Here's how MoviePass works

What does your $10-per-month subscription fee buy you, and what can you expect once you get to the theater?

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
4 min read
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MoviePass has been in the news lately -- a lot. Back in March, the company's already-impressive $9.95-per-month subscription plan dropped to $6.95 (but then went back up). About a month later, the terms of service were altered so that you could see any given movie only once.

Then, back in May, the unlimited plan seemed to vanish, only to return again a few days later. After that, the service made an effort to combat fraud by requiring ticket-stub photos.

All that brings us to another crazy month of MoviePass mayhem, starting with surge pricing at peak times, a temporary service outage attributed to insufficient funding and finally a Mission: Impossible blackout.

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Needless to say, this is a volatile company -- and those who said it couldn't possibly sustain its original model appear to have been right. Now the question is whether MoviePass can survive, period. Time will tell.

In the meantime, let's take a look at how MoviePass works -- with the understanding that all this is very subject to change.

The MoviePass subscription


These are the two key ingredients for using MoviePass: card and phone.


At this writing, MoviePass offers two plans. Plus costs $9.95 per month and entitles you to one new movie (meaning new to you -- you can't see the same movie more than once) every day.

"Regular" MoviePass (a recent addition) costs $7.95 per month and lets you see three movies per month.

After you sign up, you'll receive a MoviePass card in the mail. This is an actual debit card, the one you'll use to purchase your ticket (see "How you get tickets," below).

What is Peak Pricing?

This newly added, er, feature kicks in when there's high demand for a particular movie or showtime. (Think of it as the MoviePass version of Uber's surge pricing.) If you see a little lightning bolt next to a movie showtime, you'll have to pay an additional fee -- the amount which will vary "depending on the level of demand."

Also in the works: Peak Pass, which will allow you to waive one Peak fee per month.

What you can watch

MoviePass is good for any movie at any time -- but, again, you can't see the same movie a second time.

What's more, you're currently limited to 2D screenings only; no 3D, no D-Box, no Imax or anything else that costs more than the price of a regular ticket.

However, support for Imax and 3D movies is coming soon. You'll pay an extra charge if you want one of those premium tickets. How much extra? "The difference between the premium ticket price and standard ticket price," according to the MoviePass FAQ entry. You'll pay that difference via the app.

Where you can watch

The good news: MoviePass supports over 91 percent of movie theaters nationwide. If you scroll down on the company's home page, you can enter your ZIP code for a list of nearby theaters that accept it.

In theory, it should work just about everywhere, because it's a debit card that works like, well, a debit card. But there are exceptions, most notably 10 AMC theaters that MoviePass dropped back in January. (The two companies famously do not get along.)

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How you get tickets

Once you've received and activated your MoviePass card, you can sign into the eponymous app, available for Android and iOS. Within that app you'll browse theaters and showtimes, same as you would with, say, Fandango.

Then just head to the theater. Once you're within 100 yards, you use the app to activate your MoviePass card, then use that card to buy your ticket. Just one ticket, though -- there's no couples plan or family plan option. (That's also changing soon: An upcoming Bring A Friend option will allow you to purchase an additional ticket -- at full price -- via the app.)

Another option MoviePass still doesn't offer is advance ticketing. You have to get your tickets the same day as the showing -- so forget about jumping the line for, say, an early screening of Venom.

However, MoviePass does work with some theaters that offer e-ticketing, meaning you can buy your ticket directly via the app and choose your seat as well. Once you've completed the transaction, you'll get a bar code good for admission at the theater.

Isn't MoviePass going bankrupt?

That remains the million-dollar question. If you pay $9.95 per month but use MoviePass for, say, $50 in tickets, there's no way the company can survive. However, it plans to generate additional revenue by selling data -- and not just general moviegoer data, but specifics about your viewing habits.

Before you go off in a huff, remember that this is pretty much business as usual these days. Netflix collects subscriber data. Google collects user data. Do you care that someone will find out you like cheesy rom-coms?

That's up to you to decide. As to whether MoviePass is sustainable, that remains to be seen. Certainly the company has experienced some notable growing pains in the past year.

If you're already a MoviePass subscriber, what do you think of the service? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Editors' note: This post was originally published Aug. 16, 2017, and has been updated with new information.

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