It’s no secret that movie theater attendance has been dropping substantially. A Gallup poll found that American adults saw an average of just 1.4 movies in a theater in 2021, compared to an average of 4.8 from 2001 to 2007, and though things looked brighter in 2022, AMC Theatres has reason to worry. Rather than risk becoming the Pan Am of cinemas, the nation’s largest movie theater chain is making moves to change with the times: AMC has announced it will break into the snack business, bringing its movie theater popcorn exclusively to Walmart.
AMC Theatres Perfectly Popcorn will be available in both microwave pouches or pre-popped and ready to eat, and it comes three varieties: Classic Butter, Extra Butter, and Lightly Salted. The Extra Butter microwave variety also comes with extra packets of “buttery topping” (I’m assuming they’re not legally allowed to call it butter) so you can apply the ideal amount to your popcorn.
This isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking development; large chains will often put their name on grocery products to bring in some extra coin (looking at you, TGI Fridays). Yet AMC insists the popcorn you get at Walmart is the same popcorn you get at its theaters and that it brings “movie theatre popcorn taste and aroma to the comfort of home.”
Even with that emphasis on authenticity, it’s still hard to see how this product appeals to consumers, since there’s nothing particularly special about AMC’s popcorn. Is there? I’ve honestly had bar popcorn that tasted better. AMC’s only differentiating factor is the aforementioned “buttery topping,” which many theater locations allow you to apply to the popcorn yourself. In fact, AMC could probably just sell individual packets of this topping and skip the popcorn line entirely.
Moreover, microwave popcorn and pre-popped popcorn simply aren’t comparable to what you buy at the movies. At its best, theater popcorn is warm, crispy, and leaves oil residue on your fingers. Microwave popcorn, no matter how much you dress it up, tastes like it came from a microwave, and ready-to-eat bagged popcorn already tastes a little stale; maybe that’s just how the brain responds to the room-temp stuff.
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But wait! A closer look at the bags of AMC’s pre-popped Perfectly Popcorn reveals a logo reading, “Heat & Eat to enjoy an authentic movie theatre experience; instructions on back.” So it sounds like you can make it taste a little closer to the real deal by heating it up—but in that case, why not buy the microwave pouches?
AMC’s popcorn itself might not be anything to write home about, but the company wants to sell us on the experience of it, making sure we keep AMC top of mind even when we’re not headed to a movie theater. The product launch is explicitly aligned with the upcoming Academy Awards broadcast; surely the chain is hoping we pair some Perfectly Popcorn with our AMC On Demand streaming selections, too.
The product has been a long time coming. In 2021, AMC announced its plan to market its popcorn as a standalone product and sell it in mall kiosks, make it available in to-go packages at theaters, and even list it on food delivery apps. Perhaps movie theaters will one day be a relic of the past, and AMC’s name will instead be synonymous with popcorn. But with three more Avatar films on the horizon, that doesn’t seem too likely.