Web Culture

5 Non-Annoying Ways to Check Your Smartphone in the Movie Theater

Ryan Dube 21-01-2014

What are the three most annoying behaviors in the world? People who interrupt. People who don’t allow you to merge into traffic. People who use their smartphone in the movie theater. I can’t help with the first two, but I’m going to help you avoid being an annoyance at the theater.


These days, movie theaters are actually encouraging people to use their cellphones Why This Technology Blogger Does Not Own a Smartphone [Opinion] "Do you have a smartphone yet?" It's a question my friends ask often, and it's a reasonable one to ask. I make my entire living writing about technology, explaining how to use software and interviewing... Read More during the “pre-show” part of the movie experience. These usually involve trivia questions that people can text in their answers, or vote on some advertisement. It’s a great marketing gimmick, but when the lights dim and the previews start, the theater is pretty strict about people putting those phones away.

There have even been incidents in the news where people have gotten attacked for using a smartphone in the theater.  It’s not something that people take lightly. So, if you’re going to try and keep up to date with your email, your calendar or surf the net the moment those previews start or when the movie starts, you better make sure you’ve got yourself set up so that you can do it without bothering the people around you.

1. Shield it inside of your purse

So, what’s the big deal about using a smartphone in the theater? It’s not like you’re making a phone call and making all sorts of noise, right?

Well, if you’ve ever attempted to use a smartphone in a pitch black room, then you know that you can see the glaring, white screen of a smartphone from all the way in the back of the room. That means, if someone in the front of a movie theater is stupid enough to turn on their smartphone from a front row, it nearly blinds everyone in the seats behind them.

If you’re a woman and you carry a purse, then you’re in luck. Plop your smartphone deep into the bottom of that purse.



What this does is shields everyone around you, on all sides and even behind you, from the horrible bright glare of that screen. You can reach in, scroll through your mail, text message, whatever. This technique usually works best when the previews have started and the lights are only dimmed in the theater. Placed on your lap, you can play around with the phone without bothering anyone. Once the lights go completely dark though, people close by may still see the white glow coming out of your purse – so use with caution when you’re bored with the previews.

2. Shield it in a bag

If you’re a guy and you don’t have a purse, no problemo muchacho. If you’ve bought a bag of potato chips, or better yet, a big huge bucket of popcorn, just eat down far enough into the container and then drop your smartphone right down into that bag or container.



Again, it shields everyone around you from the direct glare of the screen, You can reach into the bag and browse your email, surf the web, or whatever. The same rules apply – this will work extremely well during previews when the lights aren’t completely black, or if you’re sitting way in the back of the theater. No one will know you’re using the phone, but if you’re anywhere in the middle or front of the theater, they’ll probably see the glow on your face when the lights go black.

3. Inexpensive “Cover-Up”

So, what do you do when the lights go completely out and the movie starts, but you still need to exchange some last minute text messages with a business colleague or with your friend? Well, there’s a very quick and inexpensive trick that I call the “baggie-dimmer”.

The way it works is this – buy mini-sized sandwich bags. These are usually marketed as ziplock plastic snack bags. Place your smartphone inside the sandwich bag. These are even big enough to house my oversized Samsung S4.



Then, take a black permanent marker with a wide tip, and carefully paint one single line of black marker ink from left to right across the area of the smartphone screen. Repeat this all the way down the entire screen, making sure to only make one single line per swipe – you don’t want to put two coats or you won’t be able to see through to the screen.

However, what this does is acts as sort of a pair of dark sunglasses for the screen, blocking out the bright glare. This technique is best for cheaper phones that maybe only text (not a smartphone), or where you don’t have much control over the brightness. This does a surprisingly good job dimming the screen down to the point where if you have it deep inside a container, the light from the bag or purse won’t really be bright enough to notice even a few seats away.

4. Lower the Brightness

Of course, if you do have a full-fledged smartphone, you can give lowering the brightness down to its minimum level a shot. This will dim the screen enough on some phones, but not so much on others. You can find this on your Android phone in the Settings section under “Display”. Look for the “Brightness” setting.



Adjust the brightness setting all the way down to the minimum level.

On my phone, adjusting the brightness doesn’t actually dim the screen enough so that it wouldn’t still glow in the middle of a dark theater.


It might work on your phone though, so it’s worth a try before moving on to your next option, which is downloading a “Night Mode” app.

5. Night Mode App

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last. The secret weapon of smartphone users of the night. Yes, it’s the Night Mode app baby. If you’ve never used it, you should give it a shot. It’ll blow your socks off. You’ll be able to whip out that phone in a pitch black movie theater, browse the web or check your email with the smartphone perched down right in your lap, and no one will be the wiser for it (just make sure you have all the sounds turned off The Quiet Guide: Don't Let Your Droid Disturb You During The Night Mobile devices provide lots of tools that allow you to become far more productive than ever before. No matter where you are, on a moment’s notice, you can connect with the outside world, fix problems... Read More ).

Night mode has a pretty simple interface that lets you adjust the brightness of the screen when you click the “Start” button.

Here’s my own screen with about 30% brightness.

That could be noticeable in a pitch black room, so it might be best to lower it even further. Also, in the settings, you can even disable the button backlights on your phone so they don’t give away the fact that you have your phone out in the middle of a crowded theater.
Lowering the brightness all the way down to nearly zero, I was able to make it so my screen was almost completely turned off. In a lit room, I really had to squint to see that this screen listed all of my most recent email messages.


However, in a darkened movie theater, you’ll see the nearly black screen just fine, but no one else in the theater will know what you’re up to. Except of course your wife, who will be glaring over at you from her seat. Speaking of which….I gotta run.

It’s been a great time. I hope you enjoyed these little tricks to sneak a peek at your smartphone during the movie. I’m glad I could help. Hey – us geeky tech-addicts have got to stick together right? So go ahead, check your email. Text your friend. And then sit back and enjoy the movie.

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  1. j238
    January 17, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    * T U R N IT O F F ! *

  2. alex
    December 16, 2015 at 1:44 am

    or.... turn it off?

  3. Allan
    December 31, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Tim B,
    I hope I never run into you in a movie theatre with your smartphone ablaze. I'd give you a piece of my mind. I pay good money to see a movie in a theatre and I don't need rude people like you justifying the usage of a smartphone in a dark theatre. Today a guy was checking his phone numerous times during the Hobbit movie. I stopped counting at ten times. I moved half way through as I was tired of holding myself back from telling him to give it a rest. When the movie ended I did tell this guy how rude he was. He didn't say a thing. What we need is more courtesy and civility and not less. Grow up.........

  4. Denise E
    February 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    if you really have to, i've found ducking my head under a jacket along with my phone a good solution - no face glare, no glare from the screen - and usually (in the cinema near me anyway) the air conditioning is FREEZING so there's little chance of discomfort.

  5. Mike
    January 22, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Oh for God's sake - turn the phone off and enjoy the movie, or go sit in the john and use the phone there.
    Don't inflict your selfish, boorish, addicted personality problems on the rest of us.
    And if you do it in front of me, make sure you've got the ambulance service on speed dial!

  6. jkendal
    January 22, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    The number 1 non-annoying way to check your device in a movie theater is to NOT take it in there to begin with! HOWEVER, if you're one of those device addicts, then do the rest of us a favor and get up out of your seat and go play with it in the lobby.

  7. theo
    January 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Why not just drape your towel over your head and cover the phone? You DO have a towel with you, don't you, hitchhiker ?

  8. bben
    January 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    You paid to see the movie. As did everyone else in the theater. Just looking at your oh so important facebook update during the movie is distracting to others who paid - even in that bag it glows in the dark. The fact that you just have to text someone to tell them you are watching the movie is a symptom of an addiction.

    If your smartphone is more important to you than the movie - go out into the lobby instead of disturbing everyone around you. If you insist that somehow it's your right to play with your phone in a dark theater I hope the management kicks you out with no refund as you deserve.

  9. John
    January 22, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I have been known to check my email or just fart around with my cell during the interminable ads and previews. I'll try night mode next time.

  10. Manuth C
    January 22, 2014 at 5:18 am

    I don't know how Windows Phones with AMOLED screens (using black background) fares up in such situation though

  11. Tim B
    January 22, 2014 at 4:32 am

    And...if you can't stand someone's phone light three rows in front of you...then get a life. It's a movie, not your kid's birth. Last movie I was at, I heard bags crinkling, a baby crying, and people talking. Did it affect my viewing experience? No. I focused on the movie and blocked other stuff out. Having said that, I found this article helpful. A while back I was approached by the theater staff for using my phone. Embarrassing. Wish I had known of these options then.

      January 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      People like you are the reason I stopped going to the movies. It's your sense of entitlement to be rude in the presence of everyone around you. Did parents never teach you to be respectful of others?

    • Tim B
      January 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      You seem to be forgetting the most important reason to have a mobile phone...emergencies. I would hate to be unavailable during a movie when a loved one was in an accident or some other serious situation. I rarely use my phone in a theater. The incident I mentioned was during a movie where there were probably >10 people and no one was sitting behind me. I am aware of people around me and do everything I can to be mindful and respectful of them, just not at the expense of my own loved ones. Calm down and don't be so quick to judge. It's a movie for God's sake.

      • j238
        January 17, 2017 at 11:22 pm

        Every rude idiot has an excuse.
        I don't want to hear yours.

  12. Jim B
    January 22, 2014 at 4:31 am

    It doesn't matter what you do to hide the light from your phone, it always lights up the face of the person that uses it.

    It's distracting, It's inconsiderate and It's rude.

    You knew the movie was being held in a large darkened theater, why would you change the conditions for the movie theater experience that you paid for?

    Turn off your phone, eat your popcorn and enjoy the movie!

  13. Anonymous
    January 22, 2014 at 3:55 am

    Just don't. If something in your life is happening and you can't take 2 hours away from your phone stay home.

    • RH
      January 22, 2014 at 7:30 am

      I would have agreed...before children. Babysitter watching them for 2 hours, easy! It's when something goes wrong that a quick phone check is for (i.e., making sure it's NOT the babysitter calling!).

  14. John Smith
    January 21, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I normally use night mode, or I put it inside my winter hat. :)

  15. Brian
    January 21, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Here's a simple way - don't. If it's absolutely essential, walk out of the theater and return when you do not have critical events occurring.

    • Justin P
      January 21, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      This is really the ideal solution, but if the people around me absolutely MUST use their phone I suppose the above is better than simply blinding me...

    • Ryan Dube
      January 21, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      I agree - the worse thing is people who think they're going to "just check" quickly and turn on that horrible blaring screen. At the very least, if you're gonna do it, spare the rest of us from going blind. :-)