They come not just for the big screens and the state-of-the-art digital sound systems, but also for the high-energy antics of other hard-core movie fans who simply must be in line on Friday nights when the blockbusters open.
Prepared with beach chairs, beach balls, playing cards, magazines, books and takeout food, fans lined up hours in advance Friday to be among the first to experience "Waterworld," the budget-busting aquatic epic starring Kevin Costner--just as earlier this summer they'd waited in long lines for "Batman Forever," "Apollo 13," even the critically skewered "Congo" on their opening nights.
In Orange County, two meccas for ardent moviegoers are the Big Newport Cinema in Fashion Island and the 11-theater Orange Cinedome complex in Orange. Big Newport general manager Jim Woodin says the fans who fill his 1,232-seat main theater drive from as far as Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to be part of the opening-night excitement.
"The people in line have a great camaraderie," he says. "Some bring tables and chairs. They eat dinner, they talk. They have great fun with each other out there."
Once inside the theater, the fans have been known to "do the wave" and hurl toilet paper streamers while waiting for the trailers to roll. And "the beach balls--they're kind of a tradition here," Woodin says with a smile. "We don't encourage it."
(The patrons, he adds, "have always been responsive to me when I go down and talk or ask them to stop.")
Beach balls also are a mainstay at the Orange Cinedome, according to floor manager Roger Banowetz. "By the end of the summer," he says, "I have a room full of beach balls."
Some fans have arrived in costume, adds Banowetz, who recalls a pair of "vampires" who arrived in a hearse to watch a Dracula movie, and numerous "Trekkers" clad in their Star Fleet finest when "Star Trek: Generations" debuted.
"We had 140 guys in line dressed as Capt. Jean Luc Picard. And they all wanted to be called 'Captain,' " Banowetz says.
Ron Phronson, dean of communication arts and a professor of film and television studies at Chapman University in Orange, offered some insights into such fan behavior. He noted that youth-oriented films tend to draw the longest lines on opening nights, while films aimed at older audiences typically have smaller lines but do steadier business.
"Will people stand in line for a small-cast drama of the human condition? No," he said. "Will people stand in line for a romantic love story? No. Why? Because you're not playing to a 14- to 18-year-old audience." With young moviegoers, "you have a situation of people wanting to see the movies that everyone is seeing. There is the idea of wanting to be in on something that everyone else is in on."
Phronson said he expects "Waterworld"--the most expensive movie ever made--to draw well among teens this summer. But, he said, adults often are averse to films that they believe have squandered money.
He had several reasons for the long lines that greeted "Batman Forever": "You had Jim Carrey, a new Batman, and Nicole Kidman, whom all the press was calling the 'Bat Babe.' And you had Robin. There were a lot of new things to generate interest."
He attributed the success of "Congo" to a "fabulous trailer on TV" and to the fact that "kids 14 to 18 don't read reviews. They don't care about the critics. They know it's about apes and it's in Africa and it's an adventure film. And they're going to see it. It should have sunk like a stone, but it may make $100 million."
Among those waiting outside the Big Newport when "Waterworld" opened was Shamil Erfanian, 28, of Laguna Niguel, who said he has been a Friday-night regular at the theater for five years. He got in line at 12:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. screening.
"I come for the excitement of the crowd," he said. "They're all fun-loving people. No hostility, no fear, sheer fun. If it was just the movie by itself, it would only be half the fun. It's like sitting at the end of a rocket."
Shea Foley, 23, of Irvine stood in line about four hours. He marked the occasion with an artistic touch by creating airbrushed "Waterworld" T-shirts for himself and a few friends. One shirt posed a question that many in Hollywood are asking: "What will $172 million buy?"
"We're down here in the summer for all the big ones," said Foley, who got hooked on opening-night madness when he waited with other "Star Wars" fans to see "Return of the Jedi."
"It's fun to see movies with a full crowd. I think that's the big thing," Foley said. "You get a real lively crowd inside."
Kris Poore, 23, of Laguna Hills said she once waited 15 hours in a line to catch a sneak preview of "Batman Forever."
"It was like a big party. It was one of those things to say, 'Yeah, I was there on opening night.' "
Scott Niles, 25, of Irvine said he stands in line because he wants to be sure of getting his favorite seat--in the center of the theater, about 10 rows back. "You're not looking up, but it's right there. I try to perfect the environment I'm in." He said he likes the Big Newport's digital sound system, especially because "they always play it a little louder than any theater I've been to."
Most, though, agreed with Richard West, another 25-year-old from Irvine, who said he comes for the "added excitement in the air" on opening nights. "You'll have your big group laughs, your thunderous rounds of applause. It's kind of like a big club, as long as it doesn't get too crazy."