From 1973 to 1975, using approximately 500 movie theaters across the US, The American Film Theatre presented two seasons of film adaptations of well-known plays. Each film was shown only four times at each theatre. By design, these were not films of stage productions — they were plays "translated to the film medium, but with complete faithfulness to the original play script."  Filmgoers generally subscribed to an entire season of films, as they might if they purchased a season's tickets for a conventional stage theater. About 500,000 subscriptions were sold for the first season of eight plays using direct mail and newspaper advertising. Ely Landau was the producer for the series.   
Eight films were shown in the first season. Five were shown in the second season, after which the American Film Theatre project ended. Raymond Benson summarized, "The American Film Theatre could probably never be repeated, especially within the economic structure that exists in the motion picture industry today. It’s a shame, for even though the AFT was not a perfect product, it was a bold and fascinating experiment that attempted to blend the stage with cinema. It’s the kind of project that reminds us how recklessly courageous—and often artistically brilliant—filmmakers could be in the 1970s." 
The films were released on DVD in 2003 by Kino International and again in 2008 as a boxed set.  They were again re-released on Blu-Ray in 2018.
Twelve of the thirteen films were specifically produced by Landau for the series. The budgets were low: $750,000 for each film. Landau was able to convince leading playwrights, actors, and directors to offer their work at minimal rates.  The largest fee paid was $25,000; Lee Marvin remarked that he lost $225,000 by acting in The Iceman Cometh, since his usual fee for a film was $250,000. 
The American Film Theatre's marketing was based on selling season subscriptions. For the 1973–74 season there were eight films exhibited. Each film was shown only four times at a specific theatre. The American Express company developed a direct mail and newspaper sales campaign that cost $2.5 million, and yielded about 500,000 subscriptions for the first season.  The posters and other advertising emphasized that the films were being shown in "limited engagements", and it was rumored that the films would not be released again for years. 
Most theaters that participated in the American Film Theatre showed the films on Mondays and Tuesdays, which were days on which ticket sales for the films from the major studios were relatively small. For the second season, the major studios apparently began to exert pressure on these theaters to withdraw from American Film Theatre.
In January 1975, the month the second season began, American Film Theatre filed an antitrust lawsuit against six of the major studios alleging that they were "coercing exhibitors into canceling scheduled AFT playdates or transferring them to theatres different from those designated to subscribers when they signed up for the AFT series". The outcome of the lawsuit isn't clear, but the second season was the last for the American Film Theatre. 
The months indicated for each film are for the American Film Theatre release. Excepting Three Sisters and Philadelphia, Here I Come, all of the films listed below were produced by Ely Landau and were first shown as part of the American Film Theatre. 
These films were shown by American Film Theatre in the first five months of 1975.
Despite the very limited release of the films, several performers and one writer were nominated for national film awards, with one winning.
|Awards and Nominations|
|Kate Reid||A Delicate Balance||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture||Nominated |
|Robert Ryan||The Iceman Cometh||National Board of Review||Best Actor||Won|
|Maximilian Schell||The Man in the Glass Booth||48th Academy Awards||Best Actor||Nominated |
|Maximilian Schell||The Man in the Glass Booth||Golden Globe Awards||Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama||Nominated |
|Edward Anhalt||The Man in the Glass Booth||Writers Guild of America||Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium||Nominated|
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William Martin Green, known by his stage name, Martyn Green, was an English actor and singer. He is remembered for his performances and recordings as principal comedian of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, in the leading patter roles of the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas in the 1930s and 1940s, and for his career in America from the 1950s to the 1970s.
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The Iceman Cometh is a 1973 American drama film directed by John Frankenheimer. The screenplay, written by Thomas Quinn Curtiss, is based on Eugene O'Neill's 1946 play of the same name. The film was produced by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre, which from 1973 to 1975 presented thirteen film adaptations of noted plays.
Ely Abraham Landau was an American producer and production executive best remembered for films of plays in the American Film Theatre series.
The Iceman Cometh is a 1939 play by Eugene O'Neill.
Galileo is a 1975 biographical film about the 16th- and 17th-century scientist Galileo Galilei, whose astronomical observations with the newly invented telescope led to a profound conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. The film is an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's 1943 play of the same name. The film was produced by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre, which presented thirteen film adaptations of plays in the United States from 1973 to 1975. Brecht's play was recently called a "masterpiece" by veteran theater critic Michael Billington, as Martin Esslin had in 1960. The film's director, Joseph Losey, had also directed the first performances of the play in 1947 in the US — with Brecht's active participation. The film is fairly true to those first performances, and is thus of historical significance as well.
Rhinoceros is a 1974 American comedy film based on the play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco. The film was produced by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre, which presented thirteen film adaptations of plays in the United States from 1973 to 1975.
The Maids is a 1975 British film that was directed by Christopher Miles. It is based on the play of the same title by the French dramatist Jean Genet. The film stars Glenda Jackson as Solange, Susannah York as Claire, Vivien Merchant as Madame, and Mark Burns as Monsieur. The film was produced by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre, which presented thirteen film adaptations of plays in the United States from 1973 to 1975.
Terry Schreiber is an American theater director, acting teacher, and founder of the T. Schreiber Studio, in New York.
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Edie Landau is an American film and TV producer and executive, known for such films as Long Day's Journey Into Night,The Pawnbroker, King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis, The Chosen and the fourteen movies of the American Film Theatre which she produced with her husband Ely Landau.
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The 1970s and 1980s saw a number of Irish-themed films being made in Ireland by foreigners. Brian Fiel's well-known play, Philadelphia, Here I Come (John Quested, 1970) ...
The theatre managers dressed up, and 'Cinebills' with fake leatherette covers were handed out.This article discusses the reasons that it took more than twenty-five years after the second 1975 season before the American Film Theatre productions were released to DVD, etc..
The American Film Theatre was, nevertheless, a pioneering enterprise on Landau's part. The high quality of acting and directing in many of them, featuring actors and directors of recognised stature in both media, redeems their challenging length and inevitable emphasis on the spoken word as much as the image.