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AMC's Coming Attraction

From the big screen to the Big Board, AMC Theaters is ready to give it another go as a public company. The leading multiplex operator feels that the time is right to come out of hiding, pricing its upcoming IPO in the $18 to $20 range under the name of parent company Marquee Holdings.

If everything goes as planned, investors can be chowing down on buttery popcorn and other overpriced concessions as the company raises about $750 million by issuing nearly 40 million freshly minted shares.

The publicly traded screen had been dark for too long at AMC. The operator of 382 movie theaters housing 5,340 screens around the world was taken private in December of 2004, just as the industry appeared hopeless. Attendance levels were dropping and the eventual rollout of high-definition televisions threatened to redefine the cinematic experience.

Movie theaters were also partly to blame for their problems. The industry overbuilt in the 1990s. Too many players in a fragment sector tried to cram as many screens as possible into multiplexes, and the fallout was severe. At least a dozen companies went on to file for bankruptcy after the bottom fell out in 1995.

The climate is somewhat kinder now. Sure, folks are loving their home theaters even more these days, and movie studios are pushing for shorter windows between theatrical release dates and retail DVD introductions. However, ticket sales picked up last year and the box office is buzzing again so far in 2007.

There are also several cinematic enhancers helping boost performance. Theater operators are teaming up with IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) to transform ordinary screens into higher-grossing gargantuan sensory experiences. They are turning to companies like Thomson (NYSE: TMS  ) and AccessIT (Nasdaq: AIXD  ) to migrate to more flexible digital projection systems. Digital ad specialists like National CineMedia (Nasdaq: NCMI  ) are providing more lucrative ways to monetize in-theater marketing.

These innovations don't take away from the fact that theater operators are still in the awkward position of relying on third party content providers to draw audiences. Still, if Hollywood begins pumping out clunker after clunker, the problems will run far deeper than at the corner movie house.

Naturally the best indicator of the industry's health is that Cinemark and AMC -- two of the three largest chains in the country -- are in the process of going public. They will join top dog Regal (NYSE: RGC  ) and the smaller Carmike Cinemas (Nasdaq: CKEC  ) in the ticker symbol trading pool. The industry wouldn't be rolling out the red carpet and tugging away at the velvet curtain if the upcoming attraction isn't worth watching.

IMAX is a Rule Breakers newsletter service recommendation. The growth stock service singles out disruptive growth companies and you can get an all-access pass with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is often at the AMC near his home. Don't worry, he's never the loud person talking through the movie. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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