MoviePass review: Is $10 a month for movie tickets too good to be true?

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Update: November 21, 2017

There are a lot of deals out there that seem too good to be true. MoviePass takes that phrase to the extreme by offering users unlimited movie theatre tickets for less than $10 per month. Seriously: you can go to one movie a day, every day of the month, for just $9.95. (Note: In November 2017, MoviePass offered a limited-time annual plan of $89.95/year).

That’s an insane discount no matter how you slice it. In New York City, where I live, a standard movie ticket is already $16. That means that, with MoviePass, I only have to see one movie per month in order to realize a discount.

If you love seeing movies in the theatres, but are turned off by high prices, you’d have to be crazy not to sign up for MoviePass, right? Of course, there are a few catches that might give you pause. Let’s dig into it.

How does MoviePass work?

When you sign up to MoviePass, you’ll get a debit card in the mail. When you decide you want to go to see a movie, you go to the theatre, load up the MoviePass app on your phone, and tell it which movie you’re seeing and at what time. Then, you go buy your ticket from a ticket agent (or a kiosk if you hate talking to people). MoviePass loads up the debit card with exactly the amount of money you need to buy your ticket, and then you buy a ticket the same way everyone else does.

The ticket buying process seems a little convoluted.

It is, but with good reason: MoviePass doesn’t have partnerships with all of these movie theatres, so in order to ensure compatibility (and pay every theatre the actual price of the ticket), they use a standard debit card. This means a few extra steps for you, but you can rest easy knowing that your local theatre isn’t getting cheated out of the full price of the ticket.

Unfortunately, you do actually have to be at the theatre when you buy your tickets – within 100 yards, to be exact. And you can’t use Fandango, because Fandango adds extra fees that MoviePass doesn’t account for. (A few theatres in the app allegedly offer e-ticketing, but I don’t see a single one in New York City, so I was unable to test it.)

Can I get a ticket to any movie I want?

Every standard 2D movie should be available at supported theatres. MoviePass does not let you see 3D or IMAX movies. I doubt anyone’s heart will be broken because they can’t see a 3D flick, but IMAX is one the best reasons to actually see a movie in theatres instead of renting it at home. Another limitation: you can only see a film once, and you can only see one movie per day.

What if I want to get my ticket in advance of the screening?

You’ll have to go the theatre early. While MoviePass has no blackout dates, meaning you can see a new release on the day it’s actually released, it’s effectively worthless for big events like a new Star Wars movie. It also makes buying tickets for a movie with reserved seating a bit risky – while tickets for the showing you want might be available, you might not get a seat next to a friend or in the location that you wanted.

While the MoviePass app doesn’t directly support buying movie tickets for a different day, the debit card doesn’t know what movie ticket you purchased, so you could always buy a ticket for a different date. However, since you can only see one movie per day, this means you wouldn’t be able to see a movie on the day that you actually purchased the ticket.

Can I buy more than one ticket at a time?

Nope – unfortunately, it appears that MoviePass has never heard the phrase “dinner and a movie.” This is probably the biggest pain point for me right now – I would happily pay extra in order to be able to buy a ticket for me and my girlfriend. This also makes the service difficult for families. Is every kid supposed to have their own MoviePass debit card? Hopefully, building out their plans to allow for multiple tickets is next on MoviePass’ product roadmap.

Is MoviePass widely supported?

MoviePass says it works at over 90% of theatres across the country, including big chains like Regal and AMC (even though AMC hates it ). You can download the app ( iOS , Android ) to see locations in your area. In New York, pretty much every movie theatre I frequent supports the app, even small theatres that show indie or arthouse flicks. (The exception that proves the rule is Film Forum, a non-profit theatre which shows independent, foreign, and classic films.)

Oh wow, the MoviePass app has terrible reviews.

Most of those are new users who are frustrated about not getting their card yet – the app is useless for actually getting tickets unless you have the MoviePass debit card in hand. While the app isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, it’s worked perfectly for me every time I’ve actually used it to buy tickets.

Is MoviePass going to go out of business because this is a crazy unsustainable business model?

The CEO of MoviePass, Mitch Lowe, was one of the co-founders of Netflix and formerly served as President of Redbox. Lowe knows a thing or two about how the movie business works and how to turn a crazy idea into a real business. Gizmodo ran a lengthy piece about how, exactly, MoviePass plans to make money, which you should read in full if you’re interested. The basic gist is that Moviepass is going to fund their growth with investment money, prove to theatres that they earn more money from Moviepass users, and leverage that in order to create favorable business deals in the future.

Is it going to work? Lowe definitely wants you to think so. But even if MoviePass crashes and burns, at least we got cheap tickets for a while.

Image: izusek