Hold Your Applause: The Case For and Against Clapping in a Cinema

Travis McClain

Bats: R, Throws: R. How Acquired: Traded for a player to be named later. I hold a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Louisville, earned in history. I have lived with Crohn's disease since 2005, and chronic depression since my youth. I bring into each film that I view a world view shaped by those and other parts of my background. I try to be mindful of the socio-political themes and implications of movies, intended or otherwise, and that surely shows in my blog pieces. I also love doughnuts.

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5 Responses

  1. nathanchase says:

    I believe it’s all about the constitution of the audience. At a packed, standing-room-only screening of a blockbuster, or a hilarious comedy, or a midnight showing of a cult classic, applause is welcome and usually expected. They’re usually paired with hoots and hollars. It’s all part of just making some sort of audible indication that you’re excited or enjoy the moment.

    Seeing a drama at a matinee with 11 other people in the theater seldom produces the same environment to where applause is appropriate.

    Honestly, I’ve seen more people applaud trailers or commercials before the movie than during the movie itself.

    • What I find interesting, Nathan, and I should have thought to include this, is that the pro-applause people generally made those distinctions but the anti-applause people did not.  That is, those who found it acceptable to applaud did so based on the nature of the screening but those who were against it were nearly universally against it.  Does this suggest that the anti-applause crowd is less likely to attend the kind of showings that the pro-applause people find appropriate for applause?  I wish I knew someone majoring in psychology who would know best how to continue exploring this topic!

  2. Hannah M says:

    I’m part of the pro-applauding crowd. Not that I always do, but that I kind of like when people do. I’m much more likely applaud when I watch movies alone because, as you said, I don’t clap for others as much as I do for myself. It’s an expression of how I feel toward the movie, much like laughing out loud or gasping or (as I also do when I’m watching on my own) talking to the movie characters. The fact that the movie participants aren’t here to hear me laughing doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

    I also know, however, that sometimes people applaud at weird moments, and that can be distracting. So I try to be considerate about that and not applaud during the movie, only at the end if I think it deserved it. I’m delighted when I do find myself in a movie where people are open to applause, though – it’s like watching a comedy and being told I’m allowed to laugh whenever I want now.

  3. Ronnie Ashley says:

    I’m all about audience participation if the movie is worthy of it. One of my favorite movie experiences of all time arose from the least likely of places: I went to watch “The Mist” with my brother-in-law and found myself getting pulled into the characters and feeling their emotions played out throughout the film. I remember one specific key moment (among others of oohs, aahs, and gasps) in that movie where everyone in the audience burst out in applause (and cheers even) and it was amazing that we all seemed to be thinking and feeling the same thing. The group participation seemed to augment the viewing experience to make the movie rise above what might have otherwise seemed like a fairly mediocre film.

    I was curious afterword wondering if it was just a one-off, and that any other audience may not have the right mix of people to lead to the same result. I tested the idea by going for a second viewing of “The Mist” and it was amazing that it was almost identical to the first in that the audience clearly reacted as a single entity, feeding into its own emotions that were being manipulated through the silver screen.

    So I say yes to clapping. Yes to cheering. Yes to participating actively in a film (within reason and without causing widespread disruption of course), ESPECIALLY when it’s a group effort.

    But you had me at that awesome .gif at the beginning of the column ;o)

  4. Tory says:

    I’m pro-clapping. I can’t remember the last time I clapped, but I’m more than okay with others doing it. I’ve never thought for a second that the people who applaud were applauding a movie that couldn’t appreciate it or an actor or director who wasn’t there. I think the applause is just an audience saying to each other, “Wasn’t that an awesome fucking movie? Wasn’t that a blast?” They’re applauding the experience. They had fun and they want to share that fun. 

    I remember seeing The Lost World: JP when I was a little kid, and the army base audience I saw it with erupted into applause when that one guy got eaten. They hated him together and they experienced what they had found to be a joyous moment together. And when I went to see The Dark Knight, there was applause as the credits started to roll. As Ronnie said, it’s an audience thinking and feeling the same thing at the same time. They’re just having fun. Where’s the harm in that? 

    But as Nathan said, it’s about the kind of movie you’re seeing and the type of audience it draws. If I go see The Debt next week and it turns out to be a great film, I’d be surprised to hear any clapping. But yeah, I’m definitely pro-clapping, as long it isn’t disruptive.