Cinema Stories: The Drama Over Outside Snacks

Cinema Stories is a series of posts in which writers reflect on interesting, terrible, strange, or otherwise remarkable adventures in movie-going. In this installment, Nathan Blake discusses the pros and cons of sneaking "outside food" into movie theaters.
Post by Nathan Blake

Yesterday, en route to see Jurassic World for the third time, the person I was going with went straight at a light instead of making the left turn that would take us to the theater. When I asked why she went straight, her response was that she wanted to stop at a store and pick up snacks for the movie.

I’ll admit that I am not familiar with the policy on outside food and drinks at this particular theater, though it is a major outfit and it is hard to imagine they would encourage it. Regardless, I succeeded in persuading my movie-going company not to hide treats in her purse, something I have tried but failed to do before with other friends.

I’ll admit that my first thought whenever I hear someone planning to sneak in food is not about the welfare of the theater company, its profitability or its employees. No, my first thought is usually “what if you get caught and kicked out?”

This is of even more concern to me if I have car-pooled with said individuals. If they are asked to leave the theater, do they expect me to leave with them in solidarity? I would probably have to or risk taking a very, very long walk home.

It is understandable that people try to sneak food into the theater. Particularly if it is a longer film, with a lot of trailers before it, it can be quite a while to go without eating or drinking. The 15, 20 and sometimes even 30 minutes of trailers one has to sit through before the film starts makes the problem even worse.  It can be much cheaper to have something in your pocket or purse when you start to get hungry, rather than make a purchase at the theater concession counter.

The ethics of this issue can also be tricky because some theaters are less strict about outside items than others. While several of my friends have had great success sneaking food into my favorite Rockford, IL cinema, I was once nearly kicked out of a DeKalb County theater for bringing in a shopping bag that contained a DVD copy of National Lampoon’s Vacation that I had just purchased at the Best Buy next door.

I was informed in a rude manner that the theater had lockers in the lobby I was supposed to put such items in. Of course, I had been holding that bag when I bought my ticket in the lobby. That employee didn’t say anything about it. A second employee, who took the ticket and directed me to the auditorium in which I would be viewing Public Enemies, also failed to mention anything about the bag.

It was only after sitting in the dark auditorium for 10 minutes, waiting for the movie to start, that someone walked in, on a mission to speak to me specifically, and told me to “get rid of it!” They have security cameras and they are watching you.

Aside from the fact that theaters make most of their money off the food they sell and not the movies they show, there are other reasons not to bring in outside snacks. You could get kicked out. Worse, you could ruin the experience for others in attendance. Often the items people sneak in are wrapped in plastic. It is when you hear someone trying to open an individually wrapped piece of candy for what seems like hours that it becomes obvious why most theater candy comes in boxes.

I’m personally not a fan of most theater food. But that doesn’t mean I sneak in something I like. I enjoy watching the film more if I don’t have to worry about being caught or kicked out. I usually eat something right before I enter the theater, in my car, in the parking lot.

I’m guessing that’s okay, and if it’s not, well, judging by the condition of the parking lots at my local theaters, I don’t think they’re paying that much attention anyway.



  1. I suppose this would be a bad time to discuss how my friends sneaked in bottles of soda down coat sleeves (makes you look really ripped), Long John Silver’s dinners (yes, you could smell the fish) and Hardee’s burgers at a showing of They Live! when I was in secondary school? Yes, they/we got caught, but the manager just gave a verbal warning. Woo-hoo. Don’t know if I’d try it with either of the local places. They seem pretty militant. Wouldn’t do it anyway with State Street as THAT is how movies should be seen. Only went there to see The Artist, but wished something was on there I wanted to see ever since.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Stop being such an old man, part of going to the theater to see a movie with people is about the experience of seeing a movie in a group. If you don’t want to be put at risk by other people and their devilish candy games, go alone. This could have been a great piece about the ritual of movie theater candy and how it plays an important role in why people still enjoy the experience of viewing new films on the big screen, instead it is a complaint piece that contributes nothing to the discussion. No one likes a wet blanket, especially one that chastises others for their movie theater candy rituals.


    1. I don’t believe I was chastising anyone for eating candy at the theater. The article is merely encouraging people to buy the snacks at the theater. Candy and snacks at the movies are a fine ritual and those profits are essential for the survival of theaters. By incorporating the segment about noise from snacks, I was also trying to point out that there are added benefits for all members of the audience if outside snacks are eliminated from the movie-going environment.


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