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  • Rough Cut Staff

A Guide to Movie Theater Seat Selection

Most of us went more than a year without walking into a movie theater. Don’t be like me; don’t be stricken by paralysis when you pull up the seating chart for your favorite local cineplex and have approximately 4:51 seconds left to make your selection and checkout. Eventually, we may even be able to walk into a theater without a preselected seat. What will you do? Will you panic, your decision-making brain-muscle left limp from months of neglect? Or will you rise to the challenge?

Here’s a guide to quick and efficient movie theater seat selection. Well, it’s less of a guide, really, and more of a subjective walkthrough of the decisions I would make. But those decisions are correct. On to it, then.

Okay, here’s what we're working with. I walk into the theater and take a quick scan. What am I taking?

TIER 1: Cinematic Bliss

K 3-5

Boom, back row. There’s no one behind me. I cannot emphasize this enough: There. Is. Nobody. Behind. Me. Nobody jostling me as they go to the bathroom. Nobody putting their feet on or near my seat, and therefore near my face. Nobody whispering or munching or anything. Bliss behind me. +5.

Keep in mind that if this is a much bigger theater - especially if the screen isn’t correspondingly larger - I might not go straight to the back row. You don’t want to risk being too far away. But with this map, I’m in good shape.

But no! I head up to the back row and some jamoke elbows me out of the way and thumps down into K-4, a tub of buttered up popcorn spilling all over his lap and the two seats next to him. No way I'm sitting next to this guy. What do I do now?

G 5-7

Second row back from the main aisle. Don’t be an idiot and sit in that front row of the back section. I know it seems appealing. Nobody in front of me! An unobstructed view! No. Don’t be an idiot. You get an unobstructed view of whatever fluorescent lights the theater uses to line the area. An unobstructed view of every time some joker goes to the bathroom or to get an extra large soda refill in the middle of the goddamn climactic scene. Take that second row. Not too many people in front of you, but a buffer from the bad stuff. G 5-7 also pushes you a bit away from the entrance/exit, crucial for minimizing distractions.

But what if that's taken? On to your final Tier 1 option...

I 10-12

Depending on the situation, I might hop on over to I 10-12. Some of you might have picked this spot first - the classic Middle-Middle. But look, you don’t want to sit here if you have to get up a lot during movies. Everyone is allowed to pick 2 movies per year in which they can sit here - more if you see more movies. We’ll say ~10% of your moviegoing trips can be in this area. You’ve got the best view of the screen, no doubt. And nobody is walking past you to get to the bathroom - the people to your left are going left, the people to your right are going right. But you, my friend, are walking by everyone. So don’t move a damn muscle when you sit here.

TIER 2: Serviceable

We're on to the next tier. None of these are ideal, but I’m also not cranky about them. Here's what we're looking at now. Excuse the 3rd grade level graphic.

We start with...

E 10-13

The front section isn’t that bad!! It has an awful reputation, but if you get a prime seat in the back row, you avoid people bumping your chair or resting their stanky feet on it, and during this not-quite-post-pandemic period, there’s also nobody breathing directly on you. Unlike your counterparts in the front row of the back section, you don’t have the path lighting right in your field of vision. And you’re far enough back that you’re not going to develop spinal problems from an awkward neck angle. Sure, there will be some rustling every time someone walks behind you, but there are worse things. Let’s gooo!

F 8-11

Okay, yeah, the front row of the back section is tough, like I described earlier. But if you’re going to do it, take advantage of the opportunity to plop yourself down into the middle of a row without having to shimmy out any time you need to leave the theater. Sit here when you goofed and had a giant soda before the movie even started. Sit here when you decide to live on the edge and have a spicy dinner before the movie. You get a good view and you don’t piss off anyone when you have to sprint to the bathroom.

C 5-7

Okay, this is very movie-dependent. A 90-minute rom-com? Take this one over the others remaining at this point. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t see the entire screen all at once, and the short runtime means your neck won’t be too sore. But if you’re getting a visual feast - especially one that runs over 2 hours - take a crappy seat in the back section over these ones.

TIER 3: OK, fine, I will watch

Tier 3. At this point, I'm pretty annoyed at myself for showing up so late, and at my fellow moviegoers for their excellent strategic approach to seat selection. But I'm still at the movies, so I'm happy enough. Which bad option do I take?

Here's what's on the board.

F 16-18

This spot has everything that’s good and bad about F 8-11, except now you’re also right by the entrance, so everyone is going up and down the stairs right next to you. And you have the path lighting both in front of you and to the side, illuminating the wide open space by your feet and the stairwell in your periphery. It's not good, but there's an easy exit if the movie is trash and your experience is below par, and at least you have leg-room.

J 19-20

You may have figured this out by now, but I’m extremely averse to path lighting. As a concept, it’s fine. I appreciate not falling flat on my face with a full bladder as I try to tiptoe-run to the bathroom. But movie theaters love incredibly blinding halogen lights, so when I’m sitting at the edge of a row, I’m basically blind in one eye, leaving the other eye to futilely attempt to remain undistracted and take in everything that’s happening on screen. This is probably my most controversial take, but these two seats - especially J-20 - are worse than everything else listed thus far. The ability to exit quickly in a movie theater is overrated; this isn’t an American Airlines shuttle flight from D.C. to Boston.

TIER 4: Probably Just Going Home

You arrive late and see this two groups of seats left.

A 9-12

If this is what’s left, I will probably go home. If there's a filmmaker Q&A after, I might stay.

A 1-2

If this is what’s left, I will definitely go home. If there's a filmmaker Q&A, I still will not stay, because I don't want to be face-to-face with someone after watching the art they spent untold hours and money on in the worst possible conditions.


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