Classic Cinemas’ Chris Johnson to Receive 2024 NATO Marquee Award at CinemaCon 2024

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The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) will honor Chris Johnson, the chief executive officer of Classic Cinemas, with the 2024 NATO Marquee Award during next year’s CinemaCon. The announcement came today from Mitch Neuhauser, the managing director of CinemaCon.

CinemaCon, the official convention of NATO, will be held April 8th-11th, 2024 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Johnson is being recognized by NATO for his unequaled dedication, commitment, and service to the motion picture theater industry. He will receive the industry’s highest tribute as part of CinemaCon’s State of the Industry program on Tuesday, April 9th.

Johnson currently serves as the chief executive officer of the family-run Classic Cinemas, where he began his career at the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, IL. While earning his BA from the University of Illinois and his MBA from the University of Chicago, Johnson took on various roles in the company, from usher to assistant manager, manager, concessions manager, and operations manager, before ultimately being named vice president in 1992 and CEO in 2014.

Founded in 1978 by the Johnson family, Classic Cinemas is the largest Illinois-based theater chain with 137 screens in 16 locations. Many of Classic Cinemas’ locations are historic downtown theaters, having undergone renovations that honor the buildings’ character while seamlessly integrating the latest technology.

In addition to serving as the President of NATO Illinois, Johnson also currently serves on NATO’s executive board, technology committee, regional restructuring task force, bylaws committee and is the former chair of the strategic planning committee. Most recently, in honor of the history of Classic Cinemas, Johnson was inducted into The Erik Lomis ShowEast Hall of Fame Class of 2023 along with his mother Shirley and his late father Willis, who passed away this past August.

“Chris Johnson embodies everything that is great about the exhibition industry,” said NATO’s chief executive officer Michael O’Leary. “Proudly carrying on the tradition of his family, Chris is a leader in our industry.  Always focused on what the movie going public wants, Chris is smart, innovative, and passionate about movies on the big screen. His voice is respected by his colleagues in exhibition and the motion picture industry overall. I always value his perspective and can think of no one more deserving of this honor. Congratulations to Chris and his family.”

When told he would be receiving this honor, Johnson remarked, “I love this industry, and I’m humbled to be selected for this prestigious award.” Johnson has dedicated the past 40+ years to exhibition, from his first movie as a teenage usher (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) to CEO. His hands-on approach includes a willingness to listen, ask questions, and respectfully share his opinion for the betterment of the industry. “My goal is to elevate moviegoing and the cinema business for everyone.”


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