When Americans go out to “the movies” they often have more than the film on their minds. For generations, the American cinematic experience has involved eating as well as viewing. A number of foods are popular, but they have one key aspect in common: they are served in huge portion sizes. Most movie theaters discourage or even ban outside snacks and drinks, since snack sales are a significant source of their revenue. The food and drink stand is always centrally located; multiplex cinemas may have several food locations.
The act of attending a motion picture at a theater (or even watching one at home on television) is strongly associated in American culture with the consumption of popcorn. Developed by Native Americans thousands of years ago, popcorn is a special kind of corn kernel that puffs up when exposed to heat. At cinemas, popcorn is served in large cardboard tubs. To put the size of these portions into some perspective, most microwave popcorn for home use comes in two-cup portions. A small movie theater popcorn tub contains seven cups, a large tub up to 21 cups, enough to ruin any diet. Calories aside, the butter or oil used to coat the popcorn can add a great deal of extra fat, often not of the healthiest variety.
Movie theater sodas are also known for their immenseness. A 32 ounce (one quart) sized soda is not uncommon, nor would it turn heads (though 12 or 16 ounce bottles are the norm for individual servings in the outside world). Free refills may be available, but this only increases the calorie count, except for diet sodas.
As cherished as popcorn are movie candies, certain brands associated for generations with the cinema: Junior Mints, Milk Duds, Lemonheads, Mike & Ike, Charleston Chews, Dots, Whoppers, Raisinets, Red Hots, Sno Caps, and Hershey bars, all in extra large boxes or containers. It takes skill to juggle all these foods and still pay attention to the film, and even more skill to smuggle in your own snacks, an increasing practice among health-conscious moviegoers. Most attempts by cinema chains to add healthy or non-traditional snacks have met with low public acceptance.