Where the Best Movie Theater Seats Are, According to an Expert

BY: Jess Snively |Apr 20, 2016

When it comes to picking out the best movie theater seats, it seems everyone has their own opinion. Some love the excitement of the front row; others like to camp out in back. Some prefer an aisle seat so they can make popcorn runs; others like to sit in the middle to get the best view.

But what do the experts say about where to sit in a movie theater? To get a more definitive answer, we turned to Julian Antos, technical director at the Music Box Theatre, who explained where the best movie theater seats are located based on typical movie theater design.

What's the best row in a movie theater?

The best row will be the center row and the four rows behind it (this places you about one-half to two-thirds back).

Why these seats have a great picture:

To go easy on your neck, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends that your vertical line of sight should be at about 15 degrees below the horizontal center line of the screen, and should not exceed 35 degrees from the horizontal top of the screen. Think of a clock: if 9 o'clock is the horizontal center line, your viewing angle should range from 8 o'clock to 10 o'clock. That would generally place you in about the middle row, depending on the theater.

Of course, not everyone agrees. "If the movie is projected on film, I like to sit up close in the first to third row," says Antos. "I like to take in all the grain and detail and have the image fill most of my peripheral detail." Plus, he says, "You can stretch your legs out!"

Why these seats have great sound:

Happily, the best viewing angle usually coincides with the best place to take in sound. This isn't an accident. "Generally, auditoriums and screening rooms are designed so that the 'best' seat is one-half to two-thirds of the way back from the screen," says Antos, explaining that that's where engineers sit when balancing the theater's sound. "This is also where you would get the clearest separation of audio channels."

What's the best seat in that row?

The best movie seats are located in the center, with three seats to the left and right.

Why these seats have a great picture:

For the best view, stick to the center of the theater. THX—the A/V company developed by George Lucas—recommends that you find a spot with a 36-degree viewing angle of the screen. Once more in clock terms: if 12 o'clock is the center of the screen, your viewing angle should ideally range from 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock. This places you at dead center, with about four seats of leeway to the left and right.

Why these seats have great sound:

Again, the same general guidelines apply, but surprisingly, Antos recommends against sitting absolute dead center for sound purposes. According to him, if you sit directly in the middle, you'll get a neutral sound. But if you sit two or three seats to the left or right of center, you'll get a more dynamic sound experience that puts more oomph behind fight scenes and orchestral swells.