The television landscape has undergone a tectonic shift away from ad-based broadcast programming toward subscription-based online streaming. Users pay a fixed, monthly subscription fee to a provider such as Netflix, and they can watch as much content from that provider as they wish.
Commercial-cinema chains seem to have gotten the memo and are now experimenting with a similar business model. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, and they can attend a certain number of screenings per day, week, or month. There are several such services now or soon to be available, so I think it’s a good time to look at the options.
As of this writing, two services apply to multiple commercial-cinema chains.
MoviePass is the first major commercial-cinema subscription service, with over 3 million subscribers as of this writing. According to its website, the service is available for over 91% of theaters in the us, including all AMC, Cinemark, and Regal locations as well as others. The main subscription plan costs $9.95/month and lets you see one “regular” 2D movie per day. For a limited time, you can also opt to pay $7.95/month for three movies per month plus a three-month free trial of iHeartRadio.
Once you sign up, you receive a special MoviePass card in the mail. Unfortunately, you can’t reserve tickets in advance; you must use the MoviePass app to search for the movie and show time you want and “check in” once you get to the theater. You then use the card to obtain your ticket, which must be within 30 minutes of checking in. You can’t see a given movie more than once using MoviePass, and the service does not support enhanced presentations that involve an upcharge at the theater, such as 3D, IMAX, and Dolby Cinema. Also, you can’t buy more than one ticket using the system, making it a bit awkward to go out to the movies with family or friends.
Another multi-chain commercial-cinema subscription service is Sinemia. According to the website, it’s “available in every major theater in the United States.” There are four subscription plans: two Classic plans that let you see one or two “regular” 2D movies per month for $4.99 or $6.99/month, respectively, and two Elite plans that let you see two or three movies per month for $9.99 or $14.99/month, respectively. These are promotional rates; I don’t know how long they will be available. Also, subscribers are billed annually.
The Elite plans also include “enhanced” showings, such as 3D, IMAX, Cinemark XD, Dolby Atmos, ScreenX, Dbox, and 4DX. However, with either Elite plan, you can see only one movie in an enhanced format each month. Also, Sinemia has informed me that the available enhanced formats do not include Dolby Cinema, though one subscriber reports that he has been able to use the service to buy tickets at a Dolby Cinema.
All four Sinemia plans are also available for two to six people, which makes it easy to go out to the movies in a group. The cost of a family subscription depends on the plan and the number of people, ranging from $8.99/month for two people on the lowest Classic plan to $89.99/month for six people on the highest Elite plan. Again, these are promotional prices as of this writing, and you pay for a year up front.
Unlike MoviePass, Sinemia is cardless; it’s based entirely on a smartphone app. Also, you can buy tickets well in advance.
These services are offered by specific theater chains and are valid only for presentations at those chains.
AMC Theatres, the world’s largest commercial-cinema chain, recently announced that it is introducing a new tier of its Stubs loyalty program called AMC Stubs A-List. For $19.95 (plus tax) per month, subscribers can see up to three movies per week at any AMC theater in the US, including Dolby Cinema, IMAX, Prime, RealD 3D, and BigD as well as Dine-In locations. Just about any movie is included, with the possible exception of Fathom Events shows, special fan events, and some Indian Cinema titles.
You can see any movie more than once and even see multiple movies in one day with a two-hour buffer between show times. You can also book tickets, including reserved seats, in advance or on the spur of the moment. Up to three advance reservations will be held at a time. However, there’s no rollover from one week to the next.
Subscribing to AMC Stubs A-List includes all the benefits of Stubs Premiere, which otherwise costs $15/year. These benefits include food and drink discounts, no online ticketing fees, and express service at the theater.
There is no waiting period after enrollment and no special card you need to carry. The program is entirely web- and smartphone-based.
Cinemark has gotten into the commercial-cinema subscription business with its Movie Club. For $8.99/month, you get credit for one “regular” 2D movie per month. Unlike AMC Stubs A-List, the credits never expire, so if you don’t see a movie during a given month, you can see two the next month. You can also attend an enhanced format such as 3D and XD; you just have to pay the difference in ticket price.
Movie Club has no family plan, but you can buy a second ticket for the same movie for $8.99. After you’ve used your monthly credits, you can buy two additional tickets per transaction for $8.99 each. And you can reserve seats online or in the app. Other perks include 20% off concession prices and no online ticketing fees.
Alamo Drafthouse is at the vanguard of a trend that combines commercial cinemas with restaurants. You can order food and drink to be delivered to your seat before or even during the movie. And soon, the chain will offer its own subscription service called Season Pass.
Unlike the other services, this one allows subscribers to watch as many movies as they want—the number is unlimited. It’s entirely app-based, and you can reserve tickets in advance. You can also purchase additional tickets at the time you make your reservation. To enroll, you must be a member of the Alamo Victory rewards program, which is free to join.
How much is Season Pass? Alamo hasn’t revealed that yet. The first beta test will begin on July 18 in Yonkers, NY, with other locations to be added later. As it says on the Alamo website, “In order to learn what features our customers like the most, we’ll test different features of the program at different price points.”
To participate in the beta test, you need to join the waitlist by filling out a short form on the Alamo website. The company will invite people from the waitlist to subscribe to Season Pass, and the pricing and other features will be detailed in the invitation. Alamo can’t guarantee that everyone who joins the waitlist will be invited to participate in the beta test.
If you go out to the movies regularly, these commercial-cinema subscription plans can save you a lot of money. At the same time, the companies that offer them hope they will slow and even reverse the decline in attendance at North American theaters, which hit a 25-year low in 2017.
I go out to the movies quite often so I can write about them here on AVS Forum. But I normally go alone (my wife is hyper-sensitive to loud sounds, so she can’t tolerate modern movie levels), and I mostly go to Dolby Cinemas. Therefore, the Sinemia or AMC Stubs A-List plans would work best for me. Sinemia’s single-person Elite plan for two tickets per month would let me see one Dolby Cinema screening per month for $9.99/month, which is half the normal ticket price. That sounds mighty good, assuming the Sinemia subscriber I cited earlier is correct and the company is wrong about providing access to Dolby Cinemas.
AMC Stubs A-List would let me see up to three Dolby Cinema screenings per week for $19.95/month, but I usually see only one or two per month. At one per month, I would save next to nothing compared with buying a ticket outright. I wish AMC offered a lower tier—say, one movie per week for $9.95/month. I would definitely subscribe to that!
I imagine the single-chain plans will do fine for their loyal customers, but how can the multi-chain plans make a profit? According to some recent news stories, MoviePass is losing money hand over fist, even with more than 3 million subscribers. I keep thinking of the old joke: “We might be losing money on each sale, but we make it up in volume!”
Of course, time will tell. Meanwhile, commercial-cinema subscription is a trend worth watching—and perhaps buying into.
Do you have a subscription to one (or more) of these services? If so, how has your experience been?