Cinema staff are finding themselves getting disgusting verbal abuse for enforcing rules they have no choice but to enforce.

Whilst the majority of films – certainly mainstream films – that head into wide release now tend to have a 12A rating at the most in the UK, there’s a slowly resurrecting trend for films that demonstrate a 15 certificate isn’t the box office poison it was once regarded as (12A being our equivalent to the PG-13 rating in the US). Of course, with a 15 certificate, nobody under UK law is allowed to be admitted to the film in question whilst it’s playing in cinemas unless they’re at least that age (a key differential from America’s R rating). The only exception to this being the exemptions that (genuinely) have to be sought for baby and parent screenings.

It was the likes of Deadpool and Logan that demonstrated – or re-demonstrated – the box office potential of films with a tougher rating, but at the coal face of those successes were the staff at cinemas around the country, who had to explain to patrons why they absolutely weren’t allowed to bring underage cinemagoers into a screening of an X-Men film. Kids are allowed a Deadpool lunchbox or backpack, and the merchandising ecosystem happily targets them, leading some to believe the film is aimed at them. That’s a whole article in itself.

When it comes to trying to get underage cinemagoers into films, though. the old trick of booking the tickets online (not that cinemas encourage booking tickets in person really) and trying to sneak them in tends to be scuppered when there’s someone standing there checking the tickets.

And as it turns out, people have not being taking refusal well. To the point that they’ve been remonstrating quite forcibly with those people who stand there having to do the ticket check.

What’s more, this is a quietly growing issue again.

I took a trip to my local multiplex over the weekend, and I was greeted by newly-posted signs at the ticket checking desk (yep, it actually has one). The signs politely but firmly explained that the cinema’s staff had no choice but to turn away under 15s from films with a 15 certificate. They further added that the staff were enforcing the law, and asking politely that said staff didn’t take the flack for that. I asked if the young member of staff who took our tickets had been on the receiving end of abuse for turning people away. She nodded, as if it simply came with the territory.

Digging a bit further a day or two later, the experience at my generally well policed local cinema isn’t a one-off. I’m grateful I get to go to a multiplex where there are still checks on the door, but it clearly comes at a cost for the staff involved. They report there’s a growing sense of entitlement amongst certain patrons that’s leading them to believe that, accompanied by an adult, someone under 15 is allowed to see anything they like.

And they’re not.

I got in touch with one or two people I know who manage cinemas, and questioned whether it was the release of Birds Of Prey – a 15 certificate comic book movie, of course – that had been a contributory factor. Not the case. Instead, it’s been a growing problem, and the most recent spike was seen with  It: Chapter Two. That saw the biggest such surge in people trying to get in underage since the last Inbetweeners movie, it seems. Appreciating this is anecdotal, just anecdotes from people working at the aforementioned coalface.

The core source of the problem? That’d be parents.

I’ve heard reports now that families are turning up for 15 certificate films with obviously underage children. Said adults then insist that their children be admitted, giving their word that the child in question can cope with the film. And then getting very, very pissed off when the cinema elects not to set aside the law of the land in exchange for them vouching for their child.

The cinema, of course, faces fines and prosecution if it lets people in to age-restricted films underage, and has no choice but to turn the youngsters concerned away.

Again, from talking to people working in cinemas, people increasingly believe – particular in an era where video on demand services are lowering age restrictions whether they mean to or not – that they can simply turn a blind eye. That because it’s easy to watch a horror film on Netflix or something, the barriers have equally lowered in the cinema.

But they haven’t, and to reiterated: the staff – legally – are not allowed to admit people underage. The cinema, in the worst case, risks losing its licence. And regular checks are conducted using mystery customer programmes to ensure they’re abiding by the law.

Sadly, what we’re left with is that the staff of cinemas are taking hostile, unwarranted and vitriolic abuse. Sure, the customers concerned can be banned, but for the person on the receiving end, the damage is done. As anyone who works in retail can testify, dealing with an angry customer is very rarely the highlight of a day. It’s not as if such jobs are the most richly-rewarded, either.

None of this is a new problem, but it’s at the point where cinemas near me are stepping up measures to ensure their staff have some degree of protection. One local cinema to me now has bag checks and security guards for a start, although there are other problems there. Even at my friendly local, those signs have had to put up around the place. But few believe those signs will extinguish the problem.

If you are a member of staff working in a UK cinema and want to add to this story – it’s one I’m going to look in more – then please drop me a DM on Twitter (@simonbrew) or email me at simon at filmstories co uk. Because sadly at the moment, this a tale without a happy ending. That there’s no obvious remedy. We’re in an era where a cursory certificate in the corner of a streaming service is the only firewall of note to people watching anything they like at home. Where 12A and 15 certifcate films come with age restrictions, but oftentimes broad merchandising lines targeting the very people the films aren’t supposed to be for. And it’s the staff at the ticket desk who are bearing the brunt of that.

To all those working in the cinemas around the land and attempting to enforce these basics: thank you. And I hope in the case of my local at least that those signs at least do some good.

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