Welcome to the third edition of Movie Theater Memories, where I relive the experiences of seeing certain films at certain times in certain places.
I remember every movie I’ve seen in theaters. Not just the films, but where I was, who I saw them with, what candy I ate, and all of those tiny details that somehow make going to the movies feel like major life events.
If you were hoping for capsule reviews of beloved classics, I’m going to disappoint you. These articles are more about letting the mere mention of movies I saw in theaters guide me to entire days’ worth of memories…
It was supposed to be the greatest day of my life, full stop. Not only were my parents taking me to see Spaceballs, but my father impulsively announced that we’d finally be going to Kid’s World, right after the movie!
Kid’s World was a then-newish New Jersey amusement park that I was constantly begging to visit, thanks to a series of TV commercials that made it look like heaven on Earth. In my head, it was some beautiful combination of Wildwood, Toys “R” Us and Wonka’s chocolate factory. To put it mildly, I was psyched.
But first on agenda was Spaceballs, which I was just as excited about. I felt like the only kid in school who still hadn’t given up on Star Wars, and to me, Spaceballs was almost as good as getting another Star Wars movie.
I loved it, and still do. I left the theater convinced that “WE AIN’T FOUND SHIT” was the funniest line in any movie ever, and wondering if Dark Helmet’s action figures would make it to toy stores. Course, by the time we got back to the car, all I could think about was Kid’s World.
I can’t remember if they called ahead or just checked the times in a brochure, but whatever the case, my parents realized that we’d only barely make it there before closing time. I pleaded that even 20 minutes would be enough, but my father, with the tone of a doctor giving his patient extremely bad news, said that Kid’s World was off the table.
The tears were immediate, and had only just stopped by the time we parked at some dive of a diner.
Once inside, I had a decision to make: Pout over Kid’s World, or revel in the fact that I just saw Pizza the Hutt. I surprised myself by choosing the latter, and began rattling off the inspirations for every Spaceballs character. As if my parents didn’t know that Barf was Chewbacca.
I don’t remember all of the specifics, but my mother had been enlisted to chauffeur my grandfather to and from a bus stop. I presume he was headed someplace where old men bet on horses, because that was all my grandfather seemed to do.
I could’ve stayed home if I wanted to, but once Mom dangled the carrot of “going to the movies” in front of me, I cheerfully volunteered. I had no specific film on my must-see list, but the promise of hot buttery popcorn was all I needed.
We ended up seeing Big, which I definitely did NOT expect to love as much as I did. I mean, it looked okay in the TV commercials, but I had no idea that it’d feature so many of the toys I grew up loving — from Photon guns to Masters of the Universe figures.
Oh, and Josh’s loft! I still consider it my ideal abode. Pinball machines, Pepsi machines, and ceilings as tall as Godzilla’s legs. To me, growing up didn’t mean buying a house and forming a nuclear family. It meant living in one giant room surrounded by arcade cabinets.
We still had time left after the movie, so we went to Roy Rogers. I’d just eaten a bucket of popcorn, sure, but I never said no to Roy’s two-piece chicken meal. (God, the biscuit alone!)
While we ate, a group of punks sat at a nearby table. I mean real actual punks, wearing official punk uniforms. They all looked like Bill Paxton in The Terminator. I was fascinated by them. I’d never seen punks in real life before!
That night, I made two promises to myself. One, I’d someday live in a giant, toy-filled loft. Two, I’d someday have blue hair. So far I’ve only conquered one of those dreams, I guess because Manic Panic is a lot cheaper than a 50-meter Manhattan apartment.
Arachnophobia was a must-see. I conned my sister and her husband into taking me, knowing that Mom never would’ve gone for “a bug movie,” no matter how much I begged.
We saw it on a Saturday afternoon, in a pretty crowded theater. As the trailers rolled, it dawned on me that I was about to watch a film about KILLER SPIDERS on a 30’ screen. What the fuck? Why did I ask to see this, again? I liked John Goodman well enough, but he was on TV all week anyway.
Once the spiders hit that screen, I spent the remaining duration of Arachnophobia clutching my knees to my chest, convinced that they’d run up my legs the second my feet hit the floor.
I left the theater fearing everything from showers to toilets, and confident that every spider was singularly focused on murdering me. I can’t remember what I thought about spiders pre-Arachnophobia, but after that movie, I spent years unable to even remain in a room where one had been spotted. If I saw a spider on my dresser, I’d sleep on the couch for days.
Of course, none of that kept me from rewatching the movie. Arachnophobia eventually became a cable TV staple, and I saw it enough times to be able to play John Goodman’s intro theme on the harmonica. Hey, it was a good movie! Like, good enough to be worth dealing with the three-day comedown.
Star Trek VI!
In December of ‘91, I tagged along on a Christmas shopping trip with my older siblings and their spouses. We went to one of the larger malls in Jersey, and it was that old sitcom cliche where the guys finished in ten minutes and the girls had barely started.
The men decided to kill time by seeing a movie, and as much as I wanted to spend another hour roaming KB Toys, I joined them. This marked my first time going to a theater that was part of a shopping mall, which back then seemed like a huge novelty.
I say with all confidence that Star Trek VI wasn’t my pick. I knew little about Star Trek back then, and had only seen snippets of the prior movies when they hit regular television. Honestly, the extent of my Star Trek knowledge started and stopped with that plush Tribble I owned, and I only got that because it looked like a half-born Mogwai.
What struck me that night was the audience. It was very much a Star Trek audience. Nobody was in costume or anything, but there were several patches of people wearing black tees with crazy things on them, under coats that were long, leather or both. I’d eventually fit right in with that crowd, but it was an eye-opener in 1991 — a feeling that real communities formed around these geeky things.
I liked that feeling!
I liked the movie, too, but that “like” eventually evolved into love. I’m hardly a Trek guy even now, but I adore The Undiscovered Country. All that blue food! And the gobs of grape Klingon blood! It’s one of those movies I’ll watch anytime and every time.
Thanks for reading, and share some of your movie theater memories in the comments! If you wanna read about more of mine, check out Part 1 and Part 2.