August 17, 2017

Go or Pass on MOVIEPASS – Should You Use This Service?

Go or Pass on MOVIEPASS – Should You Use This Service?

by Arnie Carvalho

Though the service is six years old, MoviePass has become a hot topic for theater goers this week, from the take-over by Helios and Maheson Analytics, to the price drop from $30 to $9.95 per month, to AMC Theaters pursuing legal action to stop the service. But should you buy in?

What is MoviePass?

MoviePass is a subscription service where, for $9.95 per month, you can see one (2D, standard format) movie per day in theaters.  This means you can literally see 365 movies for under $120. That comes to about $0.33 per movie, compared to the current national average of $8.84 per ticket.

This is not a scam or a trick. There are no blackout dates. You can see movies the day they come out if you want, any showing, any day of the week.

How does this work?

MoviePass is not a service offered by your local theater chain. Unlike Regal Theater’s “Ultimate Ticket Program” where, for $100, you can see an individual movie (like Wonder Woman) once per day for its entire run, MoviePass is its own company operating outside the theater chains.

Here’s how it works:

1) You sign up to their service online for $9.95 per month, cancel any time.  They will then send you a physical “credit card” which will arrive in 5-7 days.

2) Once you have their card you must go to the theater and then use their app to pick the movie.  You cannot order your movie tickets online.  You must be within 100 yards (yes, yards) of the theater to get the tickets.

3) You can only buy tickets same day.  The app only shows you today’s showtimes. So you cannot use this to pre-buy any tickets.

4) Once your movie is selected, MoviePass will “load” your card with enough money to buy a ticket.  Then you use your card to get the ticket at the kiosk or the box office at the theater.

​5) This does not work for premiere screenings.  IMAX, 3D, etc. is not included in MoviePass’ $9.95 option. As their site clearly states: “ We currently do not support (in part or entirety) any enhanced or special screenings that involve an upcharge at the theater. Examples of these would include 3D, IMAX, Fathom Events, DBOX, ETX/RPX, film festival screenings, etc.”

Wait–isn’t MoviePass losing money? Nope–they’re going to sell your data.

If you do the math it doesn’t take long to realize that if you see 2 movies per month on average you’re saving money with MoviePass.  If, on average, two movies cost $19, you’re saving $10 per month. And that’s real money MoviePass is paying to the movie theater.  Though newly aquired, some sites have already declared the service “doomed.”  But MoviePass, run by Netflix exec Mitch Lowe, actually intends to lose that money for a period.  Their business strategy is to build a loyal customer base of millions of users. Then the money they lose on movie tickets will be made through data mining.

Much like Fandango, Netflix, Google, and Fandango do now, MoviePass will gather information about your viewing habits and use them to sell you stuff.  They will make money through ads targeted directly to you. They also may make even more money by selling your data (albeit anonymized) to larger data mining companies.

Finally, the executives at MoviePass hope theaters will buy into the service to help offset the losses.  Through increased attendance and more concession sales (which reaps theater chains the most profit) MoviePass views themselves as a partner for theaters.

Why is AMC upset?

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that theaters are as happy about this. AMC has threatened legal action against MoviePass.

On the surface AMC is claiming MoviePass is setting customers up for disappointment, lowering the “perceived value” of a movie ticket.

In truth, theater chains like AMC and Regal are investing heavily in their own rewards programs, like the AMC Stubs Premiere service which costs $15 per year.  They want 100% of the ticket price and also the ability to collect the same data MoviePass desires.

So should you subscribe?

Perhaps you should subscribe, but I will not be signing up for MoviePass.

I will admit–on the surface this service looks like a great way to save money.  In the first eight-and-a-half months of 2017 I’ve seen 32 movies in theaters.  I have spent over $400 at the movie theater box office; 9 months of MoviePass would have cost me less than $90.

However, there’s a deal-breaker for me in that fine print:  MoviePass is only good for standard, 2D movie showings.

Of the 32 films I’ve seen this year, only 12 were 2D, standard.  The other 20 were 3D, IMAX, D-BOX, or AMC Prime experiences.  If a movie is released in IMAX that’s the way I want to see it — big and loud.  While 3D films are in decline the IMAX experience is still one for which I’m willing to pay a premium.

So in those 9 months I only spent $96 on 2D, standard movie tickets. MoviePass would have cost me $89. That $7 difference is not worth the trade-off of online ticket ordering.

Then when I look at the upcoming slate of films I plan to watch theatrically in 2017 most will be IMAX or 3D.  Blade Runner 2049, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and even the glorified television pilot Marvel’s Inhumans will all be IMAX experiences.  With or without MoviePass I’ll be paying AMC full ticket prices for those.

Without the convenience of online ordering I would need to save at least $10 per month, $60 per year, with MoviePass.  While there are many standard, 2D films I’m excited for, including Jigsaw, Death Wish, and It, I’m not sure I’ll be seeing 12 2D movies in the next three months to make the trade-off worth it.

If MoviePass were to reinstate their premium option, hopefully at $14.95 per month but even at $19.95 per month, they would likely have my money.   But for now I will Pass on MoviePass.

Arnie Carvalho is co-host of Now Playing Podcast.  You can read his movie reviews in the upcoming book Underrated Movies We Recommend, available for pre-order now.


Corrections: This article was updated at 4pm EST for the following items:

  • The “Premium” ticket is no longer offered by MoviePass–they only have the $9.99 2D option now. That information, added after initial publication, was removed
  • They have removed the “watch each movie only once” restriction. That information was removed from the article

Comments 8

  1. Devin Boudreaux

    I figure since you’ve done the research, maybe you’ll have an answer to this. When purchasing a ticket, did you see if it’s limited to one per person or can you buy like 2 tickets per day? Like for me and my gf or is it exclusive to just myself? Good write up Arnie!

  2. Sara

    I was wondering about this service. I might get it if it covers the theaters around me. The only issue I have is that I have to sign up for the service to see if I can use the service. That is beyond frustrating. I don’t go to the premium movies as much mainly because we don’t have that option here (thanks small town). When I go to the movies it is usually a spur of the moment thing and we get tickets on the way.

  3. Trent

    I find two of your three reasons for not using MoviePass to be specious.

    “You can only see each movie once and I see movies multiple times.”

    OK, one of those showings would still be “free”.

    “I only have AMC theatres near me.”

    So just cancel it if AMC somehow manages to prevent people from using it there, at most you’d be out $10 (although I’m dubious that AMC can prevent people from using a Mastercard branded debit card at self service kiosks).

    The convenience factor is definitely the biggest drawback. Having to be physically in the theatre to get your ticket will make this pretty inconvenient for day/weekend of release showings for popular movies (although there are ways to trick your phone into thinking you’re somewhere you’re not).

    For someone like me who doesn’t have a traditional 9-5, M-F work schedule and doesn’t mind waiting a few days to see a new movie this thing is amazing and it will actually lead to me watching less movies online.

    With piracy being such a major reason for the downturn in box office receipts one would think theatres would be embracing anything that puts butts in the seats and enables them to sell high margin concessions.

  4. Glenn

    I think you’re looking at this wrong. It seems that you’d at least break even with movie pass. You’ve seen 32 movies in 240+ days. That leaves a lot of days without watching a movie (or watching at home). If you had the option to go see Atomic Blonde or Spiderman: Homecoming again today for free in 2D, would you consider it? What about The Glass Castle or Despicable Me 3?

    With movie pass, you could go see Wonder Woman in its 11 week of release or Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in its 15th week for free. Likely neither is still playing in 3D. I doubt you’d want to pay $18 again to see Dunkirk in IMAX, but would you watch it again for free in 2D to look for things you missed the first time?

    The point of the movie pass is to go to the movie theater more than you are going now. You only need to use it twice a month for it to be worthwhile.

  5. David Williams

    You guys all need to try Their subscription plans have 3D & IMAX screenings and also you can reserve your ticket in advance. They have couple plans too.

    Not $10 a month but definitely better experience. Worth checking out.

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