the credits may be a point of contention, and not all films have an obviously different opening section to their credits. For example, I have recently had arguments about the DVD being turned off at the start of the credits of two films. One was Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was turned off during the section where the original Star Trek crew sign off from the franchise – I suspect most readers of this site will sympathise with my horror. The other, however, was Titanic, which was turned off during My Heart Will Go On – I do like that song personally, but I suspect rather more people might prefer to have it turned off.

So, we don’t live in a perfect world and there isn’t a perfect solution. But a decent rough guideline might be: if something obviously interesting is happening in the credits, stay for that bit, because others will want to watch it. If nothing special is happening, stay for a minute or two, to digest the film. After that, it is not unreasonable to get up and go if you want to, and let the cinema employees clean up (and maybe look up the crew credits on Imdb when you get home). And if someone needs to leave immediately, perhaps don’t judge them too harshly. You don’t know what their life is like, or how badly their bladder may be bursting.

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