Movie Theatres Should Have Intermissions

Image: Marvel

Movie theatres are a nightmare. They're expensive, they're loud -- but most importantly, I can't start and stop the movie. At home, I rarely make it through a movie without pausing at least once for a snack refill and a bathroom break. That alone makes home rental better than the theatre. One thing would change my mind: Intermissions at the theatre.

In the late 90s, the average movie length passed 120 minutes and it hasn't dipped below that ever since. The movie theatre tries to sell you a large Coke, then asks you to sit motionless for two hours or more. By the end, your back aches, your eyes are tired and you can't appreciate the credits and quietly reflect on what you just saw, because everyone is rushing for the bathroom line.

The problem is so prevalent, there's even an app called RunPee that suggests what scenes you can skip while you duck out and pee. No matter your argument against intermission, you have to admit that "miss part of the movie so you don't wet yourself" is not a pleasant status quo.

Chart by Randy Olson

In previous golden ages of film, when movies got longer, they added intermissions. Epics like Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, and Seven Samurai were broken up -- sometimes in all showings, sometimes just during early screenings -- so they could be hefty without being physically gruelling. But even though three-hour epics are back in style, the intermission is not.

Only a handful of movies have added an intermission in the past two decades. Quentin Tarantino stuck one in the early release of The Hateful Eight, but not in the wide release. It apparently takes a four-hour film like Gods and Generals to earn an intermission.

I'm not the first to suggest a return to intermissions. Slate's culture critic Aisha Harris and screenwriter Nathan Hartman both thoroughly argued for it in 2014; San Francisco Chronicle critic Peter Hartlaub asked for it back in 2010.

As all of these professional movie-goers pointed out, intermissions aren't just good for audiences; they're also good for theatres, which get another round of concession sales. Theatre owners confirmed to Hartlaub that they'd like to have the option of an intermission. But they're not allowed; only the studio can decide whether a movie is shown with a break or not.

Intermissions won't ruin the immersion or story for viewers. They didn't ruin The Sound of Music or 2001: A Space Odyssey. (One critic argues that the intermission in Seven Samurai is an integral part of the story.) They don't ruin live theatre, where intermissions are the norm for any show over 100 minutes.

Unlike constant commercial breaks on TV, which dice a show into frantic bite-size acts, an intermission simply splits a behemoth into two manageable halves. Think of watching back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones or Westworld; HBO wouldn't dream of running one episode right into the other without a minute or two to breathe.

But just adding intermissions at arbitrary points would cause problems. Plays are written with intermissions in mind; so were the epics of yore. So are Bollywood films, which still commonly include an "interval". As film writer Sampada Sharma explains, Bollywood movies are structured in two acts, like live theatre, and unlike Hollywood's typical three-act structure.

Screenwriters and directors would need to plan their story around the intermission. That's a huge ask! But so is demanding everyone sit in the dark for two and a half hours because you refused to cut another scene. And it doesn't mean transforming whole plots; it means tweaking a beat or two, out of a dozen, near the middle of a film.

Imagine the fringe benefits: Constant texters might finally put their damn phones down if they know there's a break coming. Audiences can talk about the first half of the film and prepare for the second. Everyone can stretch their legs so the film doesn't feel like a plane flight. Sure, people might sneak into other movies halfway through, but it's not like they can't do that already. People will need to save their seats -- sure, fine. It all worked in the 60s, and it can all work again.

And maybe, just maybe, all this can add up to more people coming back to theatres, instead of waiting til everything comes to Netflix. Maybe it can convince me to buy my MoviePass and go to the theatre once a month instead of once a year. Maybe it will even convince me to buy popcorn. Intermission can do that thing the industry is desperate for, the thing 3D and IMAX couldn't: make "going to the movies" feel special again. Let's all go to the lobby, to get ourselves a treat.

WATCH MORE: Entertainment News


    And I don' t like sitting in total darkness so that they should allow me to change the ambient light level.

    That would be great. Maybe they could serve meals during that break. Order before hand and the meal should be ready for you when you walk into the eating area. Plus it would give people time to talk about what they've seen so far and where it might be going.

      it seems like it would be a good thing for theatres, as a chance to sell more snacks (that's where their real income comes from).

      They do something similar in some of the Gold Class, though you order the food and it's delivered to your seat in the cinema before the movie starts. I remember seeing Indiana Jones 4 with friends and them all eating nachos.

      As for the intermission idea. I reckon maybe if a movie is around the three hour mark, but two hours? Geez you people have tiny bladders if you can't manage that. Especially considering if it's 120 minutes there are probably 7 minutes of credits you can skip entirely (unless it's Marvel of course). Just make sure you arrive just before the movie starts rather than sitting through 20 minutes of ads and a 120 minute movie :)

        It's got nothing to do with my bladder, i just think it would be nice to have a break in the middle. They could play the ads then while you're eating and not at the very start of the movie.. It would then make it a total experience whereas the way they do it now, i might as well be watching the movie at home..... Which is exactly what i do anyway. If I'm going to the movies, then i want the occasion to be special and not a place just to watch a movie.

    I went and saw Blade Runner 2049 last night. 163 minutes ( after the 10 mins of mandatory ads ). I didn't buy a drink :)

    I would love intermissions to make a comeback. I just watched Blade Runner 2049 and had to conscientiously choose not to buy any snacks or a drink out of fear of needing to use the toilet and missing a part of the film, which is 163 minutes long. So by not having an intermission the theatre lost money from me and my friends. With intermissions being normal again it would be more acceptable to have longer films. BR 2049 didn't feel long at all for the record. I enjoyed every second. But a break in the middle definitely would have been nice.

      I can't remember the last time I ever purchased anything from the snack and drink bar at a cinema anyway. Everything there is ridiculously overpriced and competes with bowling alleys with how expensive it is. An intermission in the middle of a movie wouldn't change that for me, I still wouldn't buy anything.

        Good point. I also think it's more of a problem with modern cinemas because they just don't have the space. If half the people leave the theatre and go back to the foyer at intermission you need more room in the foyer because they're going to "bump into" the people buying tickets for other movies.

        The typical shopping centre multiplex has like 6 seats and bugger all room for people to mill about. The classic cinemas I remember as a kid had many more seats in the foyer and at least a couple of them had a foyer separate to the ticket buying area and also separate from the "queuing area" where you'd wait to go into the actual theatre. If you had more cinemas like that I could see the idea being popular.

    Wow. The first paragraph makes you sound like you’re 70. Couldn’t bare to read the rest. Intermissions would infuriate me. Are you also the kind of person that likes ads in shows as it gives you time to do stuff?

      Commenting without reading the article makes you sound like you're 12.

    No way, they absolutely should not. Stopping half way through would ruin the movie going experience!

    I’m really old, I remember seeing Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang in the cinema and the car with the family goes over a cliff into the intermission. (spoiler: the car flies).
    It was a real cliff-hanger.
    I recall the newspaper complaining that the car going over the cliff was traumatic for children.

    Last edited 15/10/17 10:35 pm

    I didn't go to watch the new blade runner and an intermission would have changed my mind. I grew up in the 90s and pretty much every movie had one and we always went out and bought more snacks and drinks.

      Curious to know where you grew up. I watched a lot of movies in the 90s and I'm sure not a single one had an intermission.

    I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder".

    If you can't go 3 hours without a pee though, and you are reasonably fit and healthy, you should see an incontinence nurse or doctor.
    Unless you are seriously over-hydrated, you really should be able to go 5 hours without much effort.
    Bladder training is important if you want to avoid incontinence as you get older.

      It's hard if you buy a big cold beverage to enjoy, and there is nothing wrong with that. If I'm paying to see a movie, I don't want to have to worry about how much longer till I can hit the bathroom.

        Two other solutions for this;

        1. Ration your drinking, make it last the whole movie. Don't drink the whole litre of coke in the first 10 minutes. That way it'll take longer for your bladder to fill.

        2. Drink it all in the first ten minutes but don't throw away the cup cos you're going to reuse it...

    An intermission with cheaper munchies would be good.
    Instead of buying jaffas with supposed gold flakes inside them!
    And add some actual theatre to the experience, maybe the staff could do some cosplay or something

      I don't see the point of cosplay and other frippery for a regular showing, but I miss the all night marathons they used to do fairly regularly. Bring them back and use them as a chance to cosplay. They could easily do a theme night every month or two (or when big releases are coming). eg:

      Do a Star Wars marathon before the next movie releases. Get all the fans to it and dressing up.

      Substitute Star Wars with any popular cosplayable franchise (Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Marvel, DC, etc).

        Sounds like a lot of fun
        Any cinema owners out there this is a great way to up your sales !

    Just wait til it becomes available on an in-home medium, then you can watch it as slowly as you like. Also, you can watch it in your underpants, which is the biggest bonus of all.

    When I watched Guardians of the Galaxy in Istanbul a couple of years ago I was shocked when the movie stopped halfway through... But also relieved because I needed to pee and I was hungry. We all went out and did our thing then made our way back. It was the best thing ever! :D

    Well some long movies do have intermission, it's just a very long one - Twilight, Deathly Hallows etc.

    I remember having an intermission in Star Was episode 1 Phantom Menace when it first played in cinemas.

      No that was a seizure caused by brain damage from seeing it

    Hell no! That would kill the story flow and immersion. i dont pay 15 bucks per ticket (usually 4 of them for my family) just to wait for you to pee or smoke. Worst idea ever, and yes, i’m including the idea of an orange president in that statement

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