Top 5 Memorable Movie Theater Experiences from Unmemorable Movies

Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because it’s now 2022 and I still find myself BEGGING the internet for fun little diversions to read, so I have to create some of this shit myself. This week’s list…

Top 5 Memorable Movie Theater Experiences from Unmemorable Movies

It’s hard to overstate the degree to which going to the multiplex dominated our social engagements in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Movies played an outsized role in our cultural consciousness to the point where normal, everyday people knew, and had an opinion of, film critics, Siskel & Ebert chief among them. My most common moviegoing partner was my best friend Mike, and we went to the theater probably every single weekend once he turned 16 and could drive.

Needless to say, I saw some great stuff in theaters, but I’ve also seen a lot of middling garbage, and some outright unwatchable dogshit like Wishmaster or Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. It’s not to say those experiences were completely devoid of value, far from it (although Wishmaster was uniquely fucking terrible and inexplicably got three sequels, all of which I’m sure suck shit). No, going to movies was always at least something of an event, so even if the movie itself wasn’t anything you’d ever carry with you on its own terms, maybe something noteworthy happened that makes this film always stick in your head. Here are five of mine.

City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994)

Ah, my very first date. I was 12, and shortly before the end of 6th grade, I asked my classmate Sarah to be my date for the school’s 50’s dance. She agreed, and MAN what a feeling! It was my first successful overture to the opposite sex which had me flying high immediately followed by the crushing feeling of… now what? 12 year-olds aren’t great at taking on action items, and now that we were “dating,” what do we do? She had a birthday coming up early that summer, so I knew I needed to get her something. That something ended up being a little turquoise heart choker necklace. Ok, now what?

Well, let’s go to the movies! And what better movie for two 12 year-olds to see than the sequel to a comedy set on a cattle drive that tackles the creeping ennui of middle age? I had heard stories about kids making out in movie theaters, but had absolutely no practical skillset to make a move during its runtime. So we mostly just sat there and watched Jon Lovitz fill in underwhelmingly for Bruno Kirby and Jack Palance fail to capture any of the magic he had in the first movie. The jokes are mostly undercooked, the characters all feel like off-brand versions of the ones from the original, and my palms just got sweatier trying to figure out if I should try to hold her hand or put my arm around her or what.

So the thing finally, mercifully ends and I decide to just throw my arm around her as we exit the theater. Right as I do, Sarah says, “Hello!” to her mom waiting in the lobby. The timing resulted in mortifying me because I figured her mom would be mad at me for putting the moves on her daughter, but it was one awkward arm on someone else’s awkward shoulder. No crimes were committed here.

In retrospect, this is all pretty silly, but when you’re 12 it is high fucking stakes. Undiscovered country. Brand new feelings! Social conventions of courtship to figure out! And from an objective point of view, pretty much nothing of note actually happened. But man, if I need to get a nice anxiety lather going, I start thinking about City Slickers II. You never forget your first date, man.

Breakdown (1997)

I watched this movie again recently, and it is a taut, enjoyable, nasty little action thriller. Granted, having my wife kidnapped and held for ransom by a group of extortionist hicks and truckers while I’m in the middle of desert nowhere is just about my worst nightmare, but I’m willing to put that aside to enjoy a well-crafted thrill ride. Plus, Kurt Russell does some amazing acting using only his facial expressions, and JT Walsh (a Hall of Fame “that guy”) is chilling as the malevolent ringleader.

This one is notable for two reasons: 1) It was Lisa Schwartzbaum’s excellent review of the movie in Entertainment Weekly that propelled my most frequent moviegoing pal Mike and I into the theater, interesting because I don’t recall that happening before Breakdown, and 2) Despite the movie being excellent in a way that had me enjoyably tense the entire time, Mike and I riffed on this thing like Mystery Science Theater 3000 in its prime. M.C. Gainey looked like a member of Jake “The Snake” Roberts’s extended family. Pay phones only cost 20₵ which led Mike and I to create a bizarre running gag about Kurt Russell frantically saving money using only these cheap pay phones whenever possible. The needle drops in this movie were all twangy, old time country music tunes which made us howl with laughter for some reason.

Walking out of the theater after a very grim resolution to the plot – punctuated by one of the funniest non-sequiturs Mike has ever leveled on me that paid off a different running gag we came up with – we agreed Breakdown was both a tremendous movie on its own merits, and one of the funniest damn moviegoing experiences we ever manufactured solely for our own amusement. A nifty trick!

Snake Eyes (1998)

I remember very little of this movie except for the following three things:

  • Nicolas Cage is in it and acts in that bugged-out, wackadoo style of his for pretty much the entire runtime.
  • The camerawork is pretty bitchin’ in this including a disarmingly long Steadicam shot that opens the first 20 minutes or so of the movie.
  • The plot takes place at a heavyweight boxing match in Atlantic City and involves the assassination of some high profile politician. The story twists and turns, and then twists and turns some more, and then even more, and somewhere in there I lost interest and completely stopped giving a shit. I could look it up, but don’t care nearly enough to.

This movie is notable because a girl named Maison took me to see it a couple of weeks after I moved to Texas. She was my same age, the daughter of one of my dad’s work acquaintances, went to the same high school I was about to go to, and really fucking hot. She brought her friend Dan with us who was a douche and a half and, in my memory, looks like he was drawn by Mike Judge. He asked me if I drank (No) or smoked (Also no). Well, what do you do for fun then? he asked me like some knuckle-dragging dipshit. We were 17! What the fuck was this town? That warehouse in the first Ninja Turtles movie?

I eventually found my crew down there, but this first entrée into these bored rich kid, troublemaking asswipes really took the wind out of my sails. And there were a lot of them in that town! I became worried I wasn’t going to fit in, which is a horrible blanket of existential dread to wear in a new situation. There’s one line from the beginning of Snake Eyes, and it’s the only one I remember from it. Nicolas Cage chases a guy through a casino, and the guy ends up cornering himself. Nicolas Cage says, “Hah! It looks like you took the stupid route!” I could relate.

Unbreakable (2000)

It probably bears mention that I had The Sixth Sense spoiled for me before I saw it. I may have even asked to have it spoiled since I had no plans on seeing it initially, but couldn’t have predicted what a cultural force the movie would become. So I eventually saw it, fully knowing the big twist the whole time, and was mostly bored. Shyamalan movies are pretty much all mood and atmosphere pieces with dog ass terrible dialogue, a recipe for twiddling your thumbs when you know the destination. So I might be predisposed to disliking this guy’s style from the get-go through no fault of his own.

I did not know the big twist coming at the end of Unbreakable, but sort of wish I did so I could have spent those 2+ hours doing literally anything else. Everyone in this movie is so dour, downbeat and downright unlikable, the movie is akin to feeling like you’re standing in the rain against your will outside a post office waiting for a package you don’t want. That’s why I was so happy to be sitting next to my friend Jason, who was similarly nonplussed by this plodding piece of crap.

Since (spoiler alert) it’s ultimately a comic book/superhero story, Jason inserted his own campy 1960s Batman-style voiceover to the proceedings and riffed on Bruce Willis’s ugly poncho. Is this the untimely end for Poncho Man? Tune in next week… same Poncho time, same Poncho channel! I nearly choked to death from stifling my laughter inside that packed theater. My girlfriend was on the other side of me getting more and more pissed off, which only made me laugh harder. If memory serves, the last line of the movie is from Samuel L. Jackson who says with quiet menace, “They call me… Mr. Glass.” To which I seem to recall Jason barfing out this: Will Poncho Man be able to take down Mr. Glass?! Can he avoid Mr. Glass’s fatal neighborhood swimming pool?! All this and more in the continuing adventures of… Poncho Man!

God, this movie sucked. But the last 20 or so minutes of it remain one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen in a movie theater thanks entirely to Jason.

Stuck On You (2003)

Buy this poster here.

The Farrelly Brothers used to be hot shit. Dumb & Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary… all comedy classics. Me, Myself & Irene was less good, and Shallow Hal is that awful type of comedy devoid of jokes and reliant on lame situational irony for laughs. But they still had enough goodwill built up among me and my fellow 22 year-olds to get excited for their next film.

It was, unfortunately, this one. That’s not to say this movie is bad, it’s just sort of… underwhelming. There are some decent gags, and the story is pleasant enough, but it never finds another gear that sends the audience into a fit of euphoric laughter the way their three best films did. The last third really drags, and since I was in Fort Collins in a theater packed with college and high school kids, listening to two middle-aged brothers go on and on about their feelings and ambitions was making the crowd restless.

During one particularly serious moment of the plot, it’s dead quiet. And out of the darkness comes this fart that starts out slowly, gradually gains some steam, and lasts WAY longer than a normal fart. In my long history of witnessing and executing farts, I’d give this one’s performance an 8.3 out of 10 for its overall tone, timbre, timing, and especially longevity. The entire theater turned into an episode of Beavis & Butthead as everyone giggled childishly at someone’s flatulence. Honestly, it was the funniest part of the movie, which is sad considering this is a supposed slapstick comedy about two conjoined twins directed by some of the supposedly raunchiest directors of their time.

The audience shouldn’t have to supply its own fart jokes. Those should already be baked in.

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