The Battle at The Box Office

As MoviePass stock continues to plummet to record lows, casting a grim future on the service, there’s no denying that despite the inevitable end of a deal that was far too good to be true, the company does seem to be planting a firm legacy in sending a message to theater chains on behalf of the movie going public.

Despite the rise of premium content made readily available within the home via streaming services, people are willing to go to the movie theater if the experience is made as streamlined and accessible as possible. In an age of rising concession prices in an economy that can raise the matinee price of a theater by nearly $3 in less than a decade, paying full price up front for a crowded auditorium and a small bag of popcorn just isn’t that feasible.

The benefits of Movie Pass, at the height of its operations, will be sorely missed; not only has it invited more spontaneity and experimentation in theater going by removing the financial loss of paying for something you may dislike, but it has personally saved me over $250 in movie tickets for films that I have mostly watched for the purposes of review.

Fortunately, the uncertain future has given way to a plethora of competitors hungry to keep the theater business alive by filling the vacuum it may leave in its wake. Although the universally beloved deal of $10 per month for 30 free shows at a daily rate may be difficult to top, there are nevertheless a substantial variety of options to look at based on one’s individual movie going habits.

AMC A-List

 AMC may be the front runner in the movie subscription game right now, but the tides could change at any time.

AMC may be the front runner in the movie subscription game right now, but the tides could change at any time.

Often cited by pundits as the MoviePass killer, given the nature of its offerings right and going live roughly a month before MoviePass’ infamous July service blackout, AMC A-List, an extension of AMC Theater’s existing Stubs reward program, is perhaps the best deal offered by these subscription services, relative to cost against perks offered.

For $20 per month, A-List members are granted a number of benefits designed to optimize their theater-going experience at an AMC Theater with three tickets per week in accordance to the date of the showtime that they reserve. All booking is handled through the app, with cancellations and rescheduling incurring no penalties of any sort. The virtual ticket takes the form of a barcode made visible on the app or you can have a copy printed off at the box office. The ticket purchased is exclusive to the member in question, however, so be sure to carry identification if you plan to print off a physical stub.

Selections for movie formats are basically limitless; Dine-In theaters, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, 3D, D-Box, and any other premium or standard format are all viable A-List selections, which allow you to even experiment with the more expensive formats with minimum financial baggage to weigh down your wallet.

Ticketing through the app so easy, I legitimately can’t remember the last time I actually bought an AMC ticket at the box office, and with the highly reasonable cap of three reservations per week, A-List is perhaps the closest thing to a true MoviePass substitute that exists on the market, which is almost ironic considering how high their rates typically are compared to most other theater chains.

Combined with periodically receiving special offers for early exclusive screenings to upcoming movies, ticket costs as a member of A-List are almost a non-issue, which incentivizes  indulgence in the Stubs Premiere rewards perks, including free size upgrades for popcorn and drinks, a special priority lane to speed up checkout, an accrual of points that decrease the cost of your concessions purchase, periodic coupon offers, and even an option to order and pay for concession ahead of your show to be picked up upon arrival at participating theaters.

The only limitations, outside of a few pervasive app freezes that can be hammered out over time seem to be those of enforceability. I’ve had some theaters offer me the size upgrades willingly while expressing the order to others could be like pulling teeth to the extent that I had to reread the bylines to make sure I understood the terms correctly. Something they should probably get nipped in the bud as soon as possible.

Of course the most inherent flaw of A-List in terms of its outreach is the fact that it is set up through AMC Theaters exclusively, meaning that all of the benefits are isolated to a single chain of movie theaters. While they’re not a brand that is particularly scarce in terms of available locations, it would be best to check for the availability of nearby AMC Theaters as the ultimate test of whether the service is worth it.

For the reason of location accessibility, A-List may not necessarily be a service that I can recommend to all movie goers but it’s plethora of rewards and opportunities for anybody that enjoys the theater going experience on a regular basis make it a worthwhile investment for anybody near an AMC Theater and is currently the high standard of how these service should operate based on ease of ticketing alone.
 

Sinemia

 Sinemia offers appealing tiers, as well as family plans which could be a game changer across the board.

Sinemia offers appealing tiers, as well as family plans which could be a game changer across the board.

A more direct competitor to MoviePass, Sinemia was launched in 2014, in California and operates on a similar infrastructure to the model that launched their competition into the public spotlight; a flat rate subscription fee with check-in through the app based on geographic proximity to the theater for a ticket amount loaded onto a debit card.

Sinemia launched with an initial price of $35 per month but as they’ve expanded across the country, the price tag has been consistently revised to a lower cost.

The service currently offers multiple plans, with the most expensive currently being $15 per month for 3 ticket purchases at any participating theater nationwide, with the check-in option made available as soon as the participant is within 500 feet of the theater of choice. Labeled the “Elite” plan, this deal includes advanced ticketing options as opposed to MoviePass’ same day limitations, as well as IMAX and 3D options. The service is generally reliable outside of the occasional freezing and glitches of the application.

Where Sinemia mostly falters however is in the vague nature of its target demographic. It’s higher price point in its earlier years clearly relied on the support of frequent filmgoers favoring premium options in order to justify saving a few dollars on a batch of tickets and while the more affordable decrease in cost has made the service more worthwhile than ever the lesser ticket options on the less expensive price plans have little to no major benefit, especially considering how low the $15 subscription cost already is.

Sinemia definitely has some marketing and technical kinks to work out of its system but the service has been far more transparent about its terms of service than MoviePass, and with a business model that can actually endure the financial burden placed upon it.

If you don’t go to AMC regularly enough to justify an A-List membership or enjoy frequenting independent and local theater chains and franchises, Sinemia is perhaps the closest thing to a universal MoviePass replacement on the market.

Cinemark Movie Club

 Cinemark has some catching up to do, but that concession discount does make a tempting offer.

Cinemark has some catching up to do, but that concession discount does make a tempting offer.

While Cinemark has attempted to compete in the market with their self titled Cinemark Movie Club program, the results unfortunately appear to thus far be little more than a lukewarm token effort. For $9 per month, members are given a 20% discount on concessions along with occasional coupon offers, special rewards, and one free ticket to a standard screening per month.

Although the tickets rollover monthly, the low quantity of them make it highly unlikely for any sort of pool to build, and considering that Cinemark’s ticket prices are comparably lower than other major chains along with special senior discounts and early matinee deals, certain viewing habits could very easily make attending their screenings out of pocket equal in value if not potentially less costly.

Furthermore, despite the potential benefits of special screening offers through the program, this is far from an exclusive selling point as not only does A-List provide similar offers but even theater chain mailing lists such as Landmark theaters and Angelika Film Center offer these sort of opportunities for free.

Cinemark’s decision to not let this business opportunity pass them up is certainly admirable, but Movie Club has a long way to go before it can even compete with modern day MoviePass in its current state.

Whatever service best fits the consumer is ultimately based on individual viewing habits and what theaters one may have access to, but despite the troubles that MoviePass finds itself in, the trend of subscription based ticketing services probably isn’t disappearing just yet.

Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.