Last week parent company Helios and Matheson hammered the final nails into the MoviePass coffin. For those who do not know, briefly - MoviePass was a monthly subscription plan that offered users to see one movie per day for approx. $10 per month. That means you could see up to 31 movies per month - for $10. Now, it was like a Mastercard backed debit card with MoviePass loading money onto your card in order to pay full price for your ticket. But since you’ve already paid the monthly or yearly subscription cost - you don’t owe any more money. You pay approx. $10 per month to see, let’s say - six movies. But MoviePass loaded FULL PRICE cost on your card to cover the ticket. So, while MoviePass paid approx. $70+ to cover the cost of your six movies, it only recouped $10 from you. Which, as we all like to say, “Sounds too good to be true.”
But, it wasn’t. It wasn’t sustainable … but it was true! I bought the yearly MoviePass subscription for about $85 plus a one time sign up free for $20. And in the year I used Movie Pass I saw forty two movies. Which means I paid about $2.5 per movie. So, I happen to know that MoviePass was legit.
That being said, the deal was too good to be sustainable without additional revenue support because, as you can see, MoviePass lost a lot of money on me alone. You multiply that by the 3 million subscribers they had and you can understand why MoviePass was posting $170 million losses per quarter.
But they had a plan to make money - try to get the theater chains to give them a very, very small percentage of the box office but mainly - the concessions. Theater chains make the majority of their money selling you popcorn and soda. MoviePass was trying to show the chains, “Look, about ten percent of moviegoers come to your theater chain and use MoviePass. Don’t you see how important that is? We could just tell them to take their business to another chain. Don’t you think you should give us say, 1% of your concession sales?”
It was a fine plan. But all the theater chains said, “Nope.”
But MoviePass had more plans. Produce their own movies and profit off them. But they disastrously chose Gotti, a John Travolta nightmare of a film which has, um - a 0% rating on rotten tomatoes. I’ve never seen a movie get worse ratings. MoviePass lost a ton of money on that film.
So that plan didn’t work for MoviePass either. But hey, they still had three million subscribers - they must be able to do something with them, right?
Well, MoviePass made wrong choice after wrong choice when, in an attempt to lower the amount of money they were burning each month put all sorts of minor restrictions on subscribers - restricting repeat views, ticket verification, blocking out some new blockbusters, then only offering a few movies to choose from each week. Then reverting all of those changes and going back to “See whatever movie you want whenever you want” but … we’re raising the price.
Basically, their subscribers lost all faith in MoviePass and bailed en’ mass. I stayed until the end of my one year contract but, to be honest, I was only able to see a single movie in the last two months of my subscription because of the restrictions MoviePass put on accounts.
So, I didn’t renew. And they didn’t ask me to. We parted company about six months ago. And now they’re gone. MoviePass certainly was a bold plan and people certainly liked their initial idea so much that lots of other folks noticed and now there are all sorts of rival plans out there, but they are usually restricted to a specific theater chain. So, for example: the AMC card only works at … well, AMC chains. And that’s what made MoviePass unique. It was a Mastercard that you could use anywhere that accepted Mastercard which means it was highly accessible.
In the end though, MoviePass was just managed poorly. Too many poor choices, too many subscription changes, too many partnerships with other companies that always felt more like a “get rich quick with this partnership” scheme and not an actual legitimate partnership that was going to help MoviePass in the long run. I’ve also recently found out that the guy who took over Helios and Matheson, and therefore MoviePass, was a man named Ted Farnsworth. And, Mr. Farnsworth has lawsuits and failed companies trailing behind him a mile long.
“Mr. Farnsworth … been sued numerous times, according to the Miami Herald, and he found his way into a chief executive role after years spent racking up legal disputes in Florida, related in some cases to real estate investments and other inscrutable financial dealings. The Herald reports that Farnsworth has registered more than 50 companies over the last 30 years, a majority of which have shuttered.”
MoviePass may have been doomed before it even had a chance to thrive. But still, it was a great nine month run for MoviePass ... and then it wasn't.
Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service, which is explained below.
A few months ago I wrote Movie Pass: What is it (and is it too good to be true). At the time I wrote that piece I didn’t actually have MoviePass but I had ordered one and was waiting for it to arrive.
Well, it arrived and I’ve since used it for two glorious movie filled months! For those not in the know:
When I bought MoviePass it was a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee (usually $9.99) and then you can use your MoviePass card to see one free movie every day but they have recently updated their terms of service. New subscribers are limited to one movie per week and a maximum of four movies per month. If you are a new subscriber you also receive a free subscription to iheartradio all access.
Wait, seriously? That sounds too good to be true.
Yes. Seriously. MoviePass is totally legit! Since I received my MoviePass card in the mail on Friday, February 16th, here are the movies I’ve seen with it:
Ready Player One
Pacific Rim 2
A Quiet Place
I even kept track of how much each ticket would have cost had I not been using MoviePass - $126. I actually bought a full year subscription which gave me a discount ($7.95 per month) and a one time sign up fee of $20. So my total cost up front was approx. $120. Alas, that deal is no longer available. The new deal is nice but just not as good as those of us folk who have subscribed for a while.
I have now made my money back and still have another ten months on my subscription.
But you don’t have to pay all that money up front. You can sign up for the monthly subscription at $9.95 per month and cancel any time. But you should know if you cancel you can’t sign up for MoviePass for nine months.
But, wait - how is MoviePass sustainable?
Fair question! The average ticket price across America is somewhere in the $8.50 range so if a typical MoviePass customer attends the cinema twice per month - MoviePass loses money! And they have been losing money this last quarter claiming a $150 million loss. If that sounds like a lot of money to you (it does to me) that doesn't seem to phase the CEO of movie pass who says that they have enough start up money to operate well into 2019 when they expect to be profitable. (Of course, what else is the CEO going to say?) I guess I am reminded of Amazon - which lost money for a staggering six years in a row before turning a profit. I don't understand how that's possible but there it is.
So, how does MoviePass plan to survive?
Well, they've already raised the money so they're not going anywhere - just yet.
Second, MoviePass has 2 million subscribers. Third - MoviePass is the only company that can tell theaters exactly who and when people are going to the movies. This is valuable information for theater chains to have and it has led studios to pay MoviePass to advertise specific films through the MoviePass app.
Finally, MoviePass will sell your data in some situations but they are very open about it on their website saying,
“Except where outlined in this policy or otherwise communicated to you, we will not sell, rent or disclose your personal information to third parties without notifying you of our intent to do so. In such an event, Users will be notified in advance, giving you the opportunity to prevent your personal information from being shared.”
Finally, concessions. MoviePass, as of yet, does not get a cut of concessions but they are certainly pursuing that option. It is no secret that theater chains make the overwhelming majority of their money selling concessions. For example, that $12 bucket of popcorn you buy at the theater cost the theater chain about five cents. That, my friend, is a lot of profit.
And if MoviePass can demonstrate that it is driving customers to the theaters, customers that would not normally attend - why not cut them in? I am proof positive that MoviePass is driving me to the theater. And I am proof positive that I will NOT go to a theater that does not accept MoviePass.
Of the thirteen movies I have seen with MoviePass I bought concession twice. Which, to be honest, is probably unusually low for a typical consumer. I suspect the average cinema attendee buys concessions closer to fifty percent of the time. Maybe higher.
MoviePass has already shown the theater chains that it is driving about 5% of moviegoers to the theater but when MoviePass promotes a specific film that percentage jumps up to 20%.
Studios and theater chains are taking notice. MoviePass currently has approx. 2 million subscribers but if they can get that number up to four or five million that will be a game changer for them.
What about their lousy customer service?
Yeah, I read all about that too. When MoviePass jumped from a few hundred thousand subscribers to 1.5 million (in the span of about a month) they had serious delays in meeting demand. I mean, they still have to produce and ship an actual card to your house. It’s not just an app.
They just didn’t have the manpower to keep up with the sudden demand. They also didn’t have the manpower to respond to emails and phone calls.
Mitch Lowe, the CEO of MoviePass sat down with CNN money and discussed this very problem. Basically he was like, “Yeah, our customer service sucked for a while but we’re working on it.”
And they did. I signed up for MoviePass and recieved my card in about a week. It takes me all of fifteen seconds to use the app and check in to the theater and access my free movie. The only minor hoops you have to jump through:
These are very minor hoops and I have not had a single issue with MoviePass. It is a totally legit service and I will use it until the end of days!
To learn more about MoviePass and / or to sign up for the service, visit their site here.
Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service. If you purchased a MoviePass before today's date you continue to receive your one movie a day plan. If you purchase a MoviePass starting today, their new plan allows one free movie per week (total of four per month) and comes with a free three month subscription to iheartradio all access. This is still a great deal but, sadly, not the awesomely phenomenal deal I wrote about when I put this story up last week. With the new change I would recommend you purchase the month to month plan and receive the free iheartradio subscription. You will be billed for the first three months and then billed quarterly. Hold off on buying the full year subscription. But for now - at $9.95 a month for one movie a week MoviePass remains a good deal!
Seeing a lot more bad movies is to be expected when you become a MoviePass member. You’ll see more movies when you’ve got an annual membership to see as many movies you want, even if you only need to see one movie per month to make the membership worth the price. And most movies are bad these days. Gringo is one of those movies.
Having seen the trailer and read the synopsis, I had reason to hope Gringo wouldn’t suck. It’s a relatively original idea: dirty, pharmaceutical CEO doing off-the-books business with dirtier drug dealer needs the business with the drug dealer to stop in order to facilitate a merger. Conveniently, the business conducted with the drug dealer occurs in Mexico -- the kidnapping capital of the world -- and the CEO already has a patsy in mind, but his patsy doesn’t act as the CEO expects.
Despite quality casting, I didn’t laugh out loud once during Gringo. Charlize Theron (A Million Ways to Die in the West) produced the picture and plays the CEO’s business associate. The CEO is portrayed by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Black Mass), brother of director Nash Edgerton. Edgerton was good for a few laughs, but Theron was easily funniest, and it wasn’t because of the dialogue written for her by Anthony Tambakis (who wrote Warrior and Jane Got a Gun, both featuring Edgerton) and Matthew Stone (Life, an actually funny film starring Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence).
Why Theron was willing to put up money for this heap of garbage is beyond me, but maybe it was a good script before David Oyelowo was attached. Oyelowo plays the patsy and wasn’t funny nor realistic. Spoiler alert: he’s clueless about his wife’s cheating on him with his CEO and “friend,” who treats him like a subordinate. What’s unrealistic about Oyelowo’s performance is that his character is too clueless to exist in real life.
But Jason Bateman is never clueless and always funny, and Game Night is another relatively original idea: a group of friends gather for their weekly game night expecting to solve a staged kidnapping and end up attempting to solve an actual kidnapping. Sure, it has its roots in The Man Who Knew Too Little, a brilliant picture starring Bill Murray, who thinks he’s portraying a spy in the “Theatre of Life” while actually thwarting an act of international terrorism. Game Night isn’t as entertaining as The Man Who Knew Too Little, but we can’t expect Bateman to channel Bill Murray. Like Theron, Bateman put up money for Game Night to be produced.
Game Night is also casted well, with Rachel McAdams (Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls) playing Bateman’s wife and Kyle Chandler (Super 8) his “cooler,” older brother. The screen is stolen, though, by Jesse Plemons (Paul, The Post), portraying the perfectly awkward neighbor, who loves his dog a little too much and wants nothing more than to be included in the group’s game nights after his wife has left him.
I laughed out loud throughout Game Night, and while it wasn’t The Man Who Knew Too Little, or even Horrible Bosses, the jokes are at least written and delivered well. Mark Perez (Accepted) wrote a quality script and Rich Delia (Dallas Buyers Club, The Help) put together a better cast than Carmen Cuba (The Martian) did for Gringo. if you’re looking for laughs, see Game Night, not Gringo.
If you need more reasons to avoid Gringo and see Game Night, Gringo has received a 39-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes while Game Night sits at 82 percent as of this writing.