One month ago (almost to the day), we had to call it. Movie Pass, the movie theater subscription service that went for the jugular on AMC, Regal and countless other theaters the world over, was dead and buried. After more than a year of slowly bleeding out with less and worsening services, they finally ran out of money, suspended service to its few remaining customers and had zero plans of coming back any time soon. Shockingly, Movie Pass is back in the news again a month after the fact, but probably not in the way that you’d hope for.
What was so unseemingly revolutionary about Movie Pass was how, at a time when Hollywood was having to tighten its belt as box office revenues were rapidly petering out, they got people to actually to see movies in an honest-to-God theater again. They got people to see blockbusters, sure: everything from Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi (2017) to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But they also branched out to so many other, different, interesting movies so far beyond that familiar wheelhouse. They saw mid-budget comedies, they saw dramas, they saw indie passion projects and serious awards contenders. Unsurprisingly, when you updated the business model of a century-old industry and made it affordable to go see a lot of movies once again, people actually went to see a lot of movies.
The industry, of course, didn’t take this invasion on their well-worn territory laying down. While theaters certainly benefitted from all those extra people coming in to watch movies, they realized just how much money they had been leaving on the table by allowing a third party to step in and eat in to all of those profits that were otherwise, by rights, theirs. AMC kicked things off by making their own subscription-based service — essentially an improvement on the already-existent AMC Stubs membership — and others like Regal followed in suit.
Sure, these theater-specific programs lacked the flexibility of going to any theater that you wanted to go to that Movie Pass allowed for, but that didn’t really matter for most people. Most people, even in fairly sizable cities, only had a single movie chain to choose from due to the semi-monopolistic business practices surrounding theater placement. Hell, I lived in a state capital and all I had to choose between were three different AMCs. Off-setting this, however, were additional membership benefits that only the theaters themselves could offer, like prioritized lines, free refills and waved fees for subscribers.
Almost immediately, Movie Pass began to buckle under the pressure of squaring off against outside competition. As they rapidly shed subscribers, they instituted blackout dates and times as well as surge pricing. Many theater chains refused to accept Movie Pass tickets any longer. Their already glitch-prone app became increasingly unreliable and there were more than their fair share data leaks. By the time they shut down last month, Movie Pass’ subscribers were down to only 225,000 from their height of around 3,000,000 a year prior (back before all of their troubles started).
Now, however, Movie Pass is back with a vengeance. They haven’t miraculously found a new source of revenue. They haven’t resumed services for their former customers. What they are doing, however, is charging former subscribers their usual $9.95 subscription fee, despite there now not being any subscription to speak of.
Over the past month, reports have been surfacing (most prominently in an article from the New York Post) that former subscribers to the now-defunct have been charged their usual fees (or, in some cases, smaller, more innocuous amounts).
MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe has adamantly denied any wrongdoing on his or Movie Pass’ part. In fact, he blames the subscribers, who he claims don’t know how to read their own bank statements, and are confusing refunds for charges. Speaking to the New York Post, Lowe asserted that “One single subscriber, out of the many thousands of MoviePass subscribers, was charged $9.95 on September 15 and has been refunded that amount. We are aware that some of our subscribers have mistaken refunds appearing on their credit card statements for charges.”
I want to believe that its an honest mistake, but Movie Pass’ God-awful track record is not in its favor. Due to Movie Pass’ negligence, it was discovered in August that its subscribers’ credit card numbers were left vulnerable to data theft. Starting over the 4th of July weekend, Movie Pass conveniently went offline for over a month — in the height of summer — leaving its many customers unable to watch movies as they normally would. Back when the company had millions of customers to serve, it was revealed that they had manually gone in and changed passwords of users who used the service most often in order to prevent them from doing so while the company continued to bleed out cash.
So color me skeptical that this is an honest mistake and that thousands of moviegoers have conveniently forgotten how basic banking works. What seems more likely, however, are some greedy CEOs making a desperate bid at recouping some of the astronomical costs for their long-since failed business venture. And it’s a real damned shame that it’s finally come to this: the last legacy of Movie Pass, which honest has done so much good for movies over the last decade.