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All your burning movie theater questions, answered

Stock photo of theater goers at a 3-D

Stock photo of theater goers at a 3-D movie. (Dec. 17, 2011) Photo Credit: Jani Bryson

Thanksgiving week is one of the biggest moviegoing times of the year, which means you may be spending a lot of time in a theater. While you're standing in line or waiting for the movie to start, you may have some questions about your surroundings. Here, just in case you were wondering, are some answers about the modern moviegoing experience.

What exactly is in the butter flavoring?

This appears to be a sensitive subject: Of the three major chains we contacted, two never got back to us and one cited a policy against participating in popcorn-related stories. Nevertheless, Larry Dressler, president of Rhode Island-based Edible Food Group, freely told us that his popcorn topping, Drizzels, contains soybean oil, the coloring betakeratine, the spices turmeric and annatto, and a preservative to lengthen shelf life. One tablespoon of Drizzels contains 14 grams of fat and 130 calories, but no carbohydrates, cholesterol or sodium. His recommended usage: "It's a preference, but I think two or three squirts usually seems good."

What happened to the opening credits?

If you're old enough, you might remember when movies always had them. At their best, the opening credits were works of art, like Saul Bass' dynamic sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest." Over the years, though, opening credits have virtually disappeared, perhaps due to dwindling attention spans and an increase in high-energy blockbusters, which usually start fast and loud. One ongoing exception: the iconic "gun barrel" credits in every James Bond movie since 1962's "Dr. No."

What happens to all those lobby displays and posters?

Life-size cutouts of Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger used to be valuable, says Phil Solomon, owner of PJ Cinemas in Port Jefferson, but promotional materials are now produced in such large quantities that they're not worth as much. Theaters aren't allowed to sell them, he says, so if you want that poster of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," try making an inquiry. "I just give everything away to my staff or their kids or the people who ask for it," says Solomon.

How late can I show up for a movie without missing anything?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, many theaters screen up to 20 minutes of previews before the movie begins. But be warned: You're taking a risk. There's no agreed-upon standard across the industry, and it's often the distribution companies, not the venues, that decide what to screen before a given movie. And what if you're heading to the rare theater that runs its previews before the listed start time? Generally, it's best to be prompt.

What are theaters doing about people who talk or text during the movie?

Some chains, like Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, have instituted strict no talking and texting policies. "If you talk or text, we'll give you one warning. Do it again, and we'll kick you out without a refund," says Alamo founder and CEO Tim League. "We probably put out more than 100 people a year for texting." (Alamo has no theaters on Long Island, alas.)

In October, it was reported that the AMC and Regal Cinemas chains had considered setting up special sections where texters can all sit together, an idea League is opposed to. "You can't multitask a movie," he says.

Who gets to use the armrest?

You shouldn't have to arm wrestle the person sitting next to you for the armrest. "It's similar to airplane etiquette," says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, director of the Etiquette School of New York. "If the last person on each row were to take the left armrest, then everyone would have an armrest."

And if you're sitting next to a friend of significant other, there's no reason you can't just share an armrest, she says.

Where do those trivia questions, word puzzles and advertisements come from?

Screenvision, a New York City-based company that specializes in cinema advertising, supplies those "Wheel of Fortune"-like puzzles and local ads that pop up before the trailers at many theaters like Elwood Cinemas in East Northport. "We have our local merchants contact Screenvision for the ads," says manager Nancy Montero.

How long does it take to clean the theater?

Cleanup time is usually about 10 minutes, Montero says. At Elwood Cinemas, all of the debris gets blown to the front of the theater, where it gets swept up or vacuumed. Cleaning solutions are used for removing soda stains, and if the seat is still wet before the next show, it's covered up.

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Have any more questions about the moviegoing experience? Email us, put "reel questions" in the subject line, and we may run the answer in a future story. Send your questions to

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