Midnight Shows: Yay or Nay?

April 26, 2012 — 17 Comments

I have been to a number of midnight shows in my time, ranging from Snakes on a Plane to Avatar. I tend to think these “first” screenings lend themselves to some of the best theatrical experiences possible, though it can definitely be a risk. There’s something about midnight shows, a fanatical quality that makes them great but can also make them quite bad.

In many ways, midnight screenings are like the very best film festival screenings. Generally, the people who are willing to drag themselves out to a show, stand in line for a couple of hours and watch a movie until some ungodly hour in the morning are also the people who will be the best audience. Why? Because they actually want to be there. For example, for all this recent talk about allowing texting at the cinema, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody pull out a phone to text at a midnight screening. That’s the difference between a regular audience where half the people are just there to be passively entertained and a truly excited and engaged audience.

I suppose the problems can come when an audience is too engaged. A good example is the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The excitement was thick in the air, and that made the 4-5 hour wait in line quite fun, but when the lights dimmed and the movie started so did the trouble. Whereas the midnight crowd for the previous film was quite respectful and drawn into the film’s darker tone, for the final film in the series the excitement was just too high. People cheered and clapped at almost every little thing. A bit of cheering is okay, but when it happens all the time it gets in the way of the film. It was only on subsequent viewing that I was better able to appreciate the tone and construction of the film, because at midnight it was all a blur of action and wild audience.

Then again, that kind of excitement can lead to great things. One of the best audience experiences I’ve ever had was the midnight show of The Dark Knight in IMAX. I was there about 6 hours before the show started. The wait was long, but fun. There was a guy dressed as Batman being stalked by guys dressed as the Joker’s henchmen. During the IMAX pre-show laser extravaganza a guy stood up and started dancing like it was a night club. The Watchmen trailer with the Smashing Pumpkins song was badass. We were pumped. Then the movie started and Christopher Nolan’s bold camerawork and the stunning IMAX images and scenes pulled the audience in so well that if it wasn’t for the loud IMAX sound system you could probably have heard a pin drop. Except at crucial moments. “Do you want to see a magic trick?” Gasps. Moments like those were amazing to experience with an equally engaged crowd. The truck chase was so amazing to watch, and when that truck flipped followed by the Batpod climbing up the wall happened, well, the cheering and hollering was well-earned and extremely cathartic. So was the cheering at the end when Batman races into the light and the title flashes on the screen. That’s the kind of show cinema was made for. Not just a personal experience, but one connecting a group of 200+ complete strangers in a suspense and awe.

So midnight shows can have their advantages and disadvantages. Have you ever been to a midnight show? Do you enjoy them or try to avoid them? Apart from midnight shows have you had some great cinema experiences where the audience was totally engaged? Leave me a comment below and share it.

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17 responses to Midnight Shows: Yay or Nay?

  1. 

    I typically don’t go to many midnight screenings of films (especially if they’re downtown), because I don’t like the inconvenience of figuring out how I am going to get home afterwards. Though, I did go see Deathly Hollows, Pt 2 and Hunger Games at Midnight Screenings.

    I actually enjoy an active crowd at these types of screenings, because I think cheers and applause make the film more fun. It’s not like they are showing serious dramas at these midnight screenings.

    • 

      I enjoy the applauding crowd as well, but I disagree with the idea that these movies are not serious dramas. Harry Potter 7.2 may be fun, but it’s got plenty of heavy drama, and when people are cheering during those scenes it takes away from the drama.

  2. 

    You’ve been to the good midnight showings, apparently. I seem to decide to go to the midnight screening I THINK will be great and end up very, very ordinary, or borderline crap. ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ showings were both jokes: half empty rooms, no crowd reactions (admittedly, I don’t know what crowd reactions there would have been at any other screening for Cowboys and Aliens).

    TinTin was the saddest thing ever. It was the IMAX 3D midnight showing. This is Montréal, where a lot of people speak and read French so Tintin is very popular. Result? I swear, there were maybe a dozen people. D.E.A.D.

    • 

      You clearly choose the worst movies to go see at midnight. The Social Network? Really? The Tintin one is a little weird, but I hear it was much bigger when it opening in France. I guess Montrealers just care less about Tintin or a Tintin motion-capture movie.

  3. 

    The very nature of theatergoing seems to be shifting, don’t you think? With the gravity pulling on blockbusters, these screenings feel like the last stronghold for theater experiences. I enjoy seeing movies alone on the television because it allows me to observe the elusive and sometimes dubious presence of art within the project. But something like a midnight screening has become an entirely different place. The content is generally intended as an object of entertainment and the audience is more likely to react with genuine surprise and awe. This, I feel, is an experience that is more faithful to the understanding that cinema is a technology capable of overwhelming and overpowering the viewer. (I just wrote a little article about this, myself.) The home video/theater dichotomy has been gathering steam and will not slow down any time soon. You’re absolutely right in finding interest in the midnight screening as an experience becoming more and more unique.

    • 

      Completely agree. If cinema is a large format, communal experience, then a midnight screening where everyone is truly excited to be there is sort of the last bastion outside of certain film festival screenings and other special events.

  4. 

    I love them. The only experience I’ve had was going to see Star Wars: Episode III…

    Saw some dudes have light saber battles and such. Was really fun, and I think it painted my impressions of the movie a lot since I kind of like that one (action fan talking)…

    But I doubt I’d be that guy with the light saber, or spending six hrs in line (not even for Batman). Also, here (no longer in the US) shows dont usually run that late, ever.

    • 

      Yeah, I went to midnight screenings for the last four Harry Potter films, and while I got a bit of a kick from seeing people dressed up, I could never be one of those people. I’m invested heavily in the stories and the characters, but not so much in that fanatical way.

    • 

      You’ve really captured all the estsaeinls in this subject area, haven’t you?

  5. 

    I saw Spider-Man 3 and Inception at midnight. It’s pretty clear that I regretted one of those.

    Inception was a great film to see at midnight, especially because of the ending since no one knew what to expect.

    Honestly, I doubt I’ll go to any midnight showings in the near future. They’re too taxing and time-consuming for me. Plus, sleep has gotten too precious to me lately. Sometimes midnight showings can be worth it, but it has to be the right film and the right audience.

    • 

      Spider-Man 3 was a weird film to see at midnight. That film had serious problems and it simply didn’t come close to living up to the hype. You could totally feel the audience deflating as it wore on. Sort of a sad experience. Then again, if film is going to be communal it sort of makes sense to experience the bad as well as the good.

      And yeah, Inception at midnight was thrilling. The audible groans at the end were so great. You could tell the audience wished for an answer but felt totally satisfied anyway.

  6. 

    People go to the movies for passive entertainment? But the cinema is so expensive. Who are these suckers? And how might we better bamboozle them?

  7. 

    I absolutely love midnight shows. I’ve been to The Room a bunch of times. The only problem is as I get older it’s so much harder to stay awake.

    • 

      Oh boy, I would LOVE to see a midnight show of The Room. Those kinds of things are almost in a different class. The special screenings like Rocky Horror, or when I went to see Evil Dead or Police Story or Rick-Oh here in Toronto.

  8. 

    I love going to Midnight shows when I can. I was the first to clap for our showing of The Avengers before the movie started. I also plan to go for The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and The Hobbit. The fans are usually the best at those showings and you’d hope they are all interested in seeing the film.

    The only problem would be waiting in line, bad seats, or the late night. Getting up the next morning is killer. If your not there early enough, your better off not seeing the movie at all because I would not like to sit up front with neck pain throughout the film. That being said I always show up early for midnight shows as well.

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