How to text in a movie theater without being terrible

Not like this.
Not like this.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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A man in Texas is suing a woman for allegedly texting nonstop during their movie theater date, the Austin-American Statesman reported. The man claims that his date texted “at least 10-20 times” over a 15-minute span as they watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. His petition argues that her texting was a violation of the theater’s policy and “adversely effected” his viewing experience of the Marvel superhero film.

No word on whether or not there will be a second date.

This very strange story underscores the contentious debate over texting in movie theaters, featuring two very disparate perspectives.

On one hand, you have a growing contingent of cinephiles who believe in an almost tyrannical ban on phones in the theater. Theater chains like Alamo Drafthouse have completely outlawed phone use in their cinemas and will kick out anyone caught taking out their devices.

On the other hand, some people behave as if they believe that the theater is their own personal living room, shamelessly talking and texting throughout films. Hoping to attract younger, phone-dependent audiences, AMC Theaters briefly floated the idea of allowing texting in theaters. “When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear ‘Please cut off your left arm above the elbow,'” AMC CEO Adam Aron told Variety last year. The proposal was met with swift backlash, and AMC sent it to the cutting room floor.

Can we find no middle ground?

As someone who generally hates texting in theaters but understands that it’s an inexorable fact of 21st century life, I am here to provide some guidelines on how to text in a theater without ruining the increasingly expensive experience for your fellow filmgoers. Here’s how to text safely in a movie theater without worrying about getting sued by your date:


The best way to text in a theater without annoying other people is to not do it. Think about whether you really need to take out your phone during a movie, or if you’re only doing so because you’re bored, or symbiotically attached to it, or want to respond to a text that doesn’t require an immediate answer. Ninety-nine percent of texts can wait an hour or two to be read and replied to. Also, you’re paying a lot of money to sit in that theater. If you want to text, why not do so for free on your couch?

Volume off, brightness all the way down

It should go without saying that your volume must be turned off. That should be the first thing you do when you sit down in your seat. In fact, you should probably turn vibrate off as well, as that in itself is often loud enough for other people to hear.

This next part is critical: The brightness on your phone must be set very, very low. So low that you can barely see it. If you have an iPhone, you should also turn on the “Night Shift” setting, which changes your screen’s bright blue light to a muted amber.

Wait for the right moment

Don’t take your phone out during quiet, emotionally intense, or really important scenes. And definitely don’t do it when the screen is dark. If you sense that all eyes in the theater are glued to the screen, don’t start texting. Wait for a lull in the drama. If you’re watching an action movie, do it during a loud, chaotic scene when people are less likely to notice. Music montages also offer good opportunities to sneak in a text.

Be aware of your placement in the theater

Are you next to a wall or in the middle of the row? Are you in the back of the theater or all the way in front? The ideal spot for serial texters is in the last row, preferably on the end. That way, even if you recklessly take out your phone several times, you’ll be annoying the fewest number of people possible—probably just the person next to you, who may be your date and who may sue you.

If you’re next to a wall, angle your phone toward the wall so it’s not directly in anyone’s sight line. If you know you’re going to text during a movie, get there early (or reserve ahead of time), so you can sit in a spot that will minimize collateral damage.

Cover your screen

There are several ways to do this. You can turn your phone horizontal, put it on your stomach, and cover the top side and the edges with your non-texting hand (while angling the phone as much towards your body as possible). You can put your phone inside a bag of popcorn (presumably after you’ve eaten it). You can cover your phone with a jacket, hat, or scarf. I’ve even seen people put phones under their shirts and then retreat into the neck holes of their clothing, like a turtle, to view the screen. Just make sure your phone is not visible to anyone else in the auditorium.

If you do all of the things above, you’re unlikely to disturb anyone. There will be people who claim that they’d still find it horribly distracting, but they are liars.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get texters to adhere to any sort of etiquette—so we’re all better off if you just don’t take out your phone at all, and enjoy the immersive experience of the theater. At the very least, don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Go out of your way to ensure you can’t possibly distract anyone else in the theater. Or else you’ll get sued.