You’d be excused for thinking the monthly subscription movie service MoviePass is dead. For all functional purposes it is, though it does technically exist and – I’m only saying this because I believe expensive legal counsel has made sure it meets the thinnest definition of the term – it still offers services. For those only interested in the entertaining woes of its users, feel free to skip to the final header.
Days of MoviePassed
It’s been several months since the halcyon days of unlimited movies for a monthly fee less than the average cost of a single ticket. It’s been a few months since I could still recommend the service despite some dodgy bait-and-switch practices. My argument at the time was that while alive, the company was still offering an unbelievable deal and when dead would stop charging you money. I hadn’t accounted for braindead and able to still charge monthly fees while on life support.
The latest era in the Year of the MoviePass began July 26th when the service experienced a nationwide outage. It was well-known that the company’s stock was plummeting and many assumed the service was finally dead. Twitter users released the memes that had been burning holes in their pockets ever since it became clear the MoviePass business model wasn’t sustainable. But MoviePass rose again the next day. They weren’t dead! They had just missed enough payments to have their technical services shut down, a setback easily fixed with an emergency $5 million loan (it’s unclear how a company so complimentary of mob informant John Gotti was able to finagle this arrangement).
The next four months saw the most concentrated effort to renege on providing promised services outside of the insurance industry. MoviePass, whose terms of service are a Constitution-like document of infinite flexibility, announced they would no longer support the biggest releases. Then there was a limit to the number of offered showtimes. Then it was whittled into a list of 8-10 supported films that changes daily. Of these films, one is typically a wide release and the rest limited in some way (often at least half the titles are available only in major cities).
At the same time, MoviePass dropped the cumbersome requirement to verify your purchase by sending in a picture of the ticket stub, so limiting the titles was less limiting than it seemed (yes, MoviePass, I’m here to see Collette *wink*). But MoviePass also started removing supported showtimes during the day, presumably when the company burned through its allotment of ticket-buying money. This created the extra hassle of not knowing if the service would still be available after leaving for the theater. As the dwindling number of users became wise to this, most tickets were sold to early buyers with all showtimes going black in the early afternoon. Supposedly if a showtime disappears customer service will restore it for a supported movie if you call in (I have not verified this). The company has also been poor about cancelling services when requested to do so, going so far as to require members who had already cancelled to opt out before being automatically re-enrolled when terms changed yet again.
Here’s how I’ve been using the service while the dumpster burns: if I think I’ll try and see a movie that night, I open the MoviePass app and hope that there’s a supported film – any film – playing at the theater in my city. If there is, I leave the app open and do my best not to let it refresh (if the app doesn’t refresh, showtimes won’t disappear). If I’m in the area of the theater, I purchase my tickets early in the day. Yes, this is a ridiculous pain in the ass. But I’ve accomplished it 2-3 times per month.
tl;dnr: MoviePass is a Shady Company Runs by Goons
…and the only justification I offer in continuing to subscribe is that using the service benefits me while hurting them.
MoviePass’s shenanigans effectively drove subscribers’ average monthly usage down from over 2 movies per month to less than 1, possibly neutralizing their biggest barrier to income (namely people using the service as advertised). Since joining on December 18 of 2017, I have seen 37 movies via MoviePass, an average of just over 3 movies per month. I’ve given MoviePass $120.00 and spent around $400.00 of their money (theaters still get full price for tickets purchased). I’ve been tempted to quit them several times on principal, but that would cost them $10/month, whereas my gritting it out costs them upwards of $30/month. Maybe I’m just justifying going to the movies on Tuesday nights.
Never content to sit out too many new cycles, MoviePass has been busily rearranging deck chairs. They announced another refining of its pricing plans which will include tiers for when movies are available and 3D/IMAX options. Cost will also be based on region. MoviePass Films (no, they have not given up on being a part of the movies themselves) has signed a three-picture deal with Bruce Willis. Loudmouth CEO Mitch Lowe has been relinquished of day-to-day operations. But as always, the good news is balanced by the bad. Business Insider reports wide dysfunction and distrust of management within the company and a skeezy harasser that was supposedly fired but still turns up at MoviePass functions. MoviePass’s parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, has inched closer and closer to being delisted from Nasdaq (which basically means it’s over as a company).
“If there is anything we’ve learned,” says Mitch Lowe in the Times article linked above, “it’s to be a good member of the ecosystem.” Sometimes all it takes is the exodus of tens of thousands of users and an ongoing fraud investigation to make someone claim to turn over a new leaf.
Will MoviePass rebound, clean house, and make us proud to give their money to the movies? Or will they just die already?
Something’s Gotti Give
As I will not pretend to have answers anymore, I leave you with the Top 5 Things MoviePass has done that aren’t technically wrong, but demonstrate a staggering lack of judgement behind the scenes:
5. Added Assassination Nation as a bonus supported film weeks after its release when it was available in literally zero theaters nationwide.
4. Co-acquired the notoriously bad film Gotti, which was somehow only the second-worst acquisition on its slate (naughty slasher film The Row was, ironically, given a microscopic theatrical release before being shuttled straight to iTunes).
3. Sent an invitation for a special screening to all subscribers regardless of location that was only happening in Irvine, CA. MoviePass followed up with an apology sent to all users, include those actually in Irvine, CA.
2. Hat Damon = fine. Sleeves Like Us? Come on.
1. After weeks of random outages and curtailed services, sent an email of a puppy wearing a MoveiPass bandanna (see header image) reading in part: “Woof! I’m Chloe, the Director of Barketing at MoviePass. I’d like to explain why from time to time you may have had a ‘ruff’ experience with us but it turns out that I’m a dog and I can’t talk.” This is still more useful than a third of the customer service experiences I’ve had with MoviePass.