AMC was originally a premium cable channel that aired classic movies during the afternoons and early evenings, largely pre-1950s, in a commercial-free, generally unedited format. It was not uncommon for the channel to host a Marx Brothers marathon, or show such classics as the original Phantom of the Opera. In 1987, the channel first became available on basic cable television systems. By 1989, the channel had 39 million subscribers in the United States.
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 founded by Martin Scorsese, the festival as originally conceived was a multi-day marathon presenting rare and previously lost films, many 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 single artist marathons. During its fifth anniversary year, 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, the Festival had raised $2 million from the general public, which The Film Foundation divided among its five member archives.
From 1996 to 1998, AMC aired its first original series, Remember WENN, a half-hour show about a radio station during the peak of radio's influence in the 1930s. The show was well received by both critics and it's enthusiastic fans, but was abrubtly cancelled after it's fourth season when a change of management took over (WENN's replacement was The Lot, and lasted for only 16 episodes). Despite a well publicized write-in campaign to save the series, the show was not renewed for it's originally scheduled fifth season.
In 1997, AMC started Monsterfest, a week long marathon of scary movies that airs in late October. The final edition of this popular week long theme was aired in 2007, ending without fanfare or mention from AMC until Fall 2008 with the announcement of the new Fearfest. AMC's website has started a Monsterfest blog, chronicling the latest horror news in movies and on television. In addition, late at night every Friday AMC presents Fear Friday, a horror movie double feature. One popular AMC program was American Pop! (originally intended as a preview of a new 24 hour cable channel), which ran from 1998 to 2002 and featured 50s and 60s movies aimed at baby boomers, such as Beach Blanket Bingo and Ski Party. Of particular interest to movie completists were the segments AMC played to fill out the time slot (Saturday nights from 10pm to midnight): classic movie trailers, drive-in movie ads and snipes (bits extolling viewers to visit the snack bar, etc.), plus music videos cribbed from musical movies from the period.
The majority of films presented on AMC during the 1990s had originally been released by Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Universal Studios. There were occasional showings of silent film classics. The regular hosts of the telecasts were Bob Dorian and Nick Clooney (brother of Rosemary Clooney and father of George Clooney).
In October 2002, AMC changed its format from a classic movie channel to a more general movie channel, airing movies from the 1970s onwards in order to appeal to a wider audience. It is argued that the format change has led newer films to have higher priority to be shown on the channel than are older films. The channel now tends to present widescreen films in a pan and scan format, as opposed to the letterbox format it once favored. The commercial-free format has also been abandoned, although the channel has claimed to air fewer commercials per hour than any other basic cable channel.  As it is now an advertiser-supported channel, the edited television version of a movie is aired whenever possible. 
AMC officially became available in Canada for cable customers of Shaw Cable and satellite customers of Star Choice on September 1, 2006, marking the first time the channel was made available outside of the United States. Other cable companies have followed by adding AMC to their lineup as well.
In August 2007, AMC unveiled a new slogan: "The Future of Classic"; the new slogan can be seen on the channel's newly redesigned website (as part of the title of the website's front page). AMC's other promotional campaign is "Long Live Cool".
On September 26, 2008, AMC announced the arrival of their latest October horror-themed movie marathon called Fearfest (replacing the popular Monsterfest). Coinciding, was the Monsterfest blog now being called the Horror Hacker blog.