Remember when Moviepass existed? How awesome was that!
If you don’t remember or are reading from the future, Moviepass was a movie subscription model. Only, it worked, like, incorrectly.
The model worked like this: You pay a monthly fee to get a special credit card. You apply on the app to see a movie at a certain theater, then buy the ticket with that card. Then bam, it’s free. One movie a day, so up to 30 movies a month if you’re tenacious. At first the price was steep, over $40 a month. But something happened in 2017—the price dropped.
In a confusing, yet amazing gambit, Moviepass lowered its subscription price to ten dollars a month. Less than the price of a single movie in certain cities!
It was a terrible business decision. They tried to work with theater chains to get a cut of revenue, or to let studios market on the app, but none of it ever worked. The price was so lucrative that the “gym membership” model where most subscribers don’t use the app fell on its face; EVERYONE used Moviepass. The company faced huge money issues very soon after the price drop, and folded just over a year later. But in that year, the movie theater had its own secret cheat code.
For some unknown reason, Wall Street financiers subsidized the movie tickets for millions of people for an extended period. As long as it was a normal 2D movie, you could see one a day every single day.
Thanks to this, Moviepass worked wonders on my own life as a moviegoer.
Moviepass & Me
Moviepass’s price drop came just as I moved to Seattle in the fall of 2017. I started work at a movie theater, where I could get passes to see movies for free, and access to about twenty different movies each week. So I did the perfect double-whammy: I got free passes from work to use on free movies, but then used Moviepass to actually buy the ticket. I kept the passes, then gave them to friends or used them to see 3D/IMAX films whenever I wanted.
Basically, I didn’t pay for a single movie for a year, thanks to Moviepass. A glorious stretch of time where I absolutely absorbed cinema.
You can see on Letterboxd where I tagged it—I saw a grand total of 24 films with Moviepass (not counting repeats), and countless more at my own theater as well. It wasn’t just the big popular films I was interested in. I saw crap I’d have never paid for— 15:17 to Paris, Big Fish & Begonia, Every Day, Thoroughbreds, and much more. Sometimes I found movies I loved just by chancing it. When it’s free, why not?
While Moviepass proved a financial disaster, it was an absolutely wonderful experience for me and millions of other moviegoers. Smaller films got more attention, bigger movies got even bigger, and the sacred experience of the theater just kept on going. I even bought concessions occasionally!
I remember, when working at my theater in late 2017, Cinemark introduced their own “Moviepass competitor.” Since they wouldn’t have to give a revenue cut to anyone, it made sense. Unfortunately, the program was like, $15 a month for two free movies and a concessions discuount or something stupid. It was so weak and non-bold that it was completely forgotten.
Then, in 2018, AMC introduced its own Moviepass competitor that actually made sense. $30 a month, steep, yes, but for 3 movies a week (including premium formats) and occasional concession discounts. Unlike Moviepass, it didn’t have to pay the cost of each ticket, since the service was with its own theaters. And it proved a huge hit as well!
Obviously, 12 movies a month is not the same as 30. It was a major downgrade for that reason alone. But only the most intense of movie fans ever reached that anyway. When I moved back to my hometown in fall 2018, I enrolled in AMC’s program and it was wonderful, because the Chattanooga area is almost entirely just AMC theaters. I maxed out that 3 movies a week almost every single week from September to December. I’d have never paid for Overlord had I not had the free movie program, and that would have been a much worse timeline for sure.
So, even though Moviepass died really quickly, the basic model lives on. People WANT to go to the movies. That may seem strange when the box office during the pandemic has declined a good 95%, at a time where streaming is taking over in a huge way, but it’s true. Movie theaters are part of the lifeblood of pop culture, and they’re never going to go away entirely. Programs like Moviepass get more people in the door, get more concessions, and help the entire industry thrive. And I’m really glad that they exist.
Let’s be happy for Moviepass while it lasted. The company acted like idiots, but in the process they gave us a ton of movies to enjoy for an extremely minimal price.