Why We Still Love Popcorn Movies

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Why We Still Love Popcorn Movies
It's all about the power of imagination, really.

I bet you can remember begging for just "one more story" before bedtime as a kid. That one last little bit of fantasy before the long and lonely night of slumber. The idea that you're up later than a kid should be, but mom or dad or whomever has decided to bend the rules just a bit, agree to your request, and offer one more story before bedtime. Hopefully one that's long and exciting and scary...

A few years go by and when you hear the word "bedtime!" you immediately protest. It doesn't matter what goofy activity you may be doing; you just want a few more minutes of it. "One more story" turns into "aw, five more minutes?" which eventually (hopefully) becomes "Ooh, can I stay up late to watch ... Jaws 2?" The extra dose of fantasy is what we crave, not the "recommended daily allowance" of fun, gosh darn it. 

And if, by the age of 6 or 7 or 9 or 10, you can call yourself a movie fanatic, it's probably because your craving for "one more story" led you to meet Han Solo or Indiana Jones, E.T. or Starman, Jason Bourne or Captain Jack. These are the films that we carry forever, and they're the ones that lead a person to love, respect, and truly appreciate the magic of movies. If Mad Max 2 didn't grab my 11-year-old self by the throat, then I wouldn't have been interested, five years later, in seeing what sort of weirdness I'd discover in Raising Arizona. The Ferris wheel in Spielberg's 1941 blew my fragile little mind, which gave me a passion for older, smarter, and infinitely more mature movies.

Our earliest movie memories are of King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Independence Day, Batman, Terminator 2, and Jaws because "popcorn" movies are what strike the imagination of the movie fans who are still too young to appreciate all of what cinema has to offer. Popcorn flicks are the gateway drug on the way to full-blown celluloid addiction, and that's why we keep going back. We dip a tentative toe into The Prince of Persia because we want to recapture some of that magical spectacle that flowed so smoothly when we were young, and then we line up for the Clash of the Titans remake because we loved the original and maybe our kids will love the new one, too.

Yes, we (as a nation of bona fide film freaks) often give way too much money to "summertime tentpoles" that are barely worth the trip to the multiplex, and unfortunately we do fully "enable" the production companies to throw out a lot of cheap, lazy junk. but at least our motives are pure: we're not just Pavlovian dogs who wander into the latest piece of allegedly adventurous bombast because we're bored or ignorant or stupid: we're just a bunch of little kids who desperately crave "one more story," and we'll suffer through a lot of mediocre tales if it means we can recapture just a taste of that beautiful giant ape, that horrifying killer shark, or that crazy round boulder that almost flattens our favorite archaeologist.
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p.g.grrrMarch 4, 2011 3:29 AM

I very much like this piece, especially because it acknowledges that a LOT of popcorn movies are really shitty, but the mindset behind attending them isn't necessarily just a sheeplike willingness to eat whatever Hollywood feeds you.

I'm not entirely sure if I agree that that's what motivates all American moviegoers, like the ones who'll gladly go to movies that don't even pretend to promise fantasy, imagination, or an enchanting story. But this is an awesomely humanistic argument, and that's comforting to see.

And it makes me wonder... why aren't more kids being exposed to Raising Arizona? I know I saw (and loved) O Brother Where Art Thou when it came out, and I wasn't yet in my teens. Kudos to the Coens for making a movie kids can enjoy alongside every Fargo or No Country.