A year ago today, MoviePass introduced a radical new business model: Go see a movie a day, every day, for just $10 per month. At the time, it seemed too good to be true. As it turns out, it was.
The company has since burned through cash at an unsustainable rate, aggravating customers with limited screenings, punishing anti-fraud measures, and general uncertainty about the future. Today, in a bid to stay afloat, MoviePass officially abandoned its unlimited buffet. It still costs $10 a month, but that now gets you three tickets instead of 30, and often not to the showtimes you'd prefer.
Plenty has been written already about what went wrong, and what could still go right. But the most important lesson of MoviePass' wild first year? Movie ticket subscriptions are here to stay. Even if MoviePass eventually goes under—or if you're just ready to bail—enough similar services have cropped up over the last year that one likely has a combination of cost and convenience that suits you just fine. Here's what each one offers, and who it might work best for.
You're sick of hearing about it by now, aren't you? But wait! You might not know everything! MoviePass has gone through so many incarnations since it first introduced the unlimited plan—remember when it briefly switched to an iHeartRadio bundle?—it's worth taking stock of what exactly it has on offer. Starting today, MoviePass will transition from its $10 unlimited plan to one that offers three movies per month for the same price, plus up to a $5 discount on tickets over that limit.
Yes, that's less than it offered before, by a lot. But realistically, the majority of MoviePass customers likely won't notice the difference; the company says that only 15 percent of its three million subscribers see four or more movies in a given month. And because MoviePass is more tightly restricting the number of movies it allows, it'll hopefully loosen some of its draconian antifraud measures, including the one where it made some heavy users upload photos of their ticket stubs. It’s also doing away with the surge pricing it had previously introduced to help stanch the bleeding.
If the story ended there, MoviePass would remain a solid budget choice, a less permissive but more realistic—and sustainable—version of the service people signed up for in the first place. Unfortunately, MoviePass is also continuing to limit the availability of first-run films under this new plan. This past weekend, for instance, subscribers had only two options: Mission: Impossible—Fallout or Slender Man. The available showtimes weren't peachy either. On top of which, according to recent reports MoviePass had automatically converted users to this new plan, even after they cancelled their accounts.
The company claims it was a bug. Either way, it's one last reminder that every time MoviePass scrambles for solid footing, its customers get trampled.
Who it's for: Loyalists! True believers. People who already signed up and can't be bothered. And honestly, it's still a good deal if you don't mind second-run fare.
Think of Sinemia as the tortoise to MoviePass' hare. It's not flashy, it's not insanely cheap, but it works, and has prices that make sense for both you and the gods of finance. In fact, it already has a sustainable P&L, thanks to a strong existing business in Europe, where subscription plans have thrived for years.
Sinemia has not one plan, but several. Four bucks gets you one standard movie ticket per month. Seven gets you two. Nine gets you two also, but those can include 3-D and IMAX formats. (MoviePass doesn't allow for those at any price yet.) And for $14, you can get three movie tickets of any kind you like. Those prices will each go up by a dollar after Labor Day.
If you plan to see exactly three movies per month, that makes Sinemia more expensive than MoviePass. But if you’re partial to 3-D and IMAX, the markup is well worth it. And even if you're not, Sinemia lets you reserve seats ahead of time online, and more importantly has no showtime blackouts. For infrequent moviegoers, its lower-tier plans seem like a no-brainer.
Like MoviePass, you can use Sinemia at pretty much any theater. Unlike MoviePass, it also offers family plans for up to six people. The company has also forged partnerships with ride-share services and Restaurants.com, showing a glimpse of the broader potential of movie ticket subscription services that rivals haven't found much traction with yet.
Who it's for: People who know they’ll only see one or two movies a month, but still want a discount. People who want to put their whole family on the same plan. IMAX stans.
AMC Stubs A-List
After months of complaining loudly and often about MoviePass' unsustainable pricing—which, well, vindication—the biggest movie theater chain in the United States decided to get in on the action itself. In June, AMC introduced A-List, a part of its Stubs loyalty program, offering three movies per week for $20 per month.
There’s lots to like about A-List, not least of which is convenience. Sinemia and MoviePass are both basically glorified debit cards tied to an app. There's inherent friction in trying to glom that onto a theater chain's business. But A-List is all AMC, meaning all of the mechanics of signing up, reserving seats, and more flows through the AMC app with ease. You can see films in 3-D or IMAX, go to repeat viewings, and even see two movies in one day, as long as there’s a two-hour buffer between them. Members also benefit from other Stubs perks, which basically comprise discounts and upgrades on concessions.
What else is there to say? It’s the most movies with the fewest limitations, other than one big one: You have to use it at AMC theaters. There are 380 of those, so most people won’t have a hard time finding one, but it’s worth making sure before you sign up. That also might limit your ability to find indie fare that fits under your subscription. Otherwise, it's also the most expensive plan by a decent margin. You can get what you pay for, but only if you use it.
Who it's for: People who see lots of movies no matter what. Especially wide-release movies. Especially at AMC theaters.
Cinemark Movie Club
Not to be outdone (or maybe more accurately, to be outdone but not by as much) Cinemark introduced its own subscription service last December. The third-largest theater chain in the US, Cinemark offers what appears on the surface to be the lesser plan. For $9 per month, you get one ticket to a 2-D movie. That also happens to be roughly the average price of a movie ticket, so how much you really save depends on what market you live in.
But Movie Club distinguishes itself as being the only service that lets unused tickets roll over to the following month. Leftover tickets also never expire, making it much less likely that you'll fall into the trap of paying for something you never use. You'll also get seat reservation, companion tickets priced at $9, and 20 percent off concessions, which could add up quickly given the going rate for popcorn these days.
Who it's for: People who live near a Cinemark, go to movies fairly infrequently, and know themselves well enough to admit that they won't actually use the service they signed up for. Which is honestly more people than you'd think.