Food Biz

Is It Ever Okay to Sneak Food into a Movie Theater?

January 31, 2017

On Saturday, the New York Post reported on a particularly alarming clampdown on patrons trying to smuggle outside food into the theater. Early last week, ticket-takers working the Cinépolis in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea began rummaging through customers’ bags, flashlights in tow, looking for any traces of food that wasn't sold at the theater's concession stands.

The details are grisly: “A guard busted one woman and banished her to a drab corner seating area to forbidden food before a matinee,” one anecdote reads. The theater’s professed justification for this forced searching was founded in their fear that these bags may have been concealing weapons. Still, affected patrons quoted in the story were furious at what they perceived as an unnecessarily dramatic form of public shaming, all for some harmless civil disobedience.

Is it ever okay to sneak food into a movie theater? A pressing, urgent question. Always timely. Exactly how to smuggle food into movie theaters is the stuff of Wikihow entries. There's a set of rules one should obey when partaking in this. Be sly with your clothing, most well-versed in movie theater food smuggling instruct, so that it obscures the presence of an alien foodstuff. Be stealthy around ushers. Contort your body accordingly.

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There’s also a certain, unspoken etiquette to how you should conduct yourself with once you successfully smuggle the food in question into a theater: Don’t chew too loudly. Don’t bring a five-course meal. Throw your trash out. Basic behavior.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“If you object to the high prices, can't you go 2 hours without snacking?”
— catalinalacruz

To me, the origins of this small, radical gesture of rebellion are a way of sticking it to the man. The price of food in movie theaters tends to be unconscionably, irrationally expensive. Let’s take a look at the prices of Cinépolis foods. A large popcorn is $8.25. A large soda is $5.25. Candy is $4.25. There’s a reason for these exorbitant prices that has its roots in the Great Depression, when theaters, in desperate need of economic bounty, made concession stands a vital source of revenue for their businesses.

Is this historical precedent enough to justify these wildly high prices? And should these prices obstruct anyone who wants to experience the particular pleasures of eating food while eating foods they love? I come down firmly on the "no" side. Making concession stands more affordable is a problem that there doesn’t seem to be a ton of interest in solving. While we wait for that to happen, my suggestion is to smuggle away. Boys, put some macaroons in your murse; ladies, stick some Funyuns in your Fjallraven. If the rules don’t change, break them until they do.

Where do you come down on this debate—is it ever okay to sneak food into a movie theater? Let us know in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • catalinalacruz
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


catalinalacruz January 14, 2023
If you object to the high prices, can't you go 2 hours without snacking?
Bevi January 13, 2023
The candy in the movie concessions are chemical feasts. Most certainly if there is a complaint from staff, and you have a child with allergies you can make a case for bringing your own treats. If you are a vegetarian you can as well. Or a vegan, or a person who doesn't want to eat junk food.
Panfusine January 13, 2023
The offerings at the concession stands are of the lowest quality and I'm NOT talking about the candy etc.. its one thing to pay for the value a food item commands, but to be ripped off for garbage.. Yes, even that swill can be an occasional treat, but certainly not going to shame those that bring their own food. I'd much rather have familiar ingredients to safeguard my health than to pay exorbitantly for low quality additive laden crap.
Nancy M. January 11, 2023
I don't think this is even one bit funny. Theaters are a business and need to make money. If I think eggs are too expensive at the grocery store should I shoplift them? How about if I dine and dash at a restaurant if I think the food is too expensive? smh
sophia_vermont January 10, 2023
I sneak snacks into the movie theater all of the time with my family! My brother is a picky eater so he doesn't like most food/candy or snacks so we have to sneak are own in I have my own preferences that are much more healthy than what movie theaters have. I am currently looking at your article for a school essay your writing is really good btw! Have a lovely day/night!
Diego January 25, 2023
Im using this for a school essay too
Scarlett February 19, 2019
I’m writing an essay in class on wether or not we should be able to sneak food into the movies and I wanted to add more reasons on why we should be able to bring them also there are a more variety of snack that you can choose from like for example your allergic to something and the food that serve is all junk food that way you can make better choices and enjoy yourself and the movie
Alexis L. January 26, 2019
I sneak food in the movie theater with my mom all the time! As we speak i am smuggling jearsey mikes subs and some tea in the movie theater!😀
Mike B. February 23, 2018
A theater owner once explained to me upon my request for answer to this very question. When a new movie opens, the theater is contractually obligated to pay the Studio who produced it close to 100% of ticket sales. The 5 decreases to 85-90% for the second week and generally becomes very low thereafter. And, studios insist on many A/V upgrades and standards be maintained to ensure sound and picture quality.
Not to excuse the gouging, but there is a reason, as it were.
gabby N. May 21, 2018
Kady B. February 21, 2018
When I haven't had dinner and the theater sells nothing that I could make a decent meal of, I think it's totally legit to smuggle in food. And water? I should be able to bring in a water bottle.
Alana K. February 21, 2018
I pay for grandkids' snacks but have been known to bring in my own bottle of water
lola P. February 14, 2018
wasssup guys
crc532 February 5, 2018
I have high cholesterol and the stuff they put on movie theater popcorn is so bad for you. My husband will not let me buy movie theater popcorn, so I bring my own. I buy other stuff, but not the popcorn and I LOVE popcorn. So, I frequent theaters, but not the concession that much. If they want me to buy their popcorn, they should stop making a healthy snack, unhealthy.
RanchoGordo February 4, 2018
Snuggling burritos into the theater is a San Fransisco tradition.
Krystyna G. February 4, 2018
Absolutely Yes. The prices are high enough, many of the theatres are far from hygenic.
A 'fare' price would not be challenged.
BTW it is only this past year that I have 'broken the rules' when a trip to our local theatre for 2 adults with some ice cream and two drinks cost us almost $50 inc admission!
Virginia P. February 4, 2018
A lot of the food the movie theaters sell is unhealthy. We have gone to a small indie theater in our area and bought food-but the choices include good cookies from a local bakery, good teas and coffee-as well as the usual candy and popcorn.
Matt February 4, 2018
You can afford a Fjalraven but can't afford funyuns…?
mewtude December 15, 2017
i allways sneak food
mewtude December 15, 2017
mewtude December 15, 2017
mewtude December 15, 2017
Giovana S. December 1, 2017
I refuse to buy stuff at concessions... I just can't afford it.
I make my shopping at the Dollar Store beforehand.
How dare theaters try to stop people from carrying/eating something they bought and paid for? Ridiculous.
Mary E. September 2, 2017
I've found one theater chain to have more reasonable priced concessions that the other. If I go to the theater where the concessions are more expensive I usually don't indulge. At the other theater I will get popcorn and soda. I don't consider theaters a place for dinner. I wouldn't order food at a movie.