Before I get into what my experience was like with MoviePass, it might a good idea to first explain what MoviePass is. The elevator pitch: a subscription service for movie theaters. You can watch a movie per day on the big screen for just $30 per month. For someone like me who loves movies, and loves seeing movies in theaters, MoviePass seems like a no-brainer and a dream come true. But while I thoroughly enjoyed my two-week free trial, there are just too many small inconveniences for me not to pull the trigger on a paying the monthly fee. Read on for all the gotchas and nuances that come with the MoviePass service.
Probably the biggest complaint about the service I had is the fact that you can only watch one movie every 24 hours, rather than one movie per day. That may not seem like a big difference, and isn’t something I thought about before signing up, but in practice it makes a big impact. The easiest way to explain it is a sample experience. Say you want to catch an evening showing of Jurassic World after work on Friday at 7:00 pm followed by a matinee of Inside Out on Saturday morning at 10:30 am. Not possible; you have to wait until 7:00 pm on Saturday to watch your next film.
What this means is, once you get into an evening viewing schedule — due to working in the day or what-have-you — you cannot toss in a matinee unless you take a day off from MoviePass. Or in another scenario, if you just like going to the theater at night, you’ll eventually have to take a day off anyway because of the clock running out. You go to a screening at 7:00 one day, then the next day at 7:30, 7:45, and so on. Pretty soon, once that 24 hour period is pushed back to starting at 10:00 or 11:00 pm and there are no films playing at the theater any more, so you’ll have to skip a day to reset the clock.
Perhaps this is only a complaint I had during the free trial because I wanted to take advantage of the service and see 14 films in two weeks. Thinking of the long term, it’s likely that no one would or could go to a movie theater 365 days a year and therefore end up taking a day or two off at some point anyways. I should know after doing the first year of this movie marathon; things come up and it’s difficult to devote 2+ hours to a film everyday for an entire year.
It’s also less of a problem when you take into account the next complaint that you can only see each movie once. In other words, you can’t go watch Inside Out and cry your eyes out twenty times or when Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out in December, see what it’s like to see Han and Chewy back home over and over again. Or less extremely, say you’re seeing a movie once with friends and then you want to see it once again with family (as opposed to every day during premiere week, which is probably overkill), you can’t. This is a problem because I know there are some films that I want to see more than once in theaters like a Pixar film or a new Star Wars flick. A subscription service should allow you to see the movies you want, when you want to, however many times you want to. Starting the MoviePass subscription I thought that would be possible because nothing on the main site or FAQ mentions this restriction. Instead, it’s buried all the way in the fine print of the Terms and Conditions for the service (more on that in a bit).
The next complaint is that you can only see movies in regular 2D; no 3D, IMAX, or IMAX 3D viewings are allowed. Now to be fair, this point is clearly displayed on the MoviePass homepage and several times in the FAQs, so it wasn’t a surprise that I discovered during my trial. I would however like the ability to pay whatever surcharge there is to see a 3D or IMAX showing. Ticket prices have been increasing significantly over the past few years with cool new projection technologies (3D, HFR, and soon, laser projection) giving theaters a reason to charge an arm-and-a-leg for tickets. Looking at prices for my local theater1, it costs $12.49 to see an IMAX matinee and a whopping $18.79 for an evening IMAX showing (compared to $6.49 and $12.79 respectively for 2D showings). That price is high enough where I never even consider seeing a film in IMAX because, despite the ginormous screen and benefits it provides, I can’t justify 1.5x the price (almost 2x for a matinee showing).
However, if I could pay the difference between the IMAX and 2D price (2D being included in the MoviePass subscription), IMAX and other special format films would probably become my default choice for going to see a film. A $6 price tag is much more reasonable than an $18.79 one and it would help me see some films the way the director intends (see this interview where Quentin Tarantino talks about the upcoming The Hateful Eight). The other obvious solution is just having a second subscription tier (say $40 per month) that includes unlimited 3D and IMAX showings. That would be much more convenient for the moviegoer, and presumably for MoviePass (albeit, probably not as profitable).
Another surprise that I discovered during my trial as I debated whether or not to start paying for the service, is that MoviePass is an annual subscription that is billed monthly, not a monthly subscription. This means that once your two-week trial is up, you are on the hook for $360 over the next year. If you do decide to cancel before the year is up, you’ll be hit with early termination fees. One of the questions I had before starting (and again, couldn’t find a clear answer on their site) was whether you could pick and choose which months to have the subscription.
For example, could you just pay for just the summer and winter months, thereby being able to see all the summer blockbusters and holiday, awards-fare while avoiding the typically barren months like February and August? The answer is no, and you have to dig deep within the Terms and Conditions to find it. This answer on their FAQ page implies that it’s not actually a monthly subscription, but you do have to do some reading in between the lines. In retrospect, it makes sense for MoviePass to not accept this practice because then you could just catch up on a bunch of movies one month, avoid paying the next, and the month after catch all the ones you missed and are on their way out of theaters. It would be quite thrifty and therefore highly unprofitable for MoviePass, a company that makes their money by you paying a fee every month.
Speaking of surprises and fine print, be sure to read their Terms and Conditions. After finding out about the early cancellation fee (section 27.11) and not being able to see the same movie twice (section 27.2), I started searching to see if there were any other gotchas. Turns out, there’s quite an important one and it is a big reason I decided against starting a paid subscription. Sections 27.9 and 27.10 give MoviePass the right to, “suspend the subscription and temporarily deactivate your account at any time for any reason or none whatsoever (27.9)… or cancel membership (27.10) [emphasis added]. As someone who typically follows the rules, I don’t see myself violating any of the terms, but for MoviePass to just willy-nilly deactivate your account for no reason whatsoever is mind-boggling and gave me pause. Combine this with section 27.11 which says,
If the subscriber cancels their account before their annual contract terminates, they may be liable for cancellation charges. If a subscriber cancels within the first month and did not register with a free trial, they will be charged the difference between their first month’s subscription fee and the movies they attended.
and you could be looking at quite the hefty price tag. Now, to be fair, I don’t know how common it is for MoviePass to terminate your account for no reason whatsoever, nor do I know if they actually use that clause. What I do know is that it made me hesitate and think twice about the service.
Do some quick math and you can see that for the $360 price tag of the annual subscription, you could see one $7 matinee film each week. Sure, that isn’t unlimited, but “unlimited” is a loaded term when it come with a MoviePass subscription as there’s so many caveats to take into consideration. I’d much rather spend a little more buying movie tickets the old-fashioned way than worrying constantly about paying for movies I didn’t necessarily want to see, but did anyway because they were “free” with the subscription.
I really like the concept of MoviePass and its push to get people back to seeing films in theaters again. For a movie-lover like myself, being able to go to a theater whenever I want is enticing and would get me in front of the silver screen more often than I currently do. As I described above however, MoviePass fails to live up to this dream of an “unlimited” movie theater subscription service.
My two-week trial went without a hitch and I had no complaints or issues during those two weeks. Their customer service was responsive and kind in helping me activate my card and helping me cancel my service at the end of the two weeks before my credit card was charged. Their mobile app (through which you “purchase” tickets for movies — iTunes, Android) worked flawlessly and was beautifully designed (on iOS at least). My trial also came at a time when there were many fantastic films in theaters which certainly helped me catch up on a bunch of films.
Despite a pleasant experience, and a functionally ok service, my complaints about the MoviePass service are numerous and several hidden/secretive policies ultimately kept me from becoming a paying member. Perhaps if two of my biggest complaints were changed — one movie per day rather than per 24 hours and being able to see each movie more than once — my overall thoughts and impressions would be different. Depending on how you see yourself using this service, your thoughts and impressions might differ from mine. My goal with this article was to put forth my experience and illuminate some of the less well-known quirks about MoviePass so that you can make a more informed decision.
I would love to hear what you think and whether or not you have had similar experiences with MoviePass. I’m very curious to hear from die-hard users of the service to see how a beneficial a paid subscription is in practice. My final thought is this: if you are at all curious, go ahead and do the two-week free trial. Schedule it at a time when there are a lot of movies you haven’t seen in theaters to maximize the trial and worst case, you see a lot of great movies during that time.