For a long time, I was petrified of going to the movies alone. I grew up in a big family, with three brothers and a Marvel movie-loving dad, so a trip to the cinema wasn’t something done with spontaneity. In fact, it felt like a whole military operation, with myself and my siblings being rounded up and piled into a minivan like we were undercover soldiers in a spy movie.
Living in a small(ish) seaside town with not a lot else to do, the cinema was soon established as the go-to social activity. Birthday party? Cinema. Awkward first date? Cinema. Not cool enough to drink underage? You guessed it — cinema. But a problem with movie theatres becoming the backbone of our social lives at such a young age is that the idea of going there alone isn’t just unheard of — it might be considered weird, at best, or at worst, a little bit sad.
At least, that’s what I thought. Truthfully, I never really understood why sitting next to someone in silence in a dark room was considered the peak of socialization —but then again, a lot of social rules and conventions have never really made sense to me anyway.
Classmates would giggle and roll their eyes at each other when a person arrived to see a new movie alone, but I failed to see what was so funny about it. To me, they were all the weird ones for gathering in a group for the sole purpose of ignoring each other for 90 minutes — but it was enough to put me off from ever going to the cinema alone for most of my teen and young adult life.
To go to the movies alone, I thought, was to be a social pariah. What if someone from school or uni saw me, then thought I was a loser with no friends? It never occurred to me that most people with developed pre-frontal cortexes were simply there to watch the movie and didn’t really give a fuck about me. But as a result of this simplistic (and, honestly, kind of self-absorbed) anxiety, I really only ended up playing myself.
It meant that I either missed some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, or wasn’t able to enjoy them properly because of the people I went with. But when my plans fell through for Spider-Man movie No Way Home, I knew that there was no way in hell I was missing that. So, I sucked it up, got over myself, and went alone.
Like a lot of people, the 2002 Spider-Man cast was a big part of my childhood, so seeing Tobey Maguire and classic villains like Doctor Octopus was a somewhat emotional moment for me — and even alone, there was a sense of camaraderie because when old favourites showed up on-screen, the audience erupted in cheers. Even not being directly with people, it still felt like a community experience, because I understood that we were all here with a shared love of superhero movies (and most importantly, Spider-Man).
As well as having an objectively great time seeing the MCU movie, there were a few things I realised about going to the movies alone. First of all, I was far from the only one, which goes back to what I said about being in an environment with a shared love of movies. Secondly, I didn’t have to arrange times or stress about schedules: I could just go anytime I wanted.
Thirdly, there was nobody sniffing around my snacks. Nobody’s meathooks lingering in my popcorn or trying to sip my Tango Ice Blast. Whenever you go to the cinema, there’s an expectation that you have to share snacks with people, and I hate that. If you’re hungry, get your own! I got these snacks for me!
But the most important thing I realised about going to the cinema alone is that it was the perfect activity for an introvert like me: something for me to do and enjoy without the external pressures of dealing with other people.
As an autistic person, I often desperately need an extended period of time alone. This is because the little nuances of social interactions and rules don’t come naturally to me — from facial expressions to tone of voice and eye contact — meaning that I have to put every ounce of energy I have into ‘masking’ my natural state in order to blend in.
This is exhausting, and I often need time after a social event to re-regulate and recover before doing stuff with people again. So, by weaving this into solo cinema trips, they become not just a fun activity for me, but also an act of self-care.
There’s even science to back up this self-care dimension, with a study by Vue Cinema and University College London finding that going to a movie theatre helps improve our productivity, memory, and overall brain function. This is because going to the cinema requires giving something your undivided attention for an extended period of time, which is a healthy exercise for your mind. Plus, it’s fun.
So, don’t let your insecurities hold you back from what I now realise to be the optimum cinema experience. With nearly 1 in 4 people going to the movies alone, and more than a third of people preferring it that way, it’s a lot more common than you think!
If you want more thoughts on No Way Home, check out our Spider-Man No Way Home review.