One our recent trip to Britain we had the opportunity to go to the cinema twice. Now, usually the first reaction when we say we went to the movies while traveling is that people say that you can do that at home.
We certainly can.
But there were two exceptions this time.
First, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan and the new Hobbit movie opened the day after we arrived in London. As we would be in Britain for over a month, I was not going to wait that whole trip to see what will undoubtedly become a favorite movie of mine (it was a lovely film, if a little long).
Second, a film opened in the UK that will probably not open in the USA until later this year, so it was a great opportunity to see it without waiting and since we lined up a babysitter, it was a chance for Mrs. Anglotopia and I to go on a date. So, we got to see The Railway Man before everyone else – more on that film in another post (it’s an amazing film).
So, how is going to the movies different in the UK? It’s very different and here’s how.
It’s the Cinema, not the Movies
Up first is the linguistic usages. They don’t call them ‘movies’ in the UK – they call them films. They also don’t call it a movie theater, they call it a cinema. So, you go see a film at a cinema. You don’t go see a movie at a movie theater. It’s a minor difference, but a big one when searching for film tickets/directions on Google UK (searching for movie tickets will get you strange results and not what you’re looking for).
Booking Your Seat
While you don’t have to book in advance for your film, it’s advisable to get the best seat and make sure you can get into the popular shows. That said, when you book a ticket, whether it’s online or at the box office, you have to choose your seat. This is the biggest difference between going to the movies in the USA versus going to the movies in the UK. Choosing your seat just makes sense. You get to sit exactly where you want and no one else can take your seat. What’s to stop you from taking someone else’s seat? A very zealous staff that makes sure everyone is in the right seat. I doubt this is a practice they’ll ever adopt in the USA – if they sell assigned seats then they can’t overbook showings and increase their profits.
Two Tiers of Seating
While most of the modern multiplexes in Britain have stadium style seating, they also offer a ‘premium’ option when purchasing your tickets. The ticket costs a few pounds more but you get a larger and comfier seat that has a better view of the screen. It’s one size fits all here in the States.
Sweet or Salty Popcorn
This really threw me for a loop. At the concession stand, the attendant asked me if I wanted my popcorn sweet or salty. What? Sweet popcorn? What is that? No thanks, I’ll take the salty version.
They do not put butter (or the petrochemical concoction US theaters call butter) on their popcorn. I asked and the concession attendant looked at me funny. So, while I had my salty popcorn, it was very dry. Though my arteries thanked me.
Inconsistent Ice in the Drink
When I saw the Hobbit in London at the BFI IMAX, the attendant didn’t put ice in my bucket of soda. When we saw The Railway Man at the Vue Cinema in Bristol, they put ice in the drink. So, when in the UK at the cinema perhaps ask for ice in case you might not get it.
Candy Selection is Completely Different
The Candy on offer at the concession stands is very different. While the concepts of the candy might be the same, the brands and types are all unfamiliar. I wanted gummy bears. I got something called ‘wine gums’ which were close but had interesting flavors. It was fun to try something new.
They Serve Beer
This was also a huge difference. They sold beer at the concession stand. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a multiplex in America that serves beer at the movies. I know there are some artisan theaters that serve alcohol but it’s generally unheard of here. While I don’t drink at all, Mrs. Anglotopia enjoyed beer and nachos, which was a strange and very American combination to find at a UK cinema.
Lots and Lots of Commercials
Multiplexes in the USA often show commercials nowadays, but it’s often during the pre-roll that shows before a movie actually starts. In the UK, you can expect 15-20 minutes of proper commercials before it even gets to the coming attractions trailers. While this would generally be annoying, we had not seen most of the commercials before and some of them were rather clever, so we just sat back and enjoyed the show.
Ratings System is different
The UK does not use the MPAA moving ratings systems – why would they? They have their own system that has more tiers and honestly makes a little more sense. You can see the current ratings system here. The Railway Man had a rating of 15, meaning is was suitable for 15 years and up. In the US, I’m sure the movie will get an R rating because of the violent scenes of torture.
Selection of Films is Different
While big budget movies like The Hobbit opened globally the same day, not all movies get this treatment. Some are delayed based on various factors relating to international rights and local tastes. So, the selection 0f movies on offer while we were in the UK was mixed between movies that opened in the US at the same time and movies that either opened in the US months ago or movies that opened in the UK first (usually UK productions) and would open in the USA later this year. There was also a healthy dose of foreign films on offer (foreign as in not British or American).
So, when you’re in the UK, I would encourage you to look at the movie listings, you may find a gem that’s not won’t be showing in the US for months and you can see it first or you may spot a movie you missed and have a chance to see.
We had a lovely time going to the cinema while we were in Britain and if you have a few hours to spare and are looking for something to do, then you can’t go wrong with taking in a film.
Have you been to the movies in the UK? How was it different for you? Let us know in the comments.