Cinemas continue to come in for no end of criticism. The admission prices, the failing to stop people disturbing the film, the overpriced sweets – the complaints are numerous. And it tends to be the staff – many of whom, let’s say, aren’t well remunerated for their efforts – who take the brunt of it.
But just how badly behaved are cinema audiences, and what do staff have to put up with, often for the minimum wage or just north of it? Quite a lot, as it happens. We invited cinema staff – under an agreement of anonymity – to get in touch and tell us their horror stories. And they did. Lots of them.
To be clear: virtually everyone said how much they enjoyed working in a cinema, and that 99% of the people who frequent picturehouses are no trouble at all. They’re the ones who want to watch the film.
Yet as with any job, there are exceptions.
We have kept names out of this, although as you might expect, most of the major chains are represented here. But here’s a cross section of the things certain cinema patrons are doing, that are annoying – and in some cases outright disgusting – the people behind the scenes…
People who ‘forget’ to use the toilet
To give you an indication of what lies ahead, let’s start with something especially grim. We’ve had two separate people get in touch with us on this. They both reported that, on clearing up after a showing, they discovered a bottle with a yellow-ish liquid. “It felt warm”, wrote C. “Gave it a smell. Yep”. Human urine. “This happened a few times while I’ve worked there (a year and a bit)”, C wrote, adding that “we prefer people to use the toilet”. Us too.
Mind you, V can beat that. She was cleaning up after a screening of a Harry Potter film on one occasion, and found a discarded pair of boxer shorts on one side of the cinema, and a full, litre cup of urine on the other. But it gets worse…
Leaving dirty nappies on the floor
Ah. Just yesterday, we wrote about kids’ clubs and such initiatives, to get anklebiters into cinemas in the first place. Like most such things, there’s a downside.
In this case, parents ‘forgetting’ to take the nappies of their children away with them. The record for this? As one Tweeter told us, “over 30”. This was after a ‘parents and babies’ screening, something that seems to be particularly dreaded by cinema staff. Despite changing facilities being available, after one particular screening of Quantum Of Solace, lots of nappies were left behind, “many not wrapped in bags”.
Not finishing drinks
A common problem is people buying the huge sized drinks that cinema concessions stands offer and not finishing them. Half-filled tubs of Pepsi can’t go in the bin, as they leak everywhere. Leave them behind, and they have to be individually disposed of, which in turn delays the next screening a little.
In truth, this is more a case of people not tidying up after themselves (and at least in this instance, they’re not pissing in said cups). We will, inevitably, be returning to the tidying up theme…
Telling staff that ‘they’re paid to clean up after customers’
As one multiplex employee, J, explained to us, “we don’t work on a commission for the amount of litter we pick up”. Also, as he points out, “the bigger the mess is, the more time it takes to clean, which keeps the audience waiting longer to get in the screen. If the audience is going to be considerate to anybody, be considerate to the audience members that are coming in after you”. Instead, staff put up with a small but loud bunch of people who seem to think they’re doing them a favour by leaving their rubbish on the floor.
In short, lots of people treat the cinema in a way they wouldn’t treat any other public place. And there’s always somebody who has to clean it up…
There’s no shortage of stories of cinema patrons, er, ‘testing the chairs’. Here are but a couple of tales we were told.
One correspondent told us that he worked as a projectionist for many years, and on checking the screens before shutting up shop at the end of the night, he got a bit of a shock in Screen 4. “I was about to leave when I hear a noise not too dissimilar that of a wounded animal”, he told us. “I turned back and shined a torch up to the back rows where I see two fleshy masses desperately fumbling for their clothes. An amorous middle aged couple had gotten stark-bollock-naked for some kind of rumpy pumpy shenanigans”.
He continued the story. “I averted my eyes from the sweaty mingingness and shouted, ‘er… when you’re ready'”. Said couple pegged it out the fire escape, rather than facing the awaiting staff in the foyer. “They clearly got over excited by the wonders of Vertical Limit“, noted our informant. “To each their own I suppose”.
Perhaps the saddest tale along these lines we heard was this one. “Doing a rare recent screen check I noticed the outline of two figures in the front row, one mounted atop the other, bouncing up and down. I’d heard plenty of horror stories about this kind of thing, but I thought the audacity of front and centre was another level”.
The correspondent added that “you can only imagine my relief when it turned out to only be two kids fighting. That’s what it’s come to. People care so little about the cinema as an experience that our job is essentially damage limitation. It’s a victory for us if people actually use a bin and keep their urges in check for a couple of hours”.
Mind you, as one person noted to us, “I consider myself lucky because I started after Nine Songs [was released].
Ew. Apparently there were tissues.
Wanting selective rule enforcement
“It seems, more than most places, that cinema rules are not rules that need to be followed”, R told us in their missive. “Over the last 10 to 15 years, people care less and less. Unless it’s something affecting their viewing, in which case the rules should be followed to the letter, and people then want you to be Judge Dredd”.
R added that “people only care about the rules and etiquette at the cinema when someone else is annoying them. And then the staff get the blame”. He does point out that he loves his job. Yet whilst he would love to be able to do more, and check screens more frequently, “we just don’t have the money from HQ to do it”.
Giving kids enormous quantities of pick & mix
“I worked in a cinema when The Flintstones came out”, Jon told us. “If you’ve never mopped up pick & mix sick on a Saturday morning, you’ve not lived”. Yuck.
Complaining to staff about the prices
The staff inevitably get the brunt of the blame for the prices charged by modern cinemas, even if those at the coal face have had no part in setting them. In fact, they agree with you more than you think.
“We know that your ticket/food/sweets/popcorn/hot-dog/three pieces of pick’n’mix were expensive”, G told us. “But we can’t do anything about it! You’d think they’d pay us more than minimum wage with the profits from these overpriced items but no, they don’t, so stop giving us grief over something when it isn’t going to get either of us anywhere, and get something from the supermarket beforehand!”
Lots of people echoed the same thought. In short: cinema staff think the drinks are overpriced too…
Letting kids run riot
G has some simple rules if you want to take a child to the cinema. They seem logical to us.
“1. Only buy them popcorn if they have developed enough muscle control not to spontaneously throw it all over the floor/chairs/carpet/customers.
2. If you’re accompanying them to a kid’s film don’t sit in the cinema playing Candy Crush on your phone (I’ve caught parents doing this at least ten times in the past two or three months).
3. Don’t let your kids put their hands in the pic & mix. That’s just gross.”
We like those rules. Unfortunately, lots of parents see the cinema as a surrogate babysitter, and fail to control their offspring as a consequence.
Letting kids use the seats as a toilet
Several reports of this. As E wrote to us, “a request to all cinema-goers: please don’t poo on the seats or let your children poo on the seats. Humans clean those seats”.
Expecting an opinion on a film
Many cinema chains run a policy where you’re not allowed to speak negatively about films, even if people are ranting to you about it afterwards – or even getting help with choosing before.
“If a customer asks you how Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie is, you can’t say ‘a pile of utter bollocks'”, mourns G. “And if you think Michael Bay is an insufferable child with too much power and too many expensive toys you still have to say that Transformers: Age Of Extinction is really fun, family entertainment”.
The frustration? “When you know a film is bad, and you know you’re enabling a perfectly nice-looking customer to waste two hours of their life, you can’t do anything about it”.
Spoiling the film for staff
“Please don’t”, begged several cinema workers who got in touch with us. People still do.
Trying to blag refunds
“The times when people ate an entire large popcorn and came to demand a refund because it was too salty – or similar – are too numerous to mention”, V recalled. It happens a lot: that people consume the bulk of their concessions stand purchases, and only then complain once they’ve done so.
Handy hint to those trying this: you will not get a refund.
Watching the full end credits
Bit harsh this one. We have no problem with people doing this, but understand the frustration from the point of view of cinema staff, who have a limited amount of time to prepare the screen for the next showing.
“Please”, begged one person who wrote to us, “do Google before seeing the film to find out if there’s a post-credits scene. The chances are, unless it’s Marvel, there isn’t”. Noting that everything else in the credits is on IMDB, the person concerned notes that staff have to wait until the screen is empty before cleaning it up.
That said, some people – ourselves included – actually like reading the credits. Er, sorry…
Getting spooked by credits music
As an addendum to the above point (you can hardly blame the audience for this point and the next one), “not a lot of people watch credits, so, in reality, credits music should be aimed at the cinema staff who’ll be the only ones experiencing it as they clean the screen”. With particular reference to horror movies, “it really does not help when you’re already alone in partial darkness for there to be terrifying music and creepy footstep/scream/creaking sound effects”.
Listening to the song from The Smurfs 2 end credits five times a day
This one hurts.
Asking for unreasonable refunds (for reasons other than food)
This happens a lot, it seems. As one cinema employee told us, “a colleague always told me a story about a showing of The Artist a few years back, where one customer defiantly argued his case for a refund because what he believed must have been sound issues meant he ‘couldn’t hear what any of the characters were saying'”.
Again, they did not get their money back.
Arguing about age
V worked for a cinema chain in Northern Ireland, and it seems that she lost count of the number of kids who came in claiming to be 15, declaring that “if I just talk to their ‘mother’ on the phone she’ll be able to confirm it”.
On top of that, though, there are umpteen examples of parents trying to blag their children into age-inappropriate films. Our favourite of the stories V told us was just after the introduction of the 12A certificate, when several customers thought that this extended to 15s and 18s. That is, that as long as their child was accompanied by them, the whole family could see any film they like.
“On one particularly memorable occasioan, a couple tried to buy a family ticket for Snakes On A Plane. After being told no by three separate members of staff, they changed their order to two adults for Snakes On A Plane, two children for whatever kids movie was out at the same time and obviously, were refused again. They asked to speak to a manager who told them in the most polite way possible, if they thought Snakes On A Plane was suitable for their kids, they weren’t welcome in the cinema”.
The poor children will never appreciate what they missed out on.
Punching other patrons
The specific example we were given? A mother on mother punch-up. It took place during a midday showing of Monsters Inc, leaving “dozens of kids crying” around them. We don’t say this lightly: we’d rather they played on their phone.
Unfortunately, there’s more…
Resorting to violence
This is where things take an even more uncomfortable turn: when cinema staff are threatened with violence. An example? How about this one: “A guy tried to use an expired student card and was told he’d have to pay full price. He got very upset about it and asked to speak to the manager (who at the time was a 6 foot 4, fairly bulky man) and for some reason, the discussion got very heated and he punched the manager”. The police were called.
With regards that particular incident, “what made it even more insane was, it was the middle of the day and an adult ticket was £4.50 and a student was £4!” The manager was assaulted because the customer concerned resented paying an extra 50p.
Most incidents don’t result in the police being called, though. “I know two members of staff who had large drinks thrown at them”, V told us. “One man threw a large Fanta at two concessions staff because there were no hot dogs left and in the process ruined £100 of Pringles. Another poured a full large coke on a supervisor’s foot because she asked him to leave, after numerous complaints”.
Sadly, we heard of several incidents of people being verbally abused or assaulted when staff are trying to do their job. It’s especially unfortunate when that happens on the occasions when they are trying to police a screening of a film.
Just not cleaning up
The big one. Pretty much everyone got in touch with us mentioned this, that people leave the cinema behind them in one hell of a state. As one person put it, “anyone that’s ever been in a screen when the lights are back up can understand what a harrowing experience it is. If seeing it is bad, just imagine having to clean it. Clambering through the aisles to pry half-eaten buckets of popcorn out of the murky puddles of spilt Pepsi has a tendency to resemble the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan“
Popcorn, incidentally, is the main offender (“do people actually know how many calories are in popcorn? In a large tub there are a thousand calories! A THOUSAND! Why does everyone buy it?! It is literally popped corn with a ton of sugar or salt on!” wrote one person).
Cleaning up popcorn is clearly one of the worst parts of the job. “Especially when, as it does so often, the popcorn combines with the spilled drink of the customer sitting next to them. Argh!”
Bottom line: there are bins. Please put your stuff in them.
Huge thanks in particular to G, E, D, S, J, C, J and E, and the many others who got in touch.
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