I saw the same movie at the 2 largest theatre chains in the US and preferred the one with less-comfortable seats

Savanna Swain-Wilson for InsiderI compared Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres.
  • I saw the same film at AMC and Regal movie theatre locations to determine which offered the best experience.
  • The two cost me about the same in terms of tickets and concessions.
  • AMC’s mobile ticket-ordering system was convenient, and I loved the chain’s tasty snacks, butter pump for popcorn, and special drink machine.
  • Regal Cinemas definitely had bigger and more comfortable seats, but I didn’t really enjoy the popcorn I tried from there.
  • Overall, I enjoyed my experience at both movie theatres, but I will be going back to AMC.
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Though we live in a time with access to luxuries like on-demand streaming, there’s something special about catching the newest flick on the big screen.

But for avid moviegoers, it’s not always easy to decide which theatre to visit.

So I decided to go to the two largest movie-theatre chains in the United States – Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres – to see which I actually preferred.

To get a fair comparison, I decided to watch the same matinee movie at each location. I then judged each experience based on comfort, concessions, and overall value.

Here’s what it was like seeing movies at Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres.

AMC Theatres was founded in 1920, which makes it one of the oldest movie-theatre chains in the US.

Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.comA photo of an AMC Imax theatre (not the one I visited).

After 100 years in business, AMC Theatres is still one of the biggest US-based movie-theatre chains.

It operates 1,000 theatres and 11,000 screens in 15 countries, including more than 380 theatres in the US.

I decided to visit an AMC location in Brentwood, California, because it was the nearest to my home.

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Outside, there were plenty of booths where tickets were being sold, plus organised queues and barriers.

Like most major movie chains, AMC gives patrons the option of buying their tickets online.

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AMC’s mobile website was well organised and easy to navigate. Its homepage highlighted both current and coming films with their release dates listed at the bottom.

All you have to do is click on the movie title and it automatically redirects you to whichever AMC closest to you has showtimes for that film.

I decided on a Monday, 3:10 p.m. showing of “Little Women,” and was glad I was able to reserve a seat.

My ticket cost $US10.49 with a $US1.89 mobile-order convenience fee — the total came to $US12.38.

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Since I was going for a matinee, I had plenty of seat choices. Ultimately, I settled on seat K10.

I may be an outlier here, but I actually prefer sitting toward the back of a movie theatre instead of the centre.

Seconds after I submitted my payment form, AMC sent me a text message with my mobile ticket.

Upon arriving at the theatre, all I had to do was pull up the text on my phone and show the bar code to the ticketing agent at the door.

The process was paperless and ridiculously easy. I especially liked that I didn’t have to worry about carrying a tiny ticket stub in my wallet.

When I first walked through the front doors, I was impressed by how organised and clean everything looked.

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Of course, it’s worth noting that I visited this location during a Monday afternoon when the place was nearly empty.

Even so, there were several barricades in front of the concessions stand to keep the (presently nonexistent) lines moving.

Still, the lobby itself didn’t feel very big. There must have been less than 10 feet between the queue and the doorway, so I can see why these line-organising barriers may be necessary.

I can only imagine how packed the lobby must get during the weekends.

To my left, there was a full bar called MacGuffins.

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The area was closed off, and it was complete with a special 21-and-over seating area.

I didn’t end up spending any time there, but I could see how that might be nice for a group of friends to relax for a bit before a movie.

Notably, not every AMC theatre serves alcohol, nor does every location have a MacGuffins.

One of AMC’s notable perks is its mobile-order service for concessions.

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You can actually preorder your food on your phone when you purchase your tickets.

Some AMC locations even have dine-in options in which a server brings the food to your seat.

I didn’t use the mobile-order feature during my visit because the line wasn’t very long, but I can see how it would be convenient during a busy Friday or Saturday.

The concessions menu was behind the counter, and there were also some enclosed displays for candy.

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I was highly impressed by the variety of food options.

In addition to traditional movie goodies, this location sold wings, mozzarella sticks, pizza, and macaroni and cheese.

They also offered gourmet popcorn flavours, like salted caramel and cheddar.

I also ordered a regular size, traditional popcorn for $US8.29, plus a box of candy for $US4.69 and a 30-ounce drink for $US6.29.

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I opted for a box of Milk Duds, which cost me $US4.69, and the smallest popcorn available, which was regular, since there was no small or junior size on the menu.

Much like its popcorn, AMC doesn’t offer small drinks, so I ordered the smallest option available, which was 30 ounces and cost $US6.29.

Then, I went to the right side of the lobby to fill up my cup.

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Here, instead of a traditional soda fountain, I encountered a fancy touch-screen dispenser called a Coca-Cola Freestyle.

Unlike a traditional soda dispenser, this Freestyle machine could produce a near-endless variety of soft drinks.

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I could use the machine’s special features to combine orange soda with cola, fruit punch with lemonade, or even lemon-lime soda with flavored water. There were no-calorie, low-calorie, and caffeine-free options, too.

The possibilities seemed endless, and I enjoyed experimenting with flavours.

In my opinion, this made my drink worth the somewhat higher price.

I was also pretty excited that this theatre had a butter pump for my popcorn.

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If there’s one thing that sets AMC apart from the rest, it’s the fact you have the freedom to top your popcorn with as little or as much butter as your heart desires.

This was really appealing, especially since I appreciate a buttery bag of popcorn.

The cost for my concessions order was $US19.27, without tax.

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To me, this seemed excessively expensive for three snack items, but I know that what I paid is pretty on par with the prices at other movie theatres.

Plus, the popcorn was much bigger than I expected it to be.

Inside the theatre, seating was split into upper and lower levels.

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The screen was blank when I arrived because the AMC I visited was switching its prepreview programming, which means it didn’t show any ads before the trailers.

Though the seats didn’t recline, they had plenty of cushioning.

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The chairs were made of a soft, blue plush material that reminded me of a business-class or a premium-economy seat on a somewhat upscale airline.

On top of that, every aisle was clean and spacious. Each audience member also had their own cupholder and armrest.

Interestingly, AMC added cupholder armrests to its chairs in 1981 – and it claims to be the first movie-theatre chain to do so.

I had plenty of room to stretch my legs without worry that I might hit the chair in front of me.

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I am 5 feet, 5 inches tall and took the liberty of extending my legs all the way out – there was still plenty of space in front of me, but if someone wanted to get by me, I’d definitely have to tuck my feet under my chair.

Once I settled into my cushy, blue throne, I was a happy camper.

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Though the start time on my ticket stated 3:10 p.m., the film didn’t begin until 3:27 p.m.

Personally, I didn’t mind watching 17 minutes of trailers. If I counted correctly, I watched five trailers before “Little Women.”

Next, I prepared to visit Regal Cinemas.

ShutterstockA photo of an Regal Cinemas 14 Imax theatre (not the one I visited).

The second-largest chain in the US is Regal Cinemas, which is part of the Regal Entertainment Group.

Regal Cinemas was founded in 1989, so it’s not quite as old as AMC.

The chain operates 549 theatres across 42 US states and in the US islands of American Samoa, Guam, and Saipan.

I visited the Regal Cinemas that was closest to me, which is the one in Sacramento, California.

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To keep things consistent, I was once again going to see “Little Women” during the day.

A full week had passed since I saw the film at the AMC, and I was pretty excited to see it again.

To keep things consistent with my previous movie experience, I purchased a mobile ticket directly from Regal’s website.

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Regal’s mobile site was pretty simple and straightforward, though it didn’t seem quite as informative or as intuitive as AMC’s – I feel as if I had to do a lot more tapping to get my ticket and select my location.

Based on the reservations page, I could tell this Regal theatre has fewer seats than the AMC location – most likely because the chairs themselves are much larger.

This wasn’t an issue for me because I planned to visit the theatre by myself on a Monday afternoon, but I can see how this more limited seating might deter families or groups of friends from going if they can’t book seats together.

My ticket cost $US9.90 with a $US1.50 mobile-order convenience fee — the total came to $US11.40.

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For my Regal experience, I decided on a Monday, 2:45 p.m. matinee screening of “Little Women” in regular, 2D format.

I decided to reserve seat G4, which is located toward the rear left side of the theatre.

When I walked into the theatre, the first thing that caught my eye was the massive concessions stand.

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I also noticed that the lobby was quite spacious. I had plenty of room to walk around, and I feel as if this space must be pretty comfortable even as it gets more crowded during late-night showings and weekends.

Like AMC, Regal had its own bar that sold cocktails, beer, and wine.

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Unlike AMC, Regal had no designated 21-and-over lounge. This didn’t bug me since I had no plans on drinking or hanging out.

Notably, not every Regal cinema serves alcohol.

The menu included classic theatre fare like hotdogs and nachos, as well as pretzels, tacos, and sandwiches.

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The sign with all of the offerings was located above the counter and was easy to read.

There were also several small towers of sweet treats near the concessions counter.

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I appreciated that Regal kept the candy out in the open for customer browsing rather than behind a glass display case.

In my opinion, this is more convenient for those who are indecisive or who might want to look at all of the available snack options before getting to the register.

Despite the huge selection, I still went for my favourite: Milk Duds.

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The single box cost me $US4.99, which was slightly more than it cost me at AMC.

I don’t know what it is with theatres offering only two drink sizes, but apparently it’s a thing.

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One regular soft drink set me back $US6.29, though the cup was essentially the same size as an extra-large soda outside the movie world.

I checked my receipt, and the cup was a whopping 32 ounces – 2 ounces bigger than the one I got at AMC.

Unlike AMC, Regal had three size options for its popcorn.

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I was glad to have more size options, and I purchased a small, which cost me $US7.19 and came buttered.

Unfortunately, I did not care for the way this popcorn tasted. To me, the butter had a strange, oily aftertaste that overpowered the bag.

In the lobby, there were two standard soda fountains.

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Between the two machines, there was a decent variety of choices, but they could not compare to the number of options I had with AMC’s special Coca-Cola machine.

The Regal, however, did have a few exciting things the AMC did not.

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Notably, this Regal location had Icee slushies and frozen-yogurt machines.

I was all set with treats this time, but I could imagine myself getting a nice cold cup of vanilla and chocolate swirl before a summer movie.

The cost for my small popcorn, regular soft drink, and Milk Duds was $US18.47, without tax.

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This was only slightly cheaper than the snacks I purchased at the AMC theatre.

Notably, the popcorn bag I had at the AMC seemed a bit larger than the one I had at the Regal, though my Regal beverage was slightly larger than the one I had at the AMC.

Since this was a newer Regal Cinemas location, the default seat type was a king-size recliner.

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It didn’t cost any extra to get this type of seat, though it’s worth noting that only select Regal locations have them. According to the Regal website, dozens of its theatres are fitted with these reclining seats.

For about $US10, this massive, spacious seat didn’t seem bad at all.

The seat was comfortable and leathery with gigantic rests for both of my arms.

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Even without using its reclining feature, this seat was wonderful.

In terms of legroom, Regal’s theatre blew me away.

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Since the seats are spaced so well, I bet fellow moviegoers could easily walk in front of me for bathroom breaks and I wouldn’t need to straighten my chair or tuck in my legs.

Even with my recliner fully extended, there was still plenty of room for people to pass by.

I also loved that every chair in the theatre came with its own table to set your food, purse, or whatever else you want off the ground.

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I have a terrible habit of knocking my popcorn over even if I set it on the floor for two seconds, so this swivel platform won me over immediately.

As I sank into the massive throne, I felt as if I were about to watch a movie in my own home.

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My movie was scheduled to start at 2:45 p.m., but first I watched exactly 20 minutes of trailers.

I counted six trailers, which is one more than I saw at AMC.

This didn’t make or break anything for me (I don’t mind trailers, nor do I mind a movie that starts on time), but it was interesting to note.

Overall, I was slightly more satisfied with my experience at the AMC theatre.


AMC Theatres: 8/10 for comfort, 10/10 for concessions, and 8/10 for value

Regal Cinemas: 10/10 for comfort, 6/10 for concessions, and 7/10 for value

Admittedly, it was hard to choose a winner between these two chains because I had such great experiences at both locations. But ultimately, AMC won me over.

I liked AMC’s popcorn better, and it had a broader drink selection. Plus, sitting in its theatre just felt like an authentic cinematic experience, and not as if I were in a friend’s cosy living room.

I also felt the pricing was fair for what I got when it came to food and the film itself – and the convenience of AMC’s mobile-order system was difficult to top.

Sure, AMC didn’t have Regal’s luxurious recliners, but I don’t might sitting up straighter when I have a delicious drink, tons of menu options, and some popcorn I was able to butter myself.

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