Remember when meme stocks were all the rage 13 months ago? Investors flocked to retro chains with heavy short interest, thin floats, and small stock prices. A lot of last year's bottle rockets have fallen back to Earth in recent months, but some of them are at the point where they could have legit upside now. 

Tanger Factory Outlet Stores (SKT -1.07%), GameStop (GME -4.61%), and AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -5.36%) are three stocks that cashed in on the meme revolution last year. Let's see why there are some near-term catalysts -- without the need to bet on iffy conspiracy theories -- to trigger a surge.

Someone going through a sales rack with clothes selling for 80% off.

Image source: Getty Images.

Tanger Factory Outlet Stores

One of the more unlikely stocks to get swept up in the "meme stock" surge last year -- outside of perhaps Tootsie Roll -- was Tanger Factory Outlet Stores. Shares of the shopping center operator soared 48% in the span of four trading days in late January on its heaviest volume in more than a year. 

Tanger's appeal in the meme movement stemmed largely from its heavy short interest. Roughly half of its shares outstanding were sold short, as worrywarts figured that folks had spent most of 2020 shopping online that they weren't going to return to brick-and-mortar retailers anytime soon. 

The boo birds were wrong. Shoppers have come back even stronger than before the pandemic. Average tenant sales over the past four quarters -- on a same center basis -- are 11% higher than where they were in the comparable period in 2019. It's not just shoppers coming back. Occupancy levels at its 36 factory outlet centers have risen to a decent 94.3%, approaching the 95.9% it was at two years ago. 

Tanger resumed declaring quarterly distributions that were interrupted when the pandemic began, and the payout rate has already been hiked. There's also room for improvement on that 4.4% yield, and we'll see how the holidays played out for Tanger when it reports fourth-quarter results after Thursday's close. 

Friend playing a video game on TV.

Image source: Getty Images.

GameStop

The poster child of the meme stock run is trading 74% below the all-time high it hit during its frenzied spike nearly 13 months ago, but all of the publicity that it has received does give the small-box video game retailer a better chance to succeed. After years of declining revenue, GameStop is starting to claw its way back to within striking distance of its pre-pandemic sales level. 

The model seemed doomed as console makers and publishers shift to digital delivery, and that's a dagger to GameStop's business and its once lucrative and high-margin resale niche. New blood is thinking outside of the console box at GameStop. E-commerce and digital delivery have been in the works for years, but now GameStop is eyeing crypto and NFTs as potential motherlodes. 

One can argue that everybody is trying to get some skin in the game of digital currencies and collectibles, but GameStop has a birthright here. There's overlap within the gamer and crypto communities, and folks were paying for virtual goods on video games before NFTs and blockchains gained traction. GameStop may not have much of a window to make this jump, but thankfully next-gen tech moves fast enough to make the once doomed retail concept a potential hub for the gaming and fintech universe of the future.

Couples enjoying a movie at a multiplex.

Image source: Getty Images.

AMC 

It could be a longer road back for AMC, largely because folks aren't going to the movies anymore. Domestic box office receipts are clocking in 54% lower than where they were at this point two years ago. Only a thin slate of superhero and action films are drawing audiences, but those long tails have shortened in the new normal. Studios with streaming services to feed are narrowing theatrical release windows, and we're spending a lot more time streaming at home than we were two years ago.

Now let's start talking about the good news. Analysts see AMC's revenue for the current quarter flat for with the $941 million it rang up in the first quarter. How can this be when year-to-date ticket sales have been cut by more than half? One obvious reason is that the two-year comparisons will start to get a lot kinder next month when we get to the point when multiplex operators shut down by mid-March. However, to AMC's credit it's been gaining market share through the pandemic. The movie pipeline is going to improve as 2022 runs its course.

AMC has also helped make its own luck. Mobile ordering of concessions is dramatically increasing what moviegoers are ordering at the multiplex. NFT promos are helping AMC stand out against rivals screening the same flicks. Like GameStop, AMC is also trying to turn retail investors into retail customers. If you had to bet on which of the movie theater stocks will be the last one standing, it has to be AMC. With recent debt refinancing extending its lifeline it now has time to reinvent the medium. It has a shot, and right now that's worth something.