I Tried Watching 22 Marvel Movies in 1 Theater for 3 Days and Went Insane
Two-and-a-half days from now, an 11-year, 22-movie journey will end with Avengers: Endgame. It all started in 2008. I was a 16-year-old in awe at Robert Downey Jr. turning Iron Man from a C-List character to the cornerstone of a movie multiverse. In 2019, I’m a jaded 26-year-old chasing recognition at the bottom of the stunt journalism bottle. Two weeks ago, my editor (Brendan Klinkenberg) offered me a deceptively simple task. Alamo Drafthouse’s Brooklyn location was holding a 22-movie marathon — totaling 43 hours and 49 minutes of content, plus breaks parceled out in 10 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute blocks. Did I want to go, and watch as many Marvel movies as I could possibly stand? My answer was yes. My answer was wrong.
The agreed upon rules were simple: watch the Marvel films in order, call in two substitutes when needed, and try at least one food item from every category on the Alamo menu before I’m done. If I survive — whatever that means — I get to take Friday and Monday off.
Before The War
I wake up on Tuesday morning slightly hungover. The night before, I drank a bottle of red wine and watch four episodes of Friends (I need to see a therapist). In a post-bacchanalian haze I pack: an Adidas T-shirt, H&M grey jeans (slightly stained), clean underwear, a stick of Old Spice Pure Sport deodorant, Rich by Rick Ross beard oil, my toothbrush, a new box of toothpaste, regular phone charger, external phone charger, laptop and laptop charger.
I kiss my cat, Sushi, on the forehead before I leave.
The Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse is a bustling cornucopia of scents when I arrive. As I travel up the escalators, a potent curry aroma hits my nostrils. When I approach the theater where I will spend the bulk of my week, a second combination appears: Antiseptic and anticipation is in the air.
Before Iron Man begins, the marathon’s organizer, Mike Sampson, takes questions. He lets it slip that he could’ve been watching Avengers: Endgame with his children today, but he decided to throw this marathon instead. He’s upbeat, but the sacrifice seems to be weighing on him. The 100-person capacity theater is nearly full.
Iron Man (1:32 p.m. — 3:40 p.m.)
Popcorn is free and unlimited for the duration of my stay. So when the waiter asks if I’d like to add butter, I quickly and enthusiastically say, “Yes.” He looks at me like he knows something I don’t.
The lights dim, Iron Man begins and the crowd cheers. Depending upon your age, Iron Man is either a relic of a bygone era, or evidence that you are a product of said bygone era. A Myspace joke, Verizon LG flip phone, flash drive and home telephone all make appearances throughout the film. In the midst of this, Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard’s performances have aged like fine wine.
About 15-minutes into the movie, my popcorn is delivered in a large, silver cooking bowl. Thirty minutes later, I’m already nauseous. To be clear: This isn’t Alamo’s fault. Their popcorn is warm, savory, evenly popped. In my excitement, though, I shoveled about a quarter of the (enormous) bowl of mini-bowel bombs into my mouth. The waiter’s condescending glance suddenly makes sense. The butter has betrayed me.
My editor makes me an offer: If I can make it through three movies, subsisting on nothing but popcorn, he’ll buy me dinner. If I make it through four movies, senior film editor David Fear will buy me dinner and drinks. I immediately text back, “No.”
Iron Man concludes, and the rush to the bathroom unfolds dramatically. The guy in front of me farts at the urinal. By the time that registers, I’m mid-stream and he’s gone. The pungent, bacteria-laced odor wraps around me like a cocoon. I’ve found my antagonist for the next three days. My Killmonger, if you will.
The Incredible Hulk (3:50 p.m.-5:36 p.m.)
Let’s get this out of the way: The Incredible Hulk is atrocious. It’s aged like a sliced avocado left in the Sahara Desert. The Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth-starring vehicle has largely been lost to time, but watching it now illustrates how far the MCU has come in a relatively short amount of time — they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
Within the first 30-minutes, Stan Lee dies, Bruce Banner watches Sesame Street, it rains Mountain Dew-colored beverage on the Hulk, they tranquilize one dog and kill another and the dad from Modern Family dates Liv Tyler. It’s a symphony of bad choices. Bruce is worried about having sex, because he could turn into the Hulk mid-coitus, and I realize that Bruce Banner is an incel (Spoiler alert: this isn’t the first time I’ll have this thought about a Marvel protagonist).
The most excited I get in the film is when I spot Michael K. Williams in a three-second cameo. I spend the rest of the movie wondering if The Wire happens in the MCU universe.
The audience claps at the end. I begin to feel trapped.
Scent Diary (Update #2): It’s only been two movies, but the theater is beginning to smell like a mix of burnt hair mixed and sweat.
Iron Man 2 (5:50 p.m.–8:00 p.m.)
Iron Man 2 deserves a critical re-evaluation. It’s nowhere near as bad as I remembered it. I’m momentarily pissed they replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle, but I quickly get over it.
An Elon Musk cameo momentarily sends me into a spiral. I immediately order an Ommegang beer. Musk’s cameo was likely about five seconds long; somehow it feels like five hours. Downey Jr. is about as charismatic a performer working today, Musk negates that in a matter of milliseconds. Azealia Banks needs to save me from this hell.
I order fried pickles and a roasted veggie quinoa bowl — might as well try to help myself out while I’m stationary for the next few days and nights. The pickles are delightful, but the quinoa bowl quickly becomes the bane of my existence. Again, this isn’t Alamo’s fault. The movie theater quinoa and baby kale are surprisingly solid, but I didn’t pick up that it would be drenched in a Tahini-Giner dressing that tastes like yogurt. I hate yogurt.
Iron Man 2: Pretty good.
Thor (7:45 p.m.–9:34 p.m.)
I make my first friend, Joe. We immediately agree that time is rapidly losing its meaning within these walls. Twenty minutes into Thor, I start drifting in and out of consciousness. It’s 8:25pm on a Tuesday, but it feels like midnight.
There are multiple travesties happening in Thor all at the same time. The cinematography looks like a Disney Channel original movie, the audience is laughing at Anthony Hopkin’s Odin performance at moments where no laughter was intended, and Tom Hiddleston looks frighteningly pale as Loki. Worst of all, though, are Chris Hemsworth’s eyebrows, which are dyed blonde. Kevin Feige has expressed that this was the MCU decision he regrets the most; he is correct in placing his regrets. The brows are intensely distracting, a small mercy because my man delivers a lifeless performance. It makes me appreciate Hemsworth carrying the MCU on his back from Thor: Ragnarok to Avengers: Infinity War even more.
I order a glass of Bridge Lane Wine red wine. It tastes like despair.
Captain America: The First Avenger (10:05 p.m.–12:40 p.m.)
We get an extended break, in which I take the sweetest trip to Target and buy an Iron Man action figure to keep me company. When I come back, I notice the young, idyllic couple sitting behind me. They say they’re from South Jersey and have nowhere else to stay, and are therefore stuck in this theater until Endgame. It’s yet to be seen how far their youthful endurance can carry them (in this movie marathon, not in life).
Captain America is also far better than I remember it. Chris Evans embodies Steve Rogers from the first moment he shows up on the screen, despite his huge head being CGI attached to a scrawny body for a very long time. For the second time in less than a day, a Marvel movie protagonist (Steve Rogers) explains to a woman (Peggy Carter) why he hasn’t gotten laid.
The lack of sense at the core of the MCU starts to creep in when you watch each film in quick succession. Howard Stark is played by three different actors — Gerard Sanders, John Slattery and Dominic Cooper — over the course of Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Captain America. None of these men look alike. The confusion leads me to order a Chocolate Chip Cookie Shake.
Avengers (12:45 a.m.–3:19 a.m.)
My notes, I realize later, are starting to lose their coherence. “Joss Whedon sucks” is the first note I take on Avengers, largely because it’s too damn early (or late, take your pick) for his dialogue. At 1:19 a.m. I doze off as Tony, Steve, Thor and Bruce argue in a helicarrier. When I wake up, they’re still arguing on the helicarrier.
At the conclusion of the movie, people applaud. Why are they still clapping? Who are they showing their appreciation to? It’s 3 in the morning, and we’re all alone.
Iron Man 3 (3:20 a.m.–5:28 a.m.)
Iron Man 3 is unwatchable. I no longer know if this is because the film is bad, or if I’ve lost all sense of quality, but I do not enjoy this one at all. A small child runs past his caretaker in the hallway so he won’t miss a second of the film. I am envious and confounded by his resilience and lack of critical objectivity. Seventy-five percent of the theater doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and abandon the marathon.
Before the movie begins, a waitress informs the theater we all have to close our checks before 3:30 a.m. She seems done with every aspect of this marathon. At least we’re both comrades in that regard.
This would generally be the part where I complain about Iron Man 3, but to do that I would have to understand Iron Man 3. I was awake for the entire film and cannot describe the plot, motivations or reasoning behind any choices made.
Thor: The Dark World (5:40 a.m.–7:35 a.m.)
When the lights dim to signal the start of Thor: The Dark World, a delusional and sad laughter replaces the normal applause. After 15 minutes, I opt out of the film. This isn’t a good way to spend my time on Earth.
As I descend the escalators, I’m greeted by a security guard named Courtney Frederick Douglas. Desperate for any human interaction that doesn’t include a Marvel movie, we sit and talk. At one point, he asks if I’ll take a look at his photography book. He nervously looks on as I flip the page. Finally, I remark that it’s gorgeous. He’s a self-taught photographer since 2008 (ironically, the same year Iron Man was released).
“I’ve actually put more energy into being a security guard for the past two years,” he admits. “I kind of tucked my passion away deep inside myself. It’s too large. I have a big heart, but it’s too large for me to hide it in my heart… I have to shoot.”
After that, he shows me his rock solid Snoop Dogg impression and then I get ready to return to the theater. Before I leave, I let him know he’s talented and that his shot is coming. “Like Pac said ‘I ain’t mad at cha,” Courtney says as we shake hands. “I needed to hear that.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (8:55 a.m.–10:40 a.m.)
There is an extended break after Thor: The Dark World, so the Alamo employees can sanitize the theater. The bathrooms at this point are unbearable. Piss is everywhere. A urinal is overflowing. It’s pure chaos. I go all the way home to take a shit and weep.
Scent Diary (Update #3): Either I’m getting used to the smell or the Alamo Drafthouse employees are doing a remarkable job keeping the theater inhabitable.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of my favorite Marvel movies, but the only memorable moment I can gather from my time in that theater is waking up to Anthony Mackie and going “dope.”
Guardians of the Galaxy (10:50 a.m.–12:43 p.m.)
Peter Quill’s mom dies and I cry. The emotions are a mixture of exhaustion and unresolved issues with my parents. Then Rocket Raccoon makes a joke that he owns Star-Lord’s “booty” in jail and all sentimentality evaporates.
At 11:44 a.m. Rocket says, “I didn’t ask to get made.” He’s talking about being a cybernetically enhanced raccoon from Halfworld, but in that moment I feel that CGI animal on a spiritual level.
“Rolling Stone I didn’t ask to get made. — Rocket Raccoon” — Charles Holmes, staff writer
Avengers: Age of Ultron (1 p.m.)
Brendan Klinkenberg: As part of Charles’ long descent into the darkness, he gets two lifelines: I will sub in for one movie, and staff writer Elias Leight will sub in for another. I get the call to watch the second Avengers movie, presumably because Charles would like to see some sunlight.
The vibe when I arrive at the theater is decidedly strange: everyone in the mostly full theater seems to be a little punch-drunk. For people who’ve been in a chair for *checks watch* 23 full hours, they sure do love to laugh and cheer. They rouse themselves for nearly every laugh line the movie presents them with, only to sink back into their seats right after, as if returning to a stupor. I don’t know how they do it. At one point in the movie, Tony Stark says the word “endgame” — everyone goes “oooooooooooooh” for an impossibly long time. I feel out of place.
I’ve seen Ultron once before, and it’s better than I remembered. I think the first Avengers movie is a masterclass in action screenwriting, and while I can see why I was disappointed in the follow-up at the time, this is a decent time. I’m missing a lot of work, and some important meetings, so I can feel my blood pressure rising steadily as I resist the urge to look at my phone, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon. The audience applauds at the end of the movie.
I find Charles to give him his pass back, but he seems a little worse for wear. I offer to buy him a drink, and we talk before he heads back into the theater. Then I realize I have tickets to a movie in the same theater with my roommate for later that night so, I guess, I’ll be back.
Ant-Man (3:50 p.m.–5:47 p.m.)
Instead of watching Ant-Man, Brendan buys me drinks at the House of Wax downstairs. It’s time for my quarterly existential crisis about my career as a writer. It’s like a Tony Stark mentoring Spider-Man situation (at this point I can only think in MCU metaphors).
Captain America: Civil War (6:00 p.m.–8:25 p.m)
The South Jersey couple that had nowhere else to go is gone. The only thing left in their seats is a lonely blanket. Joe is still there, though. He’s always there.
I order The BK Dog, which is topped with whole grain mustard, sauerkraut and cucumber relish. I’ve never had sauerkraut before, and immediately regret ordering said dog once the condiment enters my mouth. Sauerkraut is acidic coleslaw and the machinations of the white devil. I am foiled once again by my inability to order food like a normal person.
I close my eyes for most of the third act, which has become a pattern. There are only so many ways one can watch superheroes punch each other before it becomes a CGI hell.
Doctor Strange (8:40 p.m.)
Brendan saves me from watching Dr. Strange by inviting me to a bar, 10 minutes away, after he leaves a different, non-Marvel movie — an activity I am now intensely jealous of. In place of my Doctor Strange recap, here is a definitive and (objectively correct) ranking of every MCU movie from best to worst:
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: Civil War
Avengers: Infinity War
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (11 p.m.)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 irrevocably breaks me. I get motion sickness watching Baby Groot dance to “Mr. Blue Sky.” Quickly, my alcohol buzz wears off and I’m stuck alone with my thoughts.
Suddenly, I’m in a $20 Uber. There are gaps in my memory. I can’t tell at what point in the movie I left, but I’m no longer at Alamo. My body has had enough; it’s acting on its own.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (Time: Who can honestly say at this point?)
Sushi rushes to the door to greet me. I get about 10 or 15 minutes of peaceful sleep before the nightmares start. My mind thinks it’s stuck in a movie theater and when I close my eyes all I see is an amalgamation of Marvel movies crashing against each other.
Halfway through the nightmares, a voice starts chanting “Just us” or “Justice.” I can’t tell and it won’t stop. Scared, I take a shower.
Thor: Ragnarok (3:50 a.m.–5:30 p.m.)
When I get back to my room, I keep the lights on. Pitch black darkness reminds me too much of the theater. I close my eyes. Sleep never comes.
Black Panther (6:10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.)
I finally pass out at 5 a.m. with minimal nightmares. I need to wake up in two hours and meet Elias at the cinema to cash in my last lifeline. In place of a Black Panther review, here is a definitive ranking of the best superhero movies of all-time:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The Dark Knight
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Avengers: Infinity War (9:20 a.m.)
[Editor’s note: Elias Leight has seen one Marvel movie, and it was Black Panther. He came in cold to Infinity War]
The first sound of my very first Avengers experience was a soggy squelch: When I showed up to participate in this Geneva Convention-defying ordeal, staff members were in the middle of giving the movie theater what they called “a deep clean” with a mop. While we waited for them to finish, one fan in a Spiderman sweatshirt snored amiably in the hallway, while another chatted animatedly about imaginary Ant-Man spin-offs set in the Eighties.
That type of atmosphere was pretty much exactly what I expected as a non-initiate. I’ve seen maybe 10% of the movies in the marathon — mostly Black Panther plus bits and pieces absorbed while hungover and couch-ridden — so Infinity War might as well have been in Portuguese. People I expected to show up were absent: Where’s Wonder Woman, one of the few heroes I’m actually aware of? (The difference between Marvel and DC was subsequently explained to me, but I’m not buying it.) Meanwhile, other characters I could have done without logged lots of screen time: Who invited Spider-Man?
Given my complete and total lack of context, most of my impressions were fragmentary. During the film’s opening scene, I was convinced that the guy with the eye-patch was the same as the one-eyed man from Game of Thrones. Apparently it’s Thor. (Another Game of Thrones actor showed up later, so I was vindicated.) I was pleased that the guy from Wimbledon, a film I remember watching in high school for reasons unknown, found his way into Infinity War, but while his friends treat him like a hero, he’s definitely dead weight. (My advice? Kick him out — recruit Wonder Woman.) The bad guy in this movie has truly enormous hands. It makes everything he picks up look adorably tiny.
Infinity War is impressively formulaic, a series of whiplash-inducing swings from bro-y banter — it is undeniably charming when Thor calls the raccoon a rabbit — to clobbering action sequences. Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, the ratio of punches to punchlines increases rapidly. Watching this also reminded me of my general objection to ensemble superhero movies: When there are so many heroes, having special powers no longer seems remarkable. Instead, the seeming invulnerability of all the characters causes any sense of drama or suspense to fall away along with the jokes. This problem was not remedied by the fact that at the end of this film, a slew of characters did seem to suffer a death-like fate. If the remaining Avengers are smart, they’ll take advantage of the holes in their ranks — call up Wonder Woman.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (12 p.m.)
[Editor’s Note: Charles went off the grid and filed zero copy for this movie.]
Captain Marvel (Time is an illusion and an Infinity Stone, but mostly an illusion)
No way I’m seeing Captain Mid-vel again. Instead, I go to Jamba Juice and order an Apples ‘n Greens.
Avengers: Endgame (5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.)
Avengers: Endgame is beautifully flawed. It’s a long, convoluted, fan-service fueled film, literally and figuratively fat around the middle. At times it’s also a poignant, bittersweet and expertly crafted send-off to a piece of cinema beloved by millions.
Marvel, Disney, Kevin Feige, Anthony and Joe Russo built a monument to having one’s cake, eating it too, throwing said cake up and it still tasting edible. Many filmmakers and critics tried to fight the MCU wave, claiming it was turning movies into endless TV marathons. Those observations were true, but they didn’t matter. Avengers: Endgame is the world’s most expensive recap episode and in places it’s better and worse for it.
For 181 minutes, the people who subjected themselves to a 22-movie marathon in a Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse laughed, cheered and got emotional. I guess I got emotional too. Near the end, I began to well up. I didn’t think it was possible.
The emotions came from witnessing what was happening on the screen, but it was also the realization that a formative part of my childhood was over. Every generation gets something to obsess over and, for a long time now, that space was occupied by the MCU. Eventually, there will be something that takes its place, but I might be too old to care about it.
I can say one thing for certain: there are better ways to say goodbye to your childhood than spending nearly three days in a movie theater with it.
Movies watched: 15
Amount of sleep: 6 hours
Movie theater food consumed: 1 bowl of popcorn, fried pickles, roasted veggie quinoa bowl, cookie shake, chicken sandwich and fries, BK hot dog and fries
Alcoholic beverages consumed: 2 glasses of wine, 2 beers, 1 old fashioned, 1 martini
Caffeine laced drinks: 3 cups of hot coffee, 2 cups of iced coffee
Times I complained to my editor: 3 times over text, infinite times in person
Existential Crises: 2