MoviePass, the all-you-can watch movie ticket subscription service that proved to be smash hit with cinema-goers until its extraordinary demise in 2019, could be coming back. MoviePass cofounder Stacy Spikes took control of the company this week as part of the bankruptcy proceeding of the service’s now-former parent company. “I can confirm that we acquired MoviePass out of bankruptcy on Wednesday,” Spikes told Insider, which first reported the news. “We are thrilled to have it back and are exploring the possibility of relaunching soon. Our pursuit to reclaim the brand was encouraged by the continued interest from the moviegoing community. We believe, if done properly, theatrical subscription can play an instrumental role in lifting moviegoing attendance to new heights.”
He’s set up a website, iwantmoviepass.com, featuring a mailing-list signup for updates on when the new service launches. Gone is the trademark red branding, swapped out for a black-and-white text logo.
Spikes, a former Motown and Miramax executive, founded MoviePass in 2011 with Hamet Watt. In its earliest years, it experimented with plans that ranged from $15 to $75, for the most expensive all-you-can watch plan. It was eventually acquired by the analytics firm Helios and Matheson. Then came the new, lower price point: subscribers paid just $9.95 per month to watch up to one film per day. That plan led to explosive growth to the tune of hundreds of thousands of new subscribers a month, but also set off a downward spiral for the company that left it deep in debt and faced with service disruptions, changes to its business model, lawsuits, and ultimately, a sunsetting of the service and bankruptcy for Helios and Matheson.
That’s all to say: Don’t expect any future iteration of MoviePass to repeat the same mistakes. Spikes has been quietly working on a plan to bring the company back since the summer. In October, he was part of a panel at New York Film Festival, during which he may have foreshadowed what MoviePass “done properly” might look like. “We founded MoviePass in 2012 — and just to be clear, I’m speaking of it through 2017 when it went off the cliff, with the private equity group that bought it and thought $10 was a good idea, that that would be sustainable,” he said at the panel.
Spikes has spoken out about his unease with that price point before. He told Insider in 2019 that he was fired from MoviePass shortly after the acquisition amid a divide in thinking between him and the company’s new leaders.
At its height in June 2018, six months after Spikes was fired, MoviePass had a reported 3 million subscribers. Over the following two years, theater chains launched copycat services as MoviePass plunged into chaos; the company had just 225,000 subscribers shortly before it shut down in fall 2019.
By the time the pandemic hit, AMC Stubs A-List had been offering subscribers plans for three movies per week that ranged from $19.95 to $23.95, Regal offered once-per-day for $18 to $23.50, and Cinemark gave one ticket per month for $8.99 or $9.99. Now that theaters have reopened, the three largest chains have resumed their respective programs.
And it’s clear that Spikes sees opportunity in the subscription model to help redefine post-pandemic moviegoing. At the NYFF panel, he was joined by executives from leading specialty distributors like Neon and Searchlight, with a conversation around getting moviegoers back to the theater to see indies, which have had a tougher time rebounding compared to tentpoles.
During their lockdowns, audiences have become more accustomed to an entertainment model based on subscriptions: You pay for Netflix once a month, and watch whatever you want. When choosing an individual movie to watch, the cost is time — not money — the same paradigm introduced in theaters by MoviePass. “Because people paid up front, they tended to take risks on titles that they maybe wouldn’t have taken a risk on,” Spikes said during the panel. “They don’t have to think about every single transaction.”
One strength in MoviePass, Spikes said at the time, is the ability to look at data across theater chains. His team once discovered that subscribers were going to AMC on the weekends and to Alamo Drafthouse on Wednesday. Why? “It was half-off beer. They were willing to take a risk on the movie because of half-off beer,” he said.
For its part, Alamo Drafthouse, too, had an unlimited movies program (which was among the most expensive) which has been “paused” since the start of the pandemic.