MoviePass Might Be Just What The Box Office Needs Right Now

The movie-loving world got some interesting and pretty unexpected news last week when it was revealed that MoviePass is coming back this summer. For those who don't recall, the movie subscription service that allowed users to see up to one movie a day for $10 a month in many markets (with more expensive markets like New York City costing more) had a meteoric rise and flamed out in truly dramatic fashion just a couple of years back. Now, it's looking to re-emerge with an overhaul and some fancy new features.

CEO Stacy Spikes recently made the reveal during a press conference and laid out what we can expect — vaguely anyway. There is no word on price but users will be able to use credits to buy tickets for themselves and others. The credits don't expire and will roll over month to month. No word on pricing yet but one has to assume it's going to be more than $10 per month. That having been said, if the pricing model is attractive and the sins of the past can be forgiven by the public, this could be just what the box office needs right now.

The State Of The Box Office

2020 absolutely crippled the box office on a global scale due to the pandemic. It forced an era of rapid change, with Hollywood studios making big new releases readily available at home through premium VOD, along with nearly every studio in town doubling down on streaming while pivoting away from theatrical. 2021 brought with it a great deal of hope and a big slate of blockbusters to lure moviegoers back to a theater near them. To some degree that worked as the box office recovered 91% when compared to 2020 but still fell well short of where it was in 2019.

When looking at things closely, especially as we've watched things evolve through the first month and change of 2022, moviegoers are still pretty much only getting out of the house for sure bets such as "Spider-Man: No Way Home," "Scream," or "Jackass Forever." Even then, most movies that succeed on opening weekend suffer a plummet in weekend two, signaling that the overall general moviegoing audience is still a fraction of what it used to be. Only in the rarest of rare circumstances can a movie not connected to a franchise break through the noise and become a theatrical success. For the exhibition sector of the movie business to succeed and for many kinds of movies to continue to exist, this needs to change, and it needs to change sooner rather than later.

MoviePass At Its Best

One of the most interesting remarks that Spikes made during his presentation was that "people didn't see MoviePass as a discount, they saw it as a discovery tool." Let us first make the point that people absolutely saw MoviePass as a discount and that is what helped lead to the company's massive, spectacular fall from grace. That said, it also gave even more casual movie fans an excuse to see things they might not otherwise have seen. I myself saw movies in theaters that I most certainly would not have if the money were coming directly out of my pocket. But married to a subscription I already had, why not go see "Action Point" or "Mile 22?"

I know that I was not alone in using MoviePass to explore different corners of cinema simply because I could. Simply because it hardly cost me anything to do so other than my time. MoviePass offered a whole lot of people the "because I can" excuse to go to the movies, which can often feel expensive and/or like a pain in the ass if there is any other barrier to entry. MoviePass, when it was working, took down some of those barriers and opened the door for certain movies to get attention in theaters that they might not otherwise have received. That is what is needed most right now in the industry.

Another thing to consider is that the pandemic irrevocably changed people's viewing habits. Watching stuff at home has become extremely easy and most of us have big TVs with very nice sound systems now, as Ben Affleck recently pointed out whilst explaining that he no longer wants to do IP-driven movies. If it suddenly became easier for people to revert back to the theatrical experience as a part of their viewing habits, that might help turn the tide and give the box office another leg to stand on. MoviePass could be a big part of that, assuming this goes well and the business plan is more firmly in place this time around.

Yes But...

First and foremost, MoviePass lost a whole lot of trust with its customers towards the end of the flameout. The company had to file for bankruptcy as it was straight-up bleeding cash. The desperation became public and obvious. People were having issues using their subscription, suspicious charges were occurring and, ultimately, investigations from the FTC, SEC, and others came into the picture. It was ugly and the company's once-loyal customers were burned in brutal fashion. And let us never forget the company's brief foray into making and distributing movies, such as the truly disastrous "Gotti." 

With that in mind, Spikes and co. have a lot of goodwill to earn back with the general public. Frankly, it's already not off to the best start. The CEO made comments about portions of the company being available to invest in while putting forth few specifics, while also announcing that users could earn credits by watching ads, with the app tracking your eyeballs to make sure you watched the whole thing. There were some eyebrows raised and questions left hanging in the balance. This will surely be addressed ahead of the re-launch but let's just say that, out of the gate, people seem to be more cautious than optimistic. And for good reason.

The other thing to consider is that MoviePass left a lasting legacy behind, in that, theater chains picked up on this business model and opted to handle it themselves. AMC Stubs A-List is the most prominent example of a MoviePass clone operating today, as AMC is the largest chain in North America. Cinemark also has a more modest version of a movie subscription and, prior to the pandemic, the Alamo Drafthouse had a pretty impressive one going. The problem is that these other subscriptions were limiting, in that, they could only be used at those chains. Even still, the fact that other options are already out there with a head-start on MoviePass means they will be facing competition that didn't exist in the marketplace previously.

Even so, MoviePass has a chance to re-ignite that fire that managed to get 3 million subscribers on board and excited about going to the movies as more than a once in a while activity. It may never hit that same level of fever pitch again but the box office needs innovation to help drive the recovery. Streaming alone has its pitfalls and so many of us value the theatrical experience beyond superhero movies and horror flicks. It isn't going to be the golden ticket that saves the movie business — but it could be a part of the equation.