MoviePass: What It Is & Where It Works

A look into the rocky history and current state of this movie theater subscription service

What to Know

  • MoviePass lets you use credits to watch movies. You pay a monthly subscription for credits.
  • There are four tiers to choose from, depending on the number of credits you want.

This article explains what the MoviePass service is and how it works, plus why it once shut down and where it works today.

MoviePass: A Brief History

MoviePass is a movie subscription service that lets you watch movies at participating theaters in the US for a recurring price. It makes sense for frequent movie watchers because after just a few visits per month, you'll be saving money overall.

Backed by investors, this service, which works through their mobile app and the included MoviePass debit card, at one time garnered millions of users.

Following a series of issues, the service was shut down on September 14, 2019. However, MoviePass relaunched in limited areas in late 2022 before opening its beta service nationwide in early 2023, and finally relaunching nationwide in May 2023.

MoviePass card

How MoviePass Works

The idea is simple: Fill out some information to sign up and order your prepaid debit card, pick a movie from the app, check in to the theater when you arrive, and then use your MoviePass card to pay for the ticket. The card is automatically ready to make a ticket purchase for the exact price of the movie.

Every movie purchased through the included debit card is "free" since you pay for the service. However, there's a limit to how many movies you can watch because every film uses a certain number of credits, which are limited depending on the plan you pay for.

MoviePass Plans

Their website lists four general pricing tiers that apply to most locations: $10, $20, $30, and $40. Each level provides a certain number of credits that you can use toward movies each month. The number of tickets required for a particular movie depends on the time and day of the showing. Up to two months of unused credits will roll over.

moviepass beta plans

Prices differ for Southern California and NY metro area users.

If you're a previous user, you'll get free bonus credits added to your account when you join.

Why Did MoviePass Shut Down?

For users who used MoviePass all the time, it really did seem too good to be true. If you regularly watched a movie at the theaters every couple weeks, it could easily run over $30 by the end of the month. MoviePass cut this down to a fraction of the cost.

With millions of users, it's clear that it was once a success. However, although it lasted several years after its 2011 launch, it did have quite a few hiccups along the way:

  • In 2011, shortly after its launch, MoviePass paused its operations because the theaters it planned on supporting didn't want to support the service
  • In 2018, MoviePass needed a $5 million loan, so it shut down for a day
  • In 2018, over one million users cancelled their plan after the unlimited option was removed
  • In 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed against the company for users' inability to use the service due to blackouts
  • In 2019, the service closed down, announcing that they're "unable to predict if or when the MoviePass service will continue"
  • In 2020, its parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, filed for bankruptcy

On top of those problems, some movies had additional fees associated with them, app issues caused problems for some users while selecting show times, IMAX movies weren't included, and there were reports that user passwords were expiring to presumably prevent ticket purchases.

The concept behind MoviePass that made it popular wasn't what killed it. If implemented correctly and if theaters shared some of their profits with the service, it could benefit everyone. But that just isn't how it turned out.

MoviePass Relaunch

In 2021, the company's co-founder Stacy Spikes regained ownership and the new beta service relaunched in late 2022. However, instead of opening up everywhere, markets launched in waves, with the order determined by partners and the engagement level from the waitlist in each market.

The first few cities to have access included Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, and Tampa. There was a waitlist you could join that lasted a few days in late 2022. The service eventually expanded nationwide in January 2023, opening up for more people on the waitlist.

MoviePass reportedly works with all major theaters that accept major credit cards in the US, which the company says is over 4,000 theaters. The MoviePass Theaters page lists all of them.

MoviePass Alternatives

Hopefully, MoviePass can reboot in a way that can limit or prevent the problems listed above. There are, however, some other options to consider if you're looking for a good alternative.

Something that makes this service unique is that it doesn't offer movies directly. It's just a third-party service tied into actual theaters. The closest thing to that are services from the theater.

AMC, for example, has what's called AMC Stubs A-List. It's a monthly movie membership like MoviePass that lets you watch up to three movies every week, either all on the same day or spread out throughout the week. IMAX and other formats are supported, and you also get 10 percent back on food/drink purchases.

Regal Unlimited offers unlimited movies and 10 percent off concessions. There are a few pricing options, including one for $18.99 /month that lets you watch unlimited movies at over 200 Regal theaters.

Cinemark Movie Club and Alamo Season Pass are similar, and local theaters sometimes have their own program as well, like a dollar or two off every ticket, free birthday movie tickets, and more.

If you like watching movies at home, you can purchase them without ever leaving your house and then watch them on your phone, tablet, or TV. There are several premium movie streaming services as well as website with completely legal, free movies.

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