I watch the closing credits of every movie I see. I learned from my parents, who would always sit in the dark theater watching the names scroll down the screen while the ushers trickled in and the rest of the audience collected their belongings. Their ritual confused me as a kid: “Muppet Treasure Island” was over; Kermit and his friends were reunited; and the villain had his comeuppance. But my parents were still in their seats, eyes on the screen. What more were they expecting?
My parents were practicing what now feels like a lost pastime, one I happily joined in as I got older. Back in the golden age of Hollywood, the credits (albeit far less comprehensive) appeared at the beginning of the movie, for all to see. Now they run at the end, like the answers to a special round of movie trivia for those in the know. Before Google and IMDb, if you weren’t sure of the name of a certain scene-stealing character actor, or who was responsible for the exquisite editing, the credits were your source of confirmation. Childhood movie nights at home with my parents and brother would often end with us opening “The Film Encyclopedia,” by Ephraim Katz, an impressive A-to-Z volume that compiled bios and credits from the silent era to the early aughts. We’d go down rabbit holes and hop from one actor or director to another.
“You were right — it was a young Norman Lloyd!”
“Well spotted! What else was he in?”
The first line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Love of the Last Tycoon” could describe my coming-of-age: “Though I haven’t ever been on the screen, I was brought up in pictures.” Both of my parents have backgrounds in film — they met cute while working on an independent feature — and I grew up visiting sets with my dad when I was on break from school. I remember sitting in a director’s chair next to Sidney Lumet, watching the monitor. It seemed to require hours of takes to get through one page of dialogue. When I got bored of watching the (in)action, I played slapjack with the director of photography’s daughter on one of the sets that wasn’t being used. I visited the wardrobe department and practiced sewing in a straight line on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. I learned about other crew assignments too, including the script supervisor, who showed me her clipboard with the meticulous notes she kept to ensure each scene’s accuracy and consistency. I learned the difference between a gaffer and a grip, and soon I began using acronyms like “D.P.” — they made me feel like an insider.
Because of this, I especially loved movies about movies. I watched “Singin’ in the Rain” over and over as a child; in college, I fell hard for “Day for Night” (“La Nuit Américaine”), François Truffaut’s love letter to cinema. My parents, who had their own version of a movie romance, say that the film manages to capture the daily joys and frustrations of life on set. It also conjures that bittersweet moment when the film wraps and the cast and crew go their separate ways. It’s the nature of the business. I imagine that for industry people like my parents, reading the credits is akin to looking through an old yearbook, spotting familiar names and wondering wistfully what so-and-so is up to these days.
Our culture of on-demand binge-watching conditions us to race past the credits, taking for granted the collective creative efforts behind the movies and TV shows we so voraciously consume. Many streamers shrink credits, making them illegible on our screens; some even allow us to skip them entirely. Post-credits sequences, meanwhile — a mainstay of franchise fare like the Marvel films — have trained audiences to regard credits as mere backdrops for the latest Easter egg or teaser. We forget that countless individuals, each a storyteller in their own right, make our viewing possible. The distinction between art and “content” is lost.
There’s a line in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” that suggests attention is a form of love — a statement that resonates in this era of diminished attention spans. That’s one of the reasons I linger to watch the credits, and I encourage anyone with an appreciation for movies, and for the people who make them, to stay after the final scene. One look at the credits is enough to challenge the myth of the genius auteur calling all the shots. Credits are the closest that many behind-the-scenes, below-the-line artists and technicians get to a curtain call. These unsung collaborators — the crew members we don’t see hitting the talk-show circuit or strutting down the red carpet, but whose long workdays and skillful labor are an essential source of film magic — deserve their moment in the spotlight.
So I’m heartened when I notice those moviegoers who, like me, take a few extra minutes to sit through the credits. They might be looking for the name of someone they know, or curious about the shooting locations. Maybe they’re savoring the closing music while they reflect on what they’ve watched. And, yes, maybe they’re partially hoping to discover a bonus scene. It doesn’t matter. We’re in the same club. An unspoken intimacy and solidarity exists among us, the attentive viewers, and the village of filmmakers we honor. Sometimes I’m tempted to seize on this connection. I could offer a nod or a glance of recognition. Even bolder, I imagine turning to them and asking, “So, what did you think?” Above all, though, I think of my parents — and the other members of the extended moviemaking family — every time I stay behind in my theater seat. I hope I do them credit.
Emma Kantor is a writer and editor at Publishers Weekly.