Next week, the movie theater at Mall Of America will be opening with a new focus: food. According to the Star Tribune, the newly reinvigorated CMX Market Cinema includes a food hall, where diners will be able to wander, tray in hand, until they find the perfect random food combo of which they’ve always dreamed, just as they would at any such establishment. In fact, the culinary aspect of the experience is so important to the business that “the theater’s general manager has a background in restaurants, not theater management.”
If you ignore the fact that it you have to go to Mall Of America to get there, it sounds pretty great. But that’s not the news item that got me excited today. No, it’s this one: a Burger King sandwich designed specifically for sneaking into a movie theater in Peru. Peruvian law allows for bringing your own sweet, sweet snacks into the theater, as long as the food in question is similar to what’s already on offer at the multiplex. So BK created the King Popcorn, which is basically just a Whopper and fries, but placed in the bottom of a popcorn container and covered with said popcorn.
Pop those two stories together and you’ve got a perfect storm for my nostalgia circuits. This weekend, I’ll be seeing Avengers: Infinity War with my partner, who happens to be the biggest comic book nerd I’ve ever met. We’re both too old for midnight screenings, and I hate crowds, and he hates having to be 40 minutes early for anything, so we did the sensible thing and coughed up the money for matinee tickets at one of those fancy theaters with comfy reserved seats and tater tots and tolerable wine and beer (in this case, the Arclight Chicago). Assigned seating, no reason to wait in line, and a footrest all sound pretty good to me. But when you go to a theater where a nice person will bring a beer and a sandwich and some Red Vines to your actual seat, you can’t exactly smuggle food in, and smuggling food into a movie theater is one of life’s purest, most undiluted pleasures. At least, it is for me.
While I’m gaga for Burger King’s deviousness, I’m not a Whopper person, so even if I lived in Peru I wouldn’t go for the King Popcorn. I also don’t need the King Popcorn, because I have a lot of experience sneaking food into a theater. Here, a partial list of things I’ve smuggled into the movies:
- A McDonald’s breakfast plate, complete with hotcakes, syrup, and coffee, carried in a purse to a 10 a.m. screening of Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince
- Chilaquiles with green sauce, smuggled into a 12 p.m. screening of Lincoln on Christmas Day
- A pint of ice cream and a beer, brought to an evening screening of Django Unchained the day after my chilaquiles adventure
- Homemade breakfast sandwiches and two coffees, to Batman Begins on IMAX
- Seven individual wine juiceboxes each containing two glasses of wine, to an anniversary screening of Dirty Dancing (with friends, I’m not a monster)
- A full bottle of wine plus two glasses and a bag of fun-size Reese’s, to the live-action Beauty And The Beast
There are more, though most are admittedly mundane—candy, cookies, the odd bag of chips, an occasional burrito, some whiskey now and then—but those are definitely the highlights.
The reasons for my love of food-smuggling aren’t mysterious or complicated. First, movie theater food is expensive and often disappointing. I never try to smuggle something so costly that I’d be devastated if asked to throw it out (though the loss of those chilaquiles would have hit hard, as they were most delicious), and while I’ve never been caught, I’d still rather try to get in a piece of pie from home and some crab rangoon from the place next door than play $9 for a bag of mini tortilla chips and a cup of room-temp nacho cheese.
Second, it’s fun and delicious. Those McDonald’s hotcakes made my disappointment at the mishandling of Ginny Weasley much easier to bear, but getting it in was the best part. No one had any idea, and I felt like a genius.
Third, and most fundamentally, I often go to the movies by myself. These days, it’s usually by choice (or for work), but for years, it’s because I spent a lot of time alone. Doing something slightly devious made the experience a little more special, a secret I got to have with myself. And because I still paid for a ticket—and, let’s face it, usually for some popcorn, too—and didn’t leave my leftovers laying around, I didn’t (and don’t) have to feel bad about my skullduggery.
Here, if they’re useful, are a few best practices for sneaking a chili dog and a milkshake, or a large order of bi bim bap, or two pieces of cake and a six-pack into a movie theater. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I highly recommend it. Maybe not for Infinity War, as you’ll see from rule number one, but still. It’s good for the soul.
- Picking the right screening is key. I thought I was going to be the only one seeing Lincoln at 10 a.m. on Christmas in Rogers Park, Chicago. I was wrong. Those chilaquiles were fragrant, and I got a lot of weird looks. It’s best to pick an early screening or a very late one, and at all costs, avoid the first weekend a film is showing. You want elbow room, especially if you require a fork or spoon.
- Pick up your garbage. Don’t ask a movie theater employee to throw away your spaghetti. It is not cool. And hey, toss your own damn popcorn container, too.
- Don’t even bother with a backpack. Things will spill or get smushed, and then you’ll have to keep your bag between your feet, and spills are a real risk during the movie, too.
- If you carry a purse, go for a big, preferably flat-bottomed one, and pack with care. If you need to, cover your contraband with a scarf or a book. If you don’t, I’ve used a reusable tote (again, preferably flat-bottomed) and put legit groceries (paper towel, cat food, whatever) around whatever I’m smuggling.
- Put plastic wrap or a plastic bag around anything even remotely fluid, food-wise. Cherry pie-filling in your purse is no joke.
- If you’re smuggling alcohol, soda, or anything else carbonated, wait at least half an hour before you open that shit up.
- A related note: wait until it gets really loud to do so. (Infinity War is chockfull of opportunities to crack open a beer; it is a loud, loud movie.)
- It’s more fun if you can share, provided you’re not flying solo. Egg rolls, onion rings, fried mac and cheese, etc. Easy to smuggle and easy to pass to a friend.
- Do not bring soup. Not worth it. Not even a little.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll stare wistfully at convenience stores and sandwich joints and Trader Joe’s as I head downtown and toward a 160-minute stretch in which I’ll have only overpriced, if tasty, tater tots and something from Goose Island to keep me company. If you’re in a position to take the torch from me, I give it to you with my blessing. And try the McDonald’s breakfast thing. That one worked out really well.