Terrifying and Beautiful: My All-Time Great Movie Going Experiences

David Deal
4 min readMar 8, 2024

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The runaway success of Dune: Part Two reminds us of the thrill of going to see movies in theaters. (And no, I don’t need Nicole Kidman to remind me of this happy reality.) People are viewing the movie at all hours of the night and early morning in sold-out screenings. I am also reminded of my all-time favorite movie-going experiences in theaters — moments that could not have happened when you stream a movie at home. Here are just a few among many:

🎥 Patton. My mom took me to this movie when I was a kid. (She had incredibly progressive tastes.) That opening scene when George C. Scott stands before the massive American flag and utters a lengthy monolog about warfare immersed me in another world. I was hooked on movies for life.

🎥 Night of the Living Dead. My parents dropped my brother and me off at the Battle Creek civic center and left us there for a Saturday afternoon. They had no idea how terrifying this movie was. We sat in the dark holding on to each other, horrified by the onslaught of zombies. The fact that we were in a theater far from the security of home heightened the level of fear. My brother and I still talk about this decades later.

🎥 Jaws. Apparently, my parents did not learn the lesson about traumatizing me with Night of the Living Dead because when Jaws was released, they took me to the big screen for another memorable night of jumping under my seat in fear. Jaws introduced me to the experience of shared terror. The audience gasping and screaming when the shark menaced Amity made the movie 100 times scarier. I was a member of a swim team at the time. I wanted to quit afterward.

🎥 Apocalypse Now. I am positive this movie hypnotized me. Hearing Jim Morrison sing the words to “The End” as a jungle was slowly engulfed in flames made me understand the essence of the Doors. I was not the only one. This film helped spark a Doors revival.

🎥 The Road Warrior. I’m here to tell you there is no better way to watch a post-apocalyptic action film featuring a V8 Interceptor than in a drive-in with your brother. Who cares if the in-car speakers were lame? It was the drive-in car culture that mattered.

🎥 Easy Rider. I walked more than a mile from the SMU campus to a midnight showing of Easy Rider at Highland Park Village in Dallas. When I arrived, the theater was packed with bikers from all over Dallas dressed in denim and leather clustered in small groups. We said not a word to each other, but I felt like I was at home. When Jack Nicholson said, “Oh they’re not scared of you, they’re scared of what you represent to them,” I felt him speaking directly to all of us as we experienced a quiet communion. I wrote more fully about that night in Outcasts and Easy Riders.

🎥 Stop Making Sense. I was having a hard time in college. I went to see this by myself to distract myself from my worries. Theater goers danced in the aisles to the Talking Heads, myself included. I was alone, but I felt like a part of something happy.

🎥 Schindler’s List. As the credits rolled and the house lights came on, no one moved. Not a single soul. All of us in the packed theater just sat there silently for a few minutes. Stunned.

🎥 Pulp Fiction. I vividly remember a packed house of movie goers alternatively gasping and laughing nervously at the rapid shifts in tone and the explosive violence. Strangers turned to each other as if to seek silent permission to laugh during the most graphically violent scenes. Tarantino had us wrapped around his finger.

🎥 Lawrence of Arabia. I saw this on the big screen during a late 1980s revival, with an overture and intermission. I was taken back to my childhood of being overwhelmed by Patton. The rousing cheers of the audience added to the grand sweep of the movie. I could feel the heat of David Lean’s desert. I connected personally with Peter O’Toole’s interpretation of T.E. Lawrence. I felt like I was being reintroduced to a version of me.

🎥 Barbie. Oh, the joy of seeing women from multiple generations dressed in pink laughing, hugging each other, and dancing! I did not need to see the box office numbers to know that this movie had created a deep emotional connection.

How about you? What are your favorite experiences watching movies in theaters?

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