Landmark Event: At 50 years young, meet Canada’s second-largest theatre circuit

Cinemas Features

“Our mission statement is to create movie memories that last a lifetime,” says Neil Campbell, owner, president and chief executive officer of Landmark Cinemas. Given the fact that the Calgary, Alberta-based circuit is celebrating its 50th anniversary, it is safe to assume that we are talking about several thousand lifetimes worth of memories.

“Absolutely,” Campbell agrees, noting that this mission applies as much today as it did when he first joined Landmark some 40 years ago. “Just consider all the upgrades that have happened, especially in the last decade,” he reminds us, “with digital projection and sound–providing a perfect picture and sound for every showing. And now, with immersive sound, bigger and better seating, bigger screens, IMAX and Premium Large Format experiences, 3D… The list goes on and on.” For Campbell, all of this is about “the direct enjoyment” of the moviegoers. “Our guests come first. Whatever decision we make, it must touch on our core values that we use for the whole company. We are guest-focused, cast-focused, collaborative, accountable and adaptable.”

A key management buyout in 2007 and the strategic acquisition of 23 Empire theatres in 2013 made Landmark Cinemas the second-largest circuit in Canada with 46 locations and 312 screens across the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Yukon Territory.

“We have evolved from the history of Canadian exhibition and that leaves us with a wide variety of assets,” Bill Walker, Landmark’s chief operating officer, explains on the following pages. With a market share of 10%, the Landmark portfolio extends from two 24-screen, former AMC Megaplexes in Whitby and Kanata, Ontario, to “a few single-screen locations that have been cinemas for well over 50 years,” he says. Underlining the shareholders’ Landmark commitment to exhibition, one of those golden oldies is where Neil Campbell got his start in the industry.

With this special tribute, Film Journal International takes the opportunity to share some insight into this Canadian company with our readers. We also recommend checking out our past reporting in the May 2012 and 2014 editions. Our exclusive lineup of executives who are sharing their memories includes executive chairman Brian McIntosh, who has been with Landmark Cinemas during all the 50 years we are celebrating. The previously quoted Bill Walker is the former Empire Theatres VP of operations, just as Empire’s past chief financial officer, Paul Wigginton, continues in that role at Landmark. Kevin Norman, VP in charge of filmed entertainment, has also been with Landmark for many years. And just like Campbell, they have many treasured memories.

McIntosh explains how Landmark began in 1965: “Theatre Agencies Booking Services of Calgary, Alberta, and one of their longstanding clients, May Theatres of Wainwright, Alberta, decided that their combined expertise in the motion picture theatre business enabled them to form an exhibition company. A company that could compete, in select markets, with what were then the two giants of the Canadian exhibition world—namely, Famous Players, owned by Paramount USA, and Odeon Theatres, owned by Rank of England.” Theatre Agencies was founded in 1951 by Hector Ross and Frank Kettner, he explains. May Theatres was founded in 1946 by Phil May Sr. and in 1965 it was owned and operated by two of his sons, Phil May Jr. and his brother, Charles May. “By combining the film-buying expertise of Theatre Agencies and the operational, location sourcing and development expertise of May Theatres, the ownership believed they were equipped to capitalize on opportunities to develop new cinemas in Western Canada. Landmark’s history and growth indicate they were correct in their assessment.”

McIntosh also knows how the name came about. From the start, “the cinemas that were developed by the group had names that were unique to each location–‘Towne’ Cinema in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; also ‘Jasper’ Cinema and ‘Klondike’ Cinema in Edmonton; ‘Uptown’ Theatre in Red Deer, Alberta, are examples of the names that were used for individual locations. In 1974, it was decided that the ‘circuit’ of cinemas needed to be branded for all the sound economic reasons that a unified brand can deliver and also to differentiate the circuit from its two major competitors.” The selection of the name, “as often occurs in entrepreneurial companies, wasn’t scientific,” McIntosh relays. “It was selected by the founding shareholders at a board meeting where they agreed that they had developed some new cinemas that had become ‘Landmarks’ in the communities where they were located, and there it was–Landmark Cinemas.”