As of July 2015, AMC was received by approximately 94,832,000 households in the United States that subscribe to a pay television service (81.5% of U.S. households with at least one television set). In March 2015, Dish Network's Sling TV announced it would soon begin making AMC channels available to cord cutters, including AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE tv.
American Movie Classics, as AMC was originally known, debuted on October 1, 1984, as a premium channel. Its original format focused on classic movies – largely those made prior to the 1950s – that aired during the afternoon and early evening hours in a commercial-free, generally unedited, uncut and uncolorized format. AMC was originally operated as a joint venture between Rainbow Media and cable television provider Tele-Communications Inc. (John Malone, who owned TCI and its parent Liberty Media, would launch another premium service—Encore, which also originally focused on older films, mainly from the 1960s to the 1980s – seven years later in April 1991). During its early years, it was not uncommon for AMC to host a marathon of Marx Brothers films, or show classics such as the original 1925 release of The Phantom of the Opera. In 1987, the channel began to be carried on the basic cable tiers of many cable providers. By 1989, AMC was available to 39 million subscribers in the U.S.
On December 1, 1990, AMC began operating on a 24-hour-a-day schedule. Beginning in 1993, AMC presented an annual Film Preservation Festival to raise awareness of and funding for film preservation. Coordinated with The Film Foundation, an industry group that was founded by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, the festival was originally conceived as a multi-day marathon presenting rare and previously lost films, many airing for the first time on television, along with behind-the-scenes reports on the technical and monetary issues faced by those engaged in archival restoration. Portions of the festival were often dedicated to all-day marathons focusing on a single performer. During its fifth anniversary year in 1998, Scorsese credited the Festival for creating "not only a greater awareness, but more of an expectation now to see restored films." In 1996, curator of the Museum of Modern Art Mary Lee Bandy called the Festival "the most important public event in support of film preservation." By its tenth anniversary in 2003, the Festival had raised $2 million from the general public, which The Film Foundation divided among its five-member archives.
In 1993, Cablevision's Rainbow Media division became the majority owner of the channel, when it bought out Liberty Media's 50% stake in AMC; incidentally in August of that year, Liberty announced its intent to purchase the 25% stake in the channel that Cablevision held at the time, with the Turner Broadcasting System helping to finance the buyout that included an option for TBS to eventually acquire AMC outright. The following year, Time Warner (which would later purchase rival Turner Classic Movies following the company's 1996 acquisition of the Turner Broadcasting System) also attempted to acquire at least part of Liberty Media's stake in AMC.
In June 1995, AMC filed a $550 million breach of contract lawsuit against Turner Entertainment, which alleged that the company violated AMC's exclusive cable television rights to the pre-1950 Warner Bros. Pictures film library to broadcast approximately 30 times between July 1994 and April 1995, charging that Turner's objective in violating the contract was "to gain unfair advantage for the Turner Classic Movies cable network (which debuted in April 1994) at the expense of AMC."; Turner owns rights to the RKO Radio Pictures film library and licensed RKO's films to AMC in an output deal that was slated to last through 2004. Under the terms of the deal, AMC would obtain the RKO titles in exclusive windows.