Why I’m Not Unsubscribing From MoviePass Just Yet
Being a MoviePass subscriber is kind of like when a show you were loving for years takes a serious nosedive in quality, but you stick it out until the end because, well, you’ve come this far. You might as well go down with the ship and keep enjoying the few remaining good things about it, even as you’re crossing your arms and shaking your head at almost every decision being made on a minute-by-minute basis.
MoviePass, the service that brought in millions of new subscribers last year by allowing users to see virtually unlimited films in theaters for just $9.99 a month, has at this point basically become a Nathan For You-esque experiment to see what insane hoops people are willing to jump through in order to save some money, with the company constantly changing its mind about what films you’re allowed to see and when. Yet as customers continue to flee by the day, I have no plans of canceling my account anytime soon.
To explain my reasoning, I’ll need to walk you through what my individual experience with MoviePass has been like up until this point. It was around this time last summer that I created a MoviePass account with a sense of profound skepticism after the company announced its totally bonkers new price: $10 a month, down from about $50 a month. The deal was especially nuts here in New York City, where one need not even be a religious moviegoer to get a discount. See one single film a month and you’re saving money.
The offer seemed too good to be true to the extent that when I signed up, it was with the attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Would I actually get a MoviePass card in the mail, and would it truly work at my local multiplex? I had my doubts.
But to my surprise, the card did come (after a long wait), and it actually worked. Over the next year, I saw a total of 43 movies with it. Considering ticket prices in New York City are typically about $15.99 for standard 2D showings, I estimate my savings with MoviePass to be about $568, which is pretty incredible when you consider that I did not see a single film in that time that I would not have otherwise paid full price for.
It became clear almost immediately that there were some fundamental issues with MoviePass, though, even putting aside the basic economics of the company. No, from a consumer’s perspective, the fatal flaw was evident right away: you couldn’t reserve seats in advance of your showtime. You could only buy tickets by arriving at the box office on the day and just praying that seats were still available.
Now, maybe your moviegoing habits are different than mine. But for me, I live in a major city where almost every chain theater has reserved seating, and I see the overwhelming majority of my films either on Thursday or Friday night right when they first release. Seeing the new Star Wars on opening night in the middle of Manhattan without having your seat purchased weeks if not months in advance was simply not an option, but even with films that were less of an event, by showing up on the night of with your MoviePass and no seat reserved, you were just asking to end up sitting in the front row.
The only workaround here was to actually purchase your tickets in advance on Fandango for the sole purpose of keeping your seats reserved, and then arriving at the theater, canceling the reserved tickets via the Fandango app, and then “buying” them again with MoviePass. But this plan wasn’t foolproof; if the theater was particularly busy, there was always a chance that someone else at one of the other kiosks would get that freed-up seat before you since it’s just open to everyone after you cancel. When it came to a highly-anticipated release like Avengers: Infinity War, this process was simply too risky.
So I quickly began to realize that MoviePass was not going to be the only – or even primary – way that I bought movie tickets. Instead, it became useful in basically two scenarios. One, if I was seeing a blockbuster film but was doing so at a less busy showtime like a Sunday afternoon, or two, if I was seeing a limited-release film in a smaller theater, many of which don’t allow you to reserve seats in advance.
As the Oscar season heated up, so did my MoviePass usage; scroll through my app history and you’ll see films like Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, and Darkest Hour, all movies that played in small theaters without reserved seats. It was around April, when the year’s big blockbusters began rolling out, that my MoviePass usage shifted almost entirely towards the second category of limited release films. My MoviePass had morphed into Limited Release Movie Pass. Still, I was seeing enough of these films to make the subscription worth it.
It was not long after that AMC launched Stubs A-List, which was absolutely everything I had originally wanted MoviePass to be. For $20 a month, you can see 12 movies in theaters. Sure, that was double the price of MoviePass, and you could see only three movies a week rather than seven. But, get this: you could reserve your seats in advance! Hallelujah! Surely, now was the time to ditch MoviePass and jump on board the A-List, right?
Actually, after much consideration, I winded up getting A-List but still staying subscribed to MoviePass. My thinking was that for 90% of my moviegoing, A-List would be all I needed; now, I would no longer be required to pay out of pocket for popular showtimes, as most of the theaters I frequent are AMCs anyway. But if I ditched MoviePass, there would still be that extra 10%: limited-release films that I tend to see in independent theaters and that sometimes are not carried by AMC (or at least not the AMCs I like to go to). For $20 a month, AMC would cover the 90%, and for another $10, MoviePass would step in for the extra 10%. Based on New York City ticket prices, I’d only need to see two wide-release films at AMCs and one limited-release film at non-AMCs, something that I do in even the slowest of months, for this to make financial sense.
Over the past few months, MoviePass has been altering the deal almost on a regular basis. It would take too long to step through all of these changes here, so let’s just skip to where we are now: now, you can only see three movies a month, and you have to choose from the films that MoviePass offers you on any given day.
Had MoviePass been my primary way of paying for movie tickets, I would totally understand finding this outrageous and immediately canceling my account. But if you’re like me, i.e. you live in a major city and see a lot of big blockbusters at popular showtimes, MoviePass has never really fulfilled the original promise, anyway. It has always been a service that occasionally saves you some money on movie tickets when it so happens that it’s possible to do so. Throughout all of these changes, this fact has remained the same, and even in spite of everything, MoviePass will likely still be effective at covering that aforementioned 10% since the majority of the films being offered each day are limited releases like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which I used my MoviePass to see this past weekend, therefore covering the month of August.
So when contemplating canceling, the question for me isn’t, “is MoviePass as good a deal as it was a year ago?” There’s no doubt that the answer to that question is no, but the service as offered before was always unsustainable. Instead, the question is, “is it likely that I will still use MoviePass at least once a month on a ticket that otherwise costs more than $10?” With my personal situation, the answer is yes, and so I’m still on board.
Granted, there are a few factors to consider that might change that answer in the coming months. The main one is that in recent weeks, MoviePass has not only been limiting films but also limiting showtimes, so even the smaller movies you want to see might not be available at the times you want to see them. I have personally yet to run up against this issue, but then again, I’ve only seen two films with MoviePass in the last 30 days. I’m counting on the MoviePass window of availability to line up with my personal plans at least once a month, but we’ll see how that works out going forward; if it becomes so impossible to make it into desired showtimes that entire months start passing without me using the card, I’ll be looking for the door, but we’re not there yet.
It must also be acknowledged that the situation I described here is a highly personal one, and I’m not attempting to change any minds, especially the minds of those whose filmgoing habits are a lot different or who are unsubscribing in protest because they don’t support MoviePass’ shady business practices and horrible customer service. More than anything, this was just an attempt to lay out a scenario where, believe it or not, sticking with MoviePass might actually still make some sense.
Finally, I’d be lying if I said that at least part of the reason I’m sticking with MoviePass wasn’t just that I want to see this thing through to the end, very much like that TV show in decline. If you cancel your account, you’re not permitted to sign back up for another nine months, and I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of MoviePass’ constant barrage of controversies that some part of me is willing to pay $10 a month just for a front-row seat to the disaster. Let’s hope the show keeps on going for a while longer.