WASHINGTON – Inside one of the theaters at the Regal Cinema movie complex in Washington's Gallery Place/Chinatown, the audience of mostly millennial’s sat in one of the darkened theaters and laughed loudly at the dialogue and pictures on the big screen.
But it wasn't a film that had the audience chuckling. It was the presidential debate. They were part of the thousands of people across America who took the cinema chain's offer to watch the presidential debate free at one of its theaters scattered across America.
Patrons ate popcorn, candy, and slurped down sodas and enjoyed a good laugh while critiquing the verbal battle between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Devaughn Otto, 22, of Washington, was in the audience.
“The atmosphere is a lot better than watching it home,” Otto said. “It adds to the dramatic effect, and audience reactions are almost as good as the actual debate.”
Over 50 people gathered for the contest, the second of three.
The first presidential debate on Sept. 26 drew more than 80 million viewers, making it the most viewed presidential debate in the 60 years of televised debates, according to Forbes.com.
Regal Cinema aired the debate in 215 theatres. It offered a free soda with every popcorn purchase. The debate competed with mainstream movies like “Queen Katwe,” starring Lupita Lyungo, and critically acclaimed “Mastermind.”
Steve Bunnell, chief content and programming officer for the theaters, explained the idea.
“While our auditoriums feature the likes of Batman V. Superman or Alien vs. Predator, we are excited to offer voters a chance to watch Clinton vs. Trump as they go head to head on the big screen,” said Bunnell said in a press release.
Sunday’s debate began with Trump and Clinton issuing attacks and ended with them saying something nice about each other. They kept the theater audience laughing throughout the contest.
Amy Ole, 24, a nurse now from California now living in Maryland, said she thought she was watching a comedic film.
“The fact that they are showing the debate in such a theatrical atmosphere shows how much of a comedy this election has been and how it will end up,” Ole said. “This is pure comedy, but it’s scary because it’s not a movie. This is our reality.”
During the debate, viewers cheered when Clinton called Trump out on his tax problems, and said “he lives in a false reality in his head.”
Clinton told the audience she is an experienced public servant and Trump is dishonest and doesn’t respect women, Muslims and African Americans. Trump, she said, “owes our country an apology.”
Eric Hall, 27, a medical student at Howard University, said he supports Clinton. His favorite part of the debate was watching Clinton laugh at Trump, Hall said.
“If she couldn’t keep it together, how can we,” he said. “Trump is hilarious, even when he is being extremely serious.”
Trump promised that as president he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state and accused former President Bill Clinton of physically assaulting three women, which he mentioned were in the audience at the debate.
Trump also acknowledged that he had avoided paying federal income taxes for years, called his taped description of sexual assault “locker room-talk” and accused Clinton of victimizing women and carrying “hate in her heart.”
Ashley Dowson, 32, of Alexandria, Va., said she found out about the event through a friend.
“It’s pretty obvious who should win,” Dowson said. “Watching the two candidates go at it was pretty entertaining. Trump is really good with throwing shots, but I don’t think he will be a good president. Good TV, bad political leader.”
The tone of the debate changed when one audience member asked the candidates to cite something positive about each other. Clinton said she appreciated the way Trump had raised his children.
“Look, I respect his children,” she said. “His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald.”
Trump looked confused about Clintons compliment.
“I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not, but ill take it as one” he said.
In return, Trump called Clinton “a fighter.”
“I will say this about Hillary,” he said. “She doesn’t quit; she doesn’t give up.”
Kenny Harris, 40, a Washington school teacher said he appreciated the final comments.
“That was a nice touch,” Harris said. “Trump is usually the one throwing jabs. That was mature of him.”