Scenes From A Dilapidated AMC Theater

My oldest asked me last Friday if I wanted to go a see a movie with her. It was Bodies Bodies Bodies, a new A24 horror/comedy that I didn’t really have any interest in seeing. To me, the previews screamed “You’re too old to enjoy this!” I love most everything A24 puts out, so I ignored that inner voice saying “no” and told my daughter “Sure.”

My daughter is part of the A24 fan club, so she’ll get things in the mail; stickers, letters, and this last time a free ticket to see Bodies Bodies Bodies. Of course this new flick isn’t playing in our hometown multiplex, so it was going to be either Fort Wayne or South Bend. We decided on South Bend because they had the earliest showing, which was 4:45 on Saturday afternoon. That would give us plenty of time to get there as my oldest didn’t get off work till 3pm at the library. Besides, I’d never been to this AMC theater in South Bend. It’d be an adventure.

Truth be told I’d never been to an AMC theater. I know at one time they were the biggest theater chain in the US. “Theater chain” seems like an odd thing. Growing up we had three theaters in town; The Lake Theater, The Center Cinema, and the Warsaw Drive-In and in the late 90s we got the 8-screen North Pointe Cinemas. They weren’t chains, they were locally owned. Once North Pointe Cinemas opened it was only a matter of time till the rest folded. Center Cinema closed right before North Pointe opened in ’96 or ’97. The Lake Theater closed in the early 2000s. The last movie I saw there was Punchdrunk Love. And the Warsaw Drive-In bid a fond adieu around that time as well.

Point is, I’d never even thought of theaters being chain stores like McDonalds or Jiffy Lube.

The theater was right off the bypass, hidden in an industrial park. We pulled in and found a behemoth of a cinema surrounded by a smallish parking lot, which was surrounded by a much larger black top with weeds growing through it. I think at one point the entire lot was probably full most weekends, but apparently not any recent weekends. Or years for that matter.

Walking in it was pretty apparent this was a top notch cinema in its day. It’s day was May of 1998 when the theater opened. Then it was called Showplace 16. Are there actually 16 screens there? Yes there is. AMC eventually bought it out and took it over. It was a pretty grand display. It felt like an amusement park more than a theater honestly. The lobby was just massive. I could almost picture lines of people wrapping around the place waiting in line to get their popcorn, candy, and sodas at another time. The ceiling felt like some sort of cathedral, with these giant screens up above the concession stand. Maybe they played previews, or commercials back in the day? Now they just looked like sad windows with condensation on them. And were they busy? Not really. I mean, there were some folks in there. The part of the parking lot still used had a nice grouping of vehicles. There was Top Gun : Maverick, that new godawful Jurassic Park flick, and a superhero pets animated movie.

The interior, despite being pretty massive, had seen better days. The inside as a whole just looked old. Nothing had changed since 1998. The carpeting was pretty wore out and was a dark blue with what looked like gold stars scattered on it. Lots of blues, grays, and reds. There was a popcorn flavoring pumping station that just seemed kind of sad(though, we did pump it a couple times.) There was also a bar where you could get a beer. The lights were on, but nobody was over there. Despite the low numbers there were quite a few employees working. The bathroom had a significant amount of “Out Of Order” signs on the urinals. Some dank vibes for sure.

After grabbing some popcorn, drinks, Nestle Crunch Bites and some Twizzlers my daughter and I made our way to theater 10. The theater and screen was massive. I hadn’t seen a movie on a screen that big in a long time. For being 25 years old the seats were still pretty comfortable. Besides us there were only four other people, which felt kind of sad. Seemed like a waste of space. We had our choice of any seats, so we went halfway up to the top, right in the middle. Perfect spot.

It was fun seeing a movie with my oldest. The first movie she saw in the theater was The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, which I took her to when she was 4-years old. Technically the first movie she went to in a theater was Finding Nemo, but she made her grandma leave shortly after it started because it was too loud. So her first actual cinema experience was with old dad in November of 2004. I think the last movie I saw in the theater with her was Midsommar in 2019. Her little brother tagged along for that one. Or maybe it was Minari at the Blackhawk in Brooklyn back in 2021.

Seeing movies at the theater has always been an important thing for us. She’s kept that interest well after Spongebob. In college she’d see films at the campus theater a lot. Her and another movie fan friend would travel to Indianapolis to see horror movies in the theater(even seeing the director’s cut of Midsommar in the theater at one point.) Cinema is one of those things we both share a love for. She even got me a year’s subscription to the Criterion Channel for Father’s Day.

I must’ve done something right.

The movie was great. I had it pegged completely wrong. Funny, kind of scary, but it was more in the vein of flicks like April Fool’s Day and Student Bodies. More comedy than horror, with plenty of fun poked at the whole Tik-Tok generation.

I left the AMC on Chippewa Avenue satisfied and maybe even a little melancholy. It felt like leaving a once grand museum that was on its last leg. Maybe they sell more tickets than I realize, but it really did feel like some relic lost to time. Capitalism gone to the dogs, or just a mere mirage fading of what Hollywood used to be. Harkening back to the days of Blockbuster Video, carryout pizza, and an evening of movies and slices. A time when the local cinema was the buzzing epicenter of every Midwestern town on Friday and Saturday night. Meet ups in the lobby with friends, first date jitters waiting line for Skittles and a soda, or just the Saturday matinee with your daughter to see a movie. Maybe The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. Maybe Bodies Bodies Bodies.

Either way, it was a special occasion.

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