With the summer blockbuster season starting earlier than ever, an all-you-can-eat theater subscription sounds appealing. Then again so do gym memberships and subscription boxes. Likewise, whether they’re worth it depends on how you use them.
MoviePass made waves in 2017 when it introduced a radical — if unsustainable — plan. For $10 a month, you could watch a movie every day at any theater you want. You could even cancel any time you want. It sounded like the perfect deal.
Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. The company paid the same ticket price you would for every ticket, which meant it almost always lost money the first time you went to the theater. This didn’t lend itself to a sustainable business model. Since 2017, MoviePass burned through millions of dollars paying for movie tickets, briefly shut down a couple times when it couldn’t pay its bills and was eventually forced to dramatically water down its service just to stay afloat.
Despite the disaster of MoviePass’s specific business model, imitators have popped up. Sinemia offers a similar plan, but with much more limitations (and thus more sustainability), AMC launched its own subscription called A-List that only works within its own theater chain and MoviePass even revamped its own plans to cut its losses.
Arguably, MoviePass’s first mistake with its ill-fated subscription was having few terms to limit its use. It appealed to moviegoers, but was bound to be problematic business-wise: You could watch any movie at any theater any time, all for less than the price of a single ticket at most theaters. Today’s subscriptions are a little more complicated (or expensive), with arcane rules that change their value proposition entirely. With that in mind, let’s go over what each one costs, the limitations of each and who they’re best suited for.
MoviePass (circa 2019)
MoviePass plans change almost too frequently to keep up with. During the process of writing and editing this article, the company overhauled its plans entirely, only three months after the last time it overhauled its plans entirely. In another six months it may change again. For now, you have two options with MoviePass:
For $19.95 a month, you can watch up to one 2D movie a day at most major theater chains including AMC, Regal and Cinemark. For a limited time after its introduction, users could sign up for $14.95 a month, but the company gave no indication how long this deal would last or how long that price would be locked in for.
Users can lock in a $9.95 per month rate by paying for the entire year up front. This gets you the same 2D movie per day as the monthly plan, but you save about $120 every year. It should be noted that since first introducing its original $10 per month plan in 2017, MoviePass hasn’t gone a straight 12 months without changing its plan, and even users who pay by the year have been affected by changes. The Terms of Service specifically note that MoviePass has the right to change its service at any time.
These plans come with some serious caveats, though. For starters, you can only sign up for that annual plan price if you hand over your bank account information. Monthly plan users can sign up with a debit or credit card. In the past, MoviePass has made questionable charges that users (or former users) have had to dispute. Disputing charges made with your bank account information is possible, but more difficult.
In addition to the above, the plan comes with many restrictions: You can’t watch a movie more than once. If you already used MoviePass to watch the latest Spider-Man movie, you’re going to have to find some other superhero movie to watch next time or pay out of pocket. If you watch too many movies, you might also be cut off. According to the Terms of Service:
This means that MoviePass has the right to limit the selection of movies and/or the times of available movies should your individual use adversely impact MoviePass’s system-wide capacity or the availability of the Service for other subscribers.
Additionally, for most theater chains — including the big ones like AMC, Regal and Cinemark — you can’t reserve seats or order online. Instead, you have to be physically at the theater in order to buy a ticket, and you can only buy them on the day you plan to watch the movie. This makes it much harder to plan a movie night ahead of time.
Who It’s For
Right off the bat, you have to be a bit of a risk taker to use MoviePass. Its plan sounds remarkably similar to the plan that nearly shut it down in the first place, but there’s no telling when the company will change its plans, or if it will even still be in business a year from now. And paying for the annual plan via bank transfer is especially risky, as it makes it harder to dispute charges and you have to trust MoviePass to secure your banking info properly.
If you can get over those many hurdles, MoviePass is ideal for users who want to have their choice of theater, and who will see at least two to three movies per month. The average ticket price in the US in 2018 was $9.14, which is less than even the cheapest version of the MoviePass plan. Depending on your region, MoviePass can be up to $20 for just 2D showings. You’ll rarely break even on just one movie per month, but two would be a start. If you can hit your limit of all three movies, that would be even better. For the cheapest version, you’ll need to see two movies per month, and the most expensive option would need three or more. Of course, the more you watch, the more likely you are to hit that invisible wall that could start to limit your selection.
AMC stubs A-List
By comparison, AMC’s theater subscription plan is much more generous, but slightly more expensive than MoviePass. There’s only one plan, which costs between $19.95 to $23.95 depending on where you live. According to AMC, pricing is $19.95 in 35 states, and only markets where ticket prices are higher than average cost more.
With the A-List plan, you get the following benefits:
You can watch up to three movies per week. There are no restrictions on which specific movies you can watch, though A-List can’t be used on special shows like Fathom Events.
You can choose 2D, 3D, IMAX or Dolby showings for any of your movies. There’s no upcharge for “premium” showings.
You can order ahead and even reserve seats at theaters with assigned seating. There’s no time limit on how far ahead you can order a ticket, though there are limitations on how many reservations you can have at once.
Since A-List is part of the Stubs program, you also get discounts and $5 rewards for every $50 spent. The cost of A-List counts toward that reward, which means a $20 per month subscription comes out closer to $18 per month.
AMC could hypothetically offer up to 156 showings per year. While MoviePass claims you can watch a movie a day, it also offers vague threats to limit users who use it “excessively.” It’s also roughly the same price as MoviePass’s monthly plan, but that includes 3D and IMAX showings. Unfortunately, AMC doesn’t offer a lower price tier if you only care about 2D movies.
While you potentially get more movies, there’s one peculiar limitation. You can only have three active “reservations” at a time. While you’re allowed to watch three movies per week, you need to have at least one reservation slot open in order to buy a ticket. If you pre-buy tickets for three movies next month, you can’t order an A-List ticket this week unless you cancel one of those reservations. This usually only affects very heavy movie goers, but it can be an inconvenient hurdle if you like to plan ahead.
Who It’s For
A-List is for AMC lovers, first and foremost. If you prefer Regal or Cinemark (or don’t live near an AMC theater), then you’re out. On the other hand, if you can handle the chain lock-in, then A-List can be worth it for as little as one movie a month. IMAX, 3D, and Dolby showings are included — and those tickets can get expensive. In some rare cases, a single premium showing can pay for A-List in a month.
More likely, you’ll need to see at least two or more movies a month to get your money back, and the more the better. Heavy users will be able to get far more than their money’s worth out of it compared to other plans. It’s not unlimited, but it’s the closest thing to it on the market right now.
Sinemia has been a quiet competitor to MoviePass for years, but with a much more sustainable (if less appealing) business model. The company offers more options than we have the space to go through, so we’ll focus on just a few.
For $7.99 a month (billed annually), you can watch up to three 2D movies every month. There’s no limit on which movies you can watch, and you can even order advance tickets, though the process to do so is complicated. If you don’t use all three of your movies, one can rollover to the next month.
For the $8.99 a month (also billed annually) Plus plan, you can watch up to two movies per month, including 3D and IMAX showings.
For $14.99 a month, you can watch up to 30 2D movies per month. Unlike AMC’s A-List, there’s no weekly limit, so if you want to spend every single day in the theater, you can.
The unlimited monthly plan comes with a $30 initiation fee, which means it might take a while before you break even. The other plans must be billed annually, which means you’re taking a risk that you’ll get the most out of your plans before the year is done.
If none of those plans fit your needs, Sinemia offers a few more plans in between with various specific details, including only one or two movies a month. The company is also the only one we found that offers family plans that scale up to six people.
Who It’s For
Ostensibly, Sinemia is the more sensible MoviePass alternative. There’s no real quota you’d have to hit to make Sinemia worth it because if you don’t use it enough, you can just drop to a lower tier. One movie a month costs $4. Three movies costs $8. Every plan costs less than the national average for movie ticket prices, so long as you use it.
However, Sinemia’s annual billing and “membership initiation fee” throws a wrench in the gears. If you pay by the month for the unlimited plan, Sinemia will charge you at least $30 to sign up, which can eat into those savings. You’d have to see almost five movies to break even in the first month. For the cheaper plans, it’s easier to break even, but only if you use the plan throughout the year. If you like to dive into the details of a plan and make absolutely sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck, Sinemia is probably for you.