the room 4

The Room is many things. An endless well of internet memes. An absolute trainwreck of a film. But it’s also the most successful midnight movie of the modern era, the heir apparent to Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Since The Room debuted in 2003, it’s developed an intense fan following on the midnight movie circuit. There are dozens of callbacks and hundreds of spoons. Director/writer/star Tommy Wiseau makes frequent appearances at screenings. So does his co-star, Greg Sestero, who co-wrote the behind-the-scenes book, The Disaster Artist, that’s now a movie of its own.

But how exactly did The Room achieve this unique cult status? I spoke to managers and events directors at movie theaters across the country to piece together its rise. They shared stories of elaborate costumes, questionable callbacks, and the work that goes into hosting the most boisterous movie screening in town.

The Beginning

The Room, famously, bombed on its original release on June 27, 2003. Wiseau booked a two-week run at two theaters in Los Angeles that kicked off with a disastrous “world premiere.” But someone managed to wander into an empty showing during those two weeks: Michael Rousselet. The screenwriter has been credited as the “patient zero” of the Room cult thanks to a 2008 Entertainment Weekly article. By his account, he and his friends would bring along 100 people to a single showing. After The Room concluded its initial run, this budding fanbase began calling the theaters where it played, demanding its return. They were persuasive. According to Vulture, it was in the midnight screening rotation at the Laemmle Sunset in Los Angeles by 2004.

It took a few years for the movie to break out of LA, where Wiseau’s face literally loomed over the highway on a billboard he rented. Wiseau released The Room on DVD in 2005. A few national stories on the movie’s cult status followed. But it didn’t seem to escape California until around 2007 or 2008.

“I think The Room first came to Coolidge in, must have been, 2007,” says Mark Anastasio, the program manager at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Massachusetts. “We saw some articles. The Los Angeles screenings started to get national attention. I remember our associate director at the time showing the article to myself and our program manager back then and asking us to look into it. We ran it for the staff, to sort of test it out amongst ourselves. The staff screening was a huge hit. We thought it was hysterical and a lot of fun. We booked it for midnight shows and we began to run it monthly. It’s been screening here regularly ever since.”

Tom Beddow, the director of event marketing for Landmark Theatres, tells a similar story. “I actually was working at the E Street Cinema [in Washington, DC] as a manager in 2008 and we had just restarted our midnight program that fall. So our film department was asking us what we wanted to play and I had seen clips of The Room on YouTube and kind of heard that it was becoming a midnight phenomenon. I suggested this movie to our film department and they had never heard of it. But we had actually also gotten some emails from patrons asking, ‘Are you guys ever going to play this movie, The Room?’ The first time it played, it sold out.”

By around 2009, the movie was in midnight rotation at the multiple Landmark Theatres, Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, and so many other locations across America. As the film gained traction, so did the unique rituals attached to the midnight screenings of The Room.

the room screenings

Callbacks and Costumes

You never hear much movie dialogue at The Room screenings, because the audience is too busy shouting and singing at every opportunity. Although the callback lines can vary depending on the theater, quite a few have entered the national lexicon. Fans chant, “Go! Go! Go!” during any pan of the Golden Gate Bridge, cheering if the pan reaches the end or sighing if it cuts. They also sing the Full House theme song over appropriate shots of San Francisco. They’ll scream, “Focus!” whenever the camera goes out of focus or “Close the damn door!” anytime a character leaves the front door ajar. The characters in The Room also seem to play football a lot (although “play” is a strong word for whatever it is they’re doing) so fans will smuggle in footballs of their own to toss during these scenes. And that’s just scratching the surface. More complete lists of the callbacks can be found here and here.

Audience members also dress up as characters from the movie. Tuxedos, which Wiseau’s character Johnny and his male friends don for one scene, are the most common. Women also frequently show up in red dresses, similar to the one worn by Lisa (Juliette Danielle). But some people get very creative.

“We had a person come dressed as the flower shop lady,” says Bob Roberts, the front of house manager at the Belcourt Theatre. “She even had a stuffed dog that she was carrying around with her. I just thought that was amazing. We have also had people come as the bearded and non-bearded Mark. Just two guys show up as Mark before and after he shaved.”

Elisa Melendez, a longtime Room fan, has also brainstormed some imaginative costume ideas.

My husband and I have debated a quick change into track pants and tank tops to do a lap around the theater during the jogging scene,” she writes in an email. “But we haven’t implemented it yet.”

While costumes and chanting might be fun, there’s one tradition that eclipses all the rest.

The Room - Morning Watch

A Brief Word on Spoons

The most famous ritual associated with The Room is throwing plastic spoons towards the screen. For whatever reason, Johnny and Lisa’s fictional home is full of framed photos of spoons. So as soon as one is visible onscreen, viewers will scream, “Spoon!” and chuck plastic cutlery towards the front. This happens so frequently that any theater is blanketed with spoons by the time lights come up.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the staff’s least favorite part of these screenings.

“Literally every auditorium we had at the E Street Cinema, if you looked under the screen, there would be spoons,” says Beddow. “They would all hit the screen and fall behind the curtain, so it would just be hundreds of spoons back there. Every couple months, we’d go in and do a spoon clean-up.”

“Any event that has people clear the shelves of the local pharmacy of all their plastic silverware and then leave hundreds of thousands of them just dumped on the floor is going to be a source of agitation for the venue,” says Anastasio. “But I think at the last show, there must have been at least 20 to 30 people, audience members, who stayed to help fill giant Hefty bags full of spoons.”

Beyond the clean-up, the spoons can pose deeper problems. Several theaters warn audiences before each showing that they are not supposed to actually hit the screen. Structural damage is a real fear for multiple managers, who have had to institute a list of rules thanks to a couple bad fans.

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