I’ve been to four different movie theaters in the past week as an enthusiastic participant in the Barbenheimer movement. Movies mean a lot to me personally, and I’m thrilled by the resurgence in theater attendance. My heart has been warmed by the sold-out showings and the sea of pink-clad men and women in the lobby of every multiplex. It’s important for our culture, I believe, that movies and movie theaters exist.

I remember a specific team meeting at the Wynnsong theater in Provo, Utah, where I worked as a teen. Our manager explained that the theater’s main source of revenue was not ticket sales, but concessions. She instructed us to upsell every customer — encourage them to get a large popcorn instead of a medium, buy two drinks instead of one, and point out our selection of delicious candy that costs triple what it would at any other store.

She then warned us that corporate executives were sending in secret shoppers to spy on us and report back to HQ if we weren’t properly nagging each customer to buy every snack on the menu. It’s taken me 20 years to realize there probably were no secret shoppers, just an empty threat to keep us on our toes, and even if there were, half of the teens I worked with only showed up for work one-third of the time, so I was never in any real danger of getting fired anyway.

Knowing that concessions are the movies’ primary moneymaker, I always buy popcorn and a drink as a form of philanthropy. It’s my donation to a good cause — keeping movies alive.

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But not every moviegoer is as generous as I am, and if concessions really are what keep the lights on, then theater owners had better make sure that those concessions are worth the price of a car payment.

And after a week of theater-hopping to see “Barbie” three times (to make sure I’ve caught every joke) and “Oppenheimer” once (there are no jokes to be caught), it pains me to report that not all concessions are created equal.

The best popcorn, in my opinion, is properly coated in seasoning — the butter-flavored oil and salt should be used generously in the popping process. And for those of us who have the tastebuds of a sodium-deficient forest creature, there should be extra salt available. Not salt packets. A big, metal salt shaker filled with fine-grain salt that pours freely.

The popcorn should be served fresh from the popper and filled all the way to the top of the bucket. I should have to use my mouth to vacuum up the top layer so the popcorn doesn’t spill everywhere — I can’t use my hands because they’re holding drinks. Obviously.

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Speaking of drinks, it’s time we abolish the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines for good. It was a fun experiment, but time has proven that nobody actually wants a soda that tastes both like everything and nothing all at once. No one is choosing raspberry Diet Coke or orange Sprite. We want a soda dispenser that just plays the hits.

My family made a grave mistake recently. We purchased a refillable popcorn tub and a plastic mug for soda — a one-time investment that allows us to get popcorn and drinks for free or nearly free anytime we visit that specific theater (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with “gegaplex”). We made this purchase prior to tasting the popcorn and beverages, and to our horror, upon sampling, learned that the popcorn was flavorless and the beverages served from a Freestyle machine whose sweetener seemed to be malfunctioning. I suffered through the bland popped corn and carbonated mystery juice as long as I could, but had to give up long before our refill subscription ran out. Now the tub and the mug sit on a shelf, and we see movies where we know the refreshments will indeed refresh.

The movie theater experience is about so much more than movies. It’s about the entire, immersive, cinematic experience, accompanied best by movies’ most iconic culinary sidekicks — the tub of popcorn and vat of soda.

So when I see “Barbie” for the fourth time, it will be where I know I can raise my bucket of freshly popped and properly seasoned popcorn and cup of crisp, artificially sweetened soda to the hopefully long and bright future of cinema.

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