Are There Cameras in Movie Theaters?

A decade ago on a hot July night, 12 people were shot dead and 70 others were wounded when 24-year-old James Holmes opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Dressed in black body armor and armed to the hilt, he carried out his attack about 20 minutes or so after the film — The Dark Knight Rises — had started.

According to History.com, police caught Holmes outside the movie theater. In the weeks and months that followed the incident, one of the questions that people asked was why there were no security cameras behind the building where Holmes got into his gear. 

Why Do Movie Theaters Have Cameras?

The incident with James Holmes highlights in a very dramatic way why movie theater owners and managers would put security cameras in their buildings. While the extent to which each individual theater comes equipped with a camera can’t be covered in an article like this, suffice it to say that, nowadays, most movie theaters have cameras in them.

What Are the Reasons for the Camera in the Theater?

We spoke of one reason already: to capture criminal acts or try to. However, there are multiple reasons why a theater’s management team would put cameras in their theaters. All of the reasons deal with an attempt to reduce nefarious activity. 

The reasons are: 

  1. To stop or at least deter criminal activity
  2. To prevent people from making bootleg copies of the film
  3. To discourage sexual activity inside the theater
  4. To encourage people to buy snacks from the theater instead of bringing their own snacks into the theater

Each reason is discussed in more detail below.

1. Detering Criminal and Violent Activity

While the incident with James Holmes falls on the extraordinary end of the spectrum, this isn’t a one-off incident. According to The Wrap, there is a long history of violence at the movies. Gang violence, religious fanaticism, and riots have taken place at movie theaters.

While cameras may not prevent premeditated acts of violence, studies on criminal behavior do indicate that cameras can deter crime, according to MediaFeed.org.

Additionally, aside from being a deterrent against crime, the footage from security cameras in theaters can also be used later as evidence in a court case.

Finally, if there is a crime in the process of being committed, theater security staff might be able to stop it if they see it on camera. Most cameras are connected to closed-circuit TV, which allows security teams to monitor the activities on the cameras in real-time and, in theory, prevent at least some crime from happening.

2. Preventing the Bootlegging of the Movie

While technology like hand-sized movie cameras and video apps on SmartPhones certainly have their advantages, for theater owners and the movie industry as a whole, they bring plenty of headaches with them.

For hot, first-run movies, the bootleg market can be quite large. According to Movies In Theater, piracy was responsible for almost 6% of box office losses. To get a pirated copy of a film, would-be digital pirates will attempt to discretely film the movie while they’re in the theater watching it.

That the quality is often poor and includes shots of people getting up and down to go to the candy counter matters little to those who do not want to wait nor to pay to see the movie. Installing surveillance cameras in the theater is one way to deter such activity.

3. Stopping Sexual Activity in the Theater

It may be unpleasant to think about, but there are those who would take the dimmed lights and loud movie soundtrack as an invitation to see how far they can take their adult activities.

It probably goes without saying that this poses a problem for theater owners on a number of fronts. First, many people bring their families to the theater, including their small children. They weren’t planning for their kids to get a lesson in sex ed in a family-friendly flick.

Second, there is an issue of cleanup. For the sake of brevity and class, it’s best to leave this point at that.

Third, such activity is considered a crime, and in some states, that crime comes with a penalty of up to a year in jail, as well as a fine. A camera installed in the theater may curb this activity.

4. Protecing Profits 

According to TIME, movie theaters take in an 85% profit from the sale of food and drink. It’s such an issue that many movie house chains, like AMC Entertainment, have banned people from bringing their own snacks into the theater with them. 

Some go as far as saying that if it weren’t for the concession stand, there would be no movie houses. They couldn’t stay in business without the sale of food and drinks. 

This brings us to the fourth reason why movie theaters install security cameras. Cameras would allow theater managers to see who brings snacks from the “outside world” into the theater with them and hopefully, deter such patrons from doing such a thing again in the future.

Is It Legal for Movie Theater Owners to Put Cameras in Theaters?

The short answer to this is, yes, movie theater owners can install security cameras in their establishments. However, there are rules about where someone can place a security camera. If it’s in a public place, like a movie theater, then this isn’t considered an invasion of privacy.

But that doesn’t mean the theater can have cameras installed everywhere: in the bathrooms would be a no-no, for example, according to HG.org, because people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they’re in a public restroom.

Final Thoughts on Are There Cameras in Movie Theaters

Although most people go to the movies because they want to enjoy the storyline and do so alongside other film fans, there is a darker side to theater-going nowadays: violence and crime. 

To deter these activities, many movie theater owners and managers have security systems in place, including surveillance cameras. As this post has discussed, there are, indeed, cameras in movie theaters but the extent to which this is true rests largely on the individual theater.

Steven Carr

Steven is a certified IT professional and gaming enthusiast. He has been working in the tech industry for over 10 years, and specializes in all things Tech-related. When he's not geeking out over the latest hardware or software release, he can be found testing out the latest video game.

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