Today's news that a man opened fire in a Colorado theater and killed 12 people attending a midnight release of "The Dark Knight Rises" is as shocking as it is sad and senseless. Unfortunately, however, violence inside movie theaters isn't unprecedented, because while this is the worst incident of violence in the history of American cinema, it's far from the first.
And judging by the increasing frequency of movie theater violence, it's probably not the last.
Of course, violence in movie theaters is not a new phenomenon; how could it be? With crowds of strangers gathering together for over a century in packed cinemas, it's inevitable that at some point, there would be violence.
In the past, though, that violence has usually been the result of gang activity — fights during screenings of the 1979 gang film "The Warriors" left three people dead, while there were more than two dozen separate incidents of violence nationwide at showings of 1991 "Boyz in da Hood"— or arguments breaking out over crowd noise. In 2008, for example, a man shot another theater patron during a screening of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" because he felt the victim and his family were being too loud, while in 2010, a man was stabbed with a meat thermometer after he tried to shush some rowdy people in the row behind him.
The shooting in Colorado last night, however, is disturbing in part precisely because it was simultaneously random and premeditated. In that sense, it most clearly resembles a 2006 murder in Baltimore during a screening of "X-Men: The Last Stand," when a gunman ordered his fellow moviegoers to lie on the ground and then executed the man sitting next to him.
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Luckily, in that case, the killer himself averted what could have been an even worse tragedy, as he let the rest of his hostages go and turned himself in to authorities. And that's not the only near-miss in recent history; just less than two weeks ago, a drive-by shooter opened fire on a crowd of moviegoers exiting an Oakland theater, leaving five people wounded but miraculously alive.
All of this suggests that the real surprise isn't that there was a mass murder at a movie theater last night — it's that it hasn't happened sooner.
What a sad day for all film fans.
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