In 2011, an upstart start-up arrived on the scene with the intent of disrupting the traditional methods of moviegoing—before flaming out spectacularly eight years later. 

While active, the folks behind MoviePass—a service that at one point allowed subscribers to watch a movie per day for a ridiculously low monthly fee—burned through millions of dollars and the patience of its users. Its subscription fees and terms of service kept changing in response to demand, technical glitches, and the fury of the major studios and theater chains. Surprising few, the company shuttered in 2019. 

Knowing all that, how in the hell is MoviePass back in the world of the living and what does this mean for our local theaters? And why on earth am I so excited about its return?

The answer to the first question is pretty easy to track. Stacy Spikes, one of the co-founders of MoviePass, was given the go-ahead by a bankruptcy judge to repurchase the company last August and quickly set in motion plans for a relaunch. Beta testing began a month later in a few key markets, expanding further this past January after getting an injection of cash from Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based venture capital firm. 

All the bugs apparently worked out, the resurrection of MoviePass was officially made manifest on Monday with the service now open to all. Users can now choose between four different subscription levels ranging from $10-40 that will allow them to see between one and 30 movies each month at any local theater. 

For dedicated cinephiles like myself, it's an almost too good to be true offer. As an early adopter, I've been using MoviePass since February, catching screenings at Cinema 21, Century 16, and AMC Vancouver Mall 23 without issue. If, unlike me, you are approaching this development with a lot of skepticism, you have every reason to be wary. 

Every decision made on behalf of MoviePass 1.0 was very much a leaping-before-looking situation. The initial launch of the service in San Francisco was a mess. Users were forced to print out physical vouchers to exchange for a ticket, and because MoviePass didn’t consult with theaters ahead of time, many refused to accept it as payment. After fixing that glitch by the creation of a debit-style card for users, the company kept fumbling along, offering up an ever-changing selection of subscription options while acquiring and squandering many millions of dollars in investment funds. 

The hubris reached its height when, in 2018, the company announced the creation of MoviePass Films, a subsidiary that would produce new movies. All that came out of that venture was 10 Minutes Gone, a best-forgotten crime thriller co-starring Bruce Willis (“Almost every element of the film has been seemingly engineered to be the ne plus ultra of slapdash ineptitude,” sniffed Slant’s Derek Smith in his review), and a short-lived deal with NEON Films to co-release a pair of movies, including the bizarre, beautiful drama Border. The deal quickly fell apart the next year, setting the stage for MoviePass’s bankruptcy. 

At the outset, MoviePass redux doesn’t seem to be that much different than its original incarnation. Subscribers still receive a physical card to use to pay for their ticket and the expectation is that it will be accepted at whatever theater they take it to. The company also hasn’t reached out to any movie houses to give them a heads up or offer them the option of whether or not to accept the pass. Not that they really need to. As Joe Bolenbaugh, marketing manager at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre said in an email, “MoviePass works like a credit card, so we really have no decision to make. We’ll accept it just like any other card-based payment.” 

The system is, of course, not without its flaws. Unlike all other subscription services like Regal Unlimited, Cinemark’s MovieClub, or AMC’s Stubs, you can’t buy tickets well in advance, thereby securing you an early seat. You have to be within the physical proximity of the actual theater to first check in on the MoviePass app and then pay at the box office. Also, the pass only works for regular 2D showings, leaving you on the hook for 3D, IMAX, or special event screenings. And as Brian Alter, executive director at the Grand Illusion Cinema in Seattle, points out, the cost/benefit math of using MoviePass may simply not add up. 

“I think [it] probably makes sense if someone is going to the multiplex a lot,” he writes via email. “But at the Grand Illusion, they could buy a membership for $40/year and get into almost every film for $6. Maybe that’s not the same sweet deal as MoviePass, but we typically show indie/foreign films that no one else in town is showing.” 

For this regular filmgoer, MoviePass makes sense as an addendum to my Regal Unlimited subscription and my membership at the Hollywood, making sure I’m not burning through as much cash as I otherwise would to catch screenings at the other multiplexes and the indie houses in the area. Not so much the beginning of a beautiful friendship as it is a side piece that I simply can’t quit.