Movie Theater Memories: Part 2!

A short while back, I wrote about some of my experiences at movie theaters. The article got a good response, and I’m a slave to good responses. Let’s do it again.

Below are five more stories about movies I saw in theaters. Like last time, they’re less about the actual films and more about the surrounding circumstances. Those are the parts that mean the most to me, anyway.

Transformers: The Movie
(August 1986)

It was me, my same-aged best friend from across the street, and his slightly older brother. My mother was driving us to see Transformers: The Movie. It wouldn’t be the first animated film we’d seen in theaters, but it was the first one that mattered more than food or oxygen.

We were HYPED UP, because the TV spots made the movie seem so much bigger and more aggressive than the cartoon series. Which, of course, it was.

One of those TV spots even hinted at Prime’s death, but I didn’t pay it much mind. Cartoon characters didn’t die! Not the important ones, anyway. Certainly not Optimus Prime!

I pleaded my case in the car, but my friend’s brother had a different theory: “I think he’s gonna die because they didn’t say anything about Megatron!” Huh, that was true. The commercials pondered a world without Optimus, but never a world without Megatron. In retrospect, it wasn’t the strongest argument, but at the time, I was very concerned.

After we got our tickets and snacks, it was time to find our seats. I remember glancing at that giant Transformers: The Movie standee one last time before we entered the theater. Optimus Prime was nowhere on it.

Oh, shit.

Career Opportunities
(April 1991)

For a few months in 1991, we had our own little movie club. It was me, the same friend I’d seen Transformers with, and this kid from school that we would’ve been closer with had he not lived three towns away. We were all in the sixth grade.

Every other Saturday, we got dropped off at the movie theater, which was in the same lot as a bowling alley and a pizza joint. In relative terms, this was our city’s Disney World. Every trip lasted for at least six hours, with us mining that little plaza for everything it was worth.

We were never particularly interested in the movies we saw, but viewed them more as a way to stretch the hours. I have no idea what led us to pick Career Opportunities, but we were the only people in that theater. I only remember bits and pieces of it, because we spent most of the running time playing tag and having popcorn fights. (In a popcorn fight, it was legal to throw but illegal to spit.)

We couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough, because there was still a whole bowling alley to pillage. The Simpsons arcade game was brand new, and that alley had it. We invested more time and money into that game than the movie.

To this day, I have an almost Pavlovian response to any mentions of Career Opportunities. I don’t think about Target or Jen Connelly on the robot horse, but instead lose myself in memories of a Saturday spent eating pizza and making Marge smack randos with a vacuum cleaner. Look out, world.

In the Line of Fire
(July 1993)

I saw In the Line of Fire in theaters SIX TIMES. Six!! The first time was with my family, because In the Line of Fire was the perfect “compromise movie” that nobody really wanted but nobody was outright against.

Then I saw it with the kids from across the street. Then some other relatives. I had no special interest in the film, but tagging along to see movies I’d already seen sure beat sitting at home. I mean, the snacks alone!

By the fourth excursion, I realized that I’d been squandering an amazing opportunity: I could spend the bulk of the movie’s running time exploring the theater! It was every kid’s dream, anyway. Under normal circumstances, you only had a few hurried minutes to check out the arcade games and other attractions. Now I had whole ass hours.

Many of today’s theaters have arcades and stuff, but they’re comparatively sterile. Back then, the games would be spread all around the theater. Ours even had some near the little-used side exits. By the sixth time I’d gotten a ticket to see In the Line of Fire, I’d played every single one of them. I also played every crane, put money into every fortune teller, and even checked my weight. (God knows why so many movie theaters had electronic scales. Like was that really the time you wanted to know your weight? After a giant soda and a bucket of popcorn?)

There would’ve been a seventh time, too, but my mother cut me off. She felt she’d given me enough twenties to see the same movie. I was sooo ticked at her, because by that point, seeing In the Line of Fire but not really seeing In the Line of Fire had become a bit of an obsession.

I only ever saw that movie in theaters, but I could still tell you every last thing about it — right down to how John Malkovitz hid bullets in a rabbit’s foot.

Return of the Jedi: Special Edition
(March 1997)

I was a rabid Star Wars toy collector at the time, and I’d heard that a Luke Skywalker action figure would be given away free at certain showings of Return of the Jedi. (Meaning the Special Edition version, with that hideous makeover of The Rebo Band.)

The promotion got little publicity and wasn’t handled well. I knew it was going down on opening night, but could only guess at the time. I picked the 8PM showing, reasoning that it was the biggest one of the day.

I was there with a high school friend, and just after we handed over our tickets, I noticed an employee standing clumsily near a box of action figures. Yes, I was right!

It seemed like he was only giving the figures to people who knew about the promotion and outright asked. I can’t help but think that he was planning to take any surplus Lukes back home. I got mine, then asked my friend — who wasn’t especially big on Star Wars or toys — to get me an extra.

It turned out to be the same Jedi Luke action figure sold in stores at the time, but in special “Theater Edition” packaging. When I got home and checked the toy newsgroups (think of them as archaic message boards), I realized just how lucky I was. The figures were incredibly rare, and collectors were making wild plays for them.

Since I had a spare, I was open to offers. And boy, there was a flood of ‘em, including everything from vintage carded Kenner figures to a check for $300. The fact that I never even considered those offers tells you how hot this figure was.

Eventually, someone made an offer that was impossible to resist. ONE HUNDRED carded action figures from various lines, plus sixty bucks. It wasn’t like I haggled the guy up to that, either — he just came right out and offered it.

About a week later, the figures arrived in three enormous boxes. None of them were especially valuable on their own, but there were indeed ONE HUNDRED action figures, all still-packaged. Most were from Toy Biz’s various Marvel collections, which were barely worth anything at that point, but still… ONE HUNDRED toys, plus sixty bucks, all for something I’d gotten free!

It was a great trade back then, but it’s even better by today’s standards. You can now find that same “Theater Edition” Luke on eBay for 40 dollars or less, while the stuff I got in trade would now be worth well over a thousand.

(August 1997)

Okay, so that friend who got me the extra Luke Skywalker figure? She was my de facto bestie in high school. A few months after Return of the Jedi, now graduated and soon to lose touch, we took in another movie: Spawn.

We saw it at our city’s worst and smallest theater, in the corner of a too-sketchy strip mall. The theater was enormously outdated and in a state of disrepair, but since it was located pretty far away from any nicer options, it just wouldn’t quit.

On weekends, this theater attracted a tough crowd. Largish groups of trouble-seeking boys were the norm. Keep in mind, at this point in my life, my fashion sense was halfway gender-bent, and I lived for neon dye. My friend was a pretty girl with like ten feet of blonde hair. This wasn’t a place for either of us, and especially not a place for both of us. All we could do was laugh to ourselves, knowing that making eye contact with the wrong person would absolutely 100% result in “an incident.”

On the other hand, it was the perfect sort of theater to see that movie at. Spawn was gritty and dirty and violent and blasphemous, and so was the theater. We must’ve been the only people there who actually paid attention to what was onscreen. All around us, people were fighting, flirting or unconscious. It was like when the Gremlins saw Snow White.

After the film, we escaped to the relative safety of a nearby Chevy’s, feeling like we’d cheated death. I got the tostada salad. The way Chevy’s arranged the scoops of meat and guacamole made it look like a Cookie Puss cake.

Thanks for reading. If I put some thought into it, I bet I could do another round of these. We’ll see!