Different cinema habits across the globe can be disconcerting if you ever go to a movie theater in another country. Clapping in the movie theater, even eating a full meal. I saw Avengers: Infinity War in a movie theater in Hue, Vietnam. I was on a business trip and the movie opened early down there, so I took the opportunity to get in the first showing on the first day to review it.

The Vietnamese audience was great fun. Possibly the best I have ever experienced in all my travels. Engaged, cheering, clapping, whooping. The quality of the movie clearly helped, too.

clapping-in-movie-theater

In the UK, among the repressed, there is nothing, In all my cinema visits in the UK, there was a short smattering of applause at the end of one movie, just once. I also heard just a single “Woo hoo!” at the Lucasfilm logo before The Phantom Menace.

There is still the rapt silence, the gasp, the jump at a shock, but just Brits don’t seem to feel the need to turn a non-interactive experience into an interactive one by adding their own soundtrack.

Even the Vietnamese audience was entirely different from the standard US audience. Engaged, but in a different way. In my time living and working in the US I was constantly amazed by the audiences in the US not just claiming in the movie theater, but shouting at the screen, adding comments, even commentary, as if the stars of the show were in the theater with them and needed assurances that the audience was following along.

This phenomenon, I noticed, got more pronounced the more urban the theater was. Deeper into the city, the more vocal the audience was. The full commentary was available, like a director’s special feature on a DVD, in some theaters. Only this was provided by the patrons.

There are some particularly fun audience reactions online around the lead into the final battle in Avengers: Endgame.

I was thinking about these differences in audiences as I was reading a number of online complaints about Spider-Man: No Way Home. So packed it is, with reveals and Easter eggs, that apparently audiences the world over are whooping, hooting, and hollering all the way through to show their feelings, and shouting out to show they picked up the Easter egg.

Some of the complaints are that this audience participation, particularly with this Spider-Man movie, and particularly in the USA, is now reaching the point where it is over the top.

Reports state that people aren’t just gasping at a surprise, or quietly sobbing at a character’s death, but audiences are laughing raucously at average jokes and even clapping characters taking certain poses. Like there is a mass, competitive compliance happening among the audiences.

clapping-in-movie-theater

Are audiences suddenly treating blockbuster entertainment the same as Sing-Along-A-Sound-Of-Music or a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show after a night on the booze?

Or have two years of lockdowns and cinema closures left us desperately in need of a joyous, collaborative experience that we are just getting from Spider-Man: No Way Home? Is this just the ongoing development of the American audience’s need to create a communal experience? Is that communal experience the sole USP of a movie theater in a post COVID world of streaming now home technology is so good and so widely (and cheaply) available? Do you support clapping in the movie theater? How about whooping, hollering, and shouting at the screen?

And will any of this ever make the stiff-ass Brits cheer in a movie theater? On that last point, I am reminded of something very British I did once see in a cinema when in the UK.

As the latest installment of a popular franchise began to unfold with the logo on the screen, an overexcited audience member started borderline hyperventilating and talking excitedly. A lone voice, very British, like an aggressive Sid James, then called out from across the other side of the auditorium…

“Shut up, you tit!”

Stiff upper lips, chaps!

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