What are Sensory – Friendly Movies?

Have you seen sensory-friendly movies advertised? Wonder what that phrase means? Many people do. Maybe you wonder…


  • Do sensory-friendly films mean?
  • Is an autism-friendly screening?
  • Is a relaxed screening?
  • Do sensory screenings mean then?
  • Is a sensory-sensitive movie?
  • If they are all the same thing?

What do sensory-friendly movies mean?

A sensory-friendly movie changes your sensory experience.  This happens through what you hear. However, it also happens through what you see.  Although the movie itself does not change.  That is to say, your experience in the movie theatre changes instead!

Importantly, know that not every movie theatre offers the same sensory-friendly experience.  However, you can likely expect a few similar changes. For example, the two most common changes are

a) the house lights are on.

b) the soundtrack volume is turned down. 

Similarly, sensory-friendly movies, sensory-friendly films, autism-friendly movies, sensory-sensitive movies, and sensory screenings do all mean mostly the same thing.

What else to expect.

More often than not, sensory-friendly movies are for children.  Consequently, there will be more children and families in the audience. Importantly, that means you should expect increased noise from the audience. Furthermore, expect more by movement by children in their seats and throughout the theatre. In some instances, the movie theatre will allow people to bring their own food.  As a result, expect more noise and more smells.

Moreover, some theatres may loan out noise-reducing earmuffs. Whereas others may loan out weighted lap pads. These are both examples of sensory tools. Sensory tools help patrons of all enjoys enjoy the movie. Sensory tools change the sensory experience.

Young children sitting in movie theatre holding popcorn.

Who wants to see sensory-friendly movies?

Many people enjoy sensory-friendly movies. And that includes both children and adults.  In addition, people with different disabilities may prefer a sensory-friendly movie. Accordingly, so do people who experience sensory sensitivity. On the other hand, many people just enjoy the adjusted ambiance of a sensory-friendly movie experience.

Importantly, having a disability does not mean you prefer these types of movies.  However, having a hidden disability may mean you do prefer sensory-friendly movies. For instance, people with anxiety, autism, hearing loss, concussion, or PTSD often have sensory sensitivity or experience sensory overload Furthermore, a loud movie soundtrack bothers some people. Moreover, some people do not like dark theatres with a bright screen.

On the other hand, many people enjoy a sensory-rich experience at the movies that are loud, bright and even scary.

What makes movies more accessible?

Infographic describing 3 things in sensory-friendly movies.

There are many small changes that make movies more accessible.   For instance, you may notice reserved seats. These seats are often are for people who use wheelchairs.  Moreover, sometimes special seats are saved. They are called companion seats. They are are reserved for people attending a movie with a disabled person.  Finally, you might see accommodations made for guide dogs.

Changes to audio

What is an audio DESC?

DESC stands for audio description.  It can also be called video description. In addition, described video.  Audio description helps people with vision loss, low vision, or people who are blind.  In these cases, the patron wears a special headset. The headset let them first directly hear the soundtrack. In addition, a narrator describes what happens onscreen.  Typically, this happens during pauses. But it can happen over dialogue if needed.

Besides, you have likely experienced an audio description at some point!

Have you gone to a museum?  Maybe to an art exhibit?  Or a travelling exhibition? Perhaps you wore a headset there. It likely offered a personal audio tour.  This would replace an actual tour guide.  As a result, you listened to information about the exhibit. That means you experienced audio description.

Another example of an audio description might be at a sporting event.  For instance, a sportscaster describes the play. This is a form of audio description.

In conclusion, an audio description is not just used in the movies!

Closed Captions

Sometimes movies are screened at special showings.  A special showing may be held to include closed captions. They may be shown to everyone in attendance.  In this case, they are typically displayed at the bottom of the movie screen.  However, closed captioning is not just for people who have hearing loss.  Nor is it just for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.  For instance, some people with learning disabilities prefer to read the dialogue. Lastly, subtitles also help someone whose first language is different.

Additionally, some movie theatres have assistive listening eyeglasses.  These special glasses show closed captions. The closed captions are projected on the lens.  Thus, the person can both watch the movie and see the closed caption at the same time.

As well, movie theatres have also adopted handheld device technology.  It lets users read the closed caption on a small screen.

Finally, as we have learned, closed captions can be enjoyed by anyone.

Directed sound

In another example, people wear sound-isolating headphones.  Likewise, they might wear noise-cancelling headphones. Specifically, they have the audio soundtrack going directly to their headphones.

Couple with popcorn watching movie in cinema.

Key points to remember about sensory-friendly movies

  • Not every sensory-friendly movie is the same experience.
  • The movie remains the same.
  • Changes usually occur in how you see it.
  • Changes often occur in how you listen to it.
  • Many children and families are likely in the audience.
  • Understand that more sensory-friendly movies are for children.
  • The audience may be noisier.
  • The volume is not as loud.
  • People may be allowed to bring their own snacks.
  • Expect children to move around in their seats.
  • Expect people to move around in the theatre.
  • Finally, movie theatres may offer additional help such as:
    • Wheelchair seating
    • Closed caption devices
    • Closed caption movie screening
    • Audio description
    • Noise-cancelling headphones with direct sound
    • Earmuffs

Movie theatres that offer sensory-friendly movies

As examples, here is a list of movie theatres that offer sensory-friendly screenings.

It is important to note that they do not offer it for every movie. Additionally, a sensory-friendly movie at one cinema may not be the same at another. Lastly, remember that children’s movies are more likely to be sensory-friendly.

Empire Cinemas

What else are sensory-friendly movies called?

To sum up, there are many words that describe sensory-friendly movies!


• Assisted cinema
• Assisted films
• Assisted movie theatres
• Assisted movies
• Assisted screening

• ATF means Autism Friendly
• Autism-friendly cinema
• Autism-friendly films
• Autism-friendly movie theatres
• Autism-friendly movies
• Autism-friendly screening (AFS)

• Family-friendly cinema
• Family-friendly films
• Family-friendly movie theatres
• Family-friendly movies
• Family-friendly screening


• Kid-friendly cinema
• Kid-friendly films
• Kid-friendly movie theatres
• Kid-friendly movies
• Kid-friendly screening


• Relaxed cinema
• Relaxed films
• Relaxed movie theatres
• Relaxed movies
• Relaxed screening


• Sensory cinema
• Sensory films
• Sensory movie theatres
• Sensory movies
• Sensory screening

• Sensory-friendly cinema
• Sensory-friendly films
• Sensory-friendly movie theatres
• Sensory-friendly movies
• Sensory-friendly screening

• Sensory-Friendly Special Needs cinema
• Sensory-Friendly Special Needs films
• Sensory-Friendly Special Needs movie theatres
• Sensory-Friendly Special Needs movies
• Sensory-Friendly Special Needs screening

• Sensory-relaxed cinema
• Sensory-relaxed films
• Sensory-relaxed movie theatres
• Sensory-relaxed movies
• Sensory-relaxed screening

• Sensory-sensitive cinema
• Sensory-sensitive films
• Sensory-sensitive movie theatres
• Sensory-sensitive movies
• Sensory-sensitive screening

• Special Needs cinema
• Special Needs films
• Special Needs movie theatres
• Special Needs movies
• Special Needs screening

Moreover, it is important to know that sensory-friendly movies and relaxed performances are two different things.  While all events that are sensory-friendly do have things in common, aspects of the experience are not identical. For instance, relaxed performances are live shows and not movies. Read research about sensory theatres; it shares the impact of sensory-friendly programs on children with sensory sensitivities.

Finally, do you like short documentaries? Then, watch this one from Sensory Friendly Solutions: “Too Busy. Too Noisy. Too Bright.”

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