Hoping to cash in on the increasing popularity of so-called specialty films, the country's second-largest theater circuit is about to start showcasing independent films in theaters in markets where art house viewers are believed to reside.
AMC Theatres will announce today that it has designated 72 theaters as AMC Select venues. There, screens will be set aside not only for the latest studio blockbuster, horror flick and teen gross-out comedy, but also for quirky indies and low-budget documentaries.
Although some of the most popular of these independent films already screen at AMC theaters -- the documentary "Super Size Me," say, or the adult drama "Brokeback Mountain" -- AMC Select will seek out a broader range of fare and will screen them for longer stretches of time.
The introduction of AMC Select comes as every major studio has launched its own specialty film division. The result was several Academy-Award-nominated films this year, including Sony Pictures Classics' "Capote" and Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain." "Crash," which won the Oscar for best picture, was distributed by another independent, Lionsgate.
Not only are these specialized films critically acclaimed, they also can be profitable. Made on budgets of less than $30 million, these films cost less than half of the average studio production. So when they are hits, the potential profits are huge.
A break-out success such as "March of the Penguins," "The Passion of the Christ" or "Fahrenheit 9/11" can reap big box-office revenues for both distributors and exhibitors alike. Even unrated, foreign-language, risque movies such as the 2001 hit "Y Tu Mama Tambien," have become sought after by exhibitors in such unlikely places as Omaha and Des Moines.
AMC Chief Executive Peter Brown said that with AMC Select the Kansas City, Mo.-based chain was attempting to compete with the Internet, iPods and home entertainment for consumers' attention and pocketbooks. "We are constantly thinking about how we can get more people to come to the theaters," Brown said. "This is realizing the promise of the megaplex -- we are broadening out the depth and breadth of the [movies] available."AMC is joining other theater chains such as Regal Entertainment Group, Pacific Theatres Exhibition Corp., Landmark Theatres and Century Theatres Inc. in recognizing the money-making potential of character-driven adult dramas and documentaries.
Pacific has made perhaps the biggest mark in this area, with the Arclight Cinemas, its Hollywood multiplex, serving as a model for independent film exhibition. Landmark Theatres, the country's largest theater chain dedicated solely to specialty movies, is planning to build one of the largest multiplex theaters to showcase only specialized films to replace their aging Westside Pavilion site.
Northern California-based Century Theatres has built CineArts complexes, which show only specialty films, complete with bars or restaurants for patrons who want to see specialized movies. The country's largest theater circuit, Regal Entertainment, launched about 70 Cinema Art theaters in 1999, adding on-site cafes where patrons can buy espressos or cappuccinos before the show. Some of their Cinema Art theaters show specialized film exclusively.
AMC Select will be offered in areas where specialized films have performed well in the past, including the AMC Barrett Commons 24 in Atlanta, the AMC Grapevine Mills 30 in Dallas and the AMC Rolling Hills 20 in Torrance.
Brown said audiences who frequent these types of movies were not usually 14-year-old boys, the studios' most coveted demographic, but people over the age of 40. According to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the percentage of moviegoers over the age of 40 has grown from 14% in 1986 to 32% in 2005.
As the audience for these films grows, so does demand for state-of-the-art surround sound, wide screens and stadium seating to replace the aging art house movie theaters.
"This is what we had hoped for when multiplexes were created," said Dawn Hudson, executive director for Film Independent, a nonprofit organization that puts on the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival. "This is in response to audience demand for more diverse choices."