Update: After a few weeks of changes and some interruptions in service, MoviePass has a new plan.
Starting Aug. 15, for $9.95 a month, the theater subscription service will cover tickets for three movies each month. Before, the subscription gave access to one movie daily. MoviePass will give up to a $5 discount on extra tickets.
The service is also suspending peak pricing, a surcharge added in July, and ticket verification.
This story originally ran in October and was updated in January with information about Zoetropolis.
When MoviePass lowered its price to $9.95 in August, it sounded too good to be true.
With your MoviePass, you can watch a movie every day in a theater for a month for less than $10. It’s kind of like Netflix for movie theater tickets.
And it sounded like yet another innovation that’s only for people in big cities.
I checked and (surprise!) all six of the theaters in Lancaster County were listed on the MoviePass website. So, I signed up to be a guinea pig. There were a few snags, but by my deadline, I was able to see five movies at five theaters for less than $10. And I still have more than two weeks left to see more.
MoviePass started offering unlimited movie tickets in 2011 for $50 a month. Depending on when and where you see a movie, tickets usually cost at least $10. See five movies a month and you break even.
Drop the price to $9.95 and that’s less than one movie ticket.
I signed up online after Labor Day, paid with PayPal and was told my movie pass card would arrive a week later. That was plenty of time to see a movie a week at each local theater before my deadline.
The day after I signed up was rainy and dreary, perfect to go straight to the movie theater.
Unfortunately, I had to wait until my card arrived. Some theaters don’t require the card, but none of these are nearby.
Right after I signed up, the company sent an email saying there was an unprecedented volume of traffic. Expect a 2-3 week delay for cards.
A month later, my card arrived. The wait was annoying, especially with a deadline. It’s less annoying knowing that your month doesn’t start until you see your first movie.
I downloaded the free MoviePass app and went out for my first movie at Ephrata Main. I tried to reserve my ticket at home, but you need to be within 100 yards of the theater. So in the parking lot, I activated the card on the app, found “Blade Runner 2049” and clicked on “check-in.”
I went into the theater and tried to pay for my ticket with the MoviePass card, just like a credit card. It didn’t go through. The clerk tried a few times but said the card hadn’t been activated.
I went back into the app, but there was no public Wi-Fi in the theater. An employee told me to go outside to find a signal. I walked farther and farther into the parking lot to reconnect with the app. By the time it worked, I worried I had wandered out of the check-in zone. I got a success message and went back to the box office to find a line.
The clerk saw me and said she had looked up the MoviePass website. The theater doesn’t participate, she said.
I asked her to try the card again. It worked!
By the time I had my ticket and pretzels, the previews were running and it was too dark to see the seat numbers. (You have to reserve a seat there.)
So I sat in a random chair and spent the first minutes of the movie trying not to worry about fighting with someone about seats. I quickly forgot and focused on the replicants of 2049.
— Take 1: The card activation and the network connection were annoying but it eventually worked. In hindsight, I’d suggest going a few minutes early, at least on the first try.
Ephrata Main ticket price: $9.50.
— Take 2: I checked in to see “mother!” outside Regal Manor 16 and the card worked on the first try.
Regal ticket price: $13.20.
— Take 3: I checked in to see “Marshall” at Penn Cinema. No problems there. I checked to see if the Metropolitan Opera or other Fathom Events are included. They are not. But the special retro screenings were listed on the app.
Penn Cinema ticket price: $11.50.
— Take 4: Things went smoothly at MoviE-Town, where I saw “The Mountain Between Us.”
MoviE-Town matinee ticket price: $7.
— Take 5: Kendig Square is a smaller theaters, but I checked in to see “Girls Trip” without a hitch.
Kendig Square ticket price: $5.
— Take 6: I planned to see “Centralia” at Zoetropolis. The theater is on the MoviePass app, but there are no movies listed along with this message: “We have not received showtimes yet and are trying to track them down.”
Update: I tried again in January and was able to use MoviePass to see "Lady Bird."
So, I saw five movies with this card. Looking at the bottom line, I would have spent $46.20 on tickets. Instead, I spent $9.95. However, I did spend $23.39 on snacks.
Aside from that first issue with the card activation and the cellphone connection, the card worked at five of the six local theaters. I did this experiment alone. If you’re running late and with a big group, it might be annoying for each person to buy separate tickets with individual cards. Being there a few minutes early might be worth it for you.
Bottom line, this card got me into the theater lot more than usual. I probably would have seen “Blade Runner” in the theater, but would have waited to see the rest at home.
If there’s a month when you’re really busy or you don’t like the movie selection, maybe MoviePass doesn’t make sense.
If you don’t want the temptation of theater snacks, maybe this pass isn’t a good idea.
But if there’s at least one movie you want to see, the card pays for itself quickly.
After this assignment’s over, knowing I have a free ticket waiting for me means I’ll be going to the movies at least a few more times.
Update: MoviePass updated its terms and conditions since I wrote this column. One major change is if you cancel, you can not subscribe again for nine months.
The shipping seems to vary, too. I've heard one person got her card in two weeks in January.
Another person waited two months and then learned the card was lost in the mail. When the replacement card showed up, it didn't work at first.