Movie theaters fretting over the waning of Barbenheimer ticket sales might have another savior on the horizon: parties. In February, D.J. Brandon Lamont, 24, played at an AMC screening of Cocaine Bear in Midtown Manhattan. Before the film, as the audience rolled in, he spun a pump-up playlist of tunes mixed with the sounds of roaring bears. Guests were dressed in 1980s attire, in homage to the era in which the film is set, and mingled in the theater. Outfits were completed with Members Only jackets and Miami Vice–style neon blazers that had shoulder pads higher than the bears in the movie.

What made the evening unforgettable was the stealthiness. The hosts, Lucas King Weber and Keith Herron, didn’t formally rent out the space, so the theater staff was not aware of the party until guests arrived.

Since 2021, Weber, 27, and Herron, 23, two New York City–based film aficionados, have thrown cinema soirées for their twentysomething friends. As AMC employees clean the theater between showings, Weber, a native New Yorker, and Herron, a California transplant, prepare a private party for the some 50 guests they invite. “We come in with a D.J., suitcases, and literally set up an entire party in 10 minutes,” says Herron, who helms Advisry, a ready-to-wear fashion label. As they put movie posters on the walls, no one on staff at the theater says a word. “It’s, like, an unspoken policy because they don’t really care to know what we’re up to.”

Herron and Weber are just as selective about the theater as they are about the guest list, which consists of designers, musicians, and artists. Past guests include the Maestro and White Noise actor Sam Nivola and Lindsey Jordan, the indie musician known as Snail Mail. As far as the theater, getting permission to party doesn’t matter, but having a bar does. The AMC on 34th Street, in Manhattan, is their go-to venue because it’s centrally located and offers cocktails.

Operating on a shoestring budget with an eye toward Tuesday-night buyouts, when prices drop to $7 a ticket, the film buffs buy every ticket individually for a given screening. The duo always look for a campy movie, such as M3gan or Cocaine Bear. “It started with us inviting a couple of friends to the movies, and it snowballed,” says Weber, a screenwriter. “Our intention isn’t to make a profit. We resell the tickets at the original price.” They are currently planning a Halloween event. At the moment, they are eyeing screenings of The Nun 2, a horror film.

“Our intention isn’t to make a profit. We resell the tickets at the original price.”

A digital flyer provides details and announces the night’s host, Nicole Kidman. There’s always a front-row seat reserved with her name on it. Although the queen of AMC has yet to make an actual appearance, Kidman does show up on-screen before the trailers, via her viral commercial for the theater chain, in which she earnestly says, “Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this.”

“Since she’s on the screen as an AMC spokesperson before the movie, technically Nicole Kidman is at the party,” explains Herron. “When she comes on, the crowd goes crazy.”

The night always has one minor glitch. Since Herron and Weber buy the movie tickets individually, it’s tough to secure every single seat in a screening. A handful of random cinephiles usually happen to buy a few tickets, too. Those moviegoers assume they’re attending a regular screening. “It can definitely cause a lot of confusion with people thinking they might have gone to the wrong theater,” explains Mark Lambert, 23, an aspiring screenwriter who works the door at the events. “But they quickly get excited and have a lot of fun.”

Once the lights go down, the D.J. stops, the movie starts, and the typical theater experience begins—save for a couple of people who talk to the screen. “Within the theater it’s lively but not disruptive,” says Ginger Edmiston, a friend of the organizers’ and a production assistant who was at the screening of Cocaine Bear. “They choose movies that are going to make people laugh and engage. It’s not like you’re going to watch Oppenheimer.

As the credits roll and the lights come up, there is raucous applause. It’s a communal event. Think 50 of your best friends and a few new friends spending an evening together. “It feels more like an active experience than just sitting and watching a movie,” says 22-year-old Edmiston. “By having everyone dress up and bringing in a D.J., they’ve elevated the entire cinema experience.”

Susan Campos is a Los Angeles–based journalist and a former anchor for the Today show