Movie Guinea Pigs: Where Do You Sit?

Right now, I’m reading the book This Is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and Other WTF Research by Marc Abrahams. Contained within this compendium of mind-boggling (and frequently hilarious) scientific research was the query that inspired this post.

The question asked–when people walk into a cinema, where do they choose to sit?—pops up in Chapter 4 of Abrahams, “Behave Yourself—Or Don’t,” under the heading “Take a Seat in Bulgaria.”

(The movie-related topic lands between “Spacing at the Beach,” whose title is pretty self-explanatory, and “Boos Act as Booze on the Power-Hungry,” the study of a speaker’s rate of eyebrow-furrowing in response to visibly bored listeners)

At any rate, observing the behaviors of Bulgarian cinema-goers is a not-too-esoteric treat you may wish to avail yourself of by purchasing the book; it’s a lot of fun so far. Meanwhile, why don’t we get on with it so you can be the guinea pigs for own little MovieFanFare study?

Here’s a crudely constructed movie theater floorplan. Let’s eliminate the whole “balcony” question. Feel free to adjust this basic design in your imagination to match up with whichever theater(s) you most frequent.

Now, complete this basic poll:



Where Do You Sit at the Movies?

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Come to think of it, we should probably drill down a little deeper, don’t you think, because moviegoers’ seating preferences might just be a little more specific than those three categories. Let’s try again.



Where Do You Sit at the Movies? Part II

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That’s a little better. Unless of course you are the type of person with an even more specific preference:

As George Takei would say, oh my. Now, we won’t bother with Poll #3, but as you can see, the last step we can take before getting down to the nitty-gritty of specific seat numbers puts us at 27 location subdivisions:

The Left: front against the wall, front in the center, front at the aisle; middle against the wall, middle center, middle at the aisle; rear against the wall, rear at the center, rear at the aisle.

The Center: front at the left to the aisle, front and center, front at the right to the aisle;  middle to the left aisle, dead center, middle to the right aisle; left rear to the left aisle, center to the back, and right rear to the right aisle.

The Right: front against the wall, front in the center, front at the aisle; middle against the wall, middle center, middle at the aisle; rear against the wall, rear at the center; rear at the aisle.

Maybe for you it varies depending on the movie. Maybe your ideal seating changes depending on the theater.

Then, there are always those tricky circumstances…like this one. The purplish seats are filled. The blue seats are empty—

You have two choices. Where are you going to sit? Does it make any difference if the movie has already started? What difference does it make if you are alone or with somebody (assuming the same two seats are available)? What do your choices say about the kind of person you are?

There are, naturally, endless variations to be explored on this topic, including the ever-popular why in the world when the theater is practically empty does that person sit right in front of/behind/next to me?

I will never forget the opening night of the first Lord of the Rings movie, when four of us entered the very crowded theater (we got there early, but oh, not early enough) and looked back towards a long row that appeared to have more than enough seats available. The somewhat chubby nerdling at the center of all the empty seats made eye contact with us, stood up immediately, and bellowed with arms outstretched: No way. Don’t even think about it!

And they say politics is hardball.

Anybody got any good analysis? Any good seating-at-the-movies stories? You are in the maze. You are on the wheel. Submit yourself to the process so we can gather some data.