The first movie I remember seeing alone was “American Hustle.” It was the day after my seventeenth birthday, and I’d been planning it for weeks — carefully going through release dates and Rotten Tomatoes scores to pick the perfect R-rated film I could legally see alone, without relying on my parents or anyone else.
Humanity is divided into two groups: people who enjoy seeing movies alone, and people who don’t. I’m firmly in the former camp, but I know many who wouldn’t be caught dead at the cinema if they’re not on a date or with a friend. Movie going is seen as an inherently social act, even though it involves sitting quietly in a dark room for two hours.
It’s special to see a great film with a group of friends, but it’s also great to experience a great work of art on your own. Watching your new favorite movie in a room full of strangers means it gets to be just yours, if only for a little while.
But not every solo theater trip has to be a revelation. Sometimes it’s just fun to do.
Why don’t we like doing things alone?
It’s not just movie theaters — we tend to not like doing anything in public by ourselves.
"I think people at all times are always very worried of what everyone thinks of them, like that's human nature, and I think that's kind of an undercurrent with everything we do, but especially things that are seen as social activities,” says Hayley Scheuneman, a beauty and culture writer at The Cut. “I think, too, like in pop culture, a movie is portrayed as a great date idea or you go out to the movies with your friends.”
A 2015 article published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that consumers often feel “inhibited from engaging in hedonic activities alone, especially when these activities are observable by others.” Authors Rebecca Ratner and Rebecca Hamilton conducted experiments in which they surveyed participants about activities they preferred to do alone versus in groups, and why. They found that fear of judgment is a major reason why people avoid solo excursions.
“The more you do things yourself the more you realize that like nobody really cares what you're doing because everyone's self-obsessed,” Schueneman said. “It’s like this weird cycle of everyone being obsessed with themselves and thinking people are always looking at them, but no one is because everyone's thinking about themselves.”
Why should I go alone?
Planning a solo trip to the cinema means there’s no one else to make you late or stand in line for snacks you don’t want. You can sit wherever you want. You don’t have to laugh at things you don’t think are funny or put on a brave face at a horror movie. You can just sit back and stare forward.
MacKenzie Koester is a graduate student studying public health at KU Med. When she goes to the movies, it’s usually alone.
“Sometimes not a lot of my friends or family like to go as often as I do, so I'm kind of forced to go alone,” she said. “It's a time I can unwind, and I can just focus on the movie itself, nothing else.”
Defining yourself as an unaccompanied theater customer also means you have more freedom in what you want to see. Embarrassed by how much you love romantic comedies starring Drew Barrymore Go to a late-night showing on a weeknight to ensure you have the theater to yourself. Your boyfriend doesn’t want to see the weird, new arthouse film about hallucinating French dancers? No biggie. Ditch him.