The General Cinema Story

The arrival of the megaplex is the latest chapter in General Cinema's story. To learn how General Cinema became a leading national theatre company, we need to return to 1922, the silent film period, when Philip Smith operated his first movie theatre. At that time, Smith's dream may have been to open another theatre someday, but few except for himself would have envisioned his business as it is today. General Cinema Theatres, the company to grow out of Smith's modest beginnings, now has become one of the nation's leading exhibitors of motion pictures.

In The Beginning...
Let's rewind the film to 1935. With the transformation of America into an automotive culture, Smith opened what is said to be the first successful drive-in theatre in the United States. More drive-in theatres quickly followed, including one built by Smith in the '40s in La Grange, Illinois. Moviegoers could now watch their silver-screen idols in the privacy of their cars. Because of the oversized screen and advanced speaker system, some drive-ins could accommodate as many as 2,000 cars per show. While many teenagers saw it as the perfect date, parents with young children appreciated the convenience and small expense of the drive-in. As the drive-ins prospered so did the Company, known at that time as Midwest Drive-In.

Location, Location, Location.
By the early 1950s, however, Smith had anticipated a back-to-indoor-theatre trend. This time, he stayed ahead of the competition not with a revolutionary concept, but with a revolutionary location -- suburban shopping centers. With the soldiers back from World War II and the economy flourishing, most Americans were buying homes in the suburbs. Since all that buying power was also shifting to the suburbs, shopping malls began springing up in the suburbs. Smith seized this opportunity to capture a new market by operating the first shopping-center theatre, the Framingham Cinema in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Built in 1951, not only was Framingham's location a unique concept, but the theatre's design was also new, replacing the impressive but impractical palace-type theatres located in urban areas, which were too large to fill, difficult to heat and cool, and expensive to maintain. General Cinema still operates the Framingham theatre, only today it's a 16-screen megaplex.

A Box Office Hit!
General Cinema's practical theatre design, plus its innovative location, was a hit! In their shopping-center locations, patrons were now able to combine a trip to the movies with shopping or dining at a nearby restaurant. Responding to this success, the Company built several similar cinemas in shopping centers across the country. They proved to be equally as popular, and by 1970 General Cinema was the largest shopping-center theatre operator in the United States. When General Cinema introduced multiple-screen theatres at one location, giving moviegoers a selection of films to choose from, business improved even more.

Expanding Horizons.
It wasn't until the late 1950s, with the exhibition business thriving, that General Cinema stepped outside of the motion picture business to broaden its operations. The first non-theatre venture began with a series of restaurants called Richard's Drive-Ins and coffee shops named Amy Joy's Pancake Houses. By 1960, with the country's increasing enthusiasm toward bowling, General Cinema added this sport to its growing repertoire of leisure-time activities. 1960 also marked the year the Company went public with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange as General Drive-In. In 1964, with the Company continuing to expand its business interests, the name was changed to General Cinema Corporation.

Over the years, General Cinema has diversified into many different businesses, including becoming the nation's largest Pepsi bottler and purchasing The Neiman Marcus Group, a group of specialty retail stores, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, a renowned publishing company. (General Cinema was spun off from Harcourt General into a separate company in 1993.) However, no matter how diverse its array of investments has become, General Cinema has never lost its focus on the movies.

General Cinema Today.
Throughout the years, General Cinema has continued to focus on growing its theatre business as areas of potential expansion. General Cinema now builds state-of-the-art megaplexes, featuring large screens, digital sound, stadium- and theatre-style seating and "love seats" for moviegoers' pleasure and comfort.

The company also formed a joint venture with Hoyts and now has theatre operations throughout South America.

In April, 1998, at the Yorktown 18 theatre in Lombard, Illinois, General Cinema opened the country's first Premium Cinema, a luxury movie theatre featuring valet parking, a bistro lounge serving champagne, wine and gourmet appetizers and entrees, and an auditorium with all the comforts of a private Hollywood screening room. It now has upscale cinemas in Washington, D.C. and Boston.

As General Cinema continues to break new ground, the Company's objective remains the same as it was over 75 years ago: to provide the ultimate movie-going experience.