'MoviePass, MovieCrash' Looks Back at a Movie Deal Too Good to Be True | Opinions | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

‘MoviePass, MovieCrash’ Looks Back at a Movie Deal Too Good to Be True

Everyone remembers MoviePass, right?  Launched in 2011, the most popular incarnation of MoviePass was part of the wave of e-commerce companies like Uber, which provided a new service at a shockingly low price. At its launch, MoviePass allowed users to pay a monthly fee to get a movie ticket per day. 

MoviePass exploded into the public consciousness in 2017 when, under new ownership, it dropped its monthly price to $9.95 in exchange for unlimited movies. A cult fandom soon emerged of those who took advantage of the MoviePass model to see a superhuman number of movies. 

However, the excitement didn’t last for a few reasons:

  1. The model proved unsustainable and unprofitable, and the company didn’t have enough capital to prop itself up through losses.
  2. The company also blew buckets of money on everything from lavish parties at Coachella to an ill-fated foray into movie production, most remembered for its part in one of the worst movies of the century, Gotti. 

After an FTC settlement and still pending criminal charges for the people in charge, that version of MoviePass was kaput. 

MoviePass, MovieCrash

Now we have MoviePass, MovieCrash, a new HBO and Max documentary that tells the entire sordid tale. It’s a compelling look back at that specific cultural moment. However, the doc tells a particular story about MoviePass, which has some truth to it, but overall, it probably isn’t quite as clean and neat as the documentary makes it sound. 

Directed by Muta’Ali, MoviePass, MovieCrash starts at the beginning, with the company’s two founders, Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt, and how they ran into resistance from the movie theater chains, especially AMC. In 2016, Mitch Lowe, a veteran of both Netflix and Redbox, was brought in as the new CEO, a typical move in tech companies where an experienced executive is brought in to supervise the younger founders. 

The following year, the company was sold to analytics firm Helios and Matheson when they brought the price point down below $10, became a much more prominent company, and, in early 2018, pushed out the CEOs. Later came charges of financial irresponsibility (at best), full-on criminality (at worst), and the Gotti debacle. 

The Good and the Bad

The film tells the story of two Black entrepreneurs who came up with a promising idea and had it taken over by white executives who pushed them out, took their idea in terrible directions, and ruined everything. Now, Spikes has repurchased the company and sought to revive it. 

There is a great deal of truth to that. Lowe, Helios, and Matheson CEO Ted Farnsworth are depicted as unscrupulous and sleazy, lying through their teeth about the business’ condition in numerous interviews on business news shows. Also, we’re shown several instances in which Lowe is introduced before interviews as a “Netflix cofounding exec;” he is very much not among Netflix’s actual cofounders. 

That said… I’m not sure I buy the notion that MoviePass’s original vision was ever sustainable, mostly because the movie theater chains never bought into it. Plus, MoviePass shared a problem with other scandal-plagued companies like WeWork: They could have made no missteps and plotted everything perfectly; COVID still would have come along in 2020 and seriously imperiled the company.

While MoviePass has relaunched, the documentary leaves out that it’s using a bizarre, blockchain-based business model and that the current incarnation of MoviePass doesn’t appear to have made much of a cultural impact. 

MoviePass, in its 2018-era incarnation, was one of those things that was too good to be true. It used the Uber-style business model of getting people hooked at low prices while keeping those prices that low was never likely to be sustainable. I’d love for something like MoviePass to succeed, but I’m not convinced such a thing is possible. 

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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