Summer movie season has officially started. After you’re done watching trailers at home, you’ll want to find the best theater around to experience the films you want to see. Here’s how two of the biggest theater chains (and two of your most obvious choices.) Regal and AMC, compare.
In the U.S. market alone, there are dozens of theater chains, but Regal and AMC are the biggest by far. For years, Regal was the industry leader with 7,295 screens in 565 theater locations, more than any other company. While AMC has been a close second, their proposed acquisition of Carmike Cinemas (expected to close by the end of this year) would give it 8,380 screens in 653 locations, bumping it up to the #1 slot. This puts them both in fierce competition with each other, and neither one is backing down.
Both theater chains are pretty comparable in most areas. They each started upgrading to high-tech 4K displays in most of their theaters in the late aughts. For the most part, the average moviegoer won’t notice a difference in picture quality unless you seek out real IMAX screens.
Where the two really distinguish themselves is in the theater experience. In the last decade or so, it’s gotten easier to build your own home theater that’s good enough. Microwave a bag of popcorn, pop in a Blu-Ray, and you don’t even need to leave the house for a great movie night. To fight this trend, AMC and Regal have started tweaking their theaters to make their auditoriums better than yours. Frankly, it’s made the theater world a whole lot better.
AMC Wins On Dining, But Both Have Sweet New Comforts
In order to compete with your comfy couch, AMC has started experimenting with theater experiences that depart from the usual “sit in a tiny chair and stare at the screen.” Dine-In theaters, for example, are currently in 19 AMC locations around the country. These theaters feature full-menu restaurants with waiters that bring food directly to your seat. This format is familiar to anyone who’s ever heard of the Alamo Drafthouse, another boutique theater chain that prides itself on breaking out of the usual movie-going experience. While in my experience this is sometimes distracting, it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to posh up your theater outing.
AMC has also outfitted many of their locations with a full-service bar and lounge named “MacGuffins.” 132 out of AMC’s current 346 US locations have a bar available, which means AMC has nearly as many MacGuffins as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, adults can get alcoholic drinks and chill out before or after a film. While Regals has dabbled a bit with the restaurant and bar models, the company has mostly avoided these alternative amenities.
In more traditional areas, Regal and AMC are each upping their game as well. Both companies offer recliner seating and reserved seats at specific locations. AMC is outpacing Regal in this area as well, with recliners in 111 locations vs 85 Regal locations, and reserved seating in 147 AMC theaters, vs 131 Regal theaters according to Fandango. Knowing that you’re guaranteed a good seat and having a comfy recliner waiting for you can help offset the sticker shock for rising ticket prices.
If recliners and reserved seating matter to you (pro tip: they should. They’re awesome), then the competition doesn’t matter as much as your proximity to a supported location. Check the links above to find out which theaters near you have these features. However, if you’re interested in trying out a dine-in theater or want a drink before you step into the theater, AMC has you covered.
AMC’s Rewards Are For Frequent Moviegoers, Regal’s Are For Casual Fans
AMC’s rewards program is called Stubs, and it costs $12 per year to use. In return, for every $100 you spend, you get $10 back. You can also get free size upgrades on popcorn and soda, and all online ticketing fees via AMC’s website are waived. If you don’t go to the theater often, you might struggle to recoup even the minimal $12 cost every year. Pro tip, though: if you pay for your friends’ tickets up front and let them pay you back later, reaching $100 every year gets a lot easier. For avid moviegoers or families, it can quickly become worth it. The Stubs program also gives you a virtual library of all your ticket stubs. This has no monetary value to you whatsoever, but it’s kinda neat to look at.
Regal’s rewards program is called the Regal Crown Club. Unlike AMC’s program, it costs nothing to join, which is a plus. However, the perks aren’t quite as nice. It uses a point system to let you earn rewards over time For every dollar you spend, you get 100 points. You can also earn bonus points if you go to the theater more than six times per year. You can then spend those points on things like concessions or movie tickets. For reference, a 2D movie ticket costs 15,000 points, which is around $150 worth of points. You can shave that if you visit the theater frequently and don’t spend a lot each time, but it’s a far cry from the guaranteed $10 you get for every $100 that AMC offers. More importantly, AMC lets you spend your rewards money however you want, rather than making you save up to buy things with “points.”
On the one hand, AMC’s program offers more compelling rewards, but Regal’s costs nothing so there’s no reason not to sign up. If you live near a decent AMC theater and you (or the people you go to movies with) plan to spend a decent amount of money, AMC Stubs will be worth it. Regal will be worth it no matter what, but it may take a while to get any meaningful rewards.
The Verdict: AMC Is More Innovative, But Regal’s Catching Up Quick
On the whole, AMC tends to offer a slightly better experience for the avid moviegoer. The company has more locations with reclining seats and reserved seating, a better rewards program, and more innovative experiences like the Dine-In theaters and the MacGuffin bars. If you live near one of AMC’s tricked out theaters and you like spending time at the movies, you should probably check it out.
While Regal may be lagging a bit behind, it’s not by much. The company has nearly as many upgraded theaters as AMC and their rewards program doesn’t cost a dime. If you don’t go to the movies that often, or you don’t care for crazy things like restaurants in your movie theaters, Regal would be great for you.
Of course, it also depends on what’s available where you live. In my area, there are a dozen AMC and Regal theaters within 10 miles, but your area may be different. Both companies are aiming to improve the theater experience overall, so check out all the theaters in your area and look for the features that are most appealing to you. Then sit back in your recliner, relax, and enjoy the show.