How to find the best seat in any movie theater.
Picture this: You’re going on a date and they choose the scary movie that just came out and looks super terrifying in the trailers. You’re not a huge fan of horror flicks, and you’re afraid you will jump out of your seat an embarrassing number of times… But you like them a lot, so scary movie it is. You get to the theatre, late, but in the knick of time right after the previews and before the film begins. You scramble up the steps and settle into your seat in the back row near the corner, trying to figure out how to look brave and hide your sheer terror. The movie starts… A few minutes in, you realize you don’t feel scared at all. The audio seems abnormally quiet and the screen looks pretty small and dull. You and your date are yawning throughout the entire movie, and, to your surprise, you haven’t jumped in fear even once. When it ends, you both are pretty disappointed at how un-scary the movie turned out to be and decide it was just “meh.”
Why did that happen? Well, it’s possible that the theatre you went to was using outdated or poorly-calibrated equipment (in which case, we’ll insert the shameless plug that you should have seen it in a THX Certified Cinema…). But if that wasn’t the issue, you may have been sitting in a seat that just couldn’t quite complement the audiovisual aspects of the movie, which are almost always the most important pieces of immersing moviegoers into the story and influencing their emotions.
You see, where you sit in a cinema auditorium actually has a major impact on your movie-watching experience. And lucky for you, I’m here to tell you how to choose the best seat in a theatre, based on both objective recommendations and your own personal preferences.
Movie theaters come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations, so for this exploration we’ll be thinking about your average, well-designed cinema auditorium. To pick the best seat in the house, we have to consider two main factors of the experience: sound and picture.
I’ll start with visual aspect because it’s fairly simple and based largely on your personal preferences. The obvious: you’ll get the best picture by sitting in the middle of the row. This ensures that the screen size/shape will not be distorted and that you’ll be able to see what’s going on on each side of the image without straining your neck or eyes.
In terms of which row to sit in, or how far “up”/”down” the auditorium you should place yourself, our engineers recommend considering both picture size and comfort, advocating for a roughly 45-degree viewing angle. But since that’s too hard to figure out without bringing your trusty fifth-grade protractor to the theatre with you, our rule of thumb is to sit at a distance where the screen takes up your entire field of vision — no more, no less. We typically go to the movie theatre to get an experience that’s larger than what we have at home, so this ensures you’re maximizing the picture for yourself without being uncomfortably close. According to our cinema experts, this will usually land you about halfway up the auditorium:
Here is where you can tailor your seating position to your personal preferences — if you like the screen to appear larger than life, enjoy being able to look around and side-to-side at the picture, and don’t mind possibly tilting your head up for the duration of the film, then you may want to move closer. If you’ve got sensitive eyes and the brightness of the large screen and having to look around to get the whole picture bothers you, you can move back a few rows to alleviate.
The answer to the best seat in a cinema from an audio perspective is a bit more complicated. It’s also more important for movies in the action/adventure/thriller/drama genres, which typically utilize more ambient sound effects from the surround sound system, and less important for films of the comedy/documentary/romance categories, which are generally less dynamic in terms of audio.
To get the most realistic, balanced audio experience, our experts say you should sit horizontally in the middle of the row, and not too close to the front or back of the auditorium, between halfway and ⅔ of the way back. This area supports the most optimal audio because it’s where the sound designers and mixers are typically sitting in the studio while mixing the film. It also ensures that you’re positioned to capture both the primary audio coming from the front speakers behind the screen, as well as the sound effects coming from the left, right, and rear surrounds in a way that mentally makes sense. After all, a filmmaker’s goal is to make the audience feel like they are inside the movie, so your belief in what is happening in front of and around you is crucial.
Sitting too far toward the back of the room or against the back wall means the speakers that are supposed to sit positionally behind you are now placed against the same wall as you are, and therefore the audio is likely being projected over your head and unable to provide the realism of the situation that the filmmaker intended. If you’re seated too close to the front of the room, it becomes easier to subconsciously identify the source (speaker) of the sounds you’re hearing, making it sound unnatural and possibly resulting in mentally removing you from the story you were just immersed in. The same can be said of sitting too far toward either the left or right of the room, where sound effects and ambient audio may become disorienting and sound “off”. If you’re becoming distractingly aware of where audio is coming from in a theatre, you can’t truly immerse yourself in the movie.
Luckily, you may have noticed that the areas we identified as the most optimal seating for audio and video overlap quite nicely, letting us wrap up our objective seat recommendation for the best audiovisual experience in a neat little bow: the sweet spot is between halfway and ⅔ of the way up the theatre, and right in the middle of the row. Now you’ve got yourself a starting point from which you can adjust your seat location based on your personal preferences!
Experience #movies the way they were meant to be seen and heard in a THX Certified Cinema near you https://www.thx.com/cinema-finder/