Best. Movie Experiences. Ever.
Return of the Jedi turned 25 this past weekend – I celebrated early, remember? – but writing about that movie’s opening got me thinking about the next-best movie-going experiences I’ve ever had, based, like that one, as much on the atmosphere as on the films themselves. (In some cases, probably more.) Jedi’s at the top already, but rounding out my list are:
Somewhere in the mid-1980s, Canton’s Palace Theater – $1.50 double feature of Ferris
Bueller’s Day Off and Crocodile Dundee. Aaron and I went. The Palace second-run shows were fun, but the balcony was usually closed because they didn’t draw big crowds. On this night, the place was absolutely packed to the rafters, mostly with high school kids, and it was just a rowdy blast, almost like being at a concert.
High school, Gold Circle Cinemas, A Fish Called Wanda. Me and my four best friends, Adam, Dave, Larry and Gary. Laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe, and of course, there’s the male bonding of the whole Jamie Lee Curtis getting hot on the rope scene.
Late 1993, early 1994 – Jurassic Park, the one-dollar theater in Orlando, Florida. I’m alone at my apartment and see there’s a showing coming up. I call this girl I have only recently met at the McDonald’s where I work. “Wanna go see ‘Jurassic Park‘” I ask. “When?” “I’m leaving now. Movie’s in 15 minutes.” “Sure.” And that was the first time my wife Jenn and I went out.
April or early May, 1997 – Same cheap, dingy dollar theater. The Star Wars Special Edition is hanging on, back in the small theater at the end of the hall that probably only seats 50 or 75 people. I’m in the back row, a new dad, with my six-week old daughter. She doesn’t make a peep through the whole movie, and she’ll never remember it, but I got to see her eyes looking up at Star Wars on the big screen. I like to think she slept through the Cantina bits, because everyone knows Han Shot First. (Honorable mention: Eight years later, she asks me to take her to opening night of Episode III. It’s the only Star Wars movie opening we got to see together.)
Summer (I think) 1999 – The Blair Witch Project, Canton. Jenn and I had planned to see this together, but the night we went, she got nervous and we left before it started and saw something else. I went to a noon showing on a brilliantly sunny and cheerful day, and it was the most horrifying movie experience I think I’m ever likely to have, because there were only two people in the theatre: Me in the center, about midway up, and trenchcoat guy sitting up in the top row corner. Nobody near me. Nobody to make smart-ass jokes to ease the tension or to share the collective jolts of surprise. Just me and trenchcoat guy, and I had to keep fighting the urge to check to see if he was still there because what if he wasn’t?
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the re-release. Screw the digital gun removal and the CGI E.T. This one’s on the list because of my daughter. 1) She gets excited during the Attack of the Clones preview. 2) She recognizes the vintage Star Wars toys when Elliot plays with them onscreen. 3) This is the first time I see her truly emotionally invested in a movie: Silent tears run down her face when >SPOILER ALERT!<E.T. gets sick and dies. And finally, 4) When E.T. is weakening and all white and scaly, she is quietly sobbing and I’ve got a lump in my throat and she says to me in a whisper, “E.T. looks like a Frosted Mini-Wheat.”
Dishonorable bottom of the barrel: 1988(?) – Cocktail (starring Tom Cruise. Yay.) Here’s the deal: Adam and his girlfriend are going on a date to see this, and his girlfriend has a friend who looks like the cute brunette daughter from that TV show “Kate and Allie,” so, being single, I am invited to go along. This is freaking great.
Of course, things go downhill even before we go to the movie, since a heretofore unmentioned Girl Number Three has invited herself along and she’s being unneccessarily cranky about pretty much everything-. Adam and I bring Dave along to even things up, but we can already sense things souring. We get to the theater. Adam sits next to his girlfriend. Cute brunette daughter from “Kate and Allie” look-alike sits next to her. I sit in the next seat. Girl Number Three pitches a fit and threatens to leave if not allowed to sit next to girl I’m supposed to be fixed up with. I spend next two hours between my buddy Dave and bitchy girl. This bites.
Also, I’m watching Cocktail.