I haven’t been to the movies in a movie theater for more than two years. At first the pandemic scared me away, but I continued to stay away because it was much easier to watch things at home with captions enabled than to battle the captioning devices at the movie theaters. While very helpful when they work, they sometimes don’t, leaving patrons with hearing loss disappointed and unable to enjoy the film they just paid to watch.
But this was different. Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to one of my all time favorite movies Top Gun, was playing in theaters and NOT yet online. My husband and I wanted to see it. So much so, that we watched the original movie the night before to prepare!
Sunday afternoon, I opened my favorite movie ticket app to buy tickets and to my surprise and delight, there was a 2pm showing at my local AMC theater—with open captions! “Wow!” I said aloud with anticipation! “This is going to be fun!”
What Are Open Captions?
Captions come in two basic types: open and closed. Closed Captions are the most common kind of captions, used by major broadcasters and video streaming services. They can be turned on or off by the user and usually require decoding devices (like the CaptiView systems that are often found at movie theaters) to access them.
Open captions appear directly on the video making them visible to all viewers without the use of a decoder device.
Open Captioned Movies Make All the Difference
The experience of an open captioned movie is like no other. I was able to enjoy the action sequences on the big screen and I didn’t miss one word of dialogue. Rather than moving my eyes back and forth from the screen to the captioning device, I just watched the movie. My husband loved it too. He is used to watching things with captions, but he never complains, “Everyone misses some of the dialogue sometimes,” he says.
Not surprising for a rainy Sunday, the theater was crowded. There were families with children, older adults, middle-aged adults, young couples. Not one person seemed bothered by the captions.
Like many people with hearing loss, I am sensitive to loud sounds, which can make watching movies in the theater a bit uncomfortable. Because I knew this movie would be booming, I wore my noise-cancelling headphones too—with the noise cancelling feature enabled. This trick might not work for everyone—it depends on your degree of hearing loss and the type of devices you use—but it works very well for me. The noise-cancelling feature reduced the deafening repetitive sounds like the swooshing of the fighter jets and the fiery explosions of battle, making the dialogue more prominent. With the open captions as back-up, I can follow along well.
Improvements Still Needed
The open-captioned showing was a joy, but improvements are still needed to make movie-going seamless for people with hearing loss. For example:
Open caption other content too
Most of the pre-movie previews were not captioned. In a strange twist, they showed the same preview twice—first without captions and then with captions. Only the second time did I actually understand the previewed plot!
None of the ads were captioned, including the ones for the theater itself. Even the pre-show message asking patrons to turn off their cellphones, etc. was uncaptioned. Why not include everyone in your promotions?
Tom Cruise recorded a short pre-movie message thanking the audience for coming back to the movies. I wish this content had been captioned too.
I loved my open captioned movie-going experience so much, I am eager to attend more! In October 2021, AMC Theatres announced they were increasing the number of open-captioned showings at 240 cinema locations in 100 markets. Luckily, one of them is where I live. Hopefully, one day soon, wider availability of open-captioned performances will be the rule rather than the exception. Here is how to find open captioned performance for AMC Theatres.
In the meantime, if you are lucky enough to enjoy an open captioned movie, share your joy with management, online and everywhere else you go! Hopefully, positive feedback encourages them to offer more.
Readers, do you enjoy open captions at the movies?