The Key West Fire Department responds to the Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., on Feb. 10, 2024, after burnt popcorn set off the lobby’s sprinklers. Contributed

The beloved Tropic Cinema was forced to temporarily shut its doors after a burnt popcorn mishap set off the sprinkler system above the concession stand over the weekend. 

At about 6:26 p.m. Feb. 10, the popcorn machine inside the Tropic, 416 Eaton St., started to churn out smoke and then enough heat to bring on the sprinklers.

At least 100 people gathered for the big Olivia de Havilland retrospective had to evacuate, one of the nonprofit’s board members said. 

People who had booked another theater for a private screening of a Will Ferrell movie also had to immediately leave the building.

No injuries were reported and there was no actual fire, Key West Police said.

The Tropic Cineme, 416 Eaton St., sits closed early on Feb. 10, 2024, after a popcorn making mishap set off the sprinkler system in the lobby. It’s set to reopen Feb. 14, 2024.

“It was just the popcorn had sat on the bottom too long,” the Tropic’s executive director Carla Turner told Keys Weekly. “The only thing on fire was a couple of kernels.”

But the nonprofit theater was left with a mess from the unexpected popcorn drama. 

The sprinklers had flooded the concession stand and lobby floor. Plumbers were called in the night of the unexpected shower.

While the burnt popcorn incident might sound like a scene from a screwball comedy, it was no joke for the nonprofit’s managers and board of directors, and those gathered for the special look at de Havilland, the screen legend from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” whose career included roles in Gone With the Wind, Hold Back the Dawn, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit and The Strawberry Blonde. 

​​De Havilland died at age 104 in July 2020, having appeared in 49 films and won two Oscars for her star turns in To Each His Own and The Heiress.

But the Tropic’s popcorn misadventure has a feelgood ending. 

The Tropic will reopen Wednesday, Feb. 14., just four days after the sprinkler soaking, with all of the de Havilland movies that were set to play during the closure rescheduled, the theater announced Tuesday.

The fire department has checked out the theater and the theater also brought in an electrician to examine the popcorn machine before reopening just to be sure, Turner said. 

“It was definitely just popcorn,” she said. 

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.