Back in the day, watching a movie at home required us to pry off our bunny slippers and go to the video store. Once movies came directly to us (via mailed DVDs and, soon after, speedy internet connections), all we had to do was zap a bag of microwave popcorn. By the time we got on-demand streaming, 75 percent of Americans said they’d rather watch films at home than in the theater.
To coax movie lovers off the couch, theaters have spent the past decade adding luxe upgrades and amenities. They offer a premium viewing experience — 4K laser systems project razor-sharp images and vivid colors onto jumbo screens; immersive sound creates a 3-D audio experience — paired with the comforts of home, including cushy, king-size recliners, full food and beverage menus and, at some avant-garde venues, dog-friendly screenings.
Moviegoers also have contributed to the homelike comfort — by bringing their own blankets.
“Watching movies at home, people tend to ‘nest’ in a chair or couch, with a blanket,” said Jim Nowicki, marketing director for Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres, which runs the ShowPlace Icon in St. Louis Park. “They want to create the warm, comfortable feeling of home at the theater.”
Blanket bringing is something of a sleeper trend, said Mike Wedel, the general manager of Emagine Willow Creek movie theater in Plymouth. Although it’s been building for years, it dovetails nicely with the arrival of the plush recliners that have quickly become the industry standard.
Mary Pukit Morrow’s family of five, including exchange student Liva Engere, all brought blankets to a recent screening of “Crazy Rich Asians” at Willow Creek to ward off the air-conditioned chill.
“It feels like you’re at home,” Engere said of the recliner-blanket combo. She also noted the blankets’ additional utility as a snack saver: “If popcorn falls onto the blanket, you can still eat it.”
Taking the cue from its guests, Emagine theaters even started selling their own branded fleece blankets three years ago.
“It’s funny that it took so long to think of it,” Wedel said.
A warm embrace
Melissa Boudreau, head of marketing for Emagine, says its blankets are nicer than the ones provided by airlines. And they’re sold for $5 — less than the price of a large popcorn — to facilitate impulse purchases. Most people keep the blankets and bring them to the theater on repeat visits, she said. Any left behind are donated to newborns in need through the Minnesota charity Bundles of Love.
The blanket bringers represent all demographics, but young women, particularly teenagers and those of college age, are the most devoted. Blankets are most often seen at films geared toward young people — this summer’s “Incredibles 2” drew the most BYO blankets and blanket sales, Boudreau said — as well as late-night weekend showings, or back-to-back screening of an entire film franchise.
Boudreau said blankets are more popular in summer, because people dressed for 80-degree outdoor temps will be cold in the air-conditioned theater. (A 2015 Dutch study showed that women prefer temperatures 4.5 degrees warmer than men, likely due to the variation in metabolic rates between the sexes, which would explain the blanket’s female skew.)
Personalized climate control is among the next frontiers in movie theater comfort. Emagine’s just remodeled White Bear Lake location features heated recliners with individual controls, which are also being installed in Monticello and East Bethel. Still, Minnesota theaters fall behind the Japanese when it comes to premium seating, where at least one theater has installed cozy sofa booths that come with pillows, blankets and personal heaters.
Are blankets a fuzzy slope?
As motion pictures became less of a novelty, theaters’ red-velvet curtains and tuxedo-clad ushers went the way of seat-side ashtrays. While some patrons still see a night at the movies as an occasion to dress up, most favor the casual clothing that’s infiltrated so many other once formal spheres, from fine-dining restaurants to churches.
Blanket bringers have been known to wear pajamas, theater employees say. “We’ve seen people show up in slippers before,” Willow Creek’s Wedel added.
Are blankets a fuzzy slope to treating the theater a little too much like home? Once they’re swaddled in fabric, what’s to stop moviegoers from plugging in the crock pot or popping in a retainer?
Those in the industry say that, while most theatergoers are respectful, those taking a too casual approach predate the blanket bringers. People bring weights to the theater and pump iron. They sneak in whole watermelons and boxed wine, or cold SpaghettiOs, which are presumably eaten straight from the can. And when the credits roll, they leave behind everything from empty liquor bottles to lacy underwear.
“We have cameras in our theaters, and you won’t believe the things we’ve seen,” Boudreau said with a laugh, and noted that inappropriate behavior happens without any attempt to conceal it. “They will still find a way to do it with or without a blanket.”
Relatively speaking, blankets are among the tamest things theatergoers bring with them.
Nowicki, of Kerasotes ShowPlace, said a guest once brought a small monkey — an emotional support animal — along to the theater. There was also a group that brought a fully dressed mannequin along to watch a movie.
“Now, it was ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ ” he said, “so I’m not sure that constitutes unusual.”