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The Secret, Deeply Satisfying Art of Sneaking Booze into a Movie Theater

A collection of stories about how a bit of alcohol can (almost) always enhance the moviegoing experience

The first time I saw 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I really liked it. Despite the fact that it starred a bunch of computer-generated primates, I was stunned by how connected I became to the characters, and I was pleased with the fun man-versus-ape action sequences. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that, when I was hanging out with a friend a week later and we were looking for a way to kill some time, I suggested that we go see it. Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t interested. Having been disappointed in the movie’s quieter predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he thought this movie would be more of the same, and I couldn’t convince him otherwise.

That is, until I offered to buy us a big bottle of Jack Daniels to sneak into the theater.

Before the movie even began, we started taking swigs from the bottle, and soon, we made ourselves some very unbalanced Jack and Cokes with our fountain drinks. By the time the movie started, we were already buzzed, and when the action picked up, we were fucking loaded.

If you’ve already seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, you’ll likely remember Koba, the bad ape who shoots the evil humans with machine guns. When you’re sober, Koba is an intense, deadly villain, but when you’re shitfaced, Koba is a laugh riot, especially in the fever dream of a scene where he’s got two machine guns and he’s riding a fucking horse. My buddy loved it, and while I liked the movie the first time, the addition of alcohol made it one of the best movie-going experiences in our more than 20-year friendship. 

That’s what unauthorized alcohol can bring to a movie. It can make a good movie better and a bad movie a lot of fun. Even in an age where a number of theaters now serve booze — for an absurd price, I might add — there’s still something special about sneaking alcohol into a movie, like you’re pulling one over on everyone in the same way you might have when you drank underage. 

And so, I decided to reach out to a number of others who have also participated in this sacred pastime for their cinematic drinking stories. In the process, I even managed to stumble upon the single-best film to watch while drunk.

‘Angels & Demons’ and Dad Beers

I reached out to collect these stories via Twitter, and one of the people who responded was Ariel Dumas, head writer for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, who told me that sneaking beers into a movie helped liven things up at a second-run discount theater in a Minneapolis suburb. 

Dumas: In the summers after college, while living in Minneapolis, my bestie and I used to put beers in our purse to take to the $2 theater in the suburb of Hopkins. It felt so naughty, even though no one ever checked. It was a perfect plan because no one ever went to that theater, so we could drink freely. Except, one day, we tried this with Angels & Demons, and the theater was packed — it was just chockablock with Baby Boomers who were genuinely excited to see Robert Langdon solve yet another Catholic Church murder mystery puzzle. We were choking with laughter trying to open our Bud Lights silently.

No Amount of Vodka Can Redeem Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Twitter user @LifeTecate — who otherwise prefers to remain anonymous — says that he’s regularly snuck in mickeys of vodka to big event movies. He cautions though, that if you’re drinking in a theater with someone, make sure it’s the right person.

@LifeTecate: I regularly sneak booze into movie theaters — it’s super easy. Movie theaters don’t give a shit, so you can just walk in with a bottle of whatever. I get mickeys of vodka and a large drink, then I pour the mickeys into the soda. I do it with discretion, because you need to at least pretend you care about the rules. So, the cup goes down at my feet when I pour the vodka in — it’s all pretty easy, though.

I drink at most movies I go to. It doesn’t make a movie better, but I’d say that you definitely become numb enough to sit through a bad movie. I did this for the new Batman — I probably would’ve left during the last hour if I hadn’t. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but the last hour was a wash and totally unnecessary. 

I also did this for the last four James Bond movies, and the three new Star Wars films. The two bad Daniel Craig Bond movies I’ve entirely forgotten, except for the last one, which I wasn’t nearly drunk enough for.

I took one of my brothers to see The Dark Knight Rises and showed him this trick, but he got too drunk and started talking at a normal room volume. He was asking things like, “Who’s that guy!?” Then he got angry at me because I said I don’t like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Not everybody is ready for this power.

Cat-Calling Zac Efron during 17 Again’

Sarah O’Kane Smith, a writer in Denver, tells me that she and a friend snuck vodka into the movies on a regular basis for about a year. They only managed to get caught once, and they were kind of asking for it.

Smith: I used to bring baby bottles of vodka to spike Icees, or whiskey for the Coke-flavored Icees. It was a ritual that my friend and I used to do. We graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2008, and my English/journalism degree didn’t help me find any jobs at the time. I worked nights at a French restaurant and had lots of free weekdays and afternoons. My friend had a job at Starbucks, but she was fired after we stayed out all night and I called her manager, pretending to be her mom, to call in sick for her. We were both wildly depressed, but we reveled in our unemployed and underemployed flexibility by doing stuff our friends with “real” jobs couldn’t, like go to matinees.

Sneaking booze into the theater just heightened the forbidden nature of what we were doing — we should have been working or applying for jobs, and we definitely shouldn’t have been day drinking. We were dirtbags, so we figured we might as well dig down into our dirtbag nature and be as crass and irresponsible as possible. Adding booze to Icees was her idea, and it was very tasty (in my memory at least). We purposefully chose movies that looked bad. I don’t think the booze made the movies any better, it just made us more uninhibited to laugh and be annoying.

We did get caught once. We were being very rowdy in 17 Again — I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, but I do remember yelling, “Zac you’re so beautiful! What kind of mascara do you use!?!” at the screen multiple times until we got kicked out of the theater.

A Crime for Detective Pikachu

According to L.A. Times writer Jessica Roy, alcohol can be especially helpful for getting through underwhelming children’s movies like Detective Pikachu. Having seen that movie myself, I wish I had been drunk during it. 

Roy: I write a personal finance newsletter for the Los Angeles Times, so I’m very cost-conscious. Also, my dad is notoriously cheap — growing up, we always snuck our own cans of Diet Cokes into movie theaters. I learned from the best.

Back in 2019, I had AMC A-List, and saw a ton of movies. My friends and I had a text chain to ask who wanted to go see whatever. On one occasion, we decided to see Detective Pikachu. I thought it would be fun to share some wine (this was the pre-COVID era, when passing around a shared bottle sounded appealing). So I poured a bottle of two-buck chuck into a neon pink Corkcicle bottle.

The previews hadn’t even started, and I went to get it out of my bag only to discover that I hadn’t closed the lid correctly. Probably a quarter of it had spilled all over the inside of my New Yorker tote bag. Fortunately, we were able to salvage and enjoy the rest.

Pirates Drink Rum, Not Beer

Again, bringing alcohol into a movie will generally improve the experience, but that’s not always the case. Film enthusiast Jack Beresford relays a story about how sneaking beers into Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ruined the movie.

Beresford: I smuggled six beers into the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I ripped the pockets out of my jacket and hid them in the lining, then casually hung it over my shoulder. I felt like Danny Ocean. But I got a bit sick halfway through and the constant toilet trips ruined the film. I was going to the bathroom constantly by the end, and I kept kicking the empty cans on the floor every time I got up to go. I lost track of the entire movie. To this day, I don’t really recall how it ended. Sure, I woke up and saw Jack Sparrow jumping into a giant fish, but I can’t be sure I didn’t imagine that. 

Jackassery During ‘Jackass Forever’

There are some movies that just make sense to arrive at drunk or high — movies that, by their very nature, evoke a party. A prime example is Jackass Forever, as I had two people reach out to me about boozy experiences with this movie. One story was even surprisingly romantic.

Noah, @SD_McCrawley on Twitter: I took my then-girlfriend to see Jackass Forever for Valentine’s Day, and we snuck in a bottle of wine because my winter coat has giant pockets. It was a fucking blast. We had a lot of fun. What I remember best is that when Preston Lacy shat himself, that was the hardest I have ever laughed in a movie theater. 

I think I was kind of loud in the theater, too. Nothing crazy, but I remember thinking at the time that it was okay if I spoke to my neighbor a little louder than I usually would. Because it’s Jackass, you know, it’s casual. But, in hindsight, I think I was just being a bit of an ass. Also, I really had to piss by the end of it.

Callie, @eggshellfriend on Twitter: I love bringing booze to the movies. It’s one of life’s truest pleasures. Spiking a movie theater fountain soda with liquor feels very romantically nostalgic, like I’m spiking the punch at the prom. The last time I did it, I was seeing the Jackass movie with my ex. It was the first time we’d seen each other since the breakup a month prior. We’d had plans to see it together before breaking up, so we went and spiked a Sprite with tequila and got absolutely schnockered and got back together — the power of Johnny Knoxville.

Look What the ‘Cats’ Dragged In

While many movies can be enhanced by booze, some flat out require it, and the 2019 Cats film falls squarely within that category. I had no plans to find the best movie to enjoy with alcohol, but a number of people told me that they drank themselves silly while watching Cats, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. So, as a closer, I’ll leave you with tales from Cats, the single-best movie to watch while drunk.

TJP, @tjessicaparker on Twitter: I brought a flask of cabernet in my bag to see Cats in 2019. It made for an excellent, hilarious movie that I don’t think I would have enjoyed sober.

Joshua Bote, assistant editor at SFGate: I smuggled a small bottle of Jack in my tote bag while watching CATS. I poured a bunch of it into my Coke Icee while the trailers were playing and it enhanced the experience twentyfold. Being drunk just amplified the fever dream quality of the movie, making the scene with James Corden as Bustopher Jones that much wilder. To be honest, I know some theaters have boozy Icees now, but nothing quite hits the same as sipping a really big pocket of booze you poured yourself.

Sarah Q, a doctor: It was my second anniversary with my partner. We went out for dinner and got wine-drunk. Then we met up with some friends and bought a whole load of tinnies [pre-made cocktails] and snuck them into the cinema. There was only one other group of people in the theater — it was a couple probably in their mid-50s. One member of our party was newly pregnant, but the other three of us got wildly drunk and had the absolute time of our lives. Eventually, the poor middle-aged couple had finally had enough of our laughing and heckling, so they turned around and glared at us. My apologies to that couple, but it was the greatest cinematic experience of my life.