I love being at home, so when March 2020 hit and I was told it was actually virtuous to not leave my apartment for weeks, I wasn’t really too bummed out. But as the months drew on, I found myself missing parts of life that I hadn’t necessarily expected to miss: grocery shopping multiple times a week, drinking coffee with my weird next-door neighbor, doing my laundry in my building’s laundry room without a protective face covering.
But one of the most unexpected aspects of pre-pandemic life I missed was going to the movies. I actually hadn’t gone to the movies that much prior to the pandemic, but maybe once every two months, I would take myself on a date to see a new movie. The point wasn’t really to watch the movie itself but instead to sit in front of a massive screen while indulging in the nostalgic snacks from my childhood. I would leave the theater satiated but with a sugar-induced headache, frequently unimpressed with the movie but somehow refreshed, renewed, like I had, for an hour and thirty-seven minutes, entered an alternate storyline.
I haven’t returned to my theater-going ways, mostly because I learned how to make insanely buttery popcorn from scratch and decided to piss all my money away on midnight snack deliveries while sitting in front of my TV (a pandemic purchase itself). But the snacks are still essential. That’s why I wrongly feel I have the authority to rank some of the most popular movie theater snacks from worst to best:
Honestly, it shouldn’t even have to be said that Twizzlers fall in last place. This chewy, borderline inedible candy doesn’t have any discernable flavor apart from the same artificial additive they use to make cough drops. Admittedly, the texture can be kind of fun if you have an oral fixation, but beyond that, Twizzlers are clearly the least desirable snack at the movie theater concession counter.
Sorry if you like Skittles, but you’re wrong. I had always found these “fruit”-flavored candies highly suspect, so I wasn’t surprised to read the news that a lawsuit against Skittles claims that the candies are “unfit for human consumption” because of an additive called titanium dioxide. But to be fair, the taste alone makes them unfit for human consumption.
Sour Patch Kids, are, in theory, a solid snack. But, alas, they just barely miss the mark. The classic sweet-sour mixture is always a win, but once you bite into these candies and get a sense of their texture, it’s kind of a letdown. I don’t hate Sour Patch Kids, but I would never go out of my way to buy them—especially at the exorbitant prices you usually find at movie theaters.
The weird thing about Milk Duds is that they don’t really look the way they taste. By their appearance, you might guess that you’re getting something chocolatey, but take a bite, and you’ll find that you’re getting into toffee territory. Milk Duds can be a solid choice for a movie theater bite because they take so long to eat, allowing you to savor your snack for longer, but ultimately, there are better options out there.
Let’s be clear: Pizza is a really hit-or-miss menu item at a movie theater concession stand. Sometimes, you get lucky and end up with a supremely savory and perfectly melty, albeit very greasy, slice of pie. Other times, you might end up with an unrecognizable tomato paste-slathered piece of cardboard. If you want something resembling a meal, it might be worth the risk. Otherwise, you should consider choosing something safer.
And when it comes to safe snack choices, you can’t really get much safer than a classic package of M&Ms. They’re quick, they’re easy and they’re inoffensive to pretty much everyone. If you want a bite of something sweet to go along with your popcorn, it’s a fun choice. But for me, the idea of spending over a single dollar on a package of M&Ms is just a bit beyond what I can handle.
Nachos are messy, yes, but to me, that’s part of the fun. Ordering nachos at a movie theater feels kind of adventurous, kind of dangerous. It makes me feel so unpredictable. What am I going to do next??? Ordering nachos is similar to ordering pizza in that you don’t really know what you’re going to get in terms of quality. But ultimately, if you pour some cheese on tortilla chips, it’s going to at least taste okay, right? That’s what I tell myself whenever I order them, at least.
Face it: You are getting price-gouged anytime you buy something from a movie theater concession stand. And though I normally don’t condone breaking the rules (wink), I will admit that I have snuck a wide variety of snacks into movie theaters, including homemade popcorn, blueberry galette and oddly, half of a shrimp po’boy. (The theater was empty, guys.) Nothing smacks as hard as the flavor of rebellion.
Popcorn is, of course, an essential movie theater snack. Regardless of whatever else you choose concessions-wise, you should probably order some popcorn on the side. The shareable buckets are the best, of course, but even just a taste of that flavacol-spiked movie theater goodness is worth it.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but sour gummy worms are the ideal movie theater snack, particularly because they can be enjoyed over a long period of time. You have to let them sit on your tongue for a minute while you suck off the sugar coating and the acid slowly burns the roof of your mouth. Then, you can take full advantage of the chewy, unnatural texture. Happy snacking.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.