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?

View Results








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

View Results













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.

  • Wayne P.

    Fine piece, George…its really tough, though, when youve got that purplish full/bluey empty seat thing going on at home, isnt it?  ;).  Back to reality…the dead center, center back choices currently in the lead for the polled queries are just about right for me…now to the more entertaining part…my fave (bad, not good) movie theater seating story comes from when I was 16 in 1972 and had taken my Dads ’66 Barracuda with the fold down back seat and big rear-bay window to the cinema, hoping for a warm-up to some serious necking before heading to the airport to watch the planes fly over us overlooking the Potomac River in DC whilst doing some furniture re-arranging in the ‘Cuda after the flick…only one problem, the film was Deliverance, and we had that “no two seats together” deal going down as well…thank God, a nice ‘older’ couple gave up their seats to take a one behind, one in front routine, which opened two seats up side by side for us…then the movie started and you can guess the rest. Needless to say, it wasnt the type of film given to extra-curricular activity of the teenage hormonal variety!  We were more interested in finding a barf bag after that one was over than heading out under the stars…Ce la Vie.

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Hm, that reminds me of the funny “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry is excoriated by his parents for making out during “Schindler’s List.” Or maybe Travis taking Betsy to see “Sometime Sweet Susan.”  

      Maybe “The World’s Worst Make-out Movies” someday… :)

      • Wayne P.

        Yep, that would be a keeper to do a best or worst of on make-out pics!  Btw, was laughing out loud when viewing your link on the Tivoli theater over at “Is Your Favorite Movie Theater Still Standing” blog.  The perfect symmetry of the titles of the double-feature that day:  ‘Last Song’ and Hot Tub Time Machine’ were too much; especially given the firstfave R-rated movie segue into your article!

    • Captain Midnight

       I have seen the movie Deliverance several times and think it is a great movie. Of course, I would not exactly call it a date movie. It is an intense drama more suited to a male audience over the age of 18. 

  • John George

    Really enjoyed this piece, George. My “problem” though is that no matter WHERE or in WHAT AREA one chooses to sit, if the theatre is relatively empty as it often is at first or second showings of the day, and there are at least 100 empy seats, the next people who come in will invariably sit in front, next to, or behind you! Can this be written off as “herd instinct” or is there another name for it - Loneliness; insecurity; or the inability to make an undirected decision of their own??? Maybe there should be a study of this “phenomenon” also…..  Cheers!!

    • MissKitty

      Amen!  Maybe they’re lemmings…you could also be one of just a few in the whole theatre, and where do they sit!?!  Odds have it they’re the noisiest, also!

    • Captain Midnight

       You are so right John. I have seen this a lot. I have also experienced this when I sometimes go out to eat. I find a nice quiet table far away from other people so I can have a nice cozy conversation with my female companion. And about the time our food arrives, in comes a family with two whining kids and they sit at the table nearest us. On more than one occasion, me and my date had to move to another table. Go figure!   

  • Scott

    A good follow up poll question would be: If all the seats in the area of your first preference are taken, then where would you sit?

  • Joseph23006

    I like center, middle back, unless there is a balcony like Radio City, Lowe’s Capitol Grand Divan, or the now gone Loge at Pittsburgh’s Warner Theater.  With older movies this is not a problem, wide screen presents problems.  Optics, anamorphic lenses, Cinerama®, are problematic because the camera and the eye are not in sync.  Too often movies are projected on a flat screen, the eye or the lens sees 150 degrees as a curve.  I guess I will have to build a home theatre with one seat, curved screen, and the ability to show all formats.  Wish me luck on the lottery!

    • GeorgeDAllen

      Here’s a vintage video about a fellow who did realize that Cinerama dream…in his house!

      • Wayne P.

        Great video…can still remember seeing my first 3 movies at the wonderful Uptown in DC which used the 60′s Cinerama process…How The West Was Won, Lawrence Of Arabia and, later on, my all-time fave, 2001: A Space Odyssey!

  • Oldfrogg

    The aisle seat 2/3 of the way back center section.

  • Gary Vidmar

    7th row center in most auditoriums, 13th row center when it’s Cinerama style.

  • hupto

    Down front in the center, the only place to sit. A movie screen should dominate your field of vision–this is especially true of Cinerama–anywhere else, you might as well be watching television.

  • Old Movie Fan

    Usually I sit wherever there are the fewest people nearby. And, if I get there early before the lights go out, I prefer to sit near “mature” adults like myself; those who respect the rules of old where you don’t go the movie to talk, text or answer cell phones. And sometimes I change seats when noisy distractions disturb me. 

  • Slwalli

    Enjoyed this piece very much.  Also enjoyed comments of fellow movie goers.  Agree with one comment about an empty theatre and your settled in and here come other movie goers and they pick seats right near where you have decided to sit.  It’s fun and I wonder what personality types pick where they are going to sit? 

  • Debbie

    All the seats are torture racks. I had to leave in the middle of the big screen showing of “The Birds” because I was in so much pain.

  • Lizasaurus

    We would not go in if the film had started or if there were no isle seats.  We usually go to the first daily session (between 10.00/11.00 am) and sit on the centre isle about four or five rows from the back on the side nearest the door for a quick exit as I am claustrophobic and can not sit in a crowd.  If someone sits too close we move.

  • burk1840

    Five rows from the back close to the center; of course I go to matinees where there are plenty of seats. Would leave before sitting in the front. Sittng too close makes me dizzy.

  • JackJones

    Are we running out of movie questions?

  • JackJones

    Are we running out of movie questions?

  • Movie Fan

    Aisle seats work best for me. I try to pick the least popular aisle seats, such as the ones on the front row. I don’t have to worry about taller people sitting in front of me. People don’t bring their babies up there. If I need to use the restroom or get a box of popcorn, I can find my way back much easier. If the theater isn’t too full, I’ll sit further back, but still on the aisle. Volume level isn’t a problem because I always use ear plugs when I’m at the movies. It’s not because the volume is too high. It’s so I can’t hear the idiot who’s already seen the movie saying what’s going to happen next. 

  • Fhughes667

    handicapped seating

  • Captain Midnight

    I like to sit in the middle of the auditorium. Of course I usually go during the week around 2PM. That way I avoid crowds and noisy children. The nice thing about the theaters in my city is theaters have seating that is arranged where each row of seats are lower going toward the screen. The seats have high backs and slightly tilt back. And the soundtrack bounces off the walls which is great in action movies!  I just love going to movies!