Today, AMC announced a $20/month theater subscription to rival MoviePass. At face value, it’s twice the cost, but when you get to the fine print, it’s a lot more generous.
The main flaw with MoviePass (aside from misleading customers by constantly altering the deal) is that it comes with a lot of asterisks. You can’t use it to order advance tickets for most theaters. You can’t use it to buy IMAX tickets. You can’t watch the same movie multiple times, which actually was allowed to begin with, but that feature of the program was yanked just before the biggest movie of the year came out. While MoviePass is a pretty good deal for avid moviegoers, it had a lot of hurdles to get over. Further complicating matters is the fact that AMC has never been on board with MoviePass. And now we know the all-too-obvious answer as to why: AMC wanted to launch its own service.
AMC’s new program, called A-List, is an add-on to the company’s existing AMC Stubs program. For $20 per month (initially, you have to pay for three months at once, but you’ll move to month-to-month payments after that), you can watch up to three movies per week. The week is defined as Friday through Thursday, which makes sense given how movies are released, but that does require a little forethought if you go to early Thursday showings. At first glance, this deal sounds worse than MoviePass. To be sure, MoviePass is shouting that real loud. But, as with most things, the devil is in the details.
Unlike MoviePass, you can use AMC’s A-List to book advance tickets as soon as they go on sale. So the next time Star Wars tickets go on sale, you won’t need to shell out cash to book your seat early. You can also get tickets for all the fancy showings like 3D (eh), and more importantly, IMAX and Dolby Vision. These higher-quality theaters tend to cost a premium, but they’ve been left out of subscription models like MoviePass offers.
Perhaps most importantly, you can watch a movie multiple times if you so choose. MoviePass already required you to watch at least 12 movies a year to break even, and with A-List’s higher price tag, that could easily reach as high as 20 movies a year (depending on ticket prices and which type of showing you prefer). That’s a high ask if you can only watch each movie once. However, if you can, say, watch Black Panther three times in theaters, you might be more inclined to get your money’s worth.
Still, even a dozen movies per year is a lot for even the average film buff. So, AMC is sweetening the deal. A-List is rolled into the existing AMC Stubs program that gives rewards to frequent movie-goers. Under this program, any tickets or concessions you buy (as well as the cost of the program itself) earns you 10% rewards. So, if you spend $50 in the theater, you get $5 back. That means that when you pay the $20 for your movies the month, you get $2 in rewards back that you can spend on concessions or future tickets. This effectively makes the price of the subscription $18/month. For reference, one Dolby Vision ticket (at least in my area, your mileage may vary) was $17.50. Through this lens, AMC’s subscription starts to look a lot more worthwhile. The one downside is that tickets purchased using A-List don’t give you points (which makes sense, the A-List subscription itself already gives you points), but buying tickets for your friends and having them pay you back is an excellent way to build up enough rewards to score some free concessions and make your subscription (partly) pay for itself.
Ultimately, both programs are going to appeal largely to avid moviegoers. Breaking even is relatively easy for both programs, but getting more than what you paid for is the tricky part. AMC is charging more money in the hopes of being “sustainable” but it’s also offering an objectively better product. With fewer restrictions and access to more premium showings, it’s hard to argue that you’re not getting your money’s worth out of it. MoviePass might appeal to people who prefer the lower price tag, and if you can get over all the limitations on the company’s “unlimited” plan, we can’t blame you. However, between MoviePass pushing new users into longer-term commitments, and the rapid pace at which they’re burning through money, A-List is sure looking like the safer bet.
AMC A-List will go live next week on June 26th.