How do I actually pick a group movie?

Methods to help you to stop scrolling and get the movie started

A bit of an interesting week—my computer broke in the middle of it. Fun times. So, in an effort to still be a useful resource in everyone’s inbox, I’m sharing some quick tips on what I’ve seen work when it comes to the toughest thing you can possibly do during a quarantine evening: pick a group movie to watch.

I wish you all happy and shouting-free Netflix browsing—may you be able to select a movie in five minutes or less.

Let’s dive in:

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It’s 8 pm. You're with your family or your significant other or your kids. You’re in your favorite spot on the couch, smothered in your favorite blanket. A big bowl of Thai food sits on the coffee table in front of you. You’re eager to put something on the television, enjoy it, and crawl right into bed. The problem is you first need to conquer this screen:

Screenshot is taken from Netflix

You can’t dwell on a title for too long. Otherwise, an annoying trailer starts playing (please, oh please, let me press and hold the OK button to preview content). When you move the cursor too slowly, the peanut gallery erupts in a cacophony of grievances to pass the remote. Oh, and don’t even dare navigate this screen too fast, either! That’s a one-way ticket to having the remote snatched from your hand.

This, clearly, is a struggle I know far too well. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers—I’ve been trapped on this screen for the length of an entire Pixar movie just to watch a real Pixar movie (side note: go watch Onward… it’s awesome).

Often, these moments before selecting a group movie can get really heated. You have several people invested in the decision, all with different tastes and past viewing histories. Nowadays, given our lives are filled with dings of distraction and clips of content, it’s a scary proposition for many to put their phone down and watch something for two hours straight. Focus is scary and the reward better be worth it.

To avoid the endless carousel of titles requires focus and finesse. It demands prior preparation. And, hardest and most of all, it requires maturity—something everyone somehow forgets when their movie choice loses to that option they really, really didn’t want to watch.

So, let’s review how to avoid couch conundrums and pick a movie fast.

On the x-axis, we have the environment for how the movie will be selected. Are you operating in a democracy, where everyone has an equal chance to pitch their idea (and have it inevitably shot down)? Or, are you potentially risking the total destruction of the movie night by bestowing full film selection powers to one person? Understanding the rules in which you must operate is essential to picking a winning movie picking strategy.

On the y-axis, we have what type of movie you’re hoping to watch. Are you actually trying to watch a great movie? Are you looking for just some noise in the background to liven up your conversation? Depending on what type of movie night you’re in for should dictate the strategy pursued.

Understanding the Grid

There are two strategies I use that work best (spoiler: they’re the quadrants on the top half of the grid). The Veto Technique works well when you want to give everyone a chance to be the savior of the night. Dealer’s Choice works well when you just want to avoid any bit of debate around what movie to watch.

Veto Technique

You are operating in a democracy, and you want to watch a great movie. Here’s how it works:

  • Everyone takes three minutes to come up with a list of five movies they want to watch. These five movies must be ones that you are eager to watch.

  • Someone goes first and shares a movie on their list.

  • Everyone else has the ability to veto the movie. However, you only have one (or two if you want) “vetoes” to use during the entire selection process.

  • If no one vetoes the first movie shared, you just found your selection. Hit play and start watching.

  • If someone does veto the film, a veto is selected from that person’s allotment and then the next person suggests a movie.

  • The process continues until everyone agrees or a movie is shared and there is no one to veto it.

This method, when you actually follow the rules, is flawless. You spending five to eight minutes picking a movie in a democratic and fun way. Everyone gets along. There’s no arguing. No one stomps out of the room to go watch a different movie.


You are operating in a democracy, and you don’t really care what movie you watch. This is like trying to pick a restaurant for dinner, asking others in your group where they want to eat, and having them respond, “I don’t care… whatever.” In reality, we all know it’s not whatever. The moment you propose a potential restaurant, someone disagrees. It’s the same deal when picking a group movie. The team is hopeless. Someone will randomly call out a movie to watch only to have it knocked down a moment later. This is how you get caught selecting movies for more than 30 minutes. There are no shared objectives, no boundaries on what the group wants or doesn’t want to watch, and thus no chance of success. Disaster strikes and oftentimes you don’t even end up watching a movie. Go in with focus rather than ambivalence. It makes a world of difference.

Dealer’s Choice

You are operating in a dictatorship, and you want to watch a great movie. This quadrant is simple: one person picks the movie, no questions asked. The rest of the group can certainly put some guidelines around the selection such as no action films, no Tom Cruise movies, no movies released prior to 2010, and no movies below a 70% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. You can randomly decide who selects the movie or you can set a rotation if you tend to watch movies with the same group. Here you are optimizing for speed. You want to get to a decision quickly. Sometimes, that means letting the selection format be Dealer’s Choice so that the show literally goes on. Not everyone can be happy with the outcome, but it’s just a few hours of your life. Watching something is better than aimless scrolling through title cards.

Background Noise

You are operating in a dictatorship, and you don’t really care what movie you watch. In this quadrant, watching a movie is really the last concern. You are actually just going to talk the entire time anyway, so who really cares what’s playing in the background. Have someone pick a fan-favorite—already-seen comedies fare well in this quadrant—and end the decision making process. It’ll be easier for everyone involved. Another technique that’s effective is someone taking control to force a faster decision from the group. Here’s how it works":

  • Whoever has the remote sees any movie they’d watch and, without asking anyone, just starts playing it.

  • The room will erupt in anger. This is your cue to give an important ultimatum, “I’m fine not watching this, but everyone has to agree on something different to watch before I turn it off.”

  • This acts as an incredible forcing mechanism for the group. With a potentially unapproved movie playing in the background, everyone else begins to focus on new possibilities.

  • Once the ultimatum is given, I find it takes five or so minutes to decide a new movie or the team just gives up and watches what was on.

Either way, you end up spending less time on the movie selection screen, which is the goal of this entire post.

Grid Shortcomings

  1. This grid doesn’t account for strong personalities. When you are dealing with a Hollywood diva who is extra picky on movies, using any of these strategies may prove ineffective. In these cases, share your plans early. If you want to watch movie with the full group, tell everyone to start thinking and discussing during the day. That way, once it’s time to sit down for a movie, all of the frustrating deliberation will be complete.

Reaching consensus for a group movie night is challenging work. Sometimes it feels like a real battle—something fresh out of Gladiator. Increase your group’s effectiveness during your next movie night by employing some of these strategies. Hopefully it helps the next time you snuggle up for Pad Thai and a movie.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,

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