No more Movies at Muncie Mall

Going to the movies is an immersive social experience heightened, in my opinion, by seeing an anticipated new release in an iconic, old theater. The Muncie Mall 3, also known as Movies at Muncie Mall and the Muncie Mall Dollar Movies was not an iconic theater. It eventually became old, though, while thirty years of moviegoers -myself included- escaped from their everyday lives and indulged their imaginations from within its walls. That’s why I’m writing about it today.

The former Muncie Mall 3, as it appeared on April 15, 2023.

Muncie’s hosted elaborate movie palaces, hole-in-the-wall nickelodeons, and modern multiplexes over the decades. In December 1974, United Artists threw its hat into the ring by announcing it would build a three-screen cinema at the four-year-old Muncie Mall1. The proclamation was surprising because the area was already home to five indoor movie screens, one year-round drive-in, and two seasonal drive-ins. Journalists openly wondered if Delaware County had enough money to spread across nine screens!

Muncie Mall, with Movies at Muncie Mall highlighted in red, as it appeared five years after the cinema was constructed, and today. Imagery courtesy the Delaware County GIS Department and Google. Copyright IndianaMap Framework Data. Landsat /Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. 

We all know that they did, since Muncie’s declining population still supports a twelve-screen AMC, but going to the movies was a lot different fifty years ago. That December, the Strand, and Rivoli, both venerable vaudeville houses downtown, were playing Flesh Gordon (sigh) and Open Season. Muncie’s luxurious Delaware Cinema was showing Airport 1975, while the Northwest Plaza I & II was playing The Trial of Billy Jack and The Longest Yard. The Muncie Drive-In and Ski-Hi were closed for the season, but the Blackford Drive-In showed G-rated family fare like The Filthiest Show in TownGabriel’s Horn, and Sex Clinic Girls just north of the county line2.

Britts, later Elder-Beerman and Carsons, as it appeared at the Muncie Mall on July 5, 2020.

The competition did little to deter United Artists, which also operated Indiana theaters in Terre Haute, Lafayette, and Indianapolis, from wasting little time in adding the new theater to the southwest side of Britts, one of three anchor stores at the mall. The Movies at Muncie Mall, as the multiplex was known, opened on Friday, July 25, after a ceremonial “film-cutting.” Mayor Paul Cooley, the chiefs of Muncie’s fire and police departments, and representatives from United Artists were all in attendance on the cinema’s first night3.

This ad for The Movies at Muncie Mall’s opening night appeared on page 21 of the July 25th edition of The Muncie Star.

The theater wasn’t much to look at from the outside, just a brick, buttressed box that matched the mall’s overall aesthetic. Nevertheless, the complex could seat 882 patrons across its three auditoriums, which shared a box office, refreshment stand, and projection room. The cinema was said to offer “the most advanced technical facilities of any theater in Muncie,” including projectors that cut down on reel changes4 and something called a “Light Curtain,” a special device that projected a psychedelic polarized beam synchronized to intermission music across each screen between shows5.

Muncie’s former Delaware Cinema, as it appeared on March 25, 2023.

The new cinema was a hit, but its arrival didn’t lead to the immediate closure of its competitors as journalists had prognosticated. To the contrary, Mallers Theater Group, who operated the Delaware Cinema three miles northwest, added a second screen two years later just to keep up6! Unfortunately, the sixty-five year old old Strand Theater downtown became the first casualty of Muncie’s multiplex boom when it closed four years later.

The former entryway to The Movies at Muncie Mall, as it appeared on April 15, 2023. The cinema itself is to the left.

The Movies at Muncie Mall also closed abruptly and briefly on Wednesday, May 17, 1978 because of a strike by the projectionist union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators. Theaters 1 and 3 were shuttered between showings, but Theater 2 actually shut down while a movie was playing! The day after, management advised that the striking projectionists had been “permanently replaced,” and the theater reopened under its regular hours on Friday7.

This ad for the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s midnight showing, between ads for the Delaware Cinema and Rivoli 1-2,  appeared on page 35 of the February 25, 1979 edition of the Muncie Evening Press

The Movies at Muncie Mall gained notoriety and fame for its midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the late 1970s and early 80s. It was also known for its lenient carding policy that allowed underage viewers to witness the spectacle8. “Each weekend we have a different group of crazies,” cinema manager Laura Everett told The Muncie Star. “We never know who’s going to show up. We try to be as lenient as possible, but there are two things we don’t allow them to do.” Theater patrons were forbidden from touching the screen with “any part of their bodies,” and were disallowed from using lighters or any other “burning object9.” 

The marquee of the Muncie Drive-In between Muncie and Yorktown, as it appeared in 2023.

The 1980s ushered in enormous changes to Muncie’s movie scene. The Muncie Drive-In on State Road 32 closed on September 1, 1986, a year before Minnetrista Corporation purchased the sixty-year-old Rivoli to make way for a new office building10. 1987 also saw the the Blackford Drive-In close for good after a judge ruled that two films the sheriff confiscated, Viva Vanessa and Touch Me in the Morning, were obscene11. A third milestone occurred that year, when Movies at Muncie Mall became the first theater in Muncie to use a computerized ticket system, made by the Washington-based Pacer Corporation12

The former Carmike Cinema 7, as it appeared on April 13, 2023.

Changes continued, and 1989 proved to be a pivotal year for the movies in Muncie. Carmike Cinemas announced plans to erect a new theater with seven screens on Bethel Avenue13, Delaware Cinemas added a third auditorium14, and the Northwest Plaza Cinema expanded to eight screens. All of this occurred as United Artists was eyeing an exit from the Indiana market, and the company sold all eight of its cinemas in the state to Goodrich Quality Theaters in 199015.

This ad, under Goodrich management, appeared on page 10 of the August 31, 1990 edition of the Muncie Star. 

Goodrich had been eyeing the Muncie market from its headquarters in Grand Rapids for several years, but decided against building a brand-new cinema after it completed a nine-screen multiplex at the Applewood Centre in Anderson. The newly-christened Muncie Mall 3 showed The Two Jakes, The Freshman, and The Exorcist III during its first night of Goodrich’s ownership. In September, Goodrich booked Spike Lee’s jazz movie, Mo’ Better Blues, which featured Cynda Williams, an actress who moved to Muncie as a teen and graduated from Northside High School and Ball State University16

This ad, for Kerasotes’ Muncie Mall theater, appeared on page 10 of the May 22, 1992 Muncie Star.

The 1990s saw Muncie’s theaters consolidate. The Delaware Cinema closed in 1991, and the Carmike Cinema 7 became a dollar theater the year after. Goodrich, operating the Muncie Mall 3 under the same format, began running full-priced, first-run showings again17 before it sold the cinema to Kerasotes a month later. Kerasotes, which acquired the rest of Muncie’s remaining indoor theaters18, referred to the multiplex as “Muncie Mall” and occasionally swapped its films and showtimes with the Northwest Plaza 8.

Looking towards the former Muncie Mall 3, as it appeared on April 15, 2023.

In 1996, Kerasotes threatened to sue Simon Property Group, owners of the Muncie Mall, which was planning a $25 million expansion of the mall that included a 225,000-square-foot detached plaza on an outparcel that would include a new multiplex. Kerasotes argued that a new theater would violate its lease agreement with Simon, which stipulated that no other part of mall could be used as a theater. In a lawsuit the company filed in response, Simon asserted that a new movie theater would be adjacent to the mall but not attached to it, which, the company argued, still respected the lease19.

The former entrance to the Muncie Mall 3, as seen on April 15, 2023.

In protest, Kerasotes declined to renew its lease at the mall in 200020. The theater sat empty, used only for storage space, until Alan Teicher of Troy, Ohio, reopened it as Dollar Movies at Muncie Mall in 2002. Teicher owned forty-three screens, including the Ski-Hi (which he leased from Kerasotes), the Airline Twin Drive-In in Winchester, first-run theaters in Troy and Greenville, Ohio, and other discount cinemas that included Georgetown Dollar Movies in Fort Wayne21. That’s where I saw Good Burger, back when the cinema was owned by Regal Cinemas. Do you remember the Regal roller coaster policy trailer? I sure as hell do!

Before Dollar Movies at Muncie Mall opened, Teicher fixed up the screens, installed a new tile floor in the lobby, repainted the concession stand, and added stereo sound. Can you believe that the theater didn’t have stereo sound, much less the surround sound that modern multiplexes have today? It didn’t have stadium seating either- the floors of each auditorium had a gradual slope that meant, if the place was packed, you’d be watching a movie framed by the back of two people’s heads. That was the norm back then, and it wasn’t so bad- especially since tickets only cost fifty cents on weekdays before 5:00! Otherwise, movies could be seen for a dollar aside from Friday and Saturday evenings, when tickets were priced at $1.5022.

This ad announcing the final closure of the Muncie Mall theater appeared on page 27 of the June 10, 2005 edition of The Star Press. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to last: just like 1987, 2005 was another momentous occasion for movies in Muncie: the enormous Showplace 12 was built on Simon’s property- by Kerasotes! Teicher was forced to close Dollar Movies at Muncie Mall after only forty months of ownership, and the last movies shown at the thirty-year-old cinema were SaharaGuess WhoThe PacifierThe Amityville HorrorKicking & Screaming, and The Interpreter. After the theater closed, Teicher moved its interior marquee to the Airline Twin drive-in in Winchester. It was still there as of 2018.

Muncie’s AMC 12, as it appeared on April 15, 2023.

Kerasotes vacated the Northwest Plaza 8 the day the new Showplace opened and declined to renew Teicher’s lease of the Ski-Hi. The following November, he reopened five screens of the Northwest Plaza 8 as Northwest Dollar Movies, which he ran until the building was demolished to make way for a Ruby Tuesday’s in 200722. Cinema giant AMC took over both of Muncie’s Kerasotes theaters in 2010 and operated the Showplace 7 until 2014. Today, the AMC 12 is the only place to see a first-release movie in town.

The former interior entrance to the Muncie Mall 3 as it appeared on April 15, 2023.

I haven’t been inside the AMC 12 since the horror flick Winchester came out five years ago. For what it’s worth, the last movie I saw at the Muncie Mall was Shrek 2, which was shown there in 2004! Whether you knew the place as Movies at the Muncie Mall, the Muncie Mall 3, or Dollar Movies at the Muncie Mall, there’s not much to see today. The building’s still there, used for storage again, but getting inside is a nonstarter. A portion of the cinema’s old hallway between The Buckle and Icing is accessible since it’s home to the Mainstream Arcade, but I’ve never ventured further than the claw machine for fear of being glared at, slapped, arrested, deported, or worse.

Layout courtesy Andrew Beard, 2023.

I’d still like to go inside though, since I was fourteen the last time I entered Dollar Movies at Muncie Mall. As I recall, a concession stand stood to the left just past its one-sheet posters if you entered the theater from the mall concourse. The auditoriums were on the same side but further back towards the parking lot, and the right side of the lobby had an office and bathrooms. Luckily, I don’t have to remember the exact layout since my friend Andrew worked there during the cinema’s Kerasotes days and drew me up a schematic that I reproduced above. He told me that a flushing toilet in the a bathroom next to the projection room could be heard in auditorium 3!

The theater, looking east, as it appeared on April 15, 2023.

The sound of toilets aside, the best movies create an emotional connection between viewers and the characters we watch. We feel empathy for them, sympathize with their plights, and, hopefully, feel satisfied by the time we leave the auditorium. I can’t help but feel all that for the abandoned and forlorn Movies at Muncie Mall, and I doubt I’ll ever experience the same emotions about the AMC 12. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the old cinema is historic, but it’s still worthy of remembrance if for no other reason than my choice to remember it here.

Sources Cited
1 Douglas, B. (1974, December 15). Triple-Screen Cinema Coming to Muncie Mall. The Muncie Star. p. 43.
2 (See footnote 1).
3 Douglas, B. (1975, July 20). Mall Tri-Plex Theater Ready to Open. The Muncie Star. p. 31.
4 (See footnote 3).
5 Mall Theater Complex Lists Opening Events (1975, July 15). The Muncie Star. p. 20.
6 Douglas, B. (1976, November 21). Delaware Reopens… The Muncie Star. p. 21.
7 Douglas, B. (1978, May 19). Muncie Mall Theaters Are Open Despite Nationwide Job Action. The Muncie Star. p. 24.
8 Roysdon, K. (1982, September 25). Drive-in’s final weekend to feature classic 3-D films. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 18.
9 Douglas, B. (1979, October 7). Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Muncie Star. p. 23.
10 LaGuardia, J. (1987, January 5). Ball foundations and family offices to replace Rivoli. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 1.
11 Walker, B. (1999, September 27). Now Showing… The Muncie Star Press. p. 7.
12 Roysdon, K. (1987, February 12). Local theater takes ticket-selling into the computer age. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 21.
13 Roysdon, K. (1989, February 11). Delaware Cinema to add third screen. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
14 Delaware Cinema Adding a Third Screen to Theater (1989, February 12). The Muncie Star. p. 35.
15 Roysdon, K. (1990, August 30). At midnight, sale will be a done deal. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
16 Richey, R. (1990, September 18). ‘Mo’ Better Blues’ Slated to Open in Muncie Friday. The Muncie Star. p. 1.
17 Gibson, R. (1992, April 11). Discount theater a big hit. The Muncie Evening Press. Pp. 1-7.
18 Gibson, R. (1992, May 14). Company has monopoly on indoor theaters. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 13.
19 Fransisco, B. (1996, July 12).  Will courtroom drama come to mall cinema? The Muncie Star Press. p. 6.  
19 McBride, M. (2000, October 5). Kerasotes doesn’t renew Muncie Mall lease. The Muncie Star Press. p. 7.
20 McBride, M. (2005, May 11). The buck (movie) stops here beginning in June. The Muncie Star Press. Pp. 1-7. 
21 McBride, M. (2002, September 11). Mall theaters to reopen. The Muncie Star Press. p. 17.
22 McBride, M. (2005, November 3). Dollar theater to open on Nov. 11. The Muncie Star Press. p. 1.

7 thoughts on “No more Movies at Muncie Mall

  1. I went to several movies at the Muncie Mall when I was at BSU 85 -90. I saw my first Rocky Horror Picture Show there with a bunch of friends.

    Liked by 1 person

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