By now, any movie fan worth his/her salt has at least heard of Moviepass, and it's a very likely possibility that a number of you reading this article are also members. But only those who use it frequently - or pay attention to online chatter about it - will be aware that the service has been... let's say finicky for the past few days. Or, to put it less gently, it constantly seems that at any minute, someone might use it to buy a ticket for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and finish them off for good.
The problems began on Thursday night, when the company had to get an emergency loan of several million dollars just to keep the lights on, and the app hasn't worked right since. Worse, they took a direct hit on poor Ethan Hunt: in addition to even higher peak surcharges (8 bucks in Los Angeles, even at theaters that were only charging 6 dollars for the ticket to begin with), they effectively blocked most people from buying a ticket to see Mission: Impossible Fallout with their Moviepass card, by dubbing every single showing of it as a "Premium" showing (for those who don't use the service, "Premium" showings are 3D and IMAX type ones, but even the 2D showings of the film were locked out). As a result, most people* either had to pay out of pocket if they wanted to see Tom Cruise risk his life for our enjoyment, or skip it entirely in the hopes that Moviepass would foot the bill someday.
But while things seemed dire over the weekend and into Monday (where the app showed "no showtimes remaining" for pretty much every theater), on Tuesday they announced not an end to their service, but the umpteenth revision to both the price and terms of the membership, which should keep them going a bit longer, and hell, maybe it'll even work in the long run. Now it'll be 15 bucks a month and you won't be able to use it to get tickets for movies playing on over 1,000 theaters, though I'm not sure how exactly that concept will play out. Do they mean any movie that EVER played on 1,000 screens will be inaccessible, even when they're down to second run theaters? Will big movies that have limited opening releases (i.e. most Oscar bait types) get excluded right off the bat? Will the rule change ten more times before it's implemented anyway? Who knows! That's part of the fun of Moviepass: it's a completely different thing every few months, as they keep trying to find something that actually generates profit for them but remains attractive to the users. For the people who only signed up a year ago, this might be a shock to the system, but for us longtime members (I've been one since 2011), it's pretty much status quo to see the system overhauled time and time again. Did you know we used to have to print out vouchers and bring them to a very confused box office clerk to buy our tickets?
Now, while I've been amusing myself (and hopefully my Twitter followers, the ones who haven't muted me) by mocking their woes, the truth is I really hope Moviepass can survive and work more or less as intended. But my optimism only extends so far; I haven't canceled, but I did sign up for AMC's rival program A List, which is more expensive and comparably restrictive (only 3 movies a week, and it only works at AMC theaters, obviously) though it has some perks that Moviepass did not, such as the ability to buy in advance and also use it for 3D and IMAX showings. I figure if I see two or three blockbuster types at AMC every month (which I usually do, anyway) I'll still be saving a few bucks, and can keep my Moviepass for the smaller films it will now be more or less limited to. Obviously, for folks in rural areas that have one multiplex that's only playing the big studio movies, this effectively makes MP a total waste of money, and that's a huge bummer. But for me, here in Los Angeles, the service still has immense value, especially considering my love of horror movies.
See, since I first signed up in 2011 (my first MP movie was Fincher's Dragon Tattoo), the service has been a valuable tool in my quest to see as many horror films on the big screen as possible, as I have little love for VOD services ... and even if I did, I prefer the theatrical experience, anyway (too easy to get distracted at home, and that's assuming my kid doesn't interrupt me first). When it switched to ten dollars a month last year I relaxed some, but back when it was $35-50/month I sometimes had to dig to make sure they weren't making any money off of me, especially since I tend to see a lot of lower-priced matinees. So I would scour the listings of the indie theaters to see if there were any off-the-radar genre films popping up for one-week runs, something that's a lot more common than you might think if you live outside of a major metropolis (hell, most might be exclusive to NY and LA). This was easier in the early days of Moviepass, as there was no app, just a website with all of the movies that were currently showing in participating theaters. The films were sorted by popularity, so all I had to do was scroll to the last page of those listings and work my way back, clicking on whatever looked in my wheelhouse and finding the time to go.
As it's been years since they operated this way, I can no longer recall the exact movies I "discovered" with this method, but I do know the first: Spellbound. No, not the Hitchcock movie - it was a Korean ghost film with the sort of scares "Korean ghost movie" probably conjures up in your mind, but it was also a cutesy romantic comedy, complete with a meet-cute and the obligatory end-of-second-act fight/breakup. It more or less worked (Korean films traditionally make their tonal swings work better than their American counterparts, for whatever reason), but more importantly it was an ideal use of the service: a movie I probably never would have seen otherwise, suddenly viable as the ticket was already paid for. I saw it only a week or so after signing up for the service, and it was then that the true value of Moviepass fully clicked - it wasn't just about saving a few bucks on the movie tickets I'd buy anyway, it was seeing movies I may have never even known existed if I wasn't making sure I got my money's worth out of it.
(Here I should note that the legendary Phil Blankenship probably found more movies for me this way than I did for myself, as he is the undisputed king of digging up these obscure theatrical showings. As long as I have Phil in my life, I never need to worry about finding the craziest movies to see on a big screen.)
Granted, I'm a special case - or at least was one, as I was still watching/reviewing a horror movie every day for my site, creatively titled Horror Movie A Day, and thus kind of "needed" to find these movies to give myself a break from another horribly-transferred budget pack entry or an overload of Asylum mockbusters. From the day I signed up until the point that I quit the "A Day" part of HMAD in March of 2013, I used Moviepass countless times to aid my silly quest, flashing my card to see pretty much every wide-release genre film during that period: Cabin in the Woods, Paranormal Activity 4, The Woman in Black, Silent Hill 2, etc. But while I would have eventually seen those as they were heavily advertised and on everyone's radar, it was also helpful to find other movies like Spellbound, i.e. movies I would have just assumed never played theatrically if not for being one of the select few to buy a ticket, not to mention movies I probably STILL wouldn't know even existed. This is how I (or again, Phil) would find such "gems" as Saint Dracula 3D, an Indian film that I saw in Pasadena (in 2D, despite 3D being part of the actual title) during its Oscar-qualifying run. It did not earn any nominations, alas, but I will cherish the memory of seeing that insane bit of cinema forever.
Then there was Don't Go In The Woods, a musical slasher film directed by Vincent D'Onofrio, of all people. If you have even heard of this movie at all, you'll probably assume that it never got anywhere near a movie theater, but you'd be wrong: I saw at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 on Friday, February 10, 2012, during its only showing that day - and I was the only person in the theater. Had it not been for my dedication - and poking around on the MP site to find it in the first place - that movie would have sold 0 tickets during its premiere showing in the biggest movie city in the world. It's a terrible goddamn movie, for the record, but as with (the slightly better) Saint Dracula, it escaped the usual fate of bad movies I saw for the site (i.e. I forgot all about them) because I was able to see them on the big screen, and in Woods' case, voice my displeasure at the screen as there was no one else there to bother. The equally bad Amber Alert (a found footage movie where a car full of shrill/stupid teens notice the car from a recent Amber Alert is in front of them and spend the rest of the movie chasing him) had a few other risk-taking patrons, so I could only laugh during what might be the most illogical found footage movie ever made (no small feat), but again, seeing it so big, magnifying all of its numerous flaws, has kept its memory alive a lot longer than it would had I watched at home, and the discount MP provides always cushions the blow of seeing a bad movie.
But it helped me see some good movies on the big screen, too. I took a chance on Citadel in 2012 at that same Pasadena theater, and it became one of my favorite films of the year. Ciaran Foy used a real life incident (a random assault) to craft a fine tale of a man who develops severe agoraphobia after an attack leaves his wife dead, forcing him to care for their newborn alone, while he battles his affliction, living in poverty, and - for good measure - a group of feral children turned creatures that have set their sights on his tenement building. It's a great film, one that never really got its due with casual horror fans - it's rare that I recommend it and the person has already seen it. Ditto for The Pact, a very solid chiller that IFC put out in a few theaters ahead of its Blu-ray release (which must have done well, since it got a sequel even fewer people seem to have seen). Most of these movies, good or bad, I've never even heard of outside of discussing my own experiences with them - they'd still be lost in the shuffle if Moviepass wasn't encouraging me to find them. As much as I'd like to stay on the pulse of every genre film being made, it's just impossible to keep up - Moviepass lends a hand in that very peculiar way.
Long story short, I know people are probably going to quit because of these new restrictions and five dollar price increase, and that's understandable - but as long as it works for the small theaters around me, I'm going to keep my membership active. My friends and I enjoy finding those weirdo movies that play at our Laemmle theaters and often being the only ones in the theater to watch them at 9:55 at night (the one time most of them play; clearly the audience size proves that multiple showings a day aren't necessary), and I'm much more likely to keep seeing them as long as Moviepass is more or less paying the bill (even at fifteen bucks, I only need to buy two tickets to already be saving money). A few months ago we saw Living Among Us, a found footage vampire movie starring Thomas Ian Nicholas and William Sadler, a not-good movie that I nonetheless had a wonderful time watching - it's things like that, not a discount on Mission Impossible, that make Moviepass worth my while. And I'll probably stick with them until the end just to add more "I saw it theatrically!" examples to my ever growing collection - I just hope that end isn't as close as it's seemed for the past few days.
*Partner theaters, such as Landmark and Studio Grill locations, were exempt from this lockout. However, most people don't have them in their area, anyway.