MoviePass CEO: Our Waitlist Crashed and AMC’s Adam Aron Never Called Back

MoviePass owner Stacy Spikes feels as overwhelmed by demand as his servers were yesterday. Now, if only Adam Aron would call back.
MoviePass co-founders Stacy Spikes (front) and Hamet Watt (back) at AMC in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, January 29, 2011.  MoviePass is a new mobile service that lets people go to as many movies as they want for $50 a month. They use their phone as their ticket into the theater. They also get to see trailers and other promotions through the mobile service. (Photo By Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes (front) in 2011.
San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

MoviePass 2.0 owner (and original co-founder) Stacy Spikes is feeling as overwhelmed as his servers were on Thursday morning.

The new MoviePass waitlist opened yesterday at 9 a.m. By 9:05, 30,000 people signed up, crashing the website for nearly three hours. By 9 a.m. this morning, the reconnected waitlist had 463,000 signups. “Holy moly!” is how Spikes put it to IndieWire.

Spikes estimated perhaps 50,000 or 100,000 Day-1 signups, so he isn’t sweating the server meltdown. “It’s a good problem to have,” he said of the mad rush. “We are drinking from the firehose.”

The waitlist is open until Monday. A week later, an indeterminate number of those who signed up will be converted to actual users of MoviePass 2.0 (as Spikes is calling his vision’s resurrection). Spikes said he has “no idea” how many people that will be — not while his head is still spinning from demand — but he’s vowed to slow-play MoviePass this time. The 2.0 plan, as he put it, is to “open certain markets, test out the new system, make sure we’ve got happy people — then continue to open it wider and wider.”

Speed sank MoviePass 1.0. Founded in 2011, Spikes sold a majority stake of MoviePass to Helios and Matheson (HMNY) in 2017, which then fired Spikes in 2018. The next year, MoviePass shut down; it filed for bankruptcy in 2020. Spikes, who reacquired the company last November, vows to not repeat the sins of the past. (He’s also quick to point out they weren’t his sins.)

The biggest issue for MoviePass 1.0 was its clearly unsustainable price point. When HMNY installed a $9.95-per-month unlimited plan, it seemed too good to be true — or at least, to make money. Turned out, it was — and it couldn’t. “There’s no way that a $10 price point would work on any planet,” Spikes said. “That was part of why they fired me and forced me out of the company because I kept saying, ‘This can’t work.'”

In Spikes’ estimation, for the unlimited plan to scale, the cash loss from MoviePass subscriptions would climb into the billions. It wasn’t the only mistake; there were also the blackout dates that removed certain theaters and movies.

“Why would you make enemies of your theater partners and your customers? That makes no sense,” Spikes said. “I had been fired and was sitting at home going, ‘This is so bad.'”

Liang Yang and Henry Cavill in "Mission Impossible - Fallout"
Liang Yang and Henry Cavill in “Mission Impossible – Fallout”Chiabella James

MoviePass 2.0 will be different. This MoviePass, with tiers of $10, $20, and $30, will grant consumers a certain number of monthly credits per month that can be applied toward peak and off-peak screenings. Theaters can toggle peak and off-peak designations. It’s variable pricing, but not based on seat selection or by film. The number of credits required to see a movie on the same time on the same day can vary by theater.

“It’s much more of a marketplace,” Spikes said during our Friday phone call. “Before, you never saw the math behind the scenes.”

All theaters will be in the new MoviePass interface — yes, even AMC, whether CEO Adam Aron likes it or not. Back in August 2017, AMC Entertainment pulled itself out of MoviePass’ game. In a press release explaining the move, AMC noted “it is not yet known how to turn lead into gold… In AMC’s view, that price level is unsustainable and only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment.”

Spikes is still trying to mend that fence. “When I bought MoviePass back, in November, I reached out to all three (of the big theater chains),” he told IndieWire. “I had conversations with Cinemark, I had conversations with Regal, and Adam didn’t call me back.”

So Spikes left Aron a voicemail. And then an email (which, via read receipt, Spikes says he saw was opened). And then another voicemail. At the time of our interview, he had received no response. An AMC Entertainment spokesperson declined to comment on this story.

Spikes, who classified the discussions with the “very open-minded” execs at both Cinemark and Regal as “great,” doesn’t understand the AMC issue. Yes, AMC didn’t love the unlimited option from the previous version. Yes, AMC has its own A-list subscription program — but Spikes doesn’t see MoviePass as much different than ticket aggregators like Fandango.

“If I was an exhibitor, why would I care?” Spikes said. “If it helps me fill my seats — especially when I’m looking at bankruptcy, I’m looking at shutting theaters, I’m looking at closing my doors — it seems like madness to think, ‘I don’t want to play with anyone else.'”

Regal owner Cineworld is considering filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy; AMC chief Aron insists his company is not in the same boat.

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