It might’ve eventually flamed out in an epic blaze of popcorn-scented glory, but there is no denying the fact that MoviePass massively disrupted the theater business during its brief run as the leader of the Wild West of theater subscription services.
But with the service again under the control of original founder Stacy Spikes and plotting a path back toward operation, including eyeball-tracking ad tech and a points system, it will return to a market it both pioneered and quickly left unchecked for the major players to take over. Multiplex mainstays like AMC and Regal stepped in during the years since MoviePass’ disrupted the market before fizzling, creating a new status quo.
With the movie business finally showing signs of bouncing back from the pandemic, it’s a good time to take a look at the market, see what’s worth your monthly subscription fee and which perks their apps offer — from seat selection to concession ordering straight from your phone.
One key point that could give MoviePass a path back to potential relevance is that virtually every new service around today is built by and around a specific theater company, meaning your Regal subscription doesn’t do you much good if there’s only an AMC theater nearby, or vice versa.
So, if you’re looking for a Swiss Army knife of movie theater services, there is simply not a major player to fill that void. At least not right now. But there are still some great options tied to specific theater chains, and they offer plenty of innovative in-app perks and benefits.
The OG service that started it all is coming back, but for now, the 2.0 version isn’t actually available. If you want the street cred of whipping out a MoviePass card (assuming they still use cards this time), you’ll simply have to wait. That said, it could be a service to watch once it actually launches. The developers are eyeing some unique features, including credits for in-app ad-watching, an in-app points system for users that would require more points for big releases (i.e., Spider-Man: No Way Home on opening night), and less points for niche films at off-times (i.e., an under-the-radar indie hit on a Tuesday afternoon). There are also rumblings of some Web3 elements, which sounds a bit… confusing for a movie theater subscription service. It is definitely something to keep an eye on over the next several months, especially since it will presumably work with most theater chains.
If you live in a market with AMC theaters, which is most places, the company’s A-List subscription service is a solid option. It allows users to watch up-to three movies per week with no blackout times or limits (meaning you can see three movies in one day, and there is no limit on new releases, opening weekends, etc.) at any AMC theater. If you have a really good AMC theater nearby, it’s even more useful, as you can book tickets for premium screenings on Dolby Cinema, RealD 3D and IMAX screens. Users can also use the AMC app to select and reserve specific seats, as well as pre-order concessions and snacks for quick pick-up. There are also concession upgrades, and each movie trip earns points toward free concessions.
AMC’s A-List app also recently launched its new A-List Entourage option, which is the first step in fixing one of the biggest issues with these subscription services — most folks go to the movies with friends, and these services are typically designed for solo bookings. The Entourage options allows members to order on one another’s behalf (with permission) to make it easier to book group tickets and select seats together. It’s not perfect, but it makes it easier to put together a group trip that takes advantage of A-List memberships, and anyone who isn’t a member can add a ticket at regular price to fill out the group as needed.
If you’re already a frequent patron of the Alamo Drafthouse, you probably know about the premium theater company’s season pass plan. But this being Alamo — a chain known for having one of the best theater-going experiences in the country — it’s also among the priciest options available. You can get one regular movie per day, and you’re able to use the app to book 7 days in advance. There are convenience fees you still must pay, but you are able to accrue points that can be put toward perks like concessions and reduced-price tickets. You can use the app to skip the lines and head straight to your seat, scanning your digital ticket straight in the app, and if you need to cancel, you can get a refund up-to one hour before the screening.
To be clear, it’s the most expensive — and arguably most restrictive — option for movie fans, but if you see at least 2-3 movies per month at your area Alamo, it’ll pay for itself. And there are few movie-going experiences that can compete with the robust menu, drafts and premium offerings of the Drafthouse.
If you have a Cinemark nearby and count yourself more of a casual movie fan (i.e., you show up for the comic book flicks and the Jurassic World and Fast & Furious sequels, but not much in-between), the Movie Club is a great option. It averages around $10 per month and includes one standard movie ticket per month. The best part? If you don’t make it out that month, you can have one rollover ticket at a time — meaning it’ll carry over and you’ll have two to use the next month. Users also get waived online fees and a 20 percent discount on concessions. Though it’s built more for casual use, power users can also earn points toward discounts and advance screenings.
As far as app perks are concerned, the Cinemark app is robust. Users can snag tickets, reserve seats and order concessions from within the app to skip the line. The app also features a watch list you can update to keep track of new releases and get notifications for when they open, to make it even easier to decide when and how to use that monthly ticket (plus one rollover).
If you have a Regal theatre nearby, this service is probably the closest thing you’ll find to fulfilling the “unlimited movies” future that MoviePass promised us all. Regal Unlimited users get unlimited movies at the company’s 550+ locations across the United States, with the only caveat that you cannot see the same movie on the same day in the same format. Considering Regal is one of the biggest theater chains in the nation, that is pretty useful. If you’re wanting to see a boatload of movies, this will do the trick, so long as you stay within the Regal ecosystem. It also gets a bit complicated with additional handing and upgrade fees for movie tickets (i.e., for upgraded screens, etc.), but by and large, it’s a solid deal if you see more than a few movies per month.
As is standard practice these days, users can also order tickets and select their seats from the app, plus browse and order concessions to skip the line and just pick up your popcorn and favorite candies and snacks. The app will even shoot you a ping when your concession order is ready to pick up. Users also earn points toward concession coupons and discounts. It features movie reviews and audience ratings as well, just in case you’re still deciding on what to see.