The Carlsberg Experiment

Biker gangs go on movie theater outings, too

Clara Maultsby, Co-Editor-in-Chief/Columns Editor

Using a staged movie theater, the company Carlsberg wanted to see what unsuspecting couples would do when they walked into a screening room full of bikers. (Photo courtesy

It’s a pre-COVID Friday night, and you have had a long week at school, so you and your friend decide to see a film at the movie theater. Ticket, popcorn, and drink in hand, you walk into the screening room and scan the rows of chairs for a place to sit. The theater is full of burly, tattooed, intimidating bikers, and the only two seats left are right in the middle of them all. What would you do? 

In 2011, the Carlsberg company conducted an informal social experiment for a commercial, which demonstrated the precept “don’t judge a book by its cover. They staged a screening room in the Kinepolis Cinema in Brussels, Belgium, with 148 bikers, leaving two empty seats in the center of the theater for unsuspecting couples. The company wanted to see if people would stay and watch the movie or feel intimidated and leave. 

Several trials of the experiment were conducted with different couples.  Some chose to leave, and some chose to stay. Those who were brave enough to squeeze past a row of bikers to get to their seats were met with a spotlight and a round of applause and cheers from the bikers. 

Carlsberg’s YouTube channel posted a video of the experiment in September of 2011, and since then, it has gotten 22 million views. The video pairs hyperbolic, suspenseful music with clips of the couples’ attempts to mask their shocked reactions to the audience of bikers.  

The Carlsberg Experiment illustrates how the impressions you receive and inferences you make based on a person’s appearance aren’t always accurate. If you ever find yourself in a movie theater full of bikers, maybe you should consider the prospect that they like movies, too.