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March 27, 2024


One of the many things the pandemic took from us was the ability to see movies in a theatre. It was something many people took for granted, and even now, the industry is still trying to get back on its feet as it contends with new options that fall in favour of things like convenience, on-the-go watching, and not having to pay insane concession prices. Still, while the theatrical experience is no doubt something in need of refreshment (something Caleb examined HERE), it also is something that cannot be fully replicated at home.

There's something inherently personal about sharing a first-time experience with a group of people you'll likely never even say a word to. You gather with shared love, then you experience that love together with unspoken acknowledgement. Whether it's for shock & awe, tearjerkers, technical marvels, or blood-curdling scares, it's an experience everyone inside that room won't soon forget. For a couple of hours, you and a group of strangers from all walks of life are connected as one. Isn’t that beautiful?

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about some of our most memorable theatrical experiences. Who knows? We may have even shared a few together.

When Jackass: The Movie released in 2002, I was one of only seven students of color in my entire 7th grade class. That context sets up how hilarious it was for my brother, sister, and me to watch “The Burglars” scene in a packed Ohio theater. Everyone in the theater cackled once Bam Margera and Johnny Knoxville fell through the office ceiling... but then, the lone black prank victim in the scene got up, ran across the office, and SPRINTED down the street non-stop while his white counterparts stared at the burglars in awe. The three of us kept laughing deep from our souls while every other (white) theatergoer stared at us wondering, “why are you still laughing?” from their unknowing eyes. Look, being black in America is a uniquely joyful experience, and this one will forever be imprinted in my brain. If you know, you know. - Amarú 

One of the most memorable and moving movie-going experiences I’ve ever had was when I was just a wee padawan. In 1999, before the release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Lucasfilm re-released Star Wars: A New Hope in theaters. At the time, I had no idea my life would change forever. I remember the day like it was yesterday. My aunt had called my mom to ask if I could skip school and go to the movies with her. I remember just being happy that I got to skip school, but I wasn’t prepared for what was to come next. Once the opening scroll began, and the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on the big screen, that was it. A flame ignited inside me, and my love for all movies, but specifically Star Wars, was born. Fast forward 25 years: I have two Star Wars tattoos and a bunch of Star Wars memorabilia, and I make it a point to be there opening night for every new franchise entry. - Paige

The trailers for Godzilla (2014) were shrouded in secrecy, so when I sat down to watch the reboot in theaters, I had no idea what Godzilla was going to look like. As a massive Godzilla fan, this was equal parts exciting and excruciating, but I’ll never forget watching his reveal for the first time. After teasing the monster throughout the first act, Godzilla’s massive foot finally crashes down outside the Honolulu airport. The theater fell dead silent as the camera moved upwards, slowly revealing this new Godzilla in all his glory. It was everything I could have hoped for. He looked pitch perfect. As Godzilla let out his iconic roar, I knew that the king of the monsters was finally back. - Caleb

On Barbenheimer weekend, I saw Barbie at my favourite local cinema. They encouraged everyone to dress up as Barbie, offering free drinks to anyone who participated. This resulted in a multitude of people, including myself and my boyfriend, clad in pink and sparkles greeting each other with an excited “Hi Barbie!” The thing is, on the whole, British cinema audiences are generally quiet and polite, which is how I like it. However, on this occasion, with the joyful atmosphere, I loved hearing everyone around me shamelessly cheer and cry. I had never experienced such a sense of community and spirited atmosphere in a cinema audience. - Katie

From Pulp Fiction to Snakes on a Plane, Samuel L. Jackson’s voice looms large when thinking back on his movies, but none made a bigger impact on me than when my brother, a good friend, and I saw Deep Blue Sea. SLJ was undoubtedly the biggest name amongst the Thomas Janes and Saffron Burrows of the cast. So, by the time the sharks had bitten off Stellan Skarsgård’s arm and trapped the survivors under water and rubble, we were ready for SLJ’s rousing speech when his character finally yelled “ENOUGH!” They weren’t going to fight each other anymore. They were going to pull together, and they were going to “OH SHIT THEY ATE HIM!! A FUCKING SHARK ATE HIM!!!” We jumped full-out of our seats laughing at the randomness that had happened. I’m laughing now just thinking about it. I’m so glad there wasn’t social media back then to spoil that viscerally funny WTF theater moment. - Amarú

When I was 17 years old, my friends and I decided to sneak in to see a new, original, R-rated comedy from a debut filmmaker, The Coup frontman, Boots Riley. Since seeing it, Sorry to Bother You has continued to be one of my absolute favourite films, partially because I was able to experience it with an audience. Watching the originality and chaos, and laughing along with my friends, was just too much fun. However, the highlight of that experience was (if you haven't seen Sorry to Bother You, stop reading now) the big reveal of the horse-people, which caused a variety of reactions from the audience: laughter, shock, fear, and confusion…all at the same time. That shock and awe drove us to the end, as we couldn't stop laughing at it; when it comes to comedy, there's not much more one can ask for in a theatrical experience. - Adriano

I’ve seen excellent twists before, including from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, but I’d never seen a twist that retroactively created a cinematic universe… until Split. Picture this: a great film is coming to a close with everyone on a high, but just before the closing title card hits, a subtle music cue begins. The theater starts to murmur a little as a smattering of the audience realizes that it’s the theme from Unbreakable. Personally, I recognized the music, but couldn’t quite place it. Then the camera pans through a diner as a news story about The Horde plays, which leads to a customer recalling “the crazy guy in the wheelchair from 15 years ago.” He had a “funny name” that she can’t recall. At this point, a larger portion of the audience gasped as they (and myself) made the connection. Finally, the pan ends on the man at the end of the counter. “Mr. Glass,” he says, as you realize it’s Bruce Willis’ David Dunn. Fade to black, uproarious applause. It was a moment made for the theater, and it was exceptionally executed in a way that led to an audible crescendo of anticipation. Unforgettable. - Nick

The year was 1999, and the literary titan that you read before you was an English-class-ditching-skateboarder who had just entered his final formative high school year. At that time, a little-known director by the name of M. Night Shyamalan was about to break through with his third movie, The Sixth Sense. One of my best friends had already seen the film, and he was super excited about it. As he raved, I rushed to interrupt him. “Don’t spoil anything becau…” Then he said it. ”Bruce Willis is dead the whole time!!” Maybe the biggest surprise ending in all of film history, and I knew the whole time! This little tale has entered my back pocket as a story trumper whenever spoilers are discussed and, as things often do, recalling a thing that once made me angry will now always make me smile. Isn’t that how life goes? R.I.P. Gian Carlos. - Preston

When I sat down to watch Arrival for the first time, I wasn't expecting it to blow my mind - but it did just that. Without giving too much away, Arrival’s big twist is so ingeniously interwoven into the fabric of the story that it managed to catch me off guard despite staring me in the face the entire time. It flipped the entire movie on its head, and immediately made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the story. Once I finally clued-in to what was actually happening, I remember gasping so loud that my buddy actually had to shush me. It's probably not my finest theater-going moment, but it was certainly one of the most memorable. - Caleb

You had to be there in 2003 when countless lines of people waiting to see The Matrix Revolutions snaked outside theater doors across the country. There is one line, in particular, I remember, and I shudder thinking about it as I write this. As my family and I were leaving the movie…as we walked by a long row of people waiting to get in…one unnamed family member says, fairly loudly, “well, we all knew Neo had to die.” You could hear the imaginary record scratching as everyone in line yelled “NOOOOO!!” This person calmly spoiled the biggest movie of the decade for those poor, unfortunate souls. I never walked so fast and so far away from a person in my life. To this day, that person says those in line shouldn’t have been listening to our conversation, and I just shake my head in disbelief. - Amarú

As a movie fan who grew up before the internet became ubiquitous, I’d spend time reading movie magazines about the almost-fantasy world of Hollywood. To me, there was one Hollywood staple that seemed too prestigious, glamourous, and most importantly, unattainable for a fat, mulleted kid from Kentucky: The Red Carpet. But you know what? Apparently not. Through luck, timing, and a modicum of not-so-hard work, I became accredited press for Toronto International Film Festival in 2022. Somehow, I’d done it. I made it to the thing I’d read about long ago. But first, if I may digress, attending a film festival as press is an unforgettable experience. Was I one of the first people in the world to see the 7x Oscar-nominated The Fabelmans, with director Steven Spielberg and the cast in attendance? Mmhmm. Did a stunning Kate Hudson make the “I see you” hand gesture to me at the Glass Onion world premiere? Fuck yeah, she did. Did I awkwardly meet Finn Wolfhard at a urinal? Yep. But that all pales in comparison to the Red Carpet because that is where I met NICOLAS. FUCKING! CAGE!! I asked questions, I shook his hand, I peed a little. Honestly, the rest is kind of a blur since I blacked out like Will Ferrell’s character in Old School, but I can’t help but think about the young Kentucky fatty with the Camaro Cut. What would he say knowing that, someday, he’d be on the Red Carpet with nothing but a cell phone, sandwiched between the elaborate camera setups of Variety and Al-Jazeera, rubbing elbows with the stars? Then, what would he say knowing he’d get to do it again at Berlin? And Venice? And soon, Cannes? That Tons O’ Fun with the Kentucky Waterfall is living his best movie life these days. - Quentin

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first film I ever saw in IMAX. I was 17 years old, I went with my boyfriend to the IMAX in Leicester Square on Boxing Day, and I was so excited to see the iconic screen I had heard so much about. We bought overpriced popcorn, found our seats, and I was overwhelmed by the scale of it. Plus, I loved the film. The action was captivating, the effects were fantastic, and I loved the darker, more grounded approach the film took to the Star Wars universe. But the best thing was the emotional final scene, which was breathtaking to watch for the first time on the biggest screen I had ever experienced. - Katie

In case you didn't know, Quentin Tarantino is my all-time favorite director. He is one of those filmmakers whose style and storytelling are so unique and bold that I always find myself in literal awe when watching his films. So, when I found out he had his own movie theater, New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, where he plans the film program and only projects movies on actual film, I dreamt that maybe one day I could see something there. I had to fulfill this desire, but I couldn't simply watch just any movie — I had to see a movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The emotion I get when I watch his films at home was multiplied just by approaching the box office window, prepared to buy a ticket for Reservoir Dogs, his directorial debut. This small, retro cinema has an atmosphere and style straight out of a Tarantino film, a perfect pairing for the small and retro Reservoir Dogs, and I will forever treasure the experience. - Paige

Another movie memory comes from my senior year of high school (maybe my love of film had something to do with the last couple of years of high school note to discuss with therapist). Funds-shortage was always a problem, so when I wasn’t going to what we called the “dollar movies'' (old films played at the mall theater), I was really splurging. Thankfully, one of those splurge sessions led me to see The Matrix. As a wanna-be tough guy and philosopher beset by an age-defining existential crisis, this industry-revolutionizing film could not have come at a more appropriate time. One of my favorite bands at the time happened to be Rage Against the Machine, and when that final scene hits, whew! The guitar riff on “Wake Up” starts to play as Keanu Reeves walks out of the phone booth, looks around at the sad souls still trapped in the matrix, and then…WHAT?! Is he flying?! Queue Zack De La Rocha. Freaking goosebumps every time! - Preston

This past December, TIFF held a month-long program that showed classic and contemporary films on 70mm print. It was my mission to watch the entire program, and while I wasn't successful, I still seized the opportunity to see Boogie Nights, Lawrence of Arabia, and West Side Story. However, the crown jewel of the program, in my opinion, was Stanley Kubrick's influential 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Seeing it not only on the big screen, but also on print, was magical. I'd already seen and loved the film, but something about watching the film's colours, ideas, and enthralling final act on one of my favourite theatre screens in Ontario, on a style of film that allows for all the detail to be seen even clearer…I don't see myself ever forgetting such an experience. - Adriano

Inception is my favorite movie of all time, so, naturally, I watched it four times in the theater. The last time was the best, though. I excitedly re-lived Paris exploding in Ariadne’s (Elliot Page) mind. I was still mesmerized at Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) floating around in that awesome hallway fight scene. I happily uttered “you mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling” alongside Eames (Tom Hardy). I still got emotional when Hans Zimmer’s “Time” boomed alongside the emotional catharsis that Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) felt walking through that airport. I was already planning my fifth theater-watch as Mal’s (Marion Cotillard) totem started spinning. However, when the screen went to black, keeping the totem’s fate forever a secret, an older black woman said, very loudly for all to hear, “oh HEEEELLLL NAW.” Yep. Nothing was going to beat that. I never watched Inception in theaters again. - Amarú

Media Credits: Media 1, 9 - Paramount Pictures; Media 2, 8, 12 - Walt Disney Studios; Media 3, 5, 10, 14, 16 - Warner Bros. Pictures; Media 4 - Kelly Bagwe; Media 6 - Annapurna Pictures; Media 7 - Universal Pictures; Media 13 - New Beverly Cinema; Media 15 - MGM Studios

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