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In Defense of Popcorn…


Not cool. Seriously not cool.

The chairperson of Sony, Michael Lynton, has come out urging cinemas to start sideline popcorn and soft drinks in favour of healthy alternatives. Perhaps its an indication of the crazy politically correct world we live in, or maybe it’s a depressing sign of how little he knows about the movie-going experience, but I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say “No more!” Yes – if movies taught me one thing, it’s rhetoric. And the joys of popcorn.

Pop quiz, hot shot... is there a kernel of truth in these rumours? Okay, I'll stop.

Cinemas like popcorn. They like popcorn for several reasons. I’m going to try the impossible and argue that these are reasons we should all like popcorn, instead of jumping on the band wagon and asking for fruit salad and prune juice and so on.

Reason One: Cinemas like popcorn because it is salty

They like it because only a person with a lot of self-hate would ever buy a large popcorn without an accompanying drink, however small. It’s a money spinner. That’s the way it works. You pour salt or even butter on top and that sucka will dry any given patron’s mouth in a matter of minutes.

How is that good for me? I hear you ask, concerned reader – and I’m glad you did, because I needed a bridge. Cinemas are dirty places. Really, they are. You sit there in the dark and – unless you’ve really made a bad choice – you should be watching the screen and not your mouth or your food. There is spillage. It’s inevitable – if not from you then from someone else. It’ll end up on the floor, in the seat on the handrest – pretty much everywhere.

It’s impossible to enter a screening without seeing bits of popcorn anywhere. And popcorn is easy to clean. You sweep it and it moves with you – there’s no elbow grease or stickage involved. But still the cinema staff can’t get all of it – it’s impossible with the turn over that these screens have. They do the best they can, but it isn’t enough.

I note this because little pieces of popcorn actually aren’t so bad. If you sit on a kernel, there’s no problem. You can brush it away with your hand without having to go to the bath room to wash juice off. On the other hand, fruit is sticky. It contains sap and moisture. As you sit on an uneaten grape, it bursts. That apple core stains. And that orange smells pretty damn strong. Liquid means more stickiness. It’s a recurring joke that cinema floors are sticky now – imagine what they’ll be like if we make the food sticky. And, of course, it’s tougher to clean, so there’s a bigger build up of stickier and smellier stuff for the next screening. Yogurt freaks me out when it’s left on lids sticking to stuff and as gunk in discarded containers. Not to mention that it can go off. All it takes is one stroke of genius hiding place from a yogurt-satiated movie-goer to stink up a cinema for weeks.

Most of the stuff we eat comes in bags. Even chocolate which always melts. It comes in a bag, so that when we are done with it – often before we finish it – we can fold away the bag with a minimum of fuss. What do you do with the apple you finished during the first act, or with the orange skin? Hell, that’s not even considering stuff with stones. Unless they give you a bag with it – and, in this politically correct climate, it’s safe to say they’ll wish to minimise waste – they won’t.

Popcorn’s dry texture makes it the perfect snack – as it does for pretzels or other similar salted snacks. Not to mention the sound of crunching into a good apple, which neatly dovetails into my second point…

Reason Two: Popcorn is Cheap

This is good for the cinema because it’s easy to make a store popcorn. Make too much, stuff it in a plastic back out back until you need it. I’m not kidding. It’s also fairly uniform quality. You don’t need to taste-test it to know it’s good. And it also means that cinemas can maximise their profits by charging an incredible markup on it.

Again, this kinda echoes back you, the lowly cinema-goer. Do you really think that’s going to be good grape juice? Or that those apples are of the highest possible quality? With popcorn it doesn’t matter – they pop, that’s it. With fruit it does. Fruit is organic and tough to store. Cinemas whine about restrictive costs all the time – snacks are the only place they’re making money. Do you honestly think they’ll invest in state-of-the-art storage facilities to stop this food going off?

I didn’t think so.

They currently place a huge markup on popcorn, which is relatively cheap to produce. When they have to start buying fresh fruit, I can only imagining that price soaring. In fact, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see ‘organic’ being used in cinemas as an excuse to charge extortionate amounts for a given product. I’d like to see the price of going to the cinema drop. That simply ain’t gonna happen, so let’s not give them an excuse to send prices skyrocketing.

Reason Three: Popcorn is Traditional

Cinemas have already spend thousands upon thousands installing food bars to display popcorn and other unhealthy foodstuffs. If they’re going to change their focus, they need to stop displaying popcorn so predominantly. That means redesigning the concession stands, getting rid of – or at least reducing the presence of – ice cream and making storage space of these fruits, which will probably have to be sold an entirely different way. I don’t want a kiwi from a glass box filled with random vegetation, I want it on a shelf or in a nice bowl. Cinemas simply don’t have the money to refurbish.

This is good for you guys because popcorn is a part of going to the movies. It always has been. Putting a smoothie in my hand isn’t nearly the same thing. It’s an institution. It’s the way that movies were meant to be seen. It’s part of the experience. Can imagine telling some distant relation in a few decades that they used to have exploded corn kernels at the movies, and getting a blank look in return. “Was this during the era of the two-dees, gramps?” they’ll ask, all doe-eyed.

I like movie-going being static. I’m not talking about the technology used to project the film or the type of film running through the projector. I’m talking about the experience. If cinemas suggested hosting standing room only shows I’d be similarly shocked and disappointed.

Maybe I’m being stupid and shortsighted, but I think there are far bigger concerns in the battle against obesity than popcorn at the cinema – but I’m no expert on public healthcare. I really only know cinema. And I know cinema well enough to call this a stupid suggestion.

7 Responses

  1. Mmm…popcorn. A cinema with popcorn is like Wallace without Gromit, alright but nowhere near as enjoyable.

    • Yep. In fairness, I think somebody made a point that maybe American portions of popcorn are excessive, but you’d go broke trying get fat on cinema food on this side of the pond.

  2. Hey man congrats on making the Irish Blog Awards finalists. Good luck.

  3. Nope. Unfortunately I’m stuck in Amsterdam.

  4. Hey there, first of all, congrats on making the final – guess I’ll be seeing you in Galway! Thankfully not as a competitor, I’m over in Arts & Culture 🙂 To be honest I don’t know how I made that list either!

    As for popcorn in cinemas… well it’s just a natural fit, you can’t not have popcorn! I tried to have cheesy puffs instead once but it did not work. Going to the cinema is a treat and if you don’t want to treat yourself to popcorn then just don’t buy it.

    There is an argument for also providing heathy snacks though… I mean I won’t buy them, but it could be good for the heathly folks to have a choice. They’d have to think long and hard about what snacks though… As you mentioned, cleaning is a big issue – I have often heard that the reason they don’t sell crisps in the cinema is that it would be too hard to clean up. The scenario of the lingering yoghurt or apple is completely reasonable.

    This line in particular had me laughing though…

    “only a person with a lot of self-hate would ever buy a large popcorn without an accompanying drink”

    I didn’t realise I hated myself! I never buy a drink at the cinema, what if I had to go to the bathroom and I miss part of the film?! I go for the Mars Planets, chocolate raisins or Maltesers to counteract it instead.

    Actually speaking of popcorn – have you been to Cineworld recently? It’s funny, whenever someone asks for a small popcorn they hold up the (tiny) packet and say “Are you sure this is the size you want?”. I’ve never seen anyone take it.

    • I may have generalised, but I couldn’t last a film without a drink and – if it runs out before the popcorn – I won’t finish the popcorn until after the film. And two hours is nothing! the human bladder can swell to the size of a watermelon before any permenant damage is done (or so I hear).

      And congratulations to you too. Well deserved, might I add.

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