Why everyone loves watching bad movies while flying

Why everyone loves watching bad movies while flying

I wrote a guide for Vulture on mile-high binge-watching this summer. I called it "wing-watching." Read it here.

But this got me thinking about why people choose what to watch at home or in the sky — and do our tastes, like most inhibitions on vacation, drastically change? Reluctance to cough up $15 for a rom-com in theaters fades away when — surprise! — it’s free on the flight to your friend’s destination wedding. Offerings can vacillate between the random (like one recent flight showing two Friends episodes from four seasons apart) and the ill-timed (I had to pause The Jinx when my in-flight meal of mystery beef was delivered moments into the first episode’s discussion of how to retrieve a headless body from the sea).

But the right selection? Oh, that can set the tone for your entire vacation. Avoid Still Alice or The Fault in Our Stars, unless you like being reminded of the fragility of life on your way to the Caribbean. Even the most hardhearted fliers are susceptible to sky cry, that flood of tears triggered at any moment. This might explain why action and comedy films proliferate, with the occasional 12 Years a Slave or Birdman thrown in for more discriminating viewers. And obsessively clicking through every option might yield smaller, overlooked movies. Hugh Grant as a failed screenwriter in The Rewrite? Lynn Shelton’s Laggies? Back home these might hover at the bottom of a Netflix queue. Over the Atlantic Ocean, they're heaven-sent.

But there’s another perk. The mile-high movie club becomes the ultimate judgment-free zone, brimming with forced anonymity. Apart from your dozing mouth-breather neighbor, no one thinks twice about your movie choice, or when you tell the flight attendant to “Keep the white wine coming.” The dude who eyeballs your screen while he trudges to the bathroom for the third time in an hour doesn’t know if Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is a lowbrow exception to your highbrow tastes, or if you just really miss The King of Queens.

Instead of thinking of flying as necessary suffering (yes, the seats are small, no you’re not getting a free snack) why not enjoy the guilt-free hours of watching something terrible or wonderful, and embrace life’s interstitial moments. The Golden Age of flying may be dead, but in-flight binge-watching is alive and well — and trumps the ability to smoke onboard, anyway.

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