Weekend Roundtable: The Time Traveling Movie Fan

Let’s say you had a time machine. You could use it to go back and prevent world wars or save the mother of the future leader of the human resistance from a cyborg assassin. Sure sure sure, that’s all well and good. Or, as a movie buff, you could attend the opening weekend premieres of your favorite movies with their first paying audiences. Which movies would you pick?

Shannon Nutt

Although I didn’t see it on opening weekend, I was lucky enough to see ‘Star Wars’ back during its original theatrical run. So while I suspect that may be a popular answer here, I’ll refrain from naming it as my personal pick.

Instead, I’ll go with the movie that ‘Star Wars’ replaced as the biggest box office hit of that time, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws‘. I didn’t get a chance to see that one in a theater until just a couple weeks ago when the movie’s 40th anniversary was celebrated with a new limited theatrical run. Of course, I’ve seen ‘Jaws’ on TV, VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray many times over the years, but I wonder what those very first audiences were like. The movie is still pretty terrifying by even today’s standards, so I’m guessing it scared the willies out of people in 1975. I would love to see the reaction from an audience that had no idea what to expect from a young, virtually unknown director who was about to change the way they watched movies forever.

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

I’m going to use the ‘Quantum Leap’ theory and stick to movies released during my lifetime. ‘The Graduate‘ was certainly one of those movies that changed everything. Mike Nichols’ daring film represented a definite movement away from the staid, “safe” moviemaking of 1960s Hollywood, set to a Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack that even my parents bought. It was a revolution – a successful one, thank goodness – and I wish I could have been there to hear the audience gasp at the final confrontation between bride Katharine Ross and her unfulfilled mother Anne Bancroft, and to witness the much-buzzed-about changing of the guard.

Mike Attebery

I’m sure that the time travel angle influenced this pick a little, but I would love to go back and see ‘Back to the Future‘ on the big screen. I wasn’t too up on movies when the original ‘BTTF’ debuted, so the first time I saw it was during a special movie day at the Boys & Girls Club in Farmington, NM. I still remember sitting way back in basketball bleachers, seeing the clocks in the opening scene ticking away on two tiny tube TVs, with coax cables and a splitter connected to a VHS player that sat on the table between them. Even then, I remember thinking that probably wasn’t doing the movie justice.

M. Enois Duarte

If I could, I would love to travel back to 1902 when Georges Méliès’s massively influential ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ was originally circulated throughout Europe and the United States. My reason is simple: The film is widely recognized as the birth of modern cinema, what essentially sparked the use of fictional narrative in movies. During these early years of cinema, it was Méliès who introduced theatricality and special effects while also telling a linear story using the at-the-time revolutionary technique of continuity editing. For moviegoers of the period, seeing this beautiful, wildly imaginative film was a stunning, mind-blowing experience. I would love to be there to see the audiences’ reaction, especially because they’d be unaware it would become the future of cinema.

Brian Hoss

I’m thinking that the test previews for ‘Blade Runner‘ would be pretty interesting. Just being there in 1982 for that cut of the film as audiences react would be one heck of an experience. I don’t really know what kind of audience reaction a studio is looking for in such a case, so that might be a drawback for me. Clapping? Jittery excitement? Happy murmuring on the way out? But still, matching up exactly what was on screen with an audience that was likely somewhere between stunned and bored would be fascinating.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I’ve been to two classic movie palaces but have somehow managed to avoid seeing an actual film at either of them. The horror revivals I’ve caught at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC were in a tiny, adjoining theater rather than the main hall that seats more than a thousand, and my only experience at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre to date has been seeing Conan O’Brien perform live.

If I could roll back the clock, I’d eagerly right that wrong. As tough as it would be to choose just one classic film to watch on opening night in a grand movie palace, I think I’d have to go for the original 1933 ‘King Kong‘. The screens in these palaces dwarfed what we see in most theaters nowadays, and I can only imagine how awe-inspiring a sight the mighty Kong must have been on a towering 40’ tall screen. No cynicism, no cell phones – just a shared, visual spectacle like no other.

Josh Zyber

I have two picks for this.

According to legend, the Lumière brothers’ 1896 short ‘Train Pulling into a Station‘ terrorized viewers who were overcome by the realism of the image and believed that an actual train was barreling towards them. Some film scholars have contested this story as a myth. I’d like to find out what really happened.

After that, I’d definitely want to go see the opening of the third James Bond film, ‘Goldfinger‘, at either its British premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in London or its American premiere at the DeMille Theatre in New York City. Oh hell, I’d need to go to both. By the time of this movie’s release in 1964, 007 Fever had reached a frenzy. The DeMille Theatre, one of the great movie palaces of old that was still in operation at the time, had to remain open 24 hours a day from Christmas Eve to New Year’s to accommodate the thronging crowds. I would have loved to be there as waves of excitement flowed through the audience during the film’s many now-iconic scenes.

If you had this magic time machine, what movies would you be most excited to experience with an opening weekend crowd? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. NJScorpio


    (Having seen The Matrix and Pulp Fiction opening weekend, I’d suggest those who didn’t go back in time to be wowed by those.)

  2. Shayne

    I would love to attend the first (or one of the first) ever “audience participation” screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve gone many times over the years but I think that would be a pretty special event.

  3. Barsoom Bob

    Josh, You brought up a real good memory for me with Goldfinger. I had seen both previous 007s and was totally a Bond teenage fan. I was also under lockdown as far as going to any movie because of subpar academic performanmce. My stepmother really knew how to get at me and was trying to straighten me out. I lived out in Massapequa Long Island at the time. As you stated, Goldfinger was playing it’s premier weeks just at the DeMille. The lines would stretch around that corner under that giant curved billboard/Marquee.

    So, one Saturday morning I got out and checked the LIRR schedule and the movie times and calmly walked out the door and said I was just going over to a friend’s house. Rode my bike to the train station, took the train into Penn Station, got uptown, bought my ticket, saw the movie, caught the next train back home and just sauntered in jsut before dinner. No one ever knew, quite proud of that operation. LOL

    My pick would have to be Star Wars. I mentioned this on the blog once before. There was one of those sneak previews a week before the actual release of the movie that I went to with my pregnant wife and my friend Jeff. Jeff and I were, as they say, “tripping balls.” Mind you there were no big publicity campaigns or tons of commercials for this, it was just an intriguing/title premise and George Lucas had cred at the time from THX and American Graffiti. No one knew what they were in for. I had a little mental hallucination while waiting on line that this was really a government propaganda film to get the population ready for an actual alien invasion that they knew was coming. Thankfully that passed after a few minutes, Oh yeah, crazy great times back then.

    It is a cliche now, to talk about that first flyover by the Star Detroyer, but In my condition I though it was never going to end and just crushed you down into your seat. Everything after that was so many more things that you had never really seen done before so realistically and with such kinetic energy and speed. Mind blowing to say the least. Can then imagine that you are a week ahead of it being released and reviewed to the general population and trying to explain this to people. It is all I could talk about to people for the next week and they must have thought I was raving mad. Still is one of my peak movie going experiences.

    • Barsoom Bob

      Sorry, I miss interpreted the premise. If I could go back, I think I agree with the 1933 King Kong pick mentioned. That was probably equally as mind blowing and powerful.

  4. The Terminator is one of my all time favorite films, but I never got to see it theatrically. That’s one for sure I’d love to see with a big haired 1984 audience. John Carpenter’s The Thing is another movie that I would love to see on the big screen and if I were in 1982, maybe I would be in half empty theater as I’ve read that it performed poorly at the box office upon its release. Nosferatu would also be pretty fascinating to watch in a 1920’s setting. I would imagine this would be the most complete and accurate way to see it before the movie was ordered to be destroyed and film preservationists would be piecing it back together for the next several decades.

  5. EM

    I have had the good fortune to see the silent Phantom of the Opera theatrically with live musical accompaniment on three separate occasions (and I may yet go a fourth time this Halloween). Those showings are fabulous and take me back in time…but I would like to really go back. Surely that first-ever reveal of the Phantom’s true face would be an awesome Event in 1925. Even better if I could attend the premiere of each cut—there were a few, and not all footage or scoring remains extant in 2015.

  6. Bill

    I have to go with Star Wars, EP. IV. I would have loved to have been in a 70 mm theatre on the first night when that gigantic seemingly endless Star Destroyer moved across the whole screen. It was something that had never been seen before and heralded the beginning of a special effects revolution in the cinema that is still going on today. Movies changed forever that night.

    • C.C. 95

      2001 dude. Douglas Trumbull. That was the one that changed special effects forever. Ask the guys at ILM who did Star Wars- they will tell you the same.

      • Bill

        Not sure about that. 2001 was great and stunning but it was a standalone that didn’t have any impact on other films of the time. SW brought attention to special effects and good sound and also changed the scope of movies. Since the mid 60’s films had lost their blockbuster quality (Lawrence, Zhivago, Ben Hur) and became obsessed with small personal stories (Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Graduate, Alfie, Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner) all of which were primarily about relationships and deeper emotional issues. Throughout this period movies as popcorn fun barely existed. WE went to the movies to be “enlightened” not entertained. SW/Spielberg and Lucas changed that. Movies became fast paced, energetic and became watched for their entertainment value rather than because they contained a deep psychological meaning. Saturday matinee action/adventure type movies were back and it was in brief the beginning of the split between box office smashes and “serious” films. The critics continued to like the latter but the public flocked to the former and still do. For me it all started with Star Wars and that amazing Star Destroyer. It is the moment that I wish I could have experienced.

  7. My father loved to tell me how he went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on it’s initial week showing in New York. He claimed that after it was criticized for its slow pacing that about 17 minutes were cut from the film (mostly exterior shots of the Discovery One on its trip to Jupiter). He felt the slow pace was deliberate and necessary to show what a long lonely voyage it would truly be and that the cutting hurt the film. In any case I would have loved to have attended the premiere to have our collective minds blown by a film so far ahead of its time.

  8. Timcharger

    As a fan of films, I see this roundtable question differently than most.

    I don’t want to go back and “experience” that initial day because I would
    be the me of today, not a person of yesteryears. I’ve seen IMAX. I’ve
    seen 4K. I’ve experienced Atmos. I would not be experiencing those
    films as a unknown frontier explorer like those past audiences. I
    wouldn’t have the same sense of astonishment. That premiere may
    actually result in disappointment for me, from the future.

    For this time travel hypothetical, I would go back in time to every day my
    younger self went to the movies. And I would tell myself which movie
    premiere that week I should be watching. Stay away from the forgetable
    junk films that I did see. All those wasted hundreds of hours on staring
    at unworthy sh*t. Tell my younger self to skip that week and save my
    money for another week.

    Also give my younger self a note to when to start diminishing my DVD
    purchases. Maybe a note on the red versus blu format war. Tips about
    DVI versus HDMI. Advise myself how much $ should I spend on that first
    HDMI cable. Even better, help strongly establish buying rules and a
    disciplined build out of a film collection.

  9. As an aside, my best opening night was ALIEN. High-energy, SF-fan audience, primed by months of (mostly inaccurate) leaked info. Unable to speak afterwards.

    The most deleriously happy opening night audience I have ever seen was for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. When the opening fanfare played: total meltdown.

    Both were in a superb theater, now gone.

    For time travel, I’d pick 2001. I saw it in the good theater, but not on it’s initial run (I think). The experience was as important as the movie in this case.


  10. Bolo

    I think I’ll go with [b]’The Exorcist'[/b]. People were apparently freaking out during original run screenings, leaving the cinema crying and barfing. It’s still a really shocking and vulgar movie, even today. I can believe the reaction back then would be insane.

  11. William Henley

    As I see most movies opening weekend, I would have to go back to the classics that came out before I was born.

    Star Wars would be fun to see with its first opening audiences.

    But I think I would love to see some of the classics. Gone With The Wind, Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Fantasia, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music are all at the top of my list

  12. Mike Attebery, when you say “I wasn’t too up on movies when the original ‘BTTF’ debuted”, what do you mean? You just didn’t watch movies? You were into sports, tv, girls, LEGO at the time?

  13. Jean-Denis Rouette

    Can we bring our camcorder? I would got back to attend one or both of the test screenings of the early cuts of THE MAGNIFICENT AMERSONS, before it was taken out of Welles’s control. Hell, I’d invent time travel for that alone!

    I would also skip forward a few decades to watch the original ending of THE SHINING shown in its opening week before Kubrick asked the projectionists to extract the hospital scene.

  14. Lord Bowler

    I would go back and see ‘The Alamo’ (1960) in theater starring John Wayne! This is one of my favorite movies of all time and I would love to see it on the big screen for the first time without any knowledge I have now.

    With re-releases, I’ve been able to see such classics on the big screen such as Star Wars, Jaws, Ben-Hur, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are many others I’d love to see on the big screen if given the chance.

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