Mandatory pre-selected seating harshes my movie buzz

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After a long absence for a number of reasons, I recently went to a big-box theater, and I was surprised to see how much things have changed.

With all the various ways to watch movies at home, big-box theaters are apparently trying to make movie-going an “experience.” But when the experience makes people feel like they’re watching the film at home in their own cozy recliner, sipping on their favorite alcoholic beverage, and when you count up all the regular movie seats removed to accommodate the big recliners, well, I don’t know if it makes sense.

And now you have to pick your seat when you buy your ticket.

It’s not like I was going to see Bruce Springsteen in concert for goodness sake; I was going to a movie matinee.

It all stems from my fussiness, of which I am fully aware. I deal with my fussiness without infringing on the rights or space of any other patrons. I generally go to matinees, when the theater is way less crowded. I get there early so I can scope out the theater and choose my seat carefully, always knowing that I can and will move to get away from talkers, coughers, sneezers, loud chewers, wrapper-crinklers, amorous couples, anyone who smells of smoke or Axe body spray, as well as anyone under the age of 5 (because everyone knows little kids don’t belong at adult movies).

I like the freedom of being able to change my seat if circumstances dictate, and now it appears that my free-range days at big-box theaters are over.

I learned the tough lesson after I attended a screening of “A Star is Born.” I wanted to see it badly after just about every person I know saw it and loved it and raved about it, so I made plans to meet up with someone for a Sunday matinee.

I was there first, of course, and as I paid for my ticket, the kid in the box office surprised me by swinging his computer screen around and telling me to pick my seat.


“I don’t know where I want to sit yet,“ I said. “I haven’t been inside to scope things out.”

“Gotta pick a seat,” the kid said.

“But I don’t think I should have to,” I said. “And I don’t know where my friend wants to sit. This isn’t right.”

The kid shrugged. “That’s the way it is,” he said, unmoved by my protest. “You have to pick.”

I don’t like being told that I “have” to do something. And I wasn’t aware that there were problems with seating at movie theaters that made pre-selection a necessity — surely the box office knows how many seats are in each theater, and surely its system can compute how many tickets are sold.

Why, then? Why did I have to select my seat before getting inside the theater? This assigned seating business appeared to be a solution without a problem, and I wasn’t going to pick a seat without a fight.

So I asked to speak to the manager.

A kid about my son’s age appeared after a few minutes. He seemed awfully bored as I explained why this seat pre-selection idea was both inconvenient and wrong, and he seemed even more bored (if that were possible) when I asked him to pass my seat pre-selection complaint along to whoever at the theater had the power to change things. (How much do you want to bet that he did?)

Then, I surrendered. I picked a seat.

Of course, I was the first person in the theater. Slowly, other people came in, sat down, and settled in for the movie.

Because we were meeting up and she had no idea where I was sitting, my friend didn’t know which seat I chose. Despite choosing a different seat, she sat by me.

“I HATE that we had to pick seats,” she said. “I’m going to sit wherever I like.”

Lots of other people apparently felt the same because just before the movie was to begin came this flurry of movement as people scooted out of “wrong” seats and into “right” seats. If it wasn’t so distracting (and pointless), it would’ve been amusing.

And then, just after the movie began, the legal renter of the seat by me arrived, meaning my friend had to move.

A trip to the movies shouldn’t be about anything other than the film. I hate to see going to the movies become just like a visit to any big-box or chain business, an experience that is the same whether you’re in Detroit or Omaha or Howell. And now, with the addition of recliners and the serving of alcohol, well, the next thing you know, people will be going to the movies in their pajamas.

Lucky me, I live within walking distance of the Historic Howell Theater in downtown Howell. Its location, ambiance, personality, and wonderfully entertaining and quirky schedule of first-run and artsy films — and the ability to sit wherever the heck you like — make it a true community gem.

I refuse to become a prisoner of an assigned public recliner in a big-box theater.

Long live free-range seating.

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About Maria Stuart 122 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.


  1. The first time I had to reserve a seat at the point of purchase (it was in Novi), I was not a fan. But now that it has come to Brighton. I like it. I order my seats at home before I leave. I don’t have to worry about ticket lines. And I don’t have to come early to claim an adequate seat and sit through inane ads…which have now gone away, perhaps because there is no early audience anymore. I like not having to search around for seats because ours are
    reserved. And I like the increased space between rows. I can take or leave the recliners, but I don’t find them uncomfortable. I like the ability to take a beer into the theater, although I’ve only done that once. All in all, I think it’s been a good thing.

  2. I find these new recliner seats are very uncomfortable. I even took one of those neck pillows with me once. You know the kind you use on a trip. Nothing helps! I tried sitting straight up, reclining ect. Where the back of the seat hits my head it pushes my head forward in an uncomfortable position. My neck always hurts during and for hours after the movie.

    • Agreed about the recliners. I have seen exactly one movie in a theater with reclining seats and before it was halfway through my back was killing me. I did exactly what you did – tried every position from sitting up to all the way back. It felt like there were bricks under the upholstery. My back still hurt the next day. That was almost a year ago and I never went back since then. It’s quite possible that my days seeing movies at a theater are behind me, because uncomfortable seats and lingering back pain aren’t a price I’m willing to pay.

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