Going to the movies is a first-rate experience in Bangkok. The movies are typically up-to-date (or not too far behind), the price is cheap by Western standards, and the cinemas themselves are high quality. The following is a bit of information on what you might expect when you head to the movies in Bangkok.
Most cinema attendants speak enough English to get through the process of selling you the tickets and popcorn. The surprise to some is that all seats are reserved and that you must choose your spot on a video
monitor embedded in the counter at the box office. Seats have paired letters and numbers corresponding to lettered rows (A is the back row) and numbered seats.
The final rows of seats are the highest priced and in many cases are luxurious arm chairs or love seats for couples. If you like to sit in the front half of the cinema as I do, you are going to get a strange look and the attendant may repeat, “Sir (Ma’am), this is the screen” so that you realize your error in sitting so close. Unless it is an extremely popular film and crowded, you will be alone if you sit beyond the halfway mark aisle.
Thai are, thankfully, not usually chatty during the films. One or two may occasionally forget to turn off their phones despite lengthy warnings before the film begins.
You can’t just say “popcorn” in Thailand because there are typically at least three flavors. A sort of caramel corn, perhaps barbecue or cheese-flavored, and then salted. Don’t say “normal” if you mean the traditional Western version, because salted is not really the norm here. Hot dogs, nachos, fountain sodas and candy are also on sale. Your soda will come with about 2 kilos of ice. It may be worth asking for less ice if you’d like more than a shot glass of Coke in your 48 oz. cup. Combo promotions are common and come with plastic promotional cups or buckets or even little toys.
Movies are typically shown in their original language with Thai subtitles. Some may be overdubbed in English as well in the case of non-Thai, non-English productions. Thai films will have English subtitles.
Previews and commercials start at the listed film time and can run as long as 20 minutes or more! So if you are 10 minutes late for a movie, you should still have time to buy popcorn and hit the restroom.
Because of the prevalence of pirating, cameras and the like are not allowed inside. This means at some locations that you are not even allowed to bring a backpack in and must check it as you enter the screening areas.
One cultural anomaly that may take you by surprise is the King’s song. After all the commercials and previews, a film and photo montage of His Majesty accompanied by his own special song will be screened. Everyone in the cinema will stand for this in the manner that one stands for a national anthem. It is strongly advised that you join them as to not do so is considered highly disrespectful. (Read a tip about the national anthem in Thailand.)
The best website to find out what’s playing in Bangkok is Thai Movieseer. New movies arrive on Thursdays.
Watch for ticket discounts on Wednesdays. They usually exclude the week’s new release and special digital productions or IMAX films may be exempt from the offer as well.
Thailand has a thriving film industry. Action films and horror films are extremely popular along with some comedies and romances which are worth checking out. For some inside scoop on the scene, check out Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal.