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'Transformers' or 'Titanic': Why do you go to the movies?

You rocked my world the other day. In my last post, I despaired – some might say kvetched – about how today’s economic challenges are causing Hollywood studios to stick to “mass market” tastes at the expense of  more interesting projects. Or as I put it, at the expense of stuff for adults. Then, on the comments board, I read this: “Milk and (500) Days of Summer were good movies, but I’m glad I didn’t pay to see them in the theater. While Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe totally sucked, I enjoyed watching them on the big screen. I don’t want to sit in a theater with 200 other people watching a thought-provoking movie in total silence or hearing people cry. I go to see huge explosions, [and] hear loud SurroundSound or people laughing at the same things I find funny. That deserves $10!”

And you know what? This hit me as an utterly reasonable explanation of movie-going psychology – and utterly alien to how I have traditionally approached the activity. The logic doesn’t substitute for what I think is Hollywood’s need to continue to make stuff for adults, if studios want to retain adult consumers. But I understood in a flash that, for this commenter, the “quality” of the movie is much less important than the group experience. At least for him: I’m making a sexist assumption, based on clues including the mention of G.I. Joe, the mention of total suckage, and the declaration that group crying isn’t pleasurable.

I love the bigness of the picture on the theater screen. I love the real-time flow of the event, with no pause buttons.  I love the shared privacy of the movie theater. Also, by the way, I love to cry with strangers, and can remember just how much blubbering was going at the time of the Titanic pic above. But, no doubt: Home viewing is convenient, it’s cheaper, and it lets you choose who sits next to you. And can you get the full flavor of Milk or (500) Days of Summer at home? Probably. G.I. Joe? Probably not.

So I’m turning this back to you. How does going to the movies differ from watching a movie at home? Do you enjoy going to movies that totally suck, for the pleasure of sharing the suckitude? (Is that a guy thing?) And how do you decide whether a movie is worth the price of a ticket rather than the price of Netflix?

Originally posted October 8 2009 — 4:06 PM EDT

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