Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilitySXSW 2024 Review: MoviePass, MovieCrash
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MoviePass, MovieCrash (Photo courtesy Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/HBO)
MoviePass, MovieCrash (Photo courtesy Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/HBO)
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SXSW 2024 Review: MoviePass, MovieCrash

If you were lucky enough to be among the 3 million users at the height of its popularity, then perhaps you know the feeling of getting away with something you shouldn’t be. For the uninitiated, MoviePass was a subscription service that offered an evolving number of trips to the movie theater for a monthly fee. While they had a steady user base for many years, they wanted to grow, which led to bringing in new executives and backing from an analytics company called Helios and Matheson. In 2017, MoviePass, under guidance from new executives, dropped the monthly fee to $9.99 which included 1 movie a day at most movie theaters in the country. What followed was an influx of new users and a host of problems explored in the new documentary “MoviePass, MovieCrash.”

Directed by: Muta’Ali (“Cassius X: Becoming Ali”)

The film features interviews from those who were behind the scenes at MoviePass, starting at its inception with its co-founders Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt, through to its eventual takeover by Mitch Lowe and Ted Farnsworth and interviews with various members of the support staff and more. Though the early days of the app are spoken about with a sense of fondness and passion, things clearly took a turn when the prices dropped and the new leadership stepped in.

From a purely fiscal standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see how unsustainable this plan was from the get go, but the documentary dives into exactly what happened during its biggest moments of turmoil. Incompetence was abound from the top down, with MoviePass extending its reach well beyond the movie theaters, throwing million dollar parties at the Coachella music festival, registering a “MoviePass” airline, and tons of other lavish expenses with seemingly no relationship to the movie industry itself.

Perhaps the film's most interesting takeaway is its exploration of how a company that was founded by two Black men eventually was taken over by two White men, who eventually forced them out of the company. It’s especially alarming when you take into account the sheer incompetence that surrounded running their company into their ground. Once Spikes and Watt were ousted, a projected notion of growth came from a half-baked plan surrounding data as its means of turning a profit. Worse, the new faces of MoviePass were on the media tour, outwardly lying about the sustainability of their company in a staggering account of hubris.

If there is any perspective missing from the film, it would be the user experience. It’s touched on in passing, especially with the total meltdown surrounding the “Mission Impossible-Fallout” release, but it doesn’t quite capture the user experience of the good, like what it meant to be able immerse yourself in movie watching and see things you may not normally see, but also the bad, like not knowing if the pass would work and the ridiculous amounts of restrictions that started to arise, often leaving users stranded at the theater with a non-working pass or app.

Even though the app was a spectacular failure, MoviePass was a pioneering service. It showed that there was absolutely a market for movie theater subscription services, and now major chains like AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse all have subscription based offerings of some kind, a point that is strangely missing from the documentary itself. Still, “MoviePass, MovieCrash” serves as a cautionary tale of arrogance and incompetence and a reminder that some ideas truly are too good to be true.

Grade: B