Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

MoviePass Beta Hands-On: Revived Movie Service Rewards Flexibility

Under the new points system, a matinee movie lover could get a lot of value.

Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
Expertise Phones, texting apps, iOS, Android, smartwatches, fitness trackers, mobile accessories, gaming phones, budget phones, toys, Star Wars, Marvel, Power Rangers, DC, mobile accessibility, iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal, RCS
Mike Sorrentino
6 min read
MoviePass app and card

The new MoviePass uses a credits system combined with a physical card.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

MoviePass is getting ready to make its public launch this summer, but it's available in closed beta right now, and I've spent a month using an early version of the movie theater ticket service.

This new MoviePass, now helmed by CEO and co-founder Stacy Spikes, is pivoting away from the all-you-can-watch model that famously led the original service to flameout. In its place is a credit system, similar to services like ClassPass, in which the plan tier you sign up for correlates with a number of credits. 

Those credits in turn can be spent on a movie showtime, at which point you'll then purchase the ticket using either the new physical card or an in-app purchase. The original red MoviePass card, for those that still have it, cannot be reactivated.

The exact plans vary by geographic region, but in the New York area MoviePass starts at $20 per month for 68 credits (estimated as one to three films) up to a $60 plan per month for 1,240 credits (essentially one film per day). I decided to give the $20 MoviePass plan a test, in order to see how much value you can get from the cheapest tier.

MoviePass app showing credit prices

The new MoviePass app prices each film differently, seemingly based on when you choose to see a movie. A daytime showtime is less credits than an evening showtime.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

MoviePass: Using the service feels a lot like the original

Even though the new MoviePass system has been redesigned, the actual act of going to the movie theater with it feels a lot like the original service. For most theaters, you will need to walk up to the physical theater you would like to buy the ticket from, select within the app what movie you would like to see, hit a prompt agreeing to spend the credits for your ticket and then purchase the ticket using the black MoviePass card. For theaters that don't have a traditional box office, the card does work with ticket kiosks and online portals, but you do need to be physically close to the theater to book a showtime from the app. MoviePass does have partnerships with some theater chains for in-app purchasing without using the card, but I have not yet found a theater to test this with.

Depending on how popular your movie theater is, this might be problematic from the start. In New York, it's often necessary to secure seats in advance of a showing in order guarantee that you'll be able to sit next to your friends and family. To alleviate this issue, I primarily used MoviePass on films that were in their second or third week since release, that way crowds would be less of an issue.

Flexibility appears to be the key way to get the most out of the new MoviePass. With the credit system, I would typically see showtimes for as low as 10 to 14 credits when purchasing a ticket for either a daytime show or during the already-discounted Tuesday showtimes. I went to see the anime Suzume during a Sunday afternoon timeslot at a Regal Cinemas for instance, at that lower credit cost. On a Wednesday evening, I went to see Adam Driver in 65 at a Manhattan AMC Theaters location, where the cost was closer to 30 credits. But on the highest-end side, if I wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on Friday night of opening weekend, MoviePass would charge 60 credits -- basically the entire cost of my plan.

This focus on off-peak viewing is intentional. When I asked about the current logic for the points system, Spikes said over email that the points system is designed to reward customers when watching movies outside of peak times like Friday or Saturday night.

During my testing I saw four films using MoviePass, and each time the list price was between $17 and $22. By picking those less-popular showtimes, I really came out ahead of the $20 I spent. Leftover credits can roll over to the next month, up to the maximum number in your plan. For me that means I can roll over a maximum of 68 credits to the next month.

However, that experience is based on how the credit system works right now. By nature of going with this model, MoviePass could adjust these prices at anytime, and the value provided to a subscriber could be tweaked along with it.

And while it's particularly nice to be able to use MoviePass with any movie theater chain, under the current system it's not going to be friendly for someone who wants to watch movies on weekend evenings or who always want to guarantee their seat inside of a theater. For those situations, a loyalty program subscription like AMC A-List, Regal Unlimited or Alamo Season Pass could be the better option in order to book advance seats during those more popular times.

MoviePass purchase page for Evil Dead Rise.

A confirmation page for buying a ticket on the MoviePass app.

Mike Sorrentino, James Martin/CNET

MoviePass customer service is still a sore spot

One of the most unwelcome memories of the old MoviePass was its challenging customer service system, which was reliant on either in-app chat, email or Twitter DM. For now, this remains the same in the new version of MoviePass, and it's already been overwhelmed. Spikes said in a March announcement that MoviePass is increasing the number of service agents in order to meet customer service requests, acknowledging that it is an issue.

For myself, the MoviePass beta inadvertently charged me twice for my first month of service. I contacted MoviePass using their app and their Twitter account, which took about three days to get a response, asking for either 68 additional credits equivalent to the cost or a $20 refund. The first representative only gave me 20 credits, which wasn't acceptable to me. A second representative ultimately added the 68 credits, resolving the issue, but not to the satisfaction level that I would prefer. 

When describing this situation, Spikes responded that improving customer service is a priority during the beta.

"During the first phase of re-launch, there were glitches in the system as is common with the beta process. We decided to double the size of our customer service team to reduce delays in responding to customers. Response times have improved since the initial issue," Spikes said.

Hopefully this area sees improvement before MoviePass' public release. I could easily see someone who felt rankled by similar issues in 2018 and 2019 immediately canceling MoviePass at that point. For now I haven't yet decided to cancel MoviePass, but if it came to be, the app now offers a very large and clear "Cancel Subscription" button in the settings.

MoviePass Beta pricing

Price tiers offered in the New York City region for the MoviePass beta. An "unlimited" option is among those being tested.

MoviePass/Screenshot by Mike Sorrentino/CNET

MoviePass could become a great discount ticket option, but there are other alternatives

It's quite possible that MoviePass could now find a more stable business model through this credit system. For many people, watching two to three films a month for $20 is a great value. Spikes has said that MoviePass could eventually get an opt-in advertising program that would allow for even more movies, in exchange for watching advertisements much like the video ads that play on the free tier of Spotify.

However, if you are willing to go to less popular movie showtimes, there are a number of existing discount programs that could provide a similar value to what MoviePass is doing. You could purchase movie tickets using a portal like TicketsAtWork.com if your employer supports it, or purchase discounted movie passes from warehouse stores like Costco. If your local movie theater already discounts tickets on Tuesdays, then targeting that might also be cheaper than pursuing an option like MoviePass.

But what MoviePass has going for it in its current form is that flexibility to work with nearly any movie theater. Even though it sacrifices modern features like buying tickets in advance, if you're someone who prefers going to movies on off-days it might be a program worth looking into when it gets its public release this summer.