MoviePass is a controversial cinema ticket subscription service, currently available only in the US, which allows subscribers to see unlimited (well, almost) movies at the cinema for a single monthly fee that can cost less than a single movie ticket.
Sound too good to be true? Plenty of people think so, with lots of uncertainty about how MoviePass makes money, what the company is doing with user data, and why they have the support of any cinemas. Here’s everything that you need to know.
How much does MoviePass cost?
MoviePass costs $9.95 per month, which originally allowed users to watch one film every day. That's all changed though, as the company battles to find a route to profitability.
After experimenting with options like higher monthly fees or peak visit surcharges, MoviePass has settled on keeping its $9.95 price point, but limiting users to three films per month - explaining that 85 percent of its users only see three films or fewer each month anyway. In addition, users get a $5 discount on any tickets they buy beyond those three visits.
The pricing scheme is in effect now, and users are being automatically transitioned to the new model - even people who previously signed up to the annual plan have been forcibly switched to the new monthly plan terms, but paid up until when their annual plan would have ended.
How do you use MoviePass?
When you sign up, the company sends you a debit card in the mail, which you’ll then need to activate.
When you want to see a film, use the app to search for available showings to check MoviePass is supported. Once you’ve picked one, head to the cinema, and once you’re you use the app to check in for your selected showing. At that point MoviePass loads the cost of the ticket onto the card, and you have 30 minutes to buy your ticket using the MoviePass card.
It’s worth noting that you can’t use MoviePass to book tickets in advance, only on the same day, and there's a charge to see films in IMAX, 3D, or other premium ticket types. The app also won't let you watch certain big blockbusters more than once, and also limits you from seeing those films during their opening few weeks of release.
It's a pretty convoluted process, but it's clear MoviePass hopes to simplify it - in March 2018 the company announced a partnership with Landmark Theatres that lets MoviePass users book tickets in advance and reserve seats through the app.
Which cinemas are supported?
MoviePass claims that it covers 91% of cinemas in the US, and you can use the website and the app to check which of your local screens are included in the service.
It’s worth noting that this could change though - the company has already removed a handful of the busiest AMC cinemas from the service in a dispute with the major chain - which we discuss in more detail below - and there’s a risk that more could disappear as the two companies battle it out over revenue shares for MoviePass customers.
Still, for the moment the odds are that any cinemas near you will be covered by the subscription.
When is MoviePass coming to the UK and other countries?
MoviePass hasn’t announced any firm plans to come to the UK, Canada, or elsewhere, though it’s hard not to imagine it intends to launch elsewhere. The company probably wants to figure out a way to actually turn a profit in America before it expands abroad though, so don’t expect it any time soon.
Still, there are alternatives. UK readers should check out Cineworld Unlimited and Odeon Limitless, which both let you see as many movies as you want, though obviously limited to those specific chains. Check out the rest of our guide to buying cheap cinema tickets in the UK for more info.
There's also a direct MoviePass equivalent on its way to the UK. cPass claims it will offer almost the exact same service as MoviePass - even the branding is similar - for £9.95 per month. It hasn't officially launched yet, but you can join the waitlist for the launch if you're curious to test it out.
There’s also Sinemia, which is available in the UK, Canada, and the US as well, which lets you buy two or three tickets per month for a set price. It works out as better value than buying tickets individually most of the time, but definitely can’t match MoviePass.
The cheapest UK plan right now is £4.99 per month, but that only gets you one film. Better value is two films per month for £6.99, though there are also more expensive plans that include 3D, IMAX, and other special formats.
How does MoviePass make money?
That’s the question of the hour. With users only paying the company $9.95 per month - or even less on the annual plan - and MoviePass itself then paying cinemas for tickets, the company actually ends up losing money if you see too many films.
It turns out those losses add up - the company ran at a loss of $150 million in 2017, prompting an auditor to declare that there was "substantial doubt" about the company's ability to continue as a going concern. So go get your cheap movies now, while you still can.
The app even went down for a day in July 2018 because the company literally ran out of money. An SEC filing revealed that MoviePass had to take out an emergency $5 million loan to pay cinemas and partners in order to bring the app back online, leaving some massive question marks around how long it can possibly last for.
Still, the company’s disputes with AMC, the biggest cinema chain in the US, have revealed more of its monetisation plans. It’s now trying to use its market position - with over a million subscribers, and growing - to demand a cut of ticket sales and concessions.
MoviePass says it already has deals with more than a thousand independent cinemas under which it receives $3 of every ticket sale it drives, and/or 25 percent of the money from concession sales (popcorn, drinks, etc.)
That’s where AMC has kicked up a fuss - the chain has refused to agree to the deal (after all, right now it’s just getting all those extra ticket sales for nothing), which prompted MoviePass to remove ten of the busiest AMC branches in the country from the app.
With MoviePass making the bold claim that it drives 62 percent of AMC’s operating income, that drop in footfall could force AMC to strike a deal - or it could backfire and only prove that MoviePass needs the cinema chain more than the other way round.
With AMC launching its own MoviePass alternative - dubbed AMC Stubs A-List - which offers three movies each week for a higher price of $19.95, along with discounts on food and drink at the cinema.
A partnership with cinemas isn't the only route to profits for MoviePass though - as with any digital startup, MoviePass will no doubt also be leveraging user data to make its money, with film studios and cinemas alike desperate to better understand their customer behaviour.
The company has also acquired the legacy service Moviefone, which began as an automated call service to read out movie show times, but is now an online Fandango rival, listing show times, release dates and trailers for upcoming films. It's not yet clear if MoviePass simply hopes to use the Moviefone audience to promote its service, or build Moviefone up into a bigger platform with its own booking system to provide a bigger threat to Fandango.
MoviePass may have even grander ambitions than that though - in late May 2018 its parent company announced that it had acquired the production company Emmett Furla Oasis Films and rebranded it MoviePass films, giving it access to a library of existing content - ranging from thrillers like Lone Survivor up to prestige pictures including Martin Scorsese's Silence - along with a busy production slate going forward.
It looks like the company thinks it can use the MoviePass app to aggressively promote its own releases - and hopefully in the process prove its marketing clout to other studios and cinema chains. Let's see how well that works out...