On June 20, the battle was joined: The biggest name in discount movie ticketing, MoviePass, received a full-bore challenge from the world’s largest exhibitor, AMC. Starting today, the companies offer competing subscription plans designed to increase theater attendance.
MoviePass has 3 million members, but its future is uncertain at best: It pays theaters full price for each ticket allocated to its growing membership, which means it needs a significant number of subscribers who don’t use the membership in order to be profitable. To recoup costs, MoviePass frequently alters its terms of service — more upcoming changes were outlined in an email to subscribers this weekend — which does little to instill faith among confused customers.
AMC Stubs A-List launches today, but their subscriber rolls will be bolstered by its popular loyalty program, which has more than 10 million members. And in case its MoviePass animosity was unclear — their respective CEOs already have insulted one another in shareholders calls and on Twitter — the press release announcing its new Stubs A-List subscription featured the word “sustainable” right at the top.
And while MoviePass and AMC currently are the biggest players in discount movie-ticket subscriptions, they aren’t the only oes. In the past few days alone, Sinemia injected itself in the conversation by announcing a bevy of family plans, while Alamo Drafthouse revealed that it will beta test Alamo Season this summer at its Yonkers, NY location.
Whatever may happen to MoviePass, it will have a legacy in its long-term impact. While about three-quarters of moviegoers still queue to buy tickets, it’s clear that the industry expects that to change. As investment research firm analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners told Variety last week, “The whole U.S. economy is moving towards a subscription model. It’s not just Netflix or Hulu … It’s what consumers want.”
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of five subscription services — along with two full-price apps that are looking to pull in larger audiences by making it easier to buy seats. Grades were given based on how well each met its goals while staying user-friendly.
Monthly Price: $19.95
How many movies you can see: Three per week, and all can fall on the same day
Valid at how many locations: All 640-plus AMC theaters in the U.S.
Notable restrictions: No two movie start times can fall within the same two-hour period, and you will be billed for three months of service even if you cancel beforehand.
Membership: Enrollment opens June 26.
A-List is actually the top echelon of AMC’s longtime loyalty incentive program, AMC Stubs. (AMC announced a Stubs membership of 10 million in September 2017.) Stubs allows members to book tickets for any film (and reserve seats, when the theater allows), but A-Listers are also eligible for concession upgrades and express box-office service. Each dollar spent with the membership translates to 100 AMC Stubs points; 5,000 brings a $5 credit. Those enrolled can add a full-price ticket for a friend without beginning a separate transaction. However, The Wall Street Journal reports that studio executives may ask AMC to alter its terms: The studios’ box-office cut for AMC Stubs A-Listers’ seats will based on a ticket price of $8.99, although the average domestic AMC ticket costs $9.78.
Grade: B+ IndieWire downloaded the app when it came online this morning, and it’s a little cheesy in the way that theater marketing often is (“Your email address is your new stage name”). However, while MoviePass may hope its members forget their subscription, A-List encourages users take advantage of their movie allotment: The main page has placeholders for the three films you intend to see that week, and you can reserve all of those theaters and seats at once. Less-organized people will benefit from the “My Reminders” tab, where you can indicate what films you’re excited to see, and the app will alert you when they are about to hit theaters.
Monthly Price: $9.95
How many movies you can see: One per day
Valid where: 36,507 screens nationwide.
Notable restrictions: Since customers typically must stand within 100 yards of their chosen theater to check into a screening and get tickets (Landmark Theatres are an exception), they may arrive and find that their movie is sold out. Beginning in July, the service will institute “high-demand pricing,” meaning those wishing to see popular films will have to pay an additional $2 to $6 out of pocket. Also, MoviePass currently can’t be used for repeat viewings or 3D/IMAX films; a premium option is forthcoming, along with an option that allows members to buy full-priced tickets for their plus-ones. Anyone who cancels their membership must wait nine months before rejoining.
Established: 2011. The service took off in August 2017 under new owner Helios and Matheson Analytics, which dropped the monthly price below $10 for the first time.
Current Membership: 3 million; at the beginning of August 2017, membership was under 20,000.
MoviePass is led by Netflix founding executive and former Redbox president Mitch Lowe. As membership surged, MoviePass kept opening its wallet, paying $23 million for Moviefone and acquiring films like “American Animals” and “Gotti” that it released through distributor partnerships. The company loses money on its most active members, who are largely located in the nation’s priciest moviegoing cities (New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). On June 20, the day AMC announced AMC Stubs A-List, the Helios and Matheson stock price fell 30 percent, to 32 cents. Compared to a year ago, HMNY shares have plunged almost 95 percent.
Grade: B- MoviePass shamelessly plugs films released through MoviePass Ventures — “American Animals” and “Gotti” are front and center (the former’s trailer plays on repeat). The app’s “Top Box Office” scroll lists the films alphabetically, lest you think “Adrift” is actually out-earning “Avengers: Infinity War.” On the plus side, its theater map has a glossier look than the one on Fandango.
Monthly Price: $8.99/month
How many movies you can see: One per month, but unused tickets roll over. Additional tickets can be purchased for $8.99.
Valid where: All Cinemark, Century, CinéArts, Tinseltown, and Rave theatres (about 425 total)
Notable restrictions: Only valid on 2-D movies; other formats demand an upcharge.
Established: December 2017
Current Membership: More than 230,000
Cinemark Movie Club has a generous cancellation policy: Users can opt out whenever they like, and accrued tickets last for six months. Cinemark Movie Club customers can pay “a small upcharge” to trade their regular tickets for films shown in premium formats, and their membership warrants 20 percent off snacks and drinks. In addition, each enrollee may bring a guest who pays $8.99 for a ticket.
Grade: B- Resembling MoviePass with more icons (and far fewer theaters), this app gives good placement to re-releases, if you’re in the market to see old favorites back on the big screen. (It currently prioritizes “Big” over “Tag” and “Solo.”) Subscribers earn Cinemark Connections points for their transactions, which can be applied toward perks like film merchandise. Rewards have improved: Where it used to mainly offer wallpapers for your phone, you now can get concessions discounts with enough points. Sign up for email coupons, and it will send multiples in a week (free popcorn with soda purchase, etc). Users complain the app is a battery drainer, especially if you set your phone to Cinemode — a one-touch button that dims and silences your device, and allows you to garner additional points.
Monthly Price: The app is free.
How many movies you can see: Unlimited
Valid where: 750-plus American theaters, including outposts of AMC, Cinemark, Bow Tie Cinemas, and Starlight Cinemas
Current Membership: 550,000 users, as of June 2017 (Dealflicks reps did not respond to IndieWire’s request for comment.)
Taking a cue from the airline industry, Dealflicks allows theaters to cut costs on unsold tickets, both for films playing that day and beyond. Online coupons can save individuals 10 percent-60 percent per ticket. To date, the site/app claims to have saved audiences more than $8.2 million on seats and snacks. Tickets availability can be sporadic, however.
Grade: C It’s nice to get a discount without a subscription, but the network ads are annoying and it’s a random feeding schedule between the limited theaters, the pricing, and the availability. Using the app at the IndieWire offices, there are currently 32 percent cuts on “Ocean’s 8” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” — but they’re at theaters our staff has never heard of.
Monthly Price: The app is free. Under a current promotion, customers who sign up for Atom Rewards are also eligible to receive one free ticket after four transactions.
How many movies you can see: As many as you want.
Valid where: 20,000-plus screens at almost 2,000 U.S. and Canadian theaters
Established: The company was founded in 2014; the app first launched in test markets in 2015.
Current Membership: Nearly 4 million monthly users.
While Atom Tickets doesn’t offer discount tickets, the service makes it easier for friends to see shows together and avoid lines. The organizer of an outing can select who they want to invite and where everyone will sit, then send links so each person pays her own way. Friends can also treat each other to tickets. Similar to the Starbucks app, at many theaters Atom Tickets users can pre-order concessions that are ready upon arrival.
Atom Tickets executive chairman and co-founder Matthew Bakal is Lionsgate’s former head of corporate development, and his co-founder Ameesh Palej spent 12 years at Amazon. (Palej recently became the Chief Technology Officer at Lionsgate-owned Starz.) Atom Tickets’ first office was an old supply closet at Lionsgate’s Santa Monica headquarters. As of this March, the 85-person company had raised more than $125 million in capital, including huge investments from Disney and 20th Century Fox. Atom Tickets advisory board members include J.J. Abrams, Dwayne Johnson, Tyler Perry, and Steven Spielberg. The company enjoys partnerships with IMBb and its owner, Amazon, as well as Google, Facebook, and Instagram. In late May, Atom Tickets launched its first national brand campaign with Peter Berg-directed commercials starring Anna Faris.
Grade: A Unlike its peers, Atom Tickets does not make you watch movie ads at the top of your screen. Everything on the app is clear-cut and intentional. The app imports your contact list, delineates who you are inviting, and who you want to purchase each ticket, so you won’t make any mistakes. The informative “Upcoming” tab shows day-by-day which movies are being released, and the yellow popcorn icon makes it easy to tell which theaters permit advanced food and drink buys.
Monthly Price: The app is free; tickets come with an online processing fee.
How many movies you can see: As many as you want.
Valid where: More than 30,000 U.S. screens
Established: The company was founded in 2000, with the app launching in 2009.
Current Membership: Fandango reaches 60 million unique visitors per month via its digital network.
Warner Bros. is a 30 percent shareholder in Fandango, the gold standard among online ticketers (and also the owner of Movies.com, MovieTickets.com, and Rotten Tomatoes). In addition to ticket purchases, the site provides movie listings and news searchable by title, city, or zip code. Through August, a Fandango VIP+ promotion provides users with 150 points per ticket purchased through Fandango. When 600 points have been accrued, a member earns a $6 ticket credit that must be used within two weeks.
Grade: B Fandango is pretty straightforward, especially if you are paying with a gift card. There are lots of unobtrusive opportunities for Fandango VIP+ members to score free posters; there are also full-screen pop-up ads for films (you can click “Get Tickets,” “Watch Video,” or “Skip”). While Trailers cycle across the upper interface, they’re for the actual top films at the box office.