The first real movie experience that was authentically mine was watching Jurassic Park at the drive-in. We saw it twice that summer, and it was my favourite movie for years. My family had traditions around going to the movies: we went to the drive-in at least once each summer, and we always went to see a movie together on Christmas Eve after we were all done our shopping for stocking stuffers. I started going to movies on my own (ie. without my parents) at 14, and it became one of my default activities with friends; after all, at the time it was possible to see a movie on the day it was released for $3 at a late-afternoon matinee after school.
Going to the movies has changed a lot over the past two decades, but it's still a vital part of my life - maybe too much, since I'm already at eight trips this year alone (12 Years A Slave, Monuments Men, The Lego Movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Grand Budapest Hotel, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Fault In Our Stars, and Guardians of the Galaxy - a surprisingly solid line-up with several instant favourites) with a few more yet to come - chiefly The Expendables 3 (it's for a friend - mostly) and Interstellar, though there may be a couple others that emerge. At any rate, I thought that this might be a good time to reminisce, reflect, and reconsider some of my favourite movie-going experiences over the past two-plus decades of well over 200 trips to the theater; the best way to do that, of course, is in punchy lists, so here goes. And remember: these lists do not necessarily reflect the best movies, rather the best movies to have seen in theaters.
(Note: I have listed the years of release, not the years in which I saw the movies.)
Most amazing visual experiences: Avatar (2009); Gravity (2013); Inception (2010); Life of Pi (2012); The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Movies I saw twice in main theaters: Inception (2010); The Dark Knight (2008); The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001); The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003); Star Trek (2009); X-Men (2000)
Movies for which I had to buy the soundtracks as soon as possible after watching: Crazy Heart (2009); Godzilla (1998); The Great Gatsby (2013); Guardians of the Galaxy (2014); Juno (2007)
Funniest movies I saw in theaters: Bridesmaids (2011); Hot Fuzz (2007); Pitch Perfect (2012); Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010); The World's End (2013); Zombieland (2009)
Best "Discoveries" (movies for which I had little to no anticipation or frame of reference): Con Air (1997); The Matrix (1999); Pitch Perfect (2012); Serenity (2005)
Best "adventures": The Avengers (2012); Guardians of the Galaxy (2014); The Incredibles (2004); The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001); Star Trek (2009)
Favourite random movie-going happenstances and occurrences:
Enemy of the State (1998): Leaving the theater to see a baby-blue El Camino parked outside.
Nacho Libre (2006): Someone in a packed theatre let out a fart perfectly timed when Nacho clenches his cheeks to sing; I didn't know it wasn't part of the movie until I watched it later at home.Rocky Balboa (2006): Watching Rocky fighting Mason "The Line" Dixon and having to catch myself from standing and cheering.
Starship Troopers (1997): The awkwardness of those two scenes knowing that my parents were in the same theater; it was rated R, I was 14 years old at the time, and we didn't have the convenience of the internet to warn us otherwise ahead of time.
Up in the Air (2009): Experiencing Young MC's cameo beside someone who knows all the words to "Bust A Move".
Worst movies seen in theaters: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012); The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; Prometheus (2012); Spider-Man 3 (2007); Super Mario Bros. (1993)
And, just to make this post truly as authoritative as possible, here are my top picks for the best movies in theaters for each year dating back to 1993, with runners-up listed when appropriate and pithy comments attached to help justify my weaker choices.
2014: Guardians of the Galaxy (Runners-up: The Lego Movie and X-Men: Days of Future Past)
2013: Pacific Rim (Runner-up: Star Trek Into Darkness)
2012: The Avengers
2009: Star Trek
2008: The Dark Knight (Runner-up: Wall-E)
2007: Hot Fuzz
2006: Rocky Balboa (It was a very weak year overall.)
2005: Serenity (Runner-up: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
2004: The Incredibles
2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2002: N/A [I was in the midst of my not-going-to-theaters phase, so the only new movie I saw all year was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and I refuse to count it as the best on principle, even though it technically was.]
2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2000: X-Men (It feels dated now, but it was in a class of its own at the time.)
1999: The Matrix
1998: Armageddon (by default, but it was admittedly awesome viewing at 15 years old.)
1997: Tie: Con Air and Face/Off (the summer of Nicolas Cage)
1996: Star Trek: First Contact (I cannot overstate how amazing this was in theaters, especially for a 13-year-old Trekkie. "The line must be drawn he-ah!") (Runner-up: Dragonheart)
1994: Star Trek: Generations (TNG on the big screen!)
1993: Jurassic Park
And so my discussion (mostly) begins and ends with Jurassic Park, the movie that started it all for me when I was ten years old. It was probably the best such movie to launch such a storied career of movie-going, and I can only imagine that the entire movie-going experience will only continue to get better and better as time goes on; either that, or it will just become completely irrelevant as soon as I have kids, and I will just have to enjoy the one movie I see each year on the big screen whether it's good or not. But for now, I can keep enjoying the theater and adding to my list of great movie-going experiences - maybe as soon as this November with Interstellar.
What are your favourite movie-going experiences? Do you agree with my choices, or do you have other favourites? Let me know in the comments!