Finishing A Movie – How Hard Should It Be?

We have all experienced it. We start watching a movie. After giving it a fair shot we discover that perhaps it is not what we expected. As the song by The Clash askes, “Should I stay or should I go?”

I think I can only recall walking out of a movie in a theater once. I was in high school and went to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was hugely popular among high school kids but my friends and I were contrarians. About half way in my friends had had enough, and my choice was whether to stay and finish the movie or follow them out. I was only countercultural to a point, and when the culture involved my ride home, it was wiser to go with the flow.

I will admit that my tendency is to stick it out. It may or may not be because I was Raised By Germans, but there is a loud and strong voice in my head that says “Finish What You Start!” It is one of the rules of life I had drilled into me as a kid. Possibly because I have a tendency to move on to a new interest all too easily. Another influence is the idea that certain movies become cultural icons and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) becomes a factor. There are certain flicks that are required watching in order to claim a complete life – after all, you never know when there will be a reference to The Terminator or Saving Private Ryan at a party somewhere, and isn’t it good to be part of the knowing chuckles instead of standing there with a blank stare? Or “You picked it out, you’re stuck with it.” This is why I would never consider sending a meal back in a restaurant just because I didn’t like what I thought sounded good on a menu. And is another reason I almost never bail on a movie once I have started it.

I suppose part of the question involves what economists call “sunk costs” – when it comes to a theater film (remember those?) once you have bought the ticket and shelled out for the most expensive popcorn and soft drink ever, your investment is almost total. What’s another hour of your time? But then analysis based on sunk costs is not always a good one, but one that can often lead to finishing something that you would have been better to give up on. Just like that old car that requires anther $ 600 repair, do you think “Gee, I’ve already put $5000 into it in the last 3 years, what’s another $600 so that I finally get some return on my investment?” Or do you treat it as a fresh decision – “I don’t care what I have in it, this question is about $600 to spend on my 2001 Jalopy GT?

Movies are the same way. I will confess that I am more of a sunk cost guy – which is not necessarily a good thing. I would have stuck it out with Monty Python, for example, because I had already bought the ticket, the popcorn and the hugely oversized (and overpriced) drink. I know I have certainly sat through some stinkers. But what about movies at home? At every step – the video store, Netflix in the mail, DVD at Redbox and now via streaming, the sunk cost of watching a not-very-entertaining movie has gone farther and farther towards zero. But there is still some sunk cost, which is the time invested to that point.

Marianne and I tend to watch movies together, so we usually compromise on something in the fairly large area of overlap in our personal Venn Diagram of movie watching. She has no patience for musicals and I have no patience for anything from Hallmark or Lifetime, but otherwise we are pretty open to quite a bit. We will occasionally give up on a movie, but that process usually begins with Marianne saying something like “What do you think?” After a couple of “let’s give it a few more minutes” I can be talked into bailing – but it leaves me with an odd feeling that I have done something bad.

We tend to like classic movies and a lighthearted film starring Cary Grant is almost always a decent choice. It is sometimes an inspired choice, like with 1947 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House – which shows that the travails of home ownership are much like what they were in our grandparents’ era. But sometimes it is not an inspired choice, like one evening awhile back when Marianne suggested (and I agreed to) a 1953 effort called Dream Wife.

It involves a business big shot who is engaged to a woman who works high up in the State Department. Yes, it was way ahead of its time in this way. The plot is that Our Hero is put out by how the little lady’s career keeps coming between them, so he decides to propose (by correspondence, no less) to the daughter of some middle-eastern potentate who has been brought up to spend her life practically worshiping whatever guy her eventual arranged marriage may involve.

Perhaps it was because I was coming down with a bad cold or maybe it was just a bad movie, but I found the film insufferable. A quick look gives me a little support – it lost money in theaters and received so-so reviews at the time, likely saved only because Cary Grant was, well, Cary Grant. In 2021 the characters were unlikeable, the plot was bad, and watching it was a long, not-very-pleasant two hours. And this is from a guy who has a pretty easy time putting on my “period entertainment” lenses to overlook some of the things that were of their time but which certainly have no place in the present. Even with those lenses on I could not avoid the suffering. But I stuck it out. Marianne did not suggest quitting and I certainly did not. But what did it get me?

There is not much value in checking off an imaginary box that says “Dream Wife – Watched” – there is precious little accomplishment there. There is certainly no FOMO because I have never once heard anyone mention this movie – I don’t think I had even heard of it. I guess it was the sunk costs that would not let me walk out of the room or start punching buttons on the remote part way through.

For what it’s worth, my “stick to it until you are finished” trait is not just with movies. There are at least (at last count) around thirty-five blog posts that I have started and never finished, for a variety of reasons. I guess you should count yourselves lucky that I have not forced myself to finish those before publishing this one. Or maybe not.

Media Credits:

Photo of theater screen – via pxhere.com, public domain

Promotional poster of the 1953 MGM picture Dream Wife, public domain

32 thoughts on “Finishing A Movie – How Hard Should It Be?

  1. I think I must have a short attention span. If I don’t like a movie we watch at home within the first 15 or 20 minutes I have no problem bailing. Recently I chose to go do something else while my husband continued to watch Nomadland. Despite great reviews, it Just wasn’t my type of movie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My life would probably be better if I could be like you in this way. All too often I end up with this odd combination of satisfaction (I did it!) and regret (Wow, I can’t believe I wasted two hours on that).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Glad it’s not just me. Nomadland was the only newish movie I’ve seen this year and I found it a snorefest with poor acting and no plot or point, despite Frances M. winning the Oscar. But my brother loved it?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Actually I really appreciated Nomadland. I have some relatives who are nomads, when viewed as a semi-docu-drama it gave me some insight into the lifestyle. Although I find it a compelling way to live in some ways, in others “poor acting and no plot or point” sums up the lifestyle as well.

        Liked by 2 people

      • True. I think while watching it I was comparing it to that British movie with Maggie Smith from a few years ago – The Lady in the Van – not that she was a drifter, but it was a similar premise. I once read a book called Nickled and Dimed – On Not Getting By in America, written by a journalist who did that for a year – so while I get that many people have no choice but to live that lifestyle, I don’t get the choosing to part, as she did have other options in the movie. Here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/Nickel-Dimed-Not-Getting-America/dp/0312626681

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to say, I think I’ve walked out of maybe three movies in my life. I can’t say this is a product of “stick-to-it-nivis”, as more likely I read so many media outlets per week, I fully know and understand what I would like or be interested in. Once you’ve read a movie review or recommendation from the NYT, ChicaTrib, and my local, plus the New Yorker or one of the many art magazines I get, you pretty much know what you’re going to be getting into! I have to say, my taste does NOT run to summer blockbusters, any comic book characters turned into live characters, or any “nerd” fantasy’s that would cause me to name my cat Frodo. I like films that challenge intellectually on a few different levels, and are filmed in an “artistic” manner (which could mean anything). It’s very unlikely that would mean almost anything made by a big studio in America. I take recommendations from my friends seriously as well. I really like stuff from directors like Wes Anderson (Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom), and Alan Rudolph (The Moderns, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle), and probably 2 out of 3 movies I see are not made in America.

    I also know from being in advertising, that there’s a whole segment of society that goes to the movies weekly. It’s what they “do”. They see what’s available for the weekend, and make a selection and go. It’s like playing golf weekly, or meeting your friends for Sunday brunch. I think for me, this would result in many more theater walk-outs than stays! I just couldn’t imagine there’d be 52 movies good enough to sit through in a year?

    BTW, you are definitely the “king” of understanding the “German” mind, and you should hold some sort of city advisory position here in Milwaukee! I’ve lived and worked all over, but I’ve never understood how rampant it is in Milwaukee. I’ve worked in an industry where there are many “emergencies” that have to be admin’d immediately, and probably 3 out of 4 assistants I’ve worked with could not get through their heads the idea of dropping something to get something else done, and then going back to what you were doing. I could never understand why they would want to rush to complete something, poorly, before getting to that emergency. Mein Gott im Himmel, Milwaukee!

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    • My tastes are pretty basic in movies, and to me a good story will paper over a lot of flaws. I am not sure you and I would make good movie-mates, as all too often I have to conclude that what most critics like, I find less appealing. I will go with an audience score over a critics score on Rotten Tomatoes every time. We have actually enjoyed several of the comic book movies, but the problem is that there are so many of them I cannot remember which ones I have seen and which ones I have not (thereby admitting that I can like movies that are completely forgettable).

      The longer I go the more convinced I become that culture is everything. Every group, whether a company, a religion or a nationality, develops a culture. What amazes me (though it should not) is how most people who are within a culture do not realize that they are part of a culture. What I think of as German culture or the German mindset (at least as found in the US and filtered through a few generations of US citizenship) is a real thing, and since I became aware of it I have a great time observing it whenever I see it. I have seen recent reports that some want to claim that being on time and following rules and expecting everyone else to agree with you are attributed to “whiteness”. I want to shout back that it has nothing to do with whiteness, but with being German. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.P. you remind me of when I was a mere lad in advertising class in college (1973), and a national retailer gave a talk to our class about what a test market Milwaukee is for them, because if something could be sold in Milwaukee, it could be sold anywhere! He regaled us with stories about a stay-at-home wife, looking at a vase to buy, but wouldn’t until she brought the ‘Deutscher’ old man back to agree to it, and then he would negotiate for a discount! He said this was as opposed to markets they had like Texas, where the wife would go out to a liquid lunch with her pals, and on the way home, buy a house full of new furniture, no questions asked! I absolutely agree with your culture vs, white hypothesis, as would anyone that did a lot of traveling and was an astute observationist!

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    • Haha, yes I eventually did. I have not seen it in a long time and need to re-watch it. I think it will have to be by myself, as that is the kind of movie that does not usually pass the Marianne test – stupid-but-funny comedy is not usually her thing.

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  3. I’m pretty committed to finishing a movie once started.

    I saw Terence Malick’s Tree of Life in a theatre, and although several people walked out I did not. At one point I was hitting my head on the seatback in front of me saying “No! Not the dinosaurs again! What’s going on??”

    I also watched the director’s cut of Return of the King with Tammy, we went for a little getaway weekend and someone gave us the DVD and said it was a good film to watch together. Good thing we had a whole weekend, it was 4 hours and 11 minutes so we watched it in one hour sessions over two days. A thought provoking film, in our case it provoked thoughts of confusion and mockery:

    “Who’s that? Are they supposed to be in this film?”
    “How many times can you say Mordor in one film?” (Counts for a while, loses count)
    “Didn’t that character die in the last film?”
    “How many times can you say ring in one film?” (Counts for a while, loses count)
    “Why are we fighting again?”
    “I wish I could roll my R’s better so I could say Morrrrrdorrrrr prrrroperly”

    I haven’t tried your idea of watching films from the distant past, I suppose that yes some bad movies would get even worse over time as they lose their star power and cultural context. What will people think of Tree of Life in 50 years?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I recall enjoying the Ring trilogy when my sons were younger and the movies were new, but those were the theater releases. I also had help afterwards because they had read the books where I had not. I have not seen Tree of Life – and am not inclined to now that you have clued me in.

      I get saved from my “finish it at all costs” mindset by Marianne, who is much more inclined to bail if she is not being entertained. Which is not an unreasonable mindset when consuming entertainment, as I think about it.

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  4. I’ve never walked out of a movie theatre as I usually only go when it’s something I really want to see, even if I was disappointed like Downtown Abbey, which is the last movie I saw in theatre. But I have quit a few tv series (like the Crown) because I didn’t care for the first few episodes or season one, (Victoria – Albert got on my nerves he was so whiny) and couldn’t see myself wasting any more time on them, even though they both had good reviews and period pieces tend to be my thing. I know binge watching is popular but I frame these things as “time wasters” when I could be reading a good book, so I tend to be a “cut your losses” kind of person, sometimes after only 15 minutes, (esp. if too much violence). As for your dilemma re older movies, I watched Three Coins in the Fountain a few years ago, when I was blogging on fountains, and I always loved the Frank Sinatra tune, but wow was the film ever dated. The fashions and style were fun though. I need your “period entertainment lenses” to get past Elsa saying, “You decide, Rick” even though Casablanca is one of my favorite oldies. PS. At least you have 35 drafts to pick from if you’re ever stuck for a topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is funny how I have started noticing movies becoming dated before my own eyes. I remember when 80s movies were reasonably current, and then suddenly they were not, with weird hairstyles and super-square cars in all the scenes. The 90s movies are kind on a bubble right now and are getting to be “period pieces” pretty quickly. It is funny how I can detect a unique aesthetic to a movie from 1962, 1965 or 1968, yet everything made after about 2002 looks about the same to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. While never having walked out of a movie, I have been sorely tempted. The most worthy was the original “Jurassic Park” – a movie I found insufferable. My callous thoughts are people only watched it due to peer pressure and their FOMO concerns.

    With our having transitioned to streaming several years ago (but only free channels, as my 5% German composition struggles to pay for anything), I have found a number of very good, recent independent movies. But I have not hesitated to jettison my viewership if the need arose. That said, I must quality myself as being a light partaker of anything available via television.

    Oh, and I never have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rereading this comment I sound like a grumpy old dullard; I’m really not!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I actually loved Jurassic Park! But maybe part of it was that my kids were in that movie’s prime demographic and I enjoyed them enjoying it. They were gaga over anything with dinosaurs in it, even the original King Kong from the early 30s.

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    • Around the time Jurassic Park was out, my kids were young and impressionable. So when they and their friends grew up and formed a team in the men’s hockey league, they named it after the movie. “Jurassic Puck” is the name of their tearm. I never quite figured out why. That was one of those movies I kind of checked out on when watching it, and only stuck with it because the kids were thrilled with it at their younger age, with the dinosaurs in it and all.
      I have some movies I will watch on TV when they come on, regardless, almost, of what else I am doing or what else is on. I’ve seen the Godfather a hundred times, but that is a drop what you are doing movie. Bullitt. The Hunt for Red October. North by Northwest. etc. Midway, Pearl Harbor. But there are some movies, after not too long into them, you realize they are not going to work in your brain. There are some during which that I walked out of a theatre, and never regretted it. Certain movie actors have earned that reputation with me, male and female.
      I used to watch sports on TV more in the sense of watching a whole game start to finish. Not so much any more, but look forward to going in person again.
      Speaking of unfinished work, I can’t count how many curbside classic posts I have half started and never gotten back to. But they’re there, and so are their photos, so one day, maybe, hopefully, will take them up again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great idea for a topic – movies worth watching any time. North By Northwest might be my ultimate favorite and several of yours would make my list.

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  6. I really don’t like modern movies. They’re not funny and I can’t relate to the stories. Too much hi-tech hype, and they always seem to be pushing an “agenda”. (Actually, they’re been pushing it for a long time, but now it’s really blatant.) There was a Golden Age from the 1970s into the 1990s, but that’s over. Also there are many great movies from the 1930s-60s. I guess the acting and writing talent has disappeared? Modern cartoons are also mostly terrible.

    Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon some obscure old movie on TCM and get sucked into it. I can then go on YouTube and find it and watch it at my own pace, including parts I missed.

    It’s amazing how many movies are made in a typical year–and most of them are quickly forgotten, even some very good ones. Consumer Reports used to rate movies like they rate cars and other products. Here’s a list of all the movies of 1953–how many have you seen and how many have you never heard of?

    Movies of 1953--Consumer Reports

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think they churned them out a lot faster in the early 50s than they do today, and even then most were pretty average. But pretty average would be a relief today, from where I sit. I wonder how many on this list have been lost to deterioration – I once read that an amazingly small percentage of movies made as late as 1950 still exist.

      We have done a poor job of keeping up with new stuff, and I don’t disagree with many of your observations.

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  7. I’ve come to appreciate the German-American mindset because my wife & I are part of the equestrian scene here in Colorado. Germans are big on horses. One time we went to a restaurant with a few of them, and when the meal didn’t come out promptly one of them went back into the kitchen and demanded to know what the delay was about. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate their direct, business-like manner, and to not misinterpret their often stern expressions.

    This is a great topic, JP, one that should probably lead to more posts. I recall walking out on only one movie in my life (and can’t even recall the movie). I agree with you – the total investment you make in the movie theater experience goes against the temptation to walk out (ex. changing clothes, driving to the theater, getting settled in your seat, essentially giving up your evening). I’ve finished many movies I might’ve walked out on just because I thought “well, I’m already here, so…”

    The dynamic is different at home, especially with streaming. The distractions, temptations, and convenience of whatever else is going on in the house make it so much easier to lose interest. Like you I have to balance my opinion with that of my wife, and there’s this awkward moment where one of us is waiting for the other to interrupt and say, “So… what do you think?” Fortunately we have similar tastes.

    Here’s another problem with streaming. You can sit there all night clicking on previews. I’ve done that for an hour and never committed to a one of them. Perhaps the Netflix/Prime Video mindset keeps saying, “Nah, keep looking; there’s probably something better. Besides, this isn’t costing you anything extra.”

    Finally, I think we’d make good movie-mates, J.P. I’m never one to default to the critic’s picks, nor even what everybody else is seeing (the whole FOMO thing). I simply go for the good stories or, with certain actors/actresses, anything they do (Diane Lane comes to mind). And when it comes to reviews, Rotten Tomatoes is great because you get a plenty of critic AND viewer input. A healthy combination of the two seems to deliver a trustworthy opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I might mention here, that when I told above of all the media outlets I read, I meant that as an example of the idea that none of their critics actually agree, and you are basically getting a broad spectrum of opinions on which you might be able to parse out how you would feel about the film! Rarely does a singular critic make me see a film; altho I will say, that it doesn’t take all that much concentration on multiple critique channels before you start to find a critic or two that you agree with 99% of the time.

      I will also say that when I moved to Indianapolis, I was quite surprised that they had only one “art house” theater, and it was in a shopping mall; as opposed to coming from Milwaukee that had three, and they were all in refurbished classic theaters! Here’s where Netflix is your friend, as I got recommendations from friends to see nationally released foreign and “art” films, that never ended up coming to Indianapolis at all! I remember someone at the cigar lounge bemoaning the fact that some “directors cut” reedit of some famous film, wasn’t coming anywhere within driving distance of Indianapolis. So, even if you faithfully followed the local art house theater schedules from the Fashion Mall, you’d probably be missing about 30% of the nationally released films unless you read of them in other media outlets…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will confess that art house movies are quite hit or miss with me, and I have actually never gone to even that one theater we have locally.

        I did attend theaters that featured classics when I have found them, but those places have not usually been long term propositions.

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    • The clicking on previews can indeed chew up a lot of time. And it’s amazing how ratings of movies on a streaming site can be so disconnected from those on independent sites like Rotten Tomatoes.

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  8. I’m with you, it takes a lot for me to walk out of a movie – I’ve only done it twice. Books on the other hand, my reading list is way too long and life is too short. So books typically have five chapters or so to hook me. If I’m not feeling it by then, I’m out.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m with Marianne – I don’t like musicals either, though I did enjoy “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” as a youngster. I’m not really a movie buff whether the old B&W movies, nor the more modern movies and the last movie I went to see in the show was in 1993 (gulp) and that was “Sommersby”. I did rent movies until Blockbuster went out of business and I only recently started watching TV again in 2021 after getting an Amazon Prime subscription. Woo hoo – I can see all the TV shows I missed the last decade or so. I just finished “Mad Men” which I loved as I worked in the creative department of an ad agency, when I graduated from college. P.S. – I have fallen asleep during movies many times (“Sleeper” and “Reds”) and a few movies I had to see for my journalism core program starring Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marianne tells me that she doesn’t hate all musicals, only the ones I tend to like. 🙂

      I have never seen either Sleeper or Reds, so cannot say whether falling asleep during either of those would be good or bad. But I will agree that there have been good series’ from non-traditional sources in recent years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like Marianne’s comment. I thought of this post last night as I attempted to start a new TV series on Amazon Prime. This was “Scrubs” and I lasted five minutes after the credits and stopped it. I thought it might be like “E.R.” which I really liked. Next, I went to “Boston Legal” and I’ll stick with it, but I know I enjoyed “The Practice”, “L.A. Law” and “Judging Amy” much more. Expanding my horizons is NOT always a good thing. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. J.P. & L.P. : I have now written 45 posts for Curbside Classic. I complete most of them in 1-2 days, with one night to sleep on them, and revise in the morning. I never started one I didn’t finish. Now I’m thinking that I must be more “German” than I thought!

    Random observation: If you rub some Brasso on that door knocker, I bet it would shine right up! (If it’s solid brass).

    Liked by 1 person

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