American cultural aesthetics have adopted some particularly strange fads throughout the decades, but few strike that particular chord of nostalgic resonance as well as late-’90s movie theater carpets—those thousands upon thousands of square feet of garish, neon-colored cosmic bodies, squiggly lines, and splatter paint set against dingy black backdrops. As it turns out, that strain of floor fashion can be largely traced back to Pattern Patient Zero: AMC Theaters’ “The Odyssey.”
What was The Odyssey, and what was its purpose? As Foster Kamer, writing for A24's blog, recently explained, “If those carpets could talk, they’d tell you a story about late-’90s economics, showbiz, multiplexes, and an era of world-building that changed moviegoing as we know it—maybe more than any other.”
...It also helped cover up the fact that we’re all disgusting, sloppy-ass snack pigs.
As it turns out, that look of “cartoon corporatism and hypermodernism getting smashed through a cultural particle collider” served some very specific purposes. As the age of the blockbuster reached its height, theater chains wanted their locations to convey that sense of excitement, adventure, and cutting-edge escapism. “They wanted something outlandish, that made you feel like you were at a theme park—and they got it,” writes Kamer.
But all those new butts in seats put quite a strain on theater upkeep. As the Kansas City design firm, Dimensional Innovations, told Kamer, the simultaneously dark and noisy carpeting helped obscure all the sodas, melted chocolate, and popcorn butter covering the floors during any given matinee showing. “Once the global blockbuster era hit full swing (think Jurassic Park, Titanic, et al) people were going to the movies in droves, spilling their sugary drinks and melty Milk Duds on the floor in record numbers,” says Kamer.
In some instances, companies like Dimensional Innovations would even test their new patterns out by dumping Coke onto them, letting the carpet absorb the liquid, then stomping across them to see if the mess became noticeable (it didn’t). Apparently, even black lights didn’t reveal the disgusting truth. “It was a pretty genius design...just horrible,” Dimensional Innovations CEO, Tucker Trotter, recounts to Kamer, apparently laughing afterwards like some kind of maniacal mad scientist.
So there you have it—a combination of “Rad ’90s” taste coupled with our own filth gave us the far-out carpeting of Peak Hollywood Blockbuster. And if that doesn’t make you yearn for the days of sitting in darkened, sugar-encrusted theater seats, we don’t know what will.
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