By Pat Kramer (Variety)
For a company known as a trendsetter in their industry, 30-years is a relatively short time to be in business. And yet, American Multi Cinema (AMC), one of the largest theatre chains in the world with 2,294 screens in 225 locations, now leads the industry in megaplexing with 33 domestic and two international theatre facilities.
AMC began moving into the world marketplace five years ago, looking for new locations which could support 20-30 screen megaplexes. After a few years of research, they pinpointed three major geographic areas for their international expansion: Asia/Pacific Rim, the Iberian Peninsula and Canada.
In April ’96, AMC’s Canal City 13 opened in Fukuoka, Japan followed by the AMC Arribida 20 in Porto, Portugal in December ‘96. Now, two years later, Singleton says both have set boxoffice records for attendance.
The ventures, however, were not without challenges – particularly in Japan – where they had a hard time selling their concept of a megaplex. “Some of the biggest hurdles we had were in trying to convince an economic system which basically, had an idea of a theatre as a one or two screen facility, to grasp the realities and dynamics of a 20 – 30 screen theatre. The consumer embraced us right off the bat but the development community, the business community and the capital markets looked at us like we were nuts.”
Eventually, AMC went with a scaled-down version, a 13-screen theatre which they modeled after the multiplexes they built in the United Kingdom in the ‘80s, before selling off their theatre chain to the partnership of Universal/Paramount UCI. The other major hurdle they had to overcome in Japan related to distribution. Says Singleton, “We had to work through a very arduous stand-off with the Japanese distribution system but were able to resolve that in the first six months of the theatre being opened where we did acquire MPAA product.” However, he notes at this time, there is still one local studio holding back product.
Despite the set-backs, AMC is moving forward into the world market with a new zeal. This August, their 11-screen “Festival Walk” complex opens in Hong Kong, followed by the 16-screen Nakama theatre on the Japanese island of Kyushu. By the end of the year, they’ll also open a 24-screen megaplex in Terrassa, Spain, and three megaplexes in the Toronto metropolitan area: a 24-plex, a 20-plex and a 30-plex, which will carry over into ‘99. Next year, they’ll also open the Maihama Station 16-screen theatre complex by Tokyo Disneyland and a 20-screen theatre in Dunkerque, France. And in the year 2,000, AMC opens the 20-screen Diagonal Mar in downtown Barcelona.
According to Sam Giordano, AMC’s executive vice president of design and construction, each new facility will be equipped with stadium seating in AMC’s exclusive loveseat design, with doublewide, cushioned armrests with cup holders. The auditoriums will all have Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS), high impact theatre systems (HITS), and many will also have Torus compound, curved wall-to-wall screens.
While the architectural style of the buildings will be dictated by the overall theme of the malls in which they are located, Giordano says the buildings’ interiors will be innovative and in many cases, luxurious. “In Japan, the Nakama 16-plex will have a futuristic design with lots of chrome, steel and glass, very sophisticated with lots of clean lines, while the Maihama Station complex, adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland, will incorporate a fantasy Hollywood street scene from the art deco period.”
Similarly, in Spain, their Terrassa megaplex will portray a grand Hollywood opening with lots of sparkle and dash while their Barcelona megaplex will be more traditional, incorporating a Mediterranean design.
AMC will also be using two innovative interior designs they’ve packaged: Their “Odyssey” space theme design, unveiled in February at the newly-opened AMC Covina 30 in California, will be used for their first Canadian megaplex. In France, the megaplex at Dunkerque will display their “Neptune” design, which Giordano says is reminiscent of a luxury liner.
Commenting on AMC’s dedication to the facilities they build, Singleton says, “There’s a lot of out-of-the-home entertainment alternatives competing for the consumer’s entertainment dollars so this industry has to respond by upgrading, not only its facilities in terms of new capital, but also in the level of customer service and technology.”
Looking ahead to the challenges they face in developing new sites for megaplexes, he says, “It’s still difficult [to get into] some of the more densely populated and development-regulated cities of Europe and Asia, to find sites where we can build a very large theatre, but it’s getting easier due to the success of our Portuguese theatre. The theatre is pretty much famous all over Europe and we’ve been able to fly developers from various countries to that shopping center and demonstrate how the theatre works.”
When Festival Walk 11-plex opens in China this year, he says they will use that facility to showcase their wares and to monitor future opportunities in that market. Right now, he foresees no problem with the Chinese distribution system with its restrictive quota system on Western films. Referring to the “one country, two system” policy, Singleton says AMC will be allowed to function under the free enterprise system that was present when Hong Kong was a British protectorate.
Noting, “It is a new government and they can change their mind; that’s about the only risk [we face] right now,” he says, “Clearly, there’s a business opportunity [there] if we can have unrestricted access to worldwide film product.”
In addition to their primary markets, AMC is also evaluating a number of other opportunities in the U.K., France, Belgium and Germany. “With the worldwide appetite for entertainment better than it’s ever been due to the quality and the sourcing of films and with the new, megaplex format, the opportunity for exhibition and really, filmmaking in general, is better than its ever been. I suspect that the world’s about to realize its true golden age of both film and film going over the next decade.”