Over the last decade plus, digital cinema has made traditional 35 mm film nearly obsolete. Rather than a reel of film, movies are now stored on a hard drive that can be played digitally.
However, the digital age has also brought with it some confusing terminology. Instead of a movie being either 35mm or 70mm, a trip to AMC theaters now forces you to decide between Dolby Cinema, IMAX, PRIME, RealD 3D, BigD, and a host of other screen and theater types.
Further complicating the matter is that AMC also sells tickets that are labeled simply “DIGITAL” for the screen type. This has led many users to ask what AMC Digital means, and how it differs from the other options.
Continue reading and we will clear your confusion. As moviegoing continues to get more expensive, you want to be sure that you are getting a good value for your hard earned dollar.
Quick Answer: What Does AMC Digital Mean? What Does Digital Mean in Movies?
The easiest way to explain the meaning of AMC Digital is that it refers to a standard AMC screen without advanced features like IMAX, Dolby Cinema, etc.
Because 35mm film is nearly extinct, it seems redundant for AMC to refer to their theaters as “DIGITAL,” but I suppose it sounds better than saying “basic” or “original.”
Digital cinema has made 35mm (and 70mm) “traditional” film almost obsolete. So, if you walk into an AMC, Regal, Cinemark, or any other modern theater, you can expect that the movie will be played in the digital cinema (rather than film reel) format.
Digital cinema basically means that the movie is stored on a hard drive rather than a 35 mm film reel. This format provides many benefits.
First, a digital film is much easier and cheaper to ship, compared to a bulky and heavy film reel.
Next, the digital format means that a movie can be played nearly an infinite amount of times without wearing out or degrading. With traditional film, degradation of the film over time is inevitable.
Additionally, digital cinema won’t have the audible projector sounds that an old school projector would. For those of us that are nostalgic about Americana of years past, this is a downside. But objectively, eliminating this background noise is a beneficial thing.
Do movie theaters still have 35mm film?
There are still a handful of theaters that use 35mm film projectors. This has become a niche experience for purists, and can be found at arthouse style cinemas.
But largely, 35mm film has become obsolete.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
In recent years, a couple of the world’s finest directors have chosen old-school film rather than modern, digital technologies.
Christopher Nolan produced Interstellar in 2014 using 35mm film in addition to 70mm IMAX photography. The film was a masterpiece of cinematography, and it approached $700 million at the box office. Nolan also used 70mm IMAX for his 2017 film Dunkirk.
In 2015, Quentin Tarantino released The Hateful Eight on 70mm film. After a limited 70mm release (not many theaters still have this technology, remember!), the movie played worldwide in digital formats. Tarantino has been an outspoken opponent of the digitization of movies, even famously calling digital projection “the death of cinema.”
Why don’t more directors still make movies using 35mm or 70mm film? Well, there are just so many logistical problems. With digital cinema, lighting deficiencies can be corrected digitally, rather than old-school film which demands that set lighting is perfect. It is just quicker, easier, and more efficient to do things digitally, even if it draws the ire of film industry purists.
And importantly, even if you are able to make a movie in 35mm film, distribution provides a whole new set of challenges. Most theaters don’t have the projectors necessary to play this film. And each film reel is bulky, heavy, and expensive to produce and ship.
With digital film, you can create thousands of copies of a movie for a minimal cost.
What is AMC Digital vs. IMAX?
Again, “AMC Digital” is just a fancy name for AMC’s standard screen. IMAX is an upgraded screen that is more vivid and larger.
However, the IMAX name has morphed into a number of different formats in recent years.
Previously, IMAX referred to a very high quality digital experience and was the gold standard of theaters. Now, theater chains (such as AMC) have cashed in on the IMAX name by marketing smaller, less technically-impressive screens as “IMAX Experience.”
Even though the IMAX name isn’t as meaningful as it once was, it is still a better digital experience than AMC Digital, which is a basic and standard format.
No movie theater chain is more confusing than AMC. In addition to PRIME, IMAX, Dolby, RealD, and BigD, AMC markets their basic screen as AMC Digital. In truth, this is just a basic, garden variety movie theater without added bells and whistles.
If AMC had called it a standard screen, there would be no confusion. Instead, they chose to call their basic offering “AMC Digital” as if all movie theaters aren’t now playing digital cinema.
The bottom line here is that AMC Digital is a basic offering, so if you want an upgraded experience you should consider IMAX, Prime, or especially Dolby Cinema.