Great Movie-going Experiences

There are great movies, but there's also such a thing as a great movie-going experience.  I've had some that I remember as much for the experience as for the movie itself, sometimes even more so!  I don't think it's entirely coincidence that these are almost entirely sci-fi and/or horror movies.  The following stand out and are arranged in chronological order

Rocky Horror (1975)
It's a much longer story than this, but I think everyone's Rocky Horror adventures are.  They're a rite of passage that involves staying out much later than usual (if you're in high school the first time you see it, which I was when I did).  RHPS had never been shown on tv or even cable at that point, and it had only just been released on VHS that year (1990), so almost none of us knew anything about the film itself.  I had watched the movie on tape, but I wasn't a fan.  However, some friends had seen it at the theater and encouraged me to be part of the next trip, which turned out to be a real event.  We had a party first, then took a bunch of foreign exchange students to see it with us.  Only a handful of the entire group (and none of the foreign kids) had been before.  Several of us (but not me) were drunk.  Obviously a lot of people were shocked and/or confused by the nature of the film, teenagers running down the aisles in their underwear, and everyone yelling obscenities and throwing rice, toast, and squirting water guns in the air.  I loved the chaos of the experience.  Meanwhile, the poor foreign kids probably thought this was representative of the American movie-going experience!

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Ed Wood (1994)
I saw the two films as a double-feature when I was in college, shortly after Ed Wood was released.  Whoever organized the showing wisely placed Ed Wood first and had Plan 9 as the B picture, appropriately enough.  What made this work so well was that the viewer was led to believe that Ed Wood's depiction of Plan 9 was filled with hyperbole.  After all, surely Tor Johnson wasn't just knocking into gravestones in the final cut of the film?!  The acting couldn't have been as bad as Bill Murray had pretended when he reenacted the scenes from Plan 9!  Then we all watched the actual film of Plan 9 and saw that, yes, it really was that bad!
One of the stand-out moments of impromptu audience participation came during a lengthy piece of exposition as one oft he spacemen was explaining their plot, and a sassy gay man in the back called out, "Whatever!"  My whole row erupted in laughter.  Speaking of Rocky Horror, this was very much an audience-participation moment in something of a science fiction double feature!

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
I'm not sure how I heard about the movie, but apparently the word got out all at the same time.  My then-wife and I went out to the art house theater, the only place showing it in the metroplex at the time (It found wide release within the next week or two, but at the time we didn't know that would happen).  The place was packed, and everyone had no idea what they were in for.  Although a lot of people put the movie down for a number of reasons (some valid, some not), it really resonated with me because my ex and I had just had a somewhat parallel experience perhaps twelve months or less before that.  We'd gotten lost in the woods in a huge national forest and had no idea how long we'd have to walk before we found our way back to a road, let alone our camp!  I'd grown up exploring the woods, so I wasn't terribly freaked out, but she was literally hyperventilating verging on a panic attack before very long.  Thankfully we were back to the road leading to the campsite within maybe twenty minutes and back to the camp in under thirty, but the memory of the experience stuck with us and was now mirrored on the screen.  Unfortunately, many people had trouble with the predominantly handheld camera-work, so the lobby was filled with a number of folks who had to step out for the duration of the film once motion sickness kicked in.  I was lucky I wasn't one of them, but my ex was, though not the worst-affected of the lot.  She said there was a guy sitting across from her in the lobby who never lifted his head the entire time the two of them were out there.  The only sound that came from him was an occasional burp.  I guess she recovered enough to return and catch the end of the movie, but she and I sat around after the film was over because she wasn't ready to move around just yet.  As it turned out, this gave us more entertainment.  The abrupt ending scared the audience shitless, and it was funny to watch the waves of people leaving, filing past our seat with these horrified looks.  That was worth the price of admission!

Fight Club (1999)
I had a weird relationship with this movie.  We didn't get around to seeing it until it was almost completely finished with its relatively brief run.  Though it was controversial enough to raise some discussion around it on talk shows and whatnot, the movie wasn't a big hit on its initial release, and we had trouble even finding a theater playing it (We went to one, only to find it had moved on already, so we watched The Bone Collector instead).  We finally caught it at a dollar theater, and I was blown away.  I took a couple friends to see it within a couple days.  While it was a big hit with us, the movie seemed to have quietly slipped away, presumably to eventual DVD heaven.  However, there was a following invisibly growing out there, and they all wanted to see it again and again.  Before long it showed up as a midnight movie at the local art house (same as the one mentioned above).  The place had three screens: A big one downstairs (where we saw Blair Witch) and two smaller ones upstairs.  Fight Club was a nascent cult film, so it only drew enough of an audience for the latter, but you could feel the electricity in the crowd.  A couple weeks later I went back, and it was now selling out the small screens.  It kept playing week after week as a midnight movie, and I kept talking it up.  I went a third time with three more friends, and it had moved to the big screen downstairs!  Movies aren't supposed to keep growing their audience months after their release, but this one did!  That was the last time I watched it, but it continued to play weekly for at least another month after that, pretty much up until the DVD was finally released.  The movie remains a popular title, and it's #10 on the IMDb's Top 250 as of this writing, more than 15 years later!  It was amazing to be among the cult who met in front of the screen weekly to check it out.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Like most Star Wars fans, I was a bit let down by the prequels.  I didn't outright hate them (There's plenty to like in them even if they fall far short of the greatness of the originals), but they certainly weren't the movies I would have made.  The first one was pretty but pretty boring.  The second one had more action, but it was over-stuffed with irrelevant subplots and took on far too much to tell a coherent story.  With two strikes to date, I wasn't expecting much from the third film at all.  After all, we all know how it's going to end, right?  I was sufficiently jaded that I hadn't paid all that much attention to the build-up, so it was only by chance that Dani and I happened to be running around downtown on a weeknight, and I was like, "Hey, what's with the lines?"  I realized that Sith was opening the next day and therefore some of the big theaters would be having midnight screenings!  We were early enough to get tickets, then Dani went home and got a nap, and we went back at midnight.  It was a very unexpectedly pleasant surprise!  The film was easily the stand-out of the prequels, and it's unfortunate that the others were so anticlimactic that Sith gets lumped in with them.  I was blown away by it on several levels (e.g., a stream-lined, more-focused plot, amazing soundtrack, loads of lightsaber battles, etc.), and it made it an even bigger experience that I was surrounded by fellow Star Wars nerds.  Actually, they were even bigger nerds than I could claim to be since a great many turned up in costume, and that made it all the more fun for me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and Godzilla (2014)
I surprised Dani with a trip to a local drive-in that had just opened just outside of downtown.  She loves going to the movies, whereas I would almost invariably be content to watch things on my computer.  The drive-in would be a treat for her just because of the novelty factor.  I picked cheesy movies because, well, it's a drive-in.  That's where you're supposed to watch comic book movies and see Godzilla battle mutant insects!  I had never been to a drive-in before, so it was a perfect first experience.

Jurassic World (2015)
I hadn't taken Stan to many movies at that point.  He was about a month from turning six, so he had a hard time staying up through most full-length movies, but I wanted to take a chance and give him a treat.  We hit the drive-in, just he and I (Dani stayed home with Stella).  Even though the movie didn't start until after 9pm on account of it being summer (i.e., you have to wait for sunset before you can project anything!), he managed to stay alert through the whole film.  It didn't matter if he chatted a bit or asked questions during the movie since we were relatively isolated in our own car away from other viewers, which was ideal*.  The theater encourages patrons to park whichever way is convenient for viewing, so folks with pickup trucks and hatchbacks often back in.  I have a Prius, and Dani had made up the back up it with pillows and blankets, so it was like a little camp-out for the two of us.

*I took him to Jaws at a retro showing about one month after this, and he had a million questions which I'm sure annoyed (though kind of amused) the late-twenty-something girls sitting next to us.  However, he definitely loved that movie too and wanted to go see it again the next night.  In fact, that was literally the first thing he said the following morning.


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