AMC Theatres is the largest theater chain not just in the United States, but in the entire world. Chances are you’ve likely seen a movie at an AMC theater; it’s almost impossible not to at some point.

But AMC wasn’t always the mega-theater chain we know today. It started in one single theater 100 years ago this year, when actor troupe brothers Maurice, Edward, and Barney Dubinsky bought the Regent Theater in Kansas City, Missouri in 1920 after traveling around the Midwest and performing with actress Jeanne Eagels. The brothers eventually changed their surname to Durwood and their new company became known as Durwood Theatres.

Forty years later, Durwood was still a chain of just ten theaters – until Edward’s son, Stanley, took over in 1961 when his father died. Stanley, you see, who was Harvard-educated and had served as an Air Force navigator in WWII, had something his idealistic but disorganized father and uncles lacked: an analytical mind. When he took over in the early ’60s, Stanley applied his military background and its management science insights to the then-modest company. Now named American Multi-Cinema, Inc., the Durwood family’s little company that could pioneered the multiplex format, and AMC Theatres took off.

A hundred years after its foundation, AMC Theatres is a long way from where it was when the Durwoods bought that small theater in Kansas City. To celebrate both its centennial anniversary and the theater chain reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown, AMC is offering 1920s-era prices for movie tickets at 15 cents a pop on August 20th – the same price it cost for a ticket at the Kansas City theater in 1920. Here are some fascinating facts in honor of the theater chain’s 100th birthday.

1. It Became The World’s Largest Theater Chain In 2016

In 2016, AMC Theatres expanded in a huge way, acquiring three smaller theater chains: Odeon Cinemas, Carmike Cinemas and UCI Cinemas. Those acquisitions officially made it the largest theater chain, not just in the U.S., but in the entire world. In Europe, it has 244 theaters operating 2,200 screens and in the U.S., it has 661 theaters operating more than 8,200 screens. That breaks down to an average of more than 13 AMC theaters and 164 screens per U.S. state.

2. It Opened The World’s First True Multiplex

Back in the old days, theaters were opulent places with one stage where you went for one show and one show only. But the majority of theaters we’re familiar with today offer a grab bag of choices with multiple movies and multiple showtimes on multiple screens. We have AMC and Stanley Durwood to thank for that. In 1963, AMC opened the two-screen Parkway Twin theater in Kansas City shopping center and it was a hit. Movie theater owners quickly realized they could open up multiplexes for roughly the same number of staff and same overhead cost, but drastically increase profits by adding more movies and more screens. Durwood’s pioneering experiment ushered the movie theater industry into a new era as theaters no longer had to risk relying on one movie and that movie potentially being a flop.

3. It Also Opened North America’s First Megaplex

If multiplexes are big, then megaplexes are the sprawling behemoths offering more than 20 theater screens. Their stadium seating can accommodate thousands of moviegoers at one time and often offer amenities not found in traditional theaters and multiplexes. While the first megaplex was built by European chain Kineopolis in 1988, AMC opened the first in North America. In 1995, it opened the AMC Grand 24 in Dallas, Texas and its huge success prompted AMC to launch giant megaplexes all over the U.S. By the way, stadium seating was also AMC’s innovation, as was LoveSeat®-style seating, where you can flip up your armrests in order to remove the barrier between you and another person.

4. It Was The First Theater Chain To Add Armrests With Cupholders

In 1981, AMC Theaters innovated a small but brilliant feature that has become standard in most theaters today: putting a cup holder in armrests. As a standard feature we take for granted today, it’s hard to imagine those didn’t exist until the 1980s. But they did not, and we have AMC Theatres to thank for the seat upgrade. And they must have known what a brilliant upgrade it was, too: They patented cup holder armrests that same year.

5. It Was The First Theater Chain To Introduce Gift Cards

It’s not as if gift cards are a new concept; the concept of a prepaid card of a set value to be used like cash has been around since the mid-1990s. But AMC was the first theater chain to introduce the concept in the movie theater space in 2002. Not only could you buy a gift card that would work at your local AMC theater, it would work at all AMC locations and affiliated theaters and today, AMC gift cards also work online.

It’s crazy to think that one theater chain invented, or at least perfected, so many of the features that are now standard in most theaters. It’s incredibly cool to see that a century later, AMC Theatres is still operating by the principles of the Durwood brothers’ pioneering spirit and Stanley Durwood’s innovative mind. Happy 100th, AMC!

  • Editorial