A look inside the AMC Empire 25, the busiest theater in America

posted by CSWalczak on May 6, 2011 at 7:45 am

NEW YORK, NY — A recent article in the Hollywood Reporter provides a close-up look at how the AMC Empire 25 handles the daily crowds at its popular location just off of Times Square. The seven-level “multiplex on steroids” entertains, on average, 42,000 patrons a week and last year took in nearly $25 million in revenue. At its mammoth concession stand, 3,500 pounds of popcorn kernels are popped and 250 gallons of Coke syrup are mixed with carbonated water every week. The history of the theater, which dates back to 1912 when it was built as the Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre is also summarized.

Most multiplexes in the U.S. don’t open until noon and, if they did open earlier, would be hard-pressed to get any traffic. But early openings are all in a day’s work for the Empire, which accommodates more than 2 million moviegoers annually. It’s been the top-grossing theater in North America for years — a surprising fact, even within the film business, given that it doesn’t have bells and whistles like reserved seating or high-end dining. Not to mention that 42nd Street is best associated with the surrounding Broadway legit theaters (and, of course, the often seedy history of Times Square).

The story of how the Empire — which has gone from Broadway theater to burlesque house to shuttered operation — came to be the U.S.‘ busiest theater is emblematic of the resurgence of Times Square and New York City’s tenacious ability to reinvent itself. Beyond its singular success, the Empire offers a profile of how the modern multiplex — albeit one on steroids — operates. Individual movies are assigned screens based on their drawing power, and the number of screens can change quickly from one day to the next. To maintain cost-effectiveness, staffing is constantly adjusted based on projections about how upcoming movies are expected to perform. And even orchestrating the concession lines is a near-science.

The whole story can be read here.

Theaters in this post

Comments (8)

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on May 6, 2011 at 2:13 pm

i have no complaint about the projection or sound in the
theaters but the men’s rooms at the Empire 25 like the men’s
rooms in most multiplexes are quite unevenly maintained.
whenever i mentioned there’s a problem they don’t seem to
give a damn. i guess most multiplex managers don’t think
maintaining a clean well kept men’s room is very important.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on May 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm

You can always tell how good the weekend business was at the Empire by how many broken glass front doors they have on Monday. “FAST FIVE” was a two-front door movie.

RickB
RickB on May 7, 2011 at 4:26 am

Assuming they actually use all of the screens, 42,000 people per week is only an average of 240 per screen per day. Imagine what that figure must have been for the old palaces in their heyday.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

Rickb you said it 100% correct.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on May 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Yes, but the comparison is in some respects unfair; in the grand era of the movie palace, going to the movies – especially in this country’s great cities in the heyday of the downtown movie palace, about 1920-1945 – seeing movies in a theater was THE major form of popular entertainment with the exception perhaps of radio, There were no TVs, no DVDs or on-demand streamings of films, no video games. People went to the movies far more frequently then, especially as the price was more than reasonable. In addition especially in the first half of the era, patrons also got a stage show in addition to the movie.

ALAlvarez, I am curious about those broken doors – how/why do they get broken? Is it due to vandalism, crowds pushing against them to get in/out, excessive wear and tear, or shoddy door workmanship?

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on May 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I think it is the rowdy mob scene there on weekends. It is specially bad on major horror and action flicks, as it always has been on 42nd street.

By the way, don’t knock the 240 people per day per screen. The Ziegfeld and the Paris could only dream of such an average.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on May 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Just for fun, the Roxy Theatre’s annual attendance in its first year, 1927-28, was approximately 6.5 million people. It’s biggest single week was 176,000 (“What Price Glory?”). With a seating capacity of about 6000 (about 1000 more than the AMC Empire’s total) and about 5 shows per day, that gives a very rough estimate of an average 125,000 people a week, 17,800 per day and a staggering 3500 per show. Similar numbers persisted into the 1930s although profits dropped due to lower ticket prices. During WWII the numbers were probably even higher.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on May 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Of course the Roxy’s overhead with its stagehands, ushers, stage performers, orchestra, etc must have been staggeringly higher than the Empire. Still it was a very profitable theatre for most of its life except for a few years in the early 30s and the early 50s.

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