We at Take 2 really miss going to movie theaters. Neither of us ever took it for granted, but we also thought it would never be taken away from us. Without the coronavirus pandemic, we’d be a couple weeks into the summer movie season. Instead, we’re surfing the streaming services to find their latest offerings. This standstill caused by COVID-19 made us look back at some of our favorite theater experiences. Here’s a list of our top 5 favorite movie theater experiences with honorable mentions. A list we’ll hopefully be able to add to soon.
I love “Dunkirk” and the first time I saw it I was so nervous and engaged with the film. So, as Tom Hardy tried to shoot down a German aircraft and Hans Zimmer’s nerve-racking score bellowed throughout the auditorium I decided to scream, “C’mon, Tom!” And give a fist pump. … I didn’t mean to do that, but I was so enthralled by the film that it just came out. Luckily, it was a Wednesday showing at 11 p.m. So there was only one other person in the theater. Nevertheless, if that random person that night in 2017 is reading this blog, I would like to offer my sincerest WHOOPS!
Also, Tom Hardy’s character in “Dunkirk” is not named Tom. So, I was yelling to the actor. Moving on!
“22 Jump Street” (2014)
“22 Jump Street” was a pretty solid sequel to its predecessor “21 Jump Street.” But one scene caught the audience entirely off guard. At one point, Captain Dickson, played by Ice Cube, is all ready upset because Schmidt, played by Jonah Hill, is dating his daughter. Dickson has to walk away from the table to gather himself. He goes to get food from the catered buffet, but they start by giving him two green beans. From that point on he freaks out and it’s one of the hardest times I’ve laughed in a theater. The audience was also howling with laughter. It was just a great moment of unexpected humor shared with the entire auditorium.
“Furious 7” (2015)
I like “Furious 7,” but during the first viewing everyone was wondering how they were going to handle Paul Walker. Obviously there would be some sort of tribute, but would they kill off his character (Brian O’Conner)? I was happy they didn’t, but what I wasn’t ready for was the tribute at the end of the film. Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto drives away, but a CGI-faced Walker catches up to him and they drive alongside each other as it goes into a montage of Walker in the earlier films in the franchise with Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” playing over the whole scene. Finally, a wideshot shows the cars taking different paths and “For Paul” comes up on the screen.
I did not expect to be crying during a “Fast and Furious” movie. Ever. But, I cried. I looked around and so many other men were also tearing up. That’s probably the most man tears I have ever seen. It was a unique experience for sure. We all still miss Paul Walker.
“Iron Man” (2008)
This is a tough one because I don’t know how to explain my group of friends’ love for Samuel L. Jackson in 2008. I believe our volleyball team name was even the Samuel L. Jacksons. So we would go to every movie and joked as the credits rolled saying, “Well we have to stay. What if there’s an end credit scene with Samuel L. Jackson?” We didn’t actually think Samuel L. Jackson would show up…
We said the same thing after “Iron Man.” So we stayed. Next thing we know…
“I am Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson said in his distinct voice. We were in shock. And little did we know that end credit scene would kick off the greatest movie franchise of all time.
This is more of a funny memory than a great theater experience, but Brian Holland, Jason Tugend and I went to see 2004’s “Troy.” The film is rated R and we were all no more than 14 years old. Luckily, Brian Holland looked like he was about 20 so we got in. That same night my sister who was old enough to see an R-rated film wanted to see “Troy.” However, she didn’t have her ID. The theater carded her so she had to go see “Van Helsing.” Imagine coming home to find out your 14-year-old brother got into a movie that you were not allowed into. She handled it better than I would have. Years later, I watched “Van Helsing.” It’s really bad. Sixteen years later, that story still has life.
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
This is very similar to “22 Jump Street.” When Brad Pitt starts speaking Italian with a clearly American accent, it sent the entire theater into uncontrollable laughter. I struggled to keep track of the scene I was laughing so hard. When I saw it a second time, I realized I laughed through most of the scene and I missed a lot of funny lines after his initial “Buongiorno.”
5. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009)
I never read the Harry Potters series, except for the last book because I couldn’t wait for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” to come out. So entering the midnight showing of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was I was going to dress as Snape. I had a wig, a wand and a graduation gown. I was set. Earlier in the day I was doing some work study at the University of Scranton library when a few of my friends walked in. They wanted to know if I was seeing the movie that night/morning. I told them yes and I had a Snape costume.
One of them blurted out, “Oh, so this is your movie.”
Another friend forget which one was coming out that evening so asked, “Which one is this again?”
The other friend answered, “The HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.”
So at this point I obviously knew Snape is the Half-Blood Prince, but I have no idea why that’s important.
So, I’ve got my costume. It’s a hit. Everyone loves it. I’m excited. My friend, Jason Tugend, walks in. He’s the one who bought the tickets online, but he didn’t have the card he bought the tickets with. He left it in the car. At this point, I start badgering him for reasons I could not explain today.
“How could you not bring it in?” I said. Over and over.
He gets the card and comes back. I go to say again, “How could you not bring it in?”
However, this time he’s had enough of me. He grabs my graduation gown (Lest we forget, I am Snape at the moment) and presses me against the glass windows at Cinemark and very calmly says, “Stop yelling at me.”
I quickly get on board with keeping my mouth shut and he goes to get the tickets. … It turn out he didn’t need the card he bought them with after all.
*SPOILER ALERT* The movie ends and I am now dressed as the man who killed Albus Dumbledore. It was a weird feeling. Had I known he killed Dumbledore, I wouldn’t have dressed like Snape. In the next film (Well I guess Part 2), we find out that Snape is actually a good guy, but I didn’t know that at the time.
To recap, earlier in the day I had it spoiled for me that Snape was the Half-Blood Prince. Second, I almost got into a fight with my friend after I badgered him for no reason and he was completely in the right. Finally, I leave the theater as the killer of one of the most beloved characters in the Harry Potter franchise.
So, why is this a top 5 movie experience for me?
It’s just a fun story to tell and hilarious to look back on. Also, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is my favorite film in the franchise.
4. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the first film in the franchise where I was old enough to be excited about the saga’s return. I was pumped. However, as the previews rolled the lights in the auditorium were on. Bright. The brightest I had ever seen in a movie theater. I started to get antsy. I didn’t want the light to ruin the first crawl of the new trilogy. Remember the Jason Tugend who saw “Troy” with me and then pushed me up against glass for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?” He’s back and assuring me the lights would go off when the movie starts.
He was right and the opening crawl with the John Williams score was everything I thought it would. It was a real moment of awe at an age I could truly appreciate it. I also went on to love “The Force Awakens.”
3. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” (2012)
Hear me out. The “Twilight” books and films are simultaneously awful and unbelievably entertaining. Entering this final film, those who read the books (including myself) knew that this battle they were building toward was never going to happen.
So maybe you could understand our shock when Carlisle Cullen is beheaded and fighting ensues. I spent the whole scene trying to get my bearings. I wasn’t even over Carlisle’s death when other characters started dying in the battle. I was jaw-dropped. I comically turned to my friend Lauren just as she had simultaneously turned to me. We both had shocked faces and simply turned our heads back to the screen simultaneously. People in the audience were screaming. It was utter chaos.
Again, I am still jaw-dropped by this movie that is for teenage girls and I was a 22-year-old man, hoping that these vampires I laughed at for five films didn’t die.
Finally, the film snaps to reality and the audience finds out it was just Alice’s vision. I let out a huge sigh of relief. Well played, “Breaking Dawn Part 2.” Well played.
2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have had many great theater experiences throughout the franchise. “Avengers: Infinity War” gave me something I had never experienced before and will probably never experience again. This is one big spoiler so I would just move on if you somehow haven’t seen the film.
My friend Lauren hilariously in the very beginning of the film when Loki was killed leaned over and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” She knew what would happen at the end of the film. I guess the entire theater did, but I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself.
Then Thanos snapped his fingers. … Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan, said, “Steve” before turning to ashes. … It’s at that point the air came out of the building. The audience had a collective gasp that I felt but didn’t hear. Characters we grew to love started disintegrating before our eyes. Spider-Man’s death brought me to tears. Although it was sad, the emotions I felt that night were unbelievably powerful and will probably never be matched again. And the air feeling as though it was sucked out of the theater was unreal.
1. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
“The Dark Knight” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Combine that with a midnight showing where most of my friends dressed up and it was the greatest theater experience of my life. I somehow was able to claim the role of Batman, so I had my table cloth cape and a $5 plastic cowl. I had no idea I would be seeing one of the greatest movies of my lifetime. I won’t get too much into the movie, because we all know it’s incredible. However, watching one of Heath Ledger’s last performances after he died had a fascinating level of mystic to it. And his performance is the greatest by a comic book villain.
There was this moment I really felt how good the movie was when the Joker was sticking his head out of a cop car like a dog. It had this odd beauty to it and it allowed the audience to soak in the villain’s triumph. At that moment, I thought the movie was going to end with the Joker winning. I was wrong, but this movie was so good that it could have ended there.
The audience also cheered at times. I remember applause after Batman flipped the Joker’s tractor trailer and then did kind of a 180 flip on the Batpod. That’s why I miss the midnight showing. There’s nothing quite like getting together with your friends to see a blockbuster movie with a crowd of people into the morning. It was one of my most cherished experiences growing up.
5. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)
In 2012, my co-workers at The Citizens’ Voice and myself were excited for the long-awaited film version of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I was a big fan of Peter Jackson’s epic “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which I still consider one of the best trilogies ever made. Nine years after the last LOTR film, “The Return of the King,” I was excited to see Jackson’s take on “The Hobbit” and looked forward to another fantasy franchise on the movie calendar.
And so were my co-workers. Some of us, like me, loved the LOTR trilogy but hadn’t read the books (though I did read half of “The Hobbit” by the time the first movie came out). Others were J.R.R. Tolkien fans and had loved the books since they were kids.
Since there were so many of us who wanted to see “The Hobbit,” a group of us decided to go to the film’s midnight showing at Wilkes-Barre Movies 14. This included my friend and future Take 2 columnist Tamara Dunn. About four months later, she and I would kick off the Take 2 movie review column (and the rest is history).
Since I was one of the people who was off the night of “The Hobbit” showing, I arrived at the theater early and helped my friend and co-worker Cecilia Baress (sister of future Take 2 blogger Joe Baress) save seats for the crew. We even got to see a moviegoer dressed up as Gandalf the Grey in our showing.
Seeing “The Hobbit” with so many of my friends and co-workers outside of the office was a blast! To commemorate the experience, we took a group photo after the movie in the theater’s lobby – complete with Gandalf (poking out of a movie display) photobombing the image.
4. “Stars Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (2015)
To celebrate the first new “Star Wars” film in a decade, super fan Pat Abdalla, then-editor of The Citizens’ Voice weekly features section JumpStart! (where the Take 2 column was published), and I manned a table in the lobby of Wilkes-Barre Movies 14 on the night of the film’s debut. It was the first public event I had been a part of for JumpStart! and one I’ll always remember.
Pat and I gave out copies of the “Star Wars”-centric issue and entered moviegoers in a contest to win “Star Wars”-themed prizes. We enjoyed talking to fellow fans and observing their various costumes. One young guy in a Chewbacca costume was excited to show us his getup. When Pat and I returned to W-B 14 the following year ahead of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” we saw the same guy in the same costume, and he remembered us!
And this was all before the movie began. When the famous “Star Wars” crawl started scrolling onscreen, my theater burst into applause, and I felt goosebumps. It only got better from there. My audience clapped at seeing Rey and Finn run to the Millennium Falcon, and Han Solo and Chewy returning to their “home.”
But the part of the film that left me breathless was the lightsaber battle between Kylo Ren, Finn and Rey. In the cover of darkness and snow, Kylo Ren struggles to lift the blue lightsaber belonging to his uncle, Luke Skywalker, and grandfather, Darth Vader, from the ground. The lightsaber rises and flies to – REY! John Williams’ score kicks in beautifully, and my audience collectively gasped. That scene – my favorite in the film – still gives me chills.
3. “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe fan. Though I missed seeing the first few entries of the franchise in theaters, I’ve seen every single one since “The Avengers” (2012) on the big screen. “Avengers: Endgame” promised to be the charged culmination of 11 years and 22 films of storytelling – and was it ever! (If you haven’t yet seen the film, beware because massive spoilers follow.)
I saw “Endgame” with Cecilia and her fiancé at Cinemark – thank goodness, because we all needed the emotional support. There were long-awaited moments that had my audience clapping in pure joy – like Captain America finally holding Thor’s hammer, and Captain America saying, “Avengers, assemble!” as dozens of superheroes came together to fight the big bad Thanos.
And then there were moments that brought us to tears. Black Widow’s sacrifice left me in stunned silence. Tony Stark/Iron Man’s final line, “I am … Iron Man,” harkened back to the end of 2008’s “Iron Man,” the film that launched the MCU – and destroyed me. But Captain America/Steve Rogers’ reunion with his lost love, Agent Peggy Carter, left me with a smile on my face. “Avengers: Endgame” took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions I’ll never forget.
2. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
“Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good … I don’t want to go.” And just like that, Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s death following Thanos’ “snap” turned me into a big ball of tears.
“Avengers: Infinity War,” the lead-in to “Endgame,” showed something that had never happened in the MCU before: the Avengers lost. Our beloved superheroes went up against Thanos and LOST. And as a result, half of the cast dies in one of the most shocking sequences I’ve ever seen onscreen – and my audience gasping for air.
It starts with Thor’s scream of horror after Thanos snaps his fingers. As the characters look cautiously around them, Bucky Barnes fades to dust in front of best friend Steve Rogers. I gasped aloud with my audience.
And the hits kept on coming as superhero after superhero falls to ash. Falcon. Groot. Black Panther. Scarlet Witch. Mantis. Drax. Star-Lord. And Doctor Strange, who somberly tells Tony, “There was no other way.”
Then there’s Peter, who fades away in Tony Stark’s arms. Oh, Peter! And the tears started falling down my face. When the film ended, my audience left in utter silence. We were in mourning for the characters we had just lost.
No matter how many times I watch “Infinity War,” I always cry during that scene, which puts me back in the theater when I first saw it.
1. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” (2012)
The “Twilight” films are a guilty pleasure for me. I read all of Stephenie Meyers’ books in the saga after the first movie came out. Starting with “Twilight: New Moon,” I saw each of the films in theaters. I can admit they’re not great films, yet I enjoy watching them.
So of course I had to see the final film, “Breaking Dawn – Part 2.” My friend Chrissy invited me to a special early screening of the film Thursday evening at Wilkes-Barre Movies 14. This was right around the time when Thursday night showings started to become the norm for new films, and midnight showings started to lose some of their luster.
Chrissy and I received VIP passes with lanyards for the showing (I still have mine). She took a photo of me while we waited in line. Hilariously, my eyes came out red in the photo! (Twihards know that vampires’ red eyes give them away as having recently fed on blood).
The movie will go down for me as the most unforgettable theater experience I’ve ever had. During the third act, the movie pulls off one of the greatest film fake-outs of all time.
Bella, Edward and their family and friends are pitted against the Volturi. “Breaking Dawn” readers know that the sides come to a truce without any blood being shed. But the movie pulls the rug out from under the audience in a gruesome scene that’s rare for the teen-friendly franchise.
Heads literally start rolling – beginning with Carlisle Cullen’s. The popular character’s death sent my audience into a tailspin. Screams filled the auditorium for 8 straight minutes – I’m not kidding! – as various characters were decapitated or mauled, their body parts scattered around.
I was totally wrapped up in the frenzy. “This didn’t happen in the book!” I yelled at one point. Chrissy and I kept looking at each other, saying, “Oh my God, what is happening?”
Then the massacre slows down … to reveal that it was Alice’s vision. It didn’t really happen! Everyone is still alive. The biggest sigh of relief I’ve ever heard went through the audience, followed by a wave of laughter. We didn’t just watch some of our favorite characters die!
All movie theater experiences I ever have will be compared to this one.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) – Pat Abdalla, Citizens’ Voice co-workers April Dulsky and myself manned another JumpStart! table on the night the movie debuted at Wilkes-Barre Movies 14. It turned out to be the last one we would do together. During the actual movie, the incredible Darth Vader lightsaber scene at the film’s end had my audience cheering.
“Furious 7” (2015) – The seventh “Fast & Furious” movie was the first one in the franchise to come out after star Paul Walker’s death. There’s an intense action sequence in the middle of the movie where Walker’s character, Brian, jumps from the back of a moving bus to a car where Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Letty, is waiting. When Brian completes the jump, my whole audience erupted into applause. We were cheering for Paul and his memory.
“Prisoners” (2013) – During the dark Hugh Jackman drama, when the truth behind his daughter’s kidnapping is revealed, a woman sitting at the front of the audience jumped out of her seat and exclaimed, “I knew it!” I had not figured it out, so I give props to that woman!
“American Hustle” (2013) – I went to see the Academy Award-nominated film before the Oscars, and the Cinemark theater was packed. Whenever Jennifer Lawrence, who was nominated for best supporting actress, came onscreen, the audience oohed and awed. I’ve never seen a performer receive that kind of audible reaction during a film showing.
“X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006) – The last film in the original X-Men trilogy is terrible. But it was the first time I ever stayed through a film’s ending credits. My audience was shocked to hear Professor X’s voice at the end, letting us know that he wasn’t actually dead. The after-credits scene would become a staple of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
“Deadpool” (2016) – I saw the Ryan Reynolds hit with a packed theater on its Thursday opening night in February, which is an unusual time of year to see a blockbuster. My audience laughed straight through the movie, starting with its opening crawl, which riffed off the popular “Honest Trailers” videos.