One, please: Why going to the movies alone isn’t so bad

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

I was a junior in high school the first time I did it.

It was quite simple, really: I wanted to see “Tank Girl,” the adaptation of the post-apocalyptic comic book starring Lori Petty and Ice-T, and none of my friends wanted to see it. So rather than waiting to see it when it came out on video a few months later, I made the bold decision to go to the movies to see it by myself.

Up until then, going to the movies was always a group activity. I went with friends or family, sometimes forcing others to see something I wanted to see (or getting talked into something I’d rather skip), because going to the movies alone was something you simply didn’t do. That’s only for weird old guys, creeps or losers with no friends.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the ticket counter at the now-long-gone Star Winchester and said the dreaded words: “One for ‘Tank Girl,’ please.” Ugh, one. What had I become?

But there was no judgment at the ticket counter, and I was free to head into the theater, choose my seat, put my feet up and stretch out. And you know what? I rather liked it.

When my friends at school found out, they teed off on me, but I took it. I didn’t mind, I felt like I had unlocked a secret power. I never looked back.

Now I go to the movies by myself all the time. As a film critic, it’s my job. But even when I’m off the clock, going to the movies alone is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not at the mercy of anyone else’s schedule or tastes, and I’m free to block off several hours and hit two or three movies in a row if I want. (Try getting someone else to do a triple feature with you on a Saturday.)

Any weirdness or social stigma I may have once felt about making a solo trip to the movies has long since slipped away. Now, I actually prefer going to the movies alone.

I have friends who still won’t go to the movies by themselves. They feel it’s weird or sad to go up to the counter and ask for one ticket, as if the theater clerk will point and laugh. (Note: they won’t.) Once you’re over that initial hump, a whole world opens up.

And you’re never truly alone. Only in extremely rare cases have I ever been in a theater all by myself; inevitably, there’s at least one other person who has etched a Tuesday 11:15 a.m. screening of “Splice” into their day planner.

That’s the thing about movies: they’re a communal experience where you go to laugh, tear up, cheer or be terrified with others. You may not speak to one another, but you’re sharing something together, which apart from the big screen and crisp sound, is the thing that still gives moviegoing its value in a world of smart phones, scrolling and swiping.

After I got used to going to the movies by my lonesome, I gave concerts a try. Again, weird at first, but no one else wanted to go see Fiona Apple at the time. Since then, I’ve been to a music festival alone and I’ve even traveled overseas alone. Restaurants are a little trickier, but if you’ve gotta eat, you’ve gotta eat. No one is pointing at you — get over yourself.

There is a strong case to be made for going to events with others. There’s the discussion afterward that helps contextualize the experience, and it’s just fun hanging out with friends. But it’s not the only way to do things.

Go ahead, give it a try. “One, please.” It’s easier than it sounds. One piece of advice, however: Try seeing something better than “Tank Girl.”

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