In the fall of 2017, audiences in AMC Theaters across the nation bore witness to one of the most memorable acting performances of all time. But it wasn’t Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok, or Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No, it was a young actor in the AMC “pre-roll” commercial who captured all of those hearts and minds. Though his appearance on the big screen was fleeting, he quickly became one of the most controversial figures in cinematic history.
The internet calls him “AMC Popcorn Guy,” and even if you don’t know the name, you likely know his performance. In the four years since he first appeared on screen, moviegoers have continued to honor AMC Popcorn Guy by solidifying his legacy in memes, making him one of the most popular GIFs on the internet.
It all started at the AMC Studio 28 location in Olathe, Kansas, just four miles from AMC’s corporate headquarters. That’s where the man who would soon become the AMC Popcorn Guy sat, holding his popcorn and awaiting direction while members of AMC and Coke’s marketing teams as well as two different production companies scurried around him. “We had hours of footage having shot so many days,” filmmaker Austin Walsh, who directed the shoot, recalls. “We’d mix up the direction to get a reaction as if it was a scary moment, something funny or sweet, etc., so at the end we had coverage for any need.”
According to Christopher Dorsey, AMC’s former video art director, somewhere on the cutting room floor there is an even bigger popcorn toss. “My recollection was that the popcorn toss started out big and then we eased back on it. We probably shot it five or six times,” he says. “The acting was really over-the-top, he was shoving it in his mouth with popcorn falling out… nobody eats popcorn like that!”
“A lot of us on the production team knew it was a bit odd, but we were nervous to speak up,” Dorsey continues. “When the heavy hitters — senior VPs, creative directors, CEOs, etc. — are signing off, it’s hard to push back, especially at the end of an expensive, prolonged production with two different companies.”
Nonetheless, in the ensuing two years, AMC Popcorn Guy became a cult hero. Audiences marveled at his performance. His no-look reach into an overflowing popcorn bag before he even begins to chew the last handful painted a dystopic portrait of American gluttony. We watched in awe as the spilled kernels struck his face, and just like AMC Popcorn Man, we wanted more.
Sadly, however, his reign at the box office didn’t last very long. After two years of AMC Popcorn Guy enthralling audiences nationwide, he disappeared. Concerned moviegoers began reporting that AMC seemed to have quietly edited the popcorn toss out of the intro.
Rumors spread that the demise of AMC Popcorn Guy was due to the popcorn chaos he incited in theaters across the country — as viewers mimicked the performance or took it as permission to make a mess themselves. “I work at an AMC and popcorn guy is the bane of my existence bc he inspires everyone to be a little shit and make messes that I end up having to clean [sic],” one Twitter user complained.
With that in mind, some people began to whisper of a conspiracy that local theater managers successfully lobbied AMC corporate to delete AMC Popcorn Guy from existence. “It seems like AMC may have heard the complaints, because now the video shows the popcorn man quietly eating and enjoying the movie,” wrote Reddit user johnazoidberg- in response to a post titled “An Update on the AMC Popcorn Guy.”
AMC declined to comment on the matter, but Dorsey believes there were other factors at play. “The real reason the clip was yanked was because the CEO Adam Aron never liked it,” Dorsey claims. “I’d heard he had complained about it, and so they decided to pull it and look for another clip.”
Though all we really have are rumors and conspiracies — someone, somewhere knows the truth. What we know for sure is that AMC Popcorn Guy vanished from the AMC feature presentation — as if he never existed in the first place. (The actual actor who played him has also all but disappeared.) In his place, a docile, emotionless AMC Popcorn Guy takes manageable bites of popcorn, like a good boy.
“My life hasn’t been the same since AMC Popcorn Guy doesn’t throw his popcorn everywhere,” writes one redditor in a subreddit dedicated to AMC’s “A-list” loyalty program. “I can’t explain why I’ve felt a sadness since the switch,” responds another, “and every time I see it, I’m comforted knowing I’m not alone.”