The 5 Unexpected Downsides of Working at a Movie Theater

I spent five awful months of my life working the concession stand at a movie theater. The training video described that decision as "Getting close to the entertainment industry!"

I once watched a one-armed man chase a "Cash 4 Gold" sign across a busy intersection and he was closer to Hollywood than I ever was in the summer of 2008.

Going to movie theaters had been so magical for me as a kid, and by choosing to work there as a stupid, stupid teenager, I was retroactively destroying Santa Claus for myself.

These are five things that working at a movie theater ruined for me.

#5. Popcorn

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Movie theater employees work in a state of constant fear over hearing five ugly little words: "Popcorn. No butter, no salt." Why, you ask? Simple: Because popcorn already has butter and salt on it, that's why it's yellow and tastes mostly like salt. As you can probably imagine, whipping up a batch of movie theater corn devoid of these industry standard ingredients is tantamount to reinventing the wheel.

Most people, let's call them the 99 percent, order popcorn not just knowing, but hoping it will also include the delicious parts. The rest, or the 1 percent, if you will, are totally within their right to ask for popcorn with no added flavor, but to that right, I say, "Fuck you, right."

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
And you can use the butter as lube.

Here's the problem. When you get an order for unsalted, unbuttered popcorn, you either have to find a popcorn machine that's not in use (which, on busy days, is nearly impossible) or you have to dedicate one machine at the beginning of the day to fulfilling this person's specific request. After that, you drag the sack of unsalted popcorn from the dank corner of the food storage closet that's reserved for foodstuffs no sane person would willingly consume (the Raisinets are kept here also) and wipe down the entire machine, because when someone gets picky about their popcorn, they usually end up on the extremes of pickiness. They don't want any stray traces of butter in their bland bag, and they will CSI investigate that shit until they're satisfied that they've been given untainted concessions.

Even worse, popcorn (the tasty kind) followed me everywhere. The smell stuck to my work clothes in ways that I'd never thought possible, and since I was only given one work polo, rewashing it every time I got the chance didn't save me from becoming popcorn's unwilling mascot. You become sort of a landfill of popcorn smell. You had the oldest popcorn smell, which was smashed down and covered with newer popcorn smell, which was soon to be tamped down and replaced with an even newer popcorn smell. In no time at all, you become the saddest example of stratification ever.

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Imagine smelling like you just got bukakked by the entire Redenbacher family.

#4. Nachos

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Nachos were even worse, which is a statement that rightfully should never need to be said, because nachos are better than almost anything. Not when you work at a movie theater, though.

Nachos should be and usually are one of the easiest foods to prepare because they can be just nacho chips or chips and whatever else you have. There's no clear definition for "nachos." If you have nacho chips covered in centipedes, they are still nachos. Nothing changes.

Matt Bowman/FoodPix/Getty Images, Hemera Technologies/ Images

"Eh, just throw some extra jalapenos on there and it'll be fine."

Except nacho chips are not necessarily known for their structural stability. It doesn't take a lot of pressure for your bag of chips to become a bag of large, tasty crumbs, and, as luck would have it, management at the theater I worked at dictated that giving customers anything less than a full chip was a straight up slap in the goddamn face. The customer isn't paying eight bucks to have a bottom-of-the-bag assortment. They want complete, round nachos. Thus, making nachos became a needle-in-a-haystack endeavor of carefully picking out the chips that weren't shattered and slowly assembling them into nacho trays.

Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
Note that this tray will also cost more than your hourly pay.

And while, along with the broken chips, there were usually a decent amount of ones that stayed strong, you often ended up with bags and bags of imperfect chips. These poor chips had no further purpose. There was no discount for nacho trays made up of chip shards, so the dumpster became an Island of Misfit Chips, chips that just wanted a loving family to devour them.

#3. Midnight Releases

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Midnight releases are one of the many things that get worse as you get older. When you're a teen, they combine a number of thrills: movies, late nights, and, hopefully, friends. You're high on adrenaline and ready to bust out your costumes, accents, and excitement on anyone you can, including the theater employees, who have to take it all.

I worked during a superhero-filled summer. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, and The Dark Knight came out, and I endured the storm for each of them. Well, for the first and last one, mostly. The Incredible Hulk was made for people to catch it on FX three years later, and seeing Hancock at midnight is kind of like getting a spider web tattoo on your elbow. It's neat, man. Real neat.
"It holds a really deep meaning to me of the time I got a terrible tattoo."

The Dark Knight was nothing less than insanity, as parents figured that a sixth Batman film would be no different from a Jack Nicholson-laden first, and therefore let their children and man-children run amok. Feeling the effects of freedom at 12 a.m. while you're dressed as the Joker leads you to do things that any normal person would think is a waste of time, including testing out your Heath Ledger impression for the people at the concession stand.

"A medium popcorn, no wait, a small. Why so serious?"

Please order your food, you awful nerd.

Plus, all of these people have only seen the trailers, so they're stuck repeating the same four goddamn lines. At certain points, the brain becomes enraged, numb, and a combination of both when exposed to "A little fight in you. I like that" an increasing number of times, and the playful banter you sometimes feel obliged to engage in with the customer is steadily replaced by a stream of "Yep. That's the Joker alright. Enjoy your movie."

Warner Bros.
"You quote one more line, and you actually will have to tell people how you got those scars."

For small midnight premieres, it's not a problem. When The X-Files: I Want to Believe was released, the movie theater became the first episode of The Twilight Zone. I imagine that, in my manager's eyes, an X-Files movie released eight years after anyone gave a shit about that particular stack of files was going to bring hundreds of eager ticket buyers out from under their porches. If you're able to guess that she was very wrong in her assumption, I think I might've found a decent career for you that's close to the entertainment industry! No one showed up and I just shot the shit with my friends until the manager gave up and sent me home.

For larger openings, where people are constantly going in and out of the theaters, you stay the entire time, standing behind the counter and marveling that a blockbuster film about a shut-in who dresses like a bat could fill two-and-a-half hours.

Either way, the only thing you want to do is get the fuck out of there and go to sleep.

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Daniel Dockery

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