A Movie Fan's Dream: 30-Screen Theaters Popping Up

Article excerpt

Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic

The AMC Theaters in Barrington. Thirty screens!

The AMC Theaters in Warrenville. Thirty screens!

If things go as planned, these proposed entertainment multiplexes will soon become a reality.

Think about it. Thirty screens!

Just three years ago, the biggest multiplex movie house in America could be found in Grand Rapids, Mich. A measly 20 screens!

Marcus' Gurnee Theaters in Gurnee already has that many. So has the Marcus Cinemas complex in Addison.

General Cinema's Yorktown Theaters in Lombard has plans for 18 screens. General's Randhurst Cinema in Mount Prospect already has 16. The nine screens at One Schaumburg Place will soon double to 18. Lake in the Hills Theaters has 12 screens.

The seats go on.

All these suburban screens, all popping up in the past couple of years. Why?

Perhaps the better question might be: Why didn't they pop up much earlier?

In eight words, the Motion Picture Projectionists and Video Technicians Union.

Back in 1992, Cineplex Odeon staged a historic lock-out of 165 members of the union after reaching an impasse in negotiating wages and benefits.

Up to this time, the feared union - which had a checkered history involving organized crime, bombings and murders - shaped and dictated the financial landscape of Chicago's theater business.

It mandated that theaters hire two projectionists per booth at salaries that reportedly topped out at $112 an hour. Plus, the clock started at 9 a.m., even though the projectionists didn't actually start showing movies until noon matinees.

These expensive provisions effectively put a clamp on theater expansion. For decades, Chicagoland has been notoriously underscreened compared to other areas of the country. Only a few major theater chains such as Plitt (bought by Cineplex Odeon in 1987) and General Cinema could afford to run their own houses.

Meanwhile, the very first suburban theaters, the Old Orchard Theaters in Skokie and the Golf Mill Theater in Niles, came to market the only way they could - as independent operations outside the union's reach. …