How to Survive a 24-Hour Movie Marathon

BNAT 2012

Fellow Minnesotans at Butt-Numb-a-Thon 14

Reader James C asks:

Hi Melissa, I have a question about BNAT but, not really about Butt Numb A Thon. Our local theatre here in Vancouver, BC is doing a 24 hour marathon soon and I thought maybe you could give me some tips on what you brought to get through the trip. Doubtless the seats at our theatre are not as great as the ALAMO and our theatre does not serve food (but I assume you would not just keep ordering food from them as it would be expensive) so what else can an 11-time BNAT professional guide a newbie through the 24 hours of sheer awesome? Thank you.

Hooray for the upcoming marathon at the Cinematheque! I am envious!

Yes, surviving a 24-hour marathon of movies is a unique experience that requires some special planning. Each particular event has its own personality and logistical needs depending on the organizers and the venue. (For example, the Alamo Drafthouse serves great food at the Butt-Numb-a-Thon, but you have to bring all your own food to B-Fest, which is housed in a university student union center.) However, most of the below survival tips will apply no matter what venue you are at.


The first thing you want to find out is where your food will come from. Check with the venue to find out if you can bring food into the theater for the event. If the venue has little-or-no meal-type food and will let you bring your own, you’ll want to make a shopping run beforehand. Otherwise, if outside food is verboten (as it is at the Alamo Drafthouse), you’ll want to plan to bring extra meal money.

Beyond the “where” factor of getting your food, you’ll want to focus on the quality of food. Sure, you can survive for 24 hours on popcorn and other concession stand junk, but you’ll feel rotten by the end of it. Make sure that you get a couple of meals of real food in there somewhere. You’ll feel a lot better by the end of the show.

Also, don’t put yourself in a food coma and miss a movie. Keep the meals small, and try to avoid fatty fast food.

I’m unable to have caffeine at all, but I’ve witnessed many others game their caffeine addictions during BNAT. In the weeks leading up to the event (or even a few days), try to reduce your caffeine intake. That way, during the event itself, caffeinated sodas and coffee will have a little extra punch. Also, those little 5-hour energy shots work pretty well, but use them as the final weapon in the arsenal. If you start out the marathon using those shots, you’ll feel pretty lousy by the end of the show.

Certain other foods help you stay awake. Chewing gum is strangely effective in waking me up a little bit. Crunchy foods and cold foods/beverages also are helpful in perking up.


If you’re on any prescription medication, make sure you bring it. If the meds are something you take as-needed (like antihistamines or painkillers), bring extra, just in case.

Bring aspirin or your favorite pain-reducing alternative. Otherwise, if you get a headache or a leg cramp in the middle of the film, you’ll be miserable. Bring extra, and you could also be some other attendee’s best friend.

Also, keep in mind that you’ll be trapped in a room with a whole bunch of people for 24 hours. Bring a vitamin or Emergen-C to help ward off illness.

If you’re addicted to nicotine, bring extra cigarettes. Even if you don’t expect to smoke them, you might make friends with some jonesin’ folks outside the theater door at 3am


After sitting in a chair watching movies for several hours, you WILL stink. Even if you don’t care about the noses of the folks around you, you will also soon to feel really scummy. Feeling scummy will make you want to sleep, believe it or not. One great way to wake up is to freshen up a bit.

Bring deodorant, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, at the very least. You will feel much more human at 3 AM after a quick clean-up in the bathroom. Additionally, brushing your teeth is magic for waking up after a long night of movies.

In addition to that, bring a change of socks and underwear. Again, when you’re 18 hours in and need a wake-up, a great way to do that is to change your socks. I’m serious. Fresh socks are as magic as tooth-brushing.

Wet wipes are great for a quick freshen-up, too.

Don’t wear perfumes, if you can help it. Your fellow moviegoers will thank you for it.

Have one of those bottles of hand sanitizer handy. Again, you’re going to be trapped in a room for a long time with a lot of other people, so you’ll want every safeguard against illness you can get.


I know you’ll want to stay awake for the entire marathon, but don’t dismiss the need for a pillow. Movie theater seats aren’t made for long-term sitting; you can easily modify your space with a simple pillow. The pillow can go under your knees, behind your back, under your neck, in your lap. One of my favorite pillow moves is to clutch it to my chest, so my chin can rest on it.

You’ll also want a blanket. After you sit in a chair for four hours, you’ll notice your metabolism plummeting. Even if the temperature in the theater doesn’t change at all, you’ll soon be freezing. You’ll want a blanket. Additionally, if you do need to snooze during a film, you can toss the blanket over your head for some shut-eye.

Dress in layers and bring a hoodie. You can add/remove clothing as your body temperature dictates. Plus, the hoodie can be extra useful if you need to nap: just pull the hood over your eyes.

If you can’t sleep with noises around you, bring earplugs.

If you wear contact lenses, make sure you bring your saline / cleaning gear, as well as a pair of just-in-case glasses. You don’t want to suffer through the latter half of a film marathon with stinging eyes.

Get up and move between every movie! It will help you stay awake, it will keep your blood moving, and it will keep your muscles from getting sore. (Back when the Alamo Drafthouse was still in a single-screen theater in downtown Austin, TX, a popular pastime between BNAT films was walking up and down the tall flight of stairs in the entryway of the theater.) Ducking outside for a few minutes is even better, though make sure you don’t lock yourself out of the theater during the wee hours of the morning!


Socialize with your fellow film nerds. If you don’t already know people in the crowd, wear a nerdy t-shirt and start nerdy conversations with other people. Get to know your seatmates!

Bring a camera, because photos of other people you met will be the photos you enjoy most later in life.

Turn off the phone. Yes, it’s a no-brainer to keep the electronics off during the films, but even between the movies, I recommend going off the grid. Consider leaving the phone in the car entirely. Be in the moment. Focus on the event around you. Forget about the outside world. Don’t text, tweet, or even look at the clock. If you want to document your experience, bring a notepad and a pen instead. That way, you can jot things down even during a film if you want. You’ll have a lot more fun going analog.

*** I don’t adhere to my own no-phone advice at B-Fest, because that’s a peculiar event where interacting during the films — tweeting, shouting, whatever — is actively encouraged. But B-Fest is a very odd event. Attempting the same thing at BNAT would get you drawn and quartered. I love the off-the-grid feeling of BNAT, because it feels like a magical Brigadoon where everyone talks to each other between films, instead of staring at their phones.

Have a great time, James!

BNATters and B-Festers: did I miss anything? Put it in the comments! I’m sure James would appreciate it.


  1. Thanks Alot, Melissa-
    Super Helpful and informative- I didn’t even think about bringing some Aspirin just in case- or a change of sock. Brilliant stuff.

    • It’s all information crowdsourced from years worth of BNAT attendees. I don’t know who figured out the sock thing, but it’s genius!

  2. I’d add that water/hydration is really important. You have to pace your intake volumes to coincide with movie breaks, but caffeine and sodas will dehydrate you and can contribute to feeling gross and sleepy.

    Also, when I travel to events, movies or not, it’s been really handy to have personal cards (business cards/calling cards) they’re handy if you want to trade contact info or write someone a note. Especially if you don’t have your phone.

    Enjoy your marathon!

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