"MoviePass, MovieCrash" is its Own Trainwreck

MoviePass, MovieCrash

Director: Muta’Ali
Studio: HBO

Genre(s): Documentary
Rated: TV-14

It was the year 2018: that was the summer of MoviePass. No, I didn’t just quote an Apple Jacks commercial; that was the year that a little company called MoviePass took America by storm by re-introducing their service as a deal that was too good to be true. MoviePass promised movie goers a chance to see a movie a day for $9.95 a month. As someone who started using the service at $40 per month (and then $99 for a brief period), this was a deal that I couldn’t believe was happening.

What’s more, despite my unsuccessful attempts to get my friends to sign up for the service for over a year at previous price points, there was something about that $9.95 price that no one could say no to. That year all my friends signed up for MoviePass, there were many group outings, and I even bought MoviePass stock (a decision that would GREATLY influence my future investing decisions). It was a year at the movies unlike any other in my lifetime, and the idea that the good times could come to an end wasn’t a thought in our minds.

The good times did end though, as apparently charging $9.95 a month for a service the typical user (of which there were slightly more than 3 million of) was getting an average of $45 a month out of it wasn’t a smart business move (in fact, it was akin to lighting money on fire). The company flamed out in spectacular fashion, and almost everyone has their own story ofhow the company going bankrupt affected them. Friends stopped going to the movies as much, more realistic subscription plans would be introduced by the theater chains, and MoviePass itself would file for bankruptcy.

Of course, the story will make for a fascinating movie itself one day, but I don’t feel “MoviePass, MovieCrash” is that film. It is a documentary that focuses on the business aspect of the company and how things fell apart. MoviePass founder Stacey Spikes recalls how he and his business partner founded the company, only to have it taken away from them and given to a couple of white guys (full disclosure: Spikes was on my podcast iCritic LIVE and struck me as a smart and charming individual). One of those white men was Mitch Lowe, a founding member of Netflix and Redbox, became CEO to steer MoviePass into a growth proposition.

With funding from Ted Farnsworth, these two relaunched the service at $9.95 and never looked back. Despite the dubious nature of the price point, the growth was so great that everyone was hesitant to drop it. For them, subscriptions came before profits, and no one wanted to see the obvious iceberg in front of them (sort of how the economics of streaming has started to catch up with itself). As “MoviePass, MovieCrash” highlights, while they delivered a product everyone wanted it was one that was never going to be profitable, and it appears they never knew how to make it so.

As subscribers rose so too did the reckless spending, before it was clear that there was no money in the bank. Amazingly, Mitch Lowe appears in this movie to defend many of his actions (though he becomes visibly uncomfortable when questions about password changing come up). As a film, “MoviePass, MovieCrash” will likely be useful viewing for students in film class, as it provides much valuable information about pricing and hubris. Where the movie fails is that it doesn’t really capture the true excitement MoviePass brought to movie going.

It doesn’t delve deep into the huge fanbase the company had, and discussions on how theaters reacted are only touched upon briefly. For that matter, even the business side is too complicated to tell in one two-hour movie, and I believe it needed to be a docuseries to truly capture how massive the ride and fall of this company was, and how it may have even contributed to the (as of the time of this writing) lukewarm box office. All that being said, there is some good news: Spikes repurchased the company from bankruptcy and now the company is profitable. A Cinderella ending if ever there was one.