LOS ANGELES - AMC Entertainment is acquiring rival Carmike Cinemas to create the world's largest movie theater chain.
AMC, which Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group bought in 2012, said Thursday it is paying $1.1 billion including debt for Carmike.
The combined company will be the dominant theater chain in North American and signals Wanda's further expansion into the entertainment industry. Just two months ago, it said it would spend $3.5 billion to acquire mid-level studio Legendary Entertainment, the co-financier of blockbusters like "Jurassic World" and "The Dark Knight."
Wanda is also behind a multibillion-dollar studio complex being built in eastern China that was used to shoot the upcoming movie, "The Great Wall."
AMC will pay $30 in cash per share, about 19 percent higher than the $25.11 Carmike shares closed at Thursday.
The acquisition will boost AMC's theater locations by more than 70 percent to well over 600 and increase its screen count by half to nearly 8,400. Regal Entertainment Group, the current leader, runs nearly 7,400 screens in about 570 theaters.
"Given that Carmike Cinemas' footprint exists in mainly smaller cities, while AMC, Cinemark and Regal compete for marketshare in larger urban markets, it will be interesting to see if Carmike attracts a counterbid from either Cinemark or Regal Entertainment (divestures due to a combination with AMC, Cinemark, or Regal would be minimum)," KDP Advisors analyst Scott Grzankowski wrote in a note.
The boards of both companies approved the deal, which is expected to close by the end of the year following a review by government competition authorities.
AMC CEO Adam Aron said he hopes the combination will boost profits in 2017 and enable about $35 million in annual savings, while bringing upscale amenities like alcohol service, reclining chairs, and expanded food offerings to more venues.
He said the cost of upgrading would be "reasonable" and profitable. He also said Wanda, which owns 75 percent of AMC, was supportive of the deal, but he declined to speak on behalf of Wanda.
"Clearly, they are supportive of what AMC is doing, and what AMC is doing is we're growing our business," Aron said.
Aron said any possible theater closures would "depend on a conversation with the Justice Department."
He noted there are only a few markets where the companies' theaters overlap and where closures might occur. AMC is focused on larger cities while Carmike is in smaller markets.
AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. is based in Leawood, Kansas, which will be the combined company's new headquarters. Carmike Cinemas Inc. is headquartered in Columbus, Georgia.