For a few months in 2018, it seemed like everyone who was regularly going to the multiplex to see movies was doing so thanks to MoviePass. In the summer of 2017, the subscription service’s all-you-can-watch buffet dropped in price from $40 to $50 per month to $9.95, leading some two million people to sign up. The MoviePass plan sounded too good to be true — unlimited movies for less than the cost of one ticket a month?
As it turns out, it was. MoviePass gambled on the idea that the valuable audience data it would gain from the service (and sell to other companies) could subsidize the fees it paid theaters. That turned out to be unsustainable, especially as theater chains started pushing back. MoviePass tried several different tactics to stay in business and mollify big studios, like blacklisting blockbuster titles and charging surge fees to prime showtimes. It even shut down for a night because it literally ran out of money, only to be rescued by an emergency bailout from a hedge fund.
Still, MoviePass wasn’t a completely failed experiment. After restructuring several times, MoviePass is still kicking, albeit in a slightly different format. The new format, called MoviePass Uncapped, replaces the latest iteration of the service, which at its base tier only allowed users to see a small selection of movies a few times per month. Notably, MoviePass Uncapped brings the service back down to to the $9.95 price point (for a limited time, if you pay annually) that led to its first big subscriber boom. But this time, the company “reserves the right to limit the selection of movies and/or the time of available movies should your individual use adversely impact MoviePass’ system-wide capacity or the availability of the Service for other subscribers.”
While that’s a definite compromise after the promise of a truly unlimited subscription, there’s no denying that the rise and (relative) fall of MoviePass ushered in a new way to think about going to the movies. As theaters try to keep up with streaming, some companies are taking MoviePass’ lead and implementing subscription programs of their own.
Update: This story has been updated with details about MoviePass Uncapped.
AMC was the loudest vocal opponent of MoviePass — and the most active in competing with it. Last summer, AMC started offering a new tier to its existing rewards program, AMC Stubs. From our write-up of that announcement:
AMC Stubs A-List will offer members the ability to see up to three movies each week, including IMAX and 3D screenings, with a $19.99 per month subscription. Unlike MoviePass, which only allows subscribers to see one movie per day, AMC Stubs A-List will let subscribers use their three movies at any time during the week — including on the same day. Additionally, AMC Stubs A-List tickets can be purchased in advance, while MoviePass tickets cannot.
Cinemark’s Movie Club is more like a rewards program that offers discounted tickets than an actual subscription service. The $8.99/month membership only includes one free 2D ticket per month, but members can purchase additional tickets at the discounted price of $8.99, and/or pay an extra fee for 3D tickets. Plus, tickets roll over from month to month, so missing months doesn’t mean wasting money.
The Austin, Texas-based chain Alamo Drafthouse, known for its food-and-drink service and quirky events, is the only established theater company with an unlimited MoviePass-like service. The subscription, Alamo Season Pass, will allow users to see as many 2D or 3D movies as they want for between $10-$15 per month, though it excludes special screenings that charge a higher ticket price.
Alamo Season Pass is currently being beta tested at Alamo’s Yonkers, New York and Raleigh, North Carolina locations, and will launch at all locations by the end of 2019. There is a waiting list for customers interested in trying out the service — Alamo chief technology officer Mikey Trafton told Business Insider that the waitlist had over 40,000 sign-ups before the plan was a month old.
Originally founded in Turkey, Sinemia has been around since 2014, but it made itself known in the U.S. following the MoviePass fallout, billing itself as a more stable alternative. Sinemia offers several subscription options, starting as low as $3.99 per month. You can choose to be billed monthly or annually; the month-to-month plan costs more and includes a one-time initiation fee of $19.99, but can be cancelled anytime. There’s also an unlimited plan, but it costs $70 per month, which is even higher than MoviePass when it launched.
Sinemia’s subscription tiers are as follows:
- One ticket per month — $2.99/month (billed annually) / $5.99/month (billed monthly)
- Two tickets per month — $4.99/month (billed annually) / $11.99/month (billed monthly)
- Three tickets per month — $6.99/month (billed annually) / $17.99/month (billed monthly)
- Two tickets per month (includes 3D, IMAX, and 4D) — $7.99/month (billed annually) / $14.99/month (billed monthly)
- Three tickets per month (includes 3D, IMAX, and 4D) — $10.99/month (billed annually) / $21.99/month (billed monthly)
- Unlimited tickets — $70/month (billed monthly)
Sinemia recently rolled out a subscription-less plan that’s essentially just a pre-loaded gift card. Customers can pay $70 for a $100 credit that is redeemable for any movie ticket. Once the $100 is up, pay $70 to add another $100.
The bottom line
If you’re thinking about signing up for a subscription service, there’s one question you need to ask yourself: “Will this actually save me money?” If you’re not the type of person who goes to the movies regularly, it’s unlikely that you’ll suddenly start going three times a month just because you signed up for the subscription. (Of course, if the only thing keeping you from going more often is your budget, that point is moot.) Think of it like a gym membership — you know yourself well enough to decide if you’ll actually go or not.
If you do decide that it’s worth it, you’re probably better off with your local theater’s rewards program than a third party like MoviePass or Sinemia. They usually have more perks, like discounted concessions, and are less likely to have hidden processing fees. Assuming you don’t have an AMC, Cinemark, or participating Alamo in your area, those third-party options are worth it — if you’ll actually use the credits.