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MoviePass: Still Kicking, Though Somewhat Frantically

After a week of awful-seeming policy changes and odd press releases, the movie subscription service announced another change on Monday—one that might actually be OK?

An illustration of a MoviePass subscription card Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There may not be a more exhausting exercise than fastidiously tracking the developments of MoviePass—even if limited to the past week. The too-good-to-be-true subscription service has time and again proved to be, yes, too good to be true, changing the core of its business with reckless abandon. In the past 10 days alone, MoviePass had its app crash, blocked users from seeing the new Mission: Impossible, and raised its subscription fee. Then, Monday morning brought yet another change in policy, with a pronouncement that, ostensibly, could briefly right a ship that seemed as destined to sink as the Titanic.

MoviePass announced that it will no longer increase its monthly fee from $10 to $15, as was previously unveiled last week, not long after the service’s mobile app essentially crashed and the company was forced to take a $6 million emergency loan just to stay afloat at the end of July. (MoviePass is pretty much the “This Is Fine” meme in corporate form.)

The new new service, is as follows: Users will pay $10 and be able to see three films per month, with a fourth ticket getting a two- to five-dollar discount. In a corresponding move, surge pricing—which added an extra fee for the biggest blockbusters when they were first released—will be discontinued and users will no longer be required to take a picture of their ticket stub. All of these proposed changes will go into effect on August 15.

The new(est) line of thinking, as MoviePass CEO Mitch Lowe laid out in a press release, is to cater to the roughly 85 percent of subscribers who see three or fewer films a month. Put simply: They can keep their core customer base happy by not raising the monthly fee, and avoid as quick a burnout of cash in the process. “[The majority of the customer base] will not be affected at all by this program, and even better, they’ll stop hearing MoviePass is going out of business,” Lowe said.

The question is, uh, will they? It’s not that MoviePass’s customers are hoping the company tanks—the service has been a boon for those who don’t want to wait for that movie to land on HBO Go and lessened the guilt associated with seeing so-bad-it’s-good flicks in a theater. For instance, Friday’s release of The Meg feels like a perfect, made-for-MoviePass, late-summer blockbuster, joining other made-for-MoviePass disasterpiece legends like 2017’s The Snowman and this year’s Gotti. But being a MoviePass subscriber in 2018 comes with the caveat that everything could fall apart at the seams at any moment. The company has continuously butted heads with AMC, one of the two biggest theater chains in America alongside Regal—AMC has responded by launching its own subscription service that’s, admittedly, a great deal for any cinephile who lives close to one of its locations. (It also includes 3D and IMAX options, if you’re into that sort of thing.) Befuddled economists have explained that the MoviePass business model is untenable—perhaps the latest service changes just mean the company will be bleeding out slower than before. Does this seem like the tweet of a business that’s thriving, or one that’s having an existential crisis?

Whatever happens to MoviePass specifically, it does seem like the subscription model it birthed will continue to live on in ways that are more fruitful and economically stable, through the likes of rival services like AMC Stub A-List and Sinemia (how long will it take Regal decide to give a subscription service a shot?). Not that MoviePass can’t figure it out for itself: Maybe this new model is actually the company’s best way forward, especially if it really doesn’t affect the majority of its subscriber base.

Personally, I’m sticking with MoviePass—if only because it (rather smartly, in retrospect) convinced me to pay $90 upfront for a yearlong subscription. I’ve got a few months left to see whether the company finds some modicum of stability, changes its service another seven times, or spectacularly crashes altogether. For the time being, MoviePass is living life as a Mad Max war boy: It lives, it dies, it lives again. So long as we can still swipe the card a few times a month to see movies, we might as well enjoy the ride.