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MoviePass’s newest plan is like the old plan, except slightly worse

The subscription service is at it again, offering “unlimited” movies — with a big catch.

An illustration of a MoviePass debit card in water, folded up like an origami boat.
MoviePass is at it once again.
Javier Zarracina/Vox
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Guess who’s back, back again?

MoviePass, that’s who.

The beleaguered subscription service, which spent most of the past year in what looked to both casual observers and its increasingly frustrated customer base like freefall, has announced yet another plan to lure back its subscriber base.

In a press release on Tuesday, MoviePass announced that for a limited time, it is offering a $9.95-per-month plan, in which subscribers would be able to see up to one movie per day. It’s called “MoviePass Uncapped.”

But there’s a catch. It’s only $9.95 per month if you pay for a full year in advance, which comes out to about $120 per year. If you elect to pay for Uncapped on a monthly basis, it’s $14.95 per month. And after the limited offer expires (at a date that MoviePass has not specified), the price will rise to $19.95 per month for all subscribers.

There are some other restrictions as well. Only 2D movies will be eligible. And promotional materials sent via email to some subscribers and former subscribers said that users would be able to see “any 2D movie available in the app,” suggesting that, unlike in the original $9.95 plan, subscribers would not be able to see any movie they want — only the ones that MoviePass made available. (Under some iterations of the service in the past year, subscribers were also restricted to a selection of movies, typically films that weren’t in their first week.)

And MoviePass also informed subscribers that their “movie choices may be restricted due to excessive individual usage which negatively impacts system-wide capacity.” The “Uncapped” plan, as it turns out, is only sort of uncapped.

This has all happened before, and it will probably all happen again

If you’re asking yourself, Didn’t they just announce a new pricing structure? — no, you’re not imagining things. Just in December, MoviePass announced a new plan with a three-tiered structure, ranging from $9.95 to $24.95 per month (depending on various tiers of service and geographic regions) to watch up to three movies each month.

But according to the press release, the company is abandoning that structure, three months after it was adopted, though it will be sustained for people who subscribed to those plans. (Presumably those people will not be pleased, since they’re still paying for just three movies per month, not one per day like everyone else.)

And that structure came on the heels of a number of other attempts to keep the service alive in quick succession, sometimes changing within the same week, with a dizzying variety of pricing structures and restrictions.

It starts to look like desperation — but that’s no accident. On March 12, Variety reported that MoviePass lost more money than originally reported last year, partly because the company reported revenues from subscriptions that irate customers had let lapse. The following day, Khalid Itum, a top executive at the company, announced that he was leaving.

And the company has made some other dubious business moves, most notably launching its own production and distribution arm for movies, which included the Sundance debut American Animalsbut also the critically derided Gotti, which has the dubious distinction of a 0 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. In December, MoviePass also (somewhat bafflingly) signed Bruce Willis to a three-picture deal, with the first movie originally slated to begin shooting in February in Miami. (It’s not clear whether production is on schedule.)

Why does the plan keep switching? The most likely answer is that MoviePass is still trying to boost its subscriber base in an attempt to leverage partnerships with theaters and distributors. That’s a tactic it has clearly been pursuing since the original low plan was announced, designed to attract hordes of new customers — something it succeeded in doing all too well.

MoviePass is also trying to keep the company looking attractive to investors, who may have been spooked by the New York attorney general’s fraud investigation into its parent company, Helios and Matheson. The company was also delisted from the Nasdaq in February.

Will the new plan stick? History suggests the answer is no. The monthly $14.95 plan makes some sense for customers who are willing to explore whatever 2D movies MoviePass allows them to see. Paying $120 for a year of service in advance is much more of a gamble, given that the company’s constant changes don’t signal stability.

But if there’s one thing MoviePass’s hardy subscribers have in common by now, it’s a sense of wary optimism that the service will keep going. Hope struggles on. And so, somehow, does MoviePass.

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