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AMC River East 21 Review

The AMC Review East 21 is the largest of the four AMC theaters in downtown Chicago. Located in Streeterville, the theater is a short walk from many of Chicago’s highlights while also offering a wide range of films. In this post, we review the AMC River East 21, including everything from the different screen types to buying tickets to concession options.

AMC River East 21 Screen Offerings

AMC River East 21 has a total of 21 screens. Most of its showings are standard, but it does offer two special technologies. First, it has RealD 3D showings. Multiple screens offer the RealD 3D technology, and it’s common for multiple movies to get RealD 3D showings in a day.

The premier offering at AMC River East 21 is the Dolby Cinema screen. Besides the amazing technology, this is the only screen at AMC River East 21 with recliners and reserved seating. Since it usually is playing one of the top movies for the week, it’s our choice screen.

With 21 screens, the AMC River East 21 also has one of Chicagoland widest range of films, from blockbusters to independent films to foreign language films.

Buying Tickets for AMC Theaters

The AMC River East 21 is an AMC theater, so your best options for purchasing tickets in advance are via the AMC app, online via AMC, or online via Fandango. We recommend buying in advance, particularly on weekends, as sellouts do happen.

We’re AMC Stubs A*List Members, which gets us three movies every week for $19.95+tax monthly. Occasionally one or two of the movies at AMC River East 21 are excluded from A*List.

The exclusions aren’t new, blockbuster films—they’re usually specialty events, like anniversary or award season runs of films.

If you prefer to do your ticket-buying in person, there is a ticket booth, along with a few ticket machines on the second floor of the building.

Ticket Booth at AMC River East 21; Ticket Machines on either end.

Here are approximate prices as of May 2019 for early and later showings, by film type:

  • Digital – $10.69 / $12.19
  • RealD 3D – $14.69 / $16.19
  • Dolby – $16.69 / $18.19

Use the AMC app beforehand to see what movies are playing in which theaters.

Location and Getting There

The AMC River East 21 is located in Streeterville, Chicago, IL at 322 E Illinois St. This is between Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile) (6 minute walk) and Navy Pier (10 minute walk) on Illinois.

From much of downtown Chicago, you’ll just want to walk, remembering that Illinois splits into Upper and Lower levels just west of the theater. Coming straight from Michigan and Illinois, you’ll go down stairs at some point.

It’s always worth checking whether Google Maps suggests that a bus might be faster. In particular, bus routes that run down Michigan Avenue and routes that go to Navy Pier are likely to have a stop nearby. Here’s our guide to riding the CTA bus system.

If you’re taking Chicago’s L train system, you’ll be a ten-minute walk from Grand and State (Red Line). Via other lines, you’ll want to check Google Maps, as your best option will likely be to connect to a bus. The walk from the nearest stops for other lines is about 20 minutes.

If the train is your best option, you’ll want to consider alternative options more accessible by train, namely the AMC Dine-In 600 North Michigan 9 and the AMC Dine-In Block 37.

If you’re driving, you can park at the garage next door for $17 (up to four hours). When you enter the AMC building on the first floor, there’s a sign explaining you’ll need to validate your ticket at the booth.

Then, on your way out, you can pay via the payment machine.

If you can find street parking nearby, it will be $4 per hour. You can pay up to two hours in advance and then pay more via the ParkChicago app. You’ll need the meter number from your parking zone.

The building is three floors. To get to the AMC, you’ll take the escalator or elevator up to the second floor, where you’ll encounter the ticket booth, along with FTW (arcade) and Lucky Strike (bowling alley).

If you’re arriving early for a show, particularly a popular one without assigned seating, it’s common for customers to be corralled on the second floor before they’re allowed upstairs.

Sometimes the movies that are being corralled have signs, sometimes they don’t. If you’re unsure, ask someone what they’re in line for. If they aren’t in line for your film, you can go straight to the second set of escalators once you have your tickets (background of the above picture).

The screens, concession stand, and MacGuffin’s Bar are on the third floor.

AMC River East 21 Concessions

The food options at AMC River East 21 are standard for a large-market AMC. Here are some sample items and prices:

  • Large Popcorn – $8.99
  • Large Soda – $6.49
  • Skittles – $4.79
  • Nachos – $7.99
  • Flatbread Pizza – $8.99
  • Chicken & Waffle Sandwich – $6.49
  • Mozzarella Sticks – $6.89

We’ve never had any issues with wait time for food. The theater does offer Express Pick-Up, where you can order food ahead via the AMC app. This isn’t a real impressive offering (for several reasons), and we have had to flag down staff to get our food when doing this.

MacGuffins Bar at AMC River East 21

If you’re not familiar, MacGuffins Bar is the standard bar offering at AMC theaters. It typically offers beer, wine, and select cocktails. This particular MacGuffins Bar is about as underwhelming as they come.

There are a few tables of seating to the right, not pictured. For what it’s worth, you do need a ticket to access the MacGuffin’s Bar. Anyone not planning to see a movie shouldn’t plan to join you here (see What’s Nearby below for alternative bars).

Theater Seating at AMC River East 21

The AMC River East 21 was one of our favorite theaters years ago because it was one of Chicago’s first theaters to have stadium seating. Since then, theaters have become more aggressive in their offerings, and mere stadium seating doesn’t really cut it.

Without reserved seating, you’re left to try to arrive early if you want your choice of seats. As we said above, arrive early enough for a popular film and you’ll be corralled downstairs until your theater is opened.

All theaters but the Dolby Cinema have pretty standard AMC seats. They’re not uncomfortable, but they’re not special. The theaters all have stadium seating. Besides the front rows, there aren’t really bad seats.

Luckily, AMC River East 21 does offer one screen with reserved recliner seats—the Dolby Cinema theater. There aren’t many bad seats in this theater, but we’d still recommend avoiding the first two rows. We’re fans of the D, E, and J rows. Pics of the seats coming soon, I promise.

You can use the AMC app to see what’s playing in the Dolby Cinema.

What’s Nearby

If you head west, you’ll quickly come upon the Magnificent Mile section of Michigan Avenue, the city’s most popular shopping district. Right on the other side of Michigan is River North, which is jam-packed with restaurants and bars.

AMC River East 21 has several bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity. Besides those, though, it also shares a building with two fun spots—Lucky Strike bowling alley and bar and FTW arcade. Both of these serve standard casual American food.

While both Lucky Strike and FTW have their die-hard fans, really what we’re highlighting here is just that you have recreational and dining options in the same building. We’re particularly fans of these in the winter, when we can spend an afternoon at the FTW arcade and follow it up with an evening movie.

If you’re looking for drinks, just outside the theater you’ll find Bellwether Meeting House & Eatery. Timothy O’Toole’s Pub is also just a short walk away.

For fast food, Potbelly, Chipotle, Epic Burger, and Blaze Pizza are about five minutes away. For a high-quality, casual meal at a reasonable price, we recommend Beatrix, about ten minutes away walking.

AMC River East 21 – Conclusions

A few years ago, the AMC River East 21 was our favorite major theater in the city. Since then, it has been left behind as other theaters have been significantly improved.

Two nearby theaters—the AMC Dine-In 600 North Michigan 9 and the AMC Dine-In Block 37—offer reserved recliner seating and enhanced dining options.

The AMC Navy Pier IMAX has always been a step above the other theaters in terms of cinematic quality, but it is not easy to get to, at a poor location (for non-tourists), and has very limited showings.

The theater’s biggest flaws are solved if you can book a showing at the Dolby Cinema, with its reserved, recliner seating. While the theater itself lacks the best of movie theater dining, the FTW and Lucky Strike in the same building have full menus. There’s also plenty of nearby bars and restaurants.