Recently I have an email from MoviePass, the movie ticket subscription service that infamously went bankrupt. It was a promo message announcing the return of MoviePass. It was signed by the company’s CEO, Stacy Spikes, and was a celebration of the service imperial phase. “So many of you have called, emailed and even stopped me on the street to show you still had your original MoviePass card,” Spikes wrote.
Do you still have your original MoviePass card? It sounded like some silly business myths. Only I have reason to believe Spikes didn’t invent that detail. Because I still have my original MoviePass card. In my wallet. Straight away. Why?
The long answer is that MoviePass cost $9.95 a month for a movie a day between 2017 and 2018, which was a ridiculously low fee, and I, like literally millions of other people, became obsessed with maximizing my MoviePass subscription. before the obvious end point came. At some point during my obsession, I really felt the presence of a collective MoviePass cult celebrating it both as a service and an idea so beautifully stupid it had to die.
The short answer is that I feel happy when I look at it.
in April, Time‘s Eliana Dockterman wrote a profile of Spikes that explained what the hell happened at MoviePass. Unbeknownst to me, and presumably many of his modern-day followers, Spikes founded MoviePass way back in 2011, originally charging a much more sensible $30 to $50 a month as he “struggled for years to secure funding, which he at least partly to racial discrimination.” As the profile indicates, in 2021 the share of total VC funding given to black entrepreneurs was barely more than 1 percent.
In 2017, a company called Helios and Matheson Analytics bought a majority share of MoviePass and then came up with the idea of promoting the service by temporarily lowering the price to the iconic $9.95. Spikes says he reluctantly agreed, as long as they raised the price again after 100,000 signups. “It happened in literally 48 hours,” Spikes told Time. “I was like, ‘Great, turn it off.’ And they said, ‘No, no, leave it on. See what happens.'”
What happened is the MoviePass era that we remember so fondly. At one point, the company had over 3 million subscribers. Many people used it all the time, much more than Helios and Matheson expected. So it collapsed, crushed by its own impossible promise. In 2018, Helios and Matheson reported net losses of nearly $400 million. Spikes was pushed out. MoviePass ceased operations in 2019, and Helios and Matheson in 2020 filed for bankruptcy.
In fact, that Imperial phase of MoviePass was created by a decision that went against the wishes of its founder. Now excuse the indulgence here, but isn’t that also the process behind the wonder that is a great movie? Someone who is bold has a vision and relentlessly pushes it forward through countless compromises – infinitesimally small and huge, creative and financial – until their vision is carried out. That’s one way of saying that I don’t think any of the clutter of MoviePass should take away from what we had, all too recently.