Before the age of television, going to the movies in the United States was a major social ritual. The American movie theater of the pre-television age was often a palace, an elaborate cathedral of family entertainment. Hundreds of people sat and saw one movie feature at a time. In larger cities and towns, viewers had a choice: one film at one theater, or another across town or down the street. Today nearly all cinemas show multiple films in different rooms at the same time. Existing theaters convert into two or more showing rooms, while cinema “multiplexes” built from the ground up offer ten or more choices all at once: something for everyone.
Another change from past customs has been the coming of advertising to American movie theaters. Seat yourself, get comfortable, and then expect to view a number of commercials, often identical to those seen on television, followed by elaborate previews and, eventually, the film you came to see. During this “warm-up” period, the cinema might flash announcements cautioning patrons to dispose of trash in proper receptacles and to refrain from talking to each other during the film, two sensible suggestions indeed.
One important custom from the past remains, however. Americans consider consumption of certain snack foods and drinks to be an essential part of the movie-going experience. They buy these delights in huge packages and cups at stands in the theater lobby. Chief among these items is buttered popcorn. For more detail on these snack foods and drinks, see the Movie Snacks section in the chapter on American food.
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