But there's a reason movie theaters stay in business, after all. Sometimes seeing something on the big screen or with a group makes it much more of an experience than just popping a DVD in. Sometimes it's the enhanced picture or sound that makes it that much more memorable. And sometimes there's something about seeing a movie for the first time with dozens or hundreds of other people that just seems to heighten its quality. That was the case when I saw...
10. The Dark Knight (2008)
This was probably the first movie I saw in the theater with a villain who genuinely made you uneasy. Part of The Dark Knight's success was no doubt due to Heath Ledger's untimely death shortly before the movie's release, but it's likely that he would have received rave reviews for his role as the Joker in any case. As I've mentioned, sometimes you go to a movie and people laugh at inappropriate times. In this case, you could measure the feelings of the crowd by the dead silence at most scenes and uneasy chuckles at the Joker's black humor. An entire group of people found the "pencil trick" funny, but you could tell they didn't want to sympathize with its perpetrator.
9. Forrest Gump (1994)
I would have been about 10 years old when I saw this with my parents, so I couldn't quite appreciate the historical layering appearing throughout. I guess I knew a bit about JFK and Vietnam, but it wasn't until later that I could appreciate scenes such as Forrest inadvertently kicking off the Watergate scandal. Still, the strength of the movie is more in the story. This was probably one of the first (if not the first) movie I went to with my family that wasn't in the G or PG category, and I was completely fascinated.
8. Borat (2006)
This is one of those odd things that was really popular and well-reviewed when it came out and then collapsed under its own success. After awhile, everyone got annoyed at the scads of people who thought their Borat impression was just tops or that going as Borat to the Halloween party was clever and original. But when you saw this in the theater, you didn't know about any of that and just knew this was supposed to be a funny movie. And seeing a comedy in the theater is generally a better experience since you're sharing a laugh with so many people.
7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) / Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
Well these ones came out a little too early for me to see on their debut, but I still saw them on the big screen. I was at a writing program at a small college, and part of the entertainment included in the six weeks was the showing of a few movies. One evening was Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (the latter of which was unfortunately a bit of a letdown after the first; Life of Brian may have been the better choice). This was my first introduction to Monty Python, and the kind of humor was right up my alley. Even if the other people in the program who decided to take in this double feature were so well-acquainted with the film that they knew every line, they were still laughing uproariously. It was one hell of a way to first see the bizarre classic.
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I can't remember exactly where I saw this movie. I just remember that the opening scene of the D-Day invasion was already getting a lot of discussion when I saw the film with my family not too long after it opened. You knew it was going to be violent and brutal and difficult to watch, but it was still a shock when the first wave of soldiers prepared to storm the beach and was immediately cut down by gunfire. The whole sequence was so disheartening that when the first German was finally taken out someone gave a spontaneous cheer. Saving Private Ryan is often cited as the movie that reminded people that war isn't a pretty thing, and the sensory experience of watching it on the big screen drove the point home.
5. Contact (1997)
Although flawed in a few respects, the most memorable parts of Contact were also the scenes that were incredible when seen in the theater. First there was the unexpected silence of the title screen, followed by the zoom out from Earth that gave perspective to just how small a place in the universe we really occupy. The jarring flight of the transportation device to Vega through a series of wormholes was also a visual tour de force, frightening and exhilarating at the same time.
4. 50/50 (2011)
This one sticks out for a number of reasons. For one thing, it was the first full-length movie I saw it in New London's Garde Arts Center, a historic theater with perks such as balcony seating and beer sales (both of which I took advantage of in seeing 50/50). And since the humor of comedies tends to be heightened when you see it with a group, the quick pace and wit of 50/50 got quite a few laughs. And considering the emotional power of the film later on, it's the first I'd been to with the opposite effect. Namely that one powerful scene made it clear that a lot of people were weeping.
3. The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Given that The Simpsons had already overstayed their television welcome by several years by the time this came out, I was a little skeptical about how this would turn out. The show was nowhere near the quality of the older episodes that won it a following, so there was plenty of concern that that the movie was going to be just as disappointing. But since work on the movie dated back to that golden age, the movie was something of a callback to that period. And watching it with a room full of Simpsons fans reminded me of old get-togethers with friends, helplessly laughing at the antics of America's favorite family.
2. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
I started reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy after seeing the first Peter Jackson film adaptation and was impressed to find how much of the book he'd fit onto the screen. And a little worried that he covered so little of the second book in the follow-up. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the conclusion was arguably the best of the lot, with the final confrontation between good and evil about as flawless as it could be. And as always, such epic showdowns are that much better on the big screen.
1. The Avengers (2012)
Well what can you say about this? Plenty of movies expect viewers to have seen a film or two as groundwork for the latest picture, but with five prior pictures this was a pretty audacious undertaking. This was the first movie I went to see at a midnight premiere, joining a couple of friends who are more steeped in comic book culture. The excitement at the premiere was palpable, all the more so because just about every review coming in said The Avengers wasn't going to disappoint. It's safe to say that if you saw this at the first opportunity, you weren't just taking in a good movie in a crowded theater; you were laughing, cheering, applauding, and having a hell of a lot of fun.