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How Does AMC’s A-List Stack Up Against Movie Pass? (Spoiler: Really Well)

AMC’s A-List theater subscription is twice as expensive and offers fewer movies per month compared to MoviePass. It’s still a better deal for a lot of people.

Whether you’ve been holding off signing up for a theater subscription because you’re not sure if MoviePass is going to run out of money, or if you just wanted a better experience, AMC’s A-List is here to sway you. Simply by virtue of only working at one theater chain, it’s not for everyone. However, if you live near AMC theaters, it’s worth taking a closer look.

AMC Is More Expensive On Paper, But It Might Be Cheaper In the Long Run

Don’t be scared off by sticker shock until you’ve done all the math.

At first glance, it seems like A-List costs twice as much money and only lets you watch three movies per week, compared to MoviePass’s movie a day. It seems like the math is pretty straight forward, right? However, there are some important caveats that bridge that gap worth considering:

  • MoviePass will charge Peak Pricing fees during busy times. Starting in July, MoviePass will start adding an extra fee to busy movies. This means if you go on opening weekend, there’s a good chance you could get hit with a fee of $2 or more to get your ticket.
  • IMAX and 3D showings are included with AMC A-List, cost extra with MoviePass. In the near future, MoviePass is going to give viewers the option to upgrade to IMAX or 3D showings for a fee that could range from $2 to $6, depending on your area or availability. A-List, on the other hand, includes all upgraded showings by default. For most movie showings, 2D is probably fine, but if you want to catch the next Avenger’s movie in IMAX on opening weekend, these two fees could feasibly end up costing you an extra $8 or more.
  • AMC gives you rewards for spending money, including your A-List subscription. If you ever spend money on concessions or if you buy tickets for your friends and family, A-List might end up costing less in the end. You get 10% back in AMC rewards for every dollar you spend. That means your $20/month subscription really comes out to about $18/month. Or, as it might be in your area, about the cost of a single IMAX showing.
  • MoviePass can’t buy advance tickets. If you watch enough movies to warrant subscribing to a movie theater, you probably also enjoy seeing movies on opening weekends. MoviePass makes that hard. You can’t order tickets until the day you’re going to watch (which the company now enforces by requiring photos of your ticket stub). This is especially a problem for the increasing number of theaters with reserved seating. If you want to guarantee a good seat, you might have to shell out extra cash to order ahead.
  • MoviePass only lets you watch each movie once. If you’re into repeat viewings, be prepared to shell out extra cash for them. While the company initially allowed you to watch any movie as often as you want, they reneged on that part of the deal. Now, you can only watch each movie once. For some that may be fine, but if you want to watch a movie more than once, it’s going to cost you more.
  • A-List, obviously, doesn’t work anywhere but AMC theaters. You may be able to order tickets ahead with AMC’s A-List, but you can’t use it at any theater outside of AMC. If you don’t have AMC theaters near you, this whole plan is right out the door. Even if you do, you’ll have to be prepared to shell out cold hard cash if you get invited to any theater that’s not owned by AMC.

Whew. That’s a lot. But as you can see, this makes the comparison a lot more situational. If, like me, you’re the kind of person who reserves seats for every new Marvel and Star Wars movie that comes out, almost exclusively visits AMC theaters, and wouldn’t mind the occasional IMAX showing, then A-List will save you more money over the long run.

On the other hand, if you don’t live near AMC theaters, don’t care about IMAX or 3D showings, never reserve seats ahead of time, or would rather avoid opening weekends, then MoviePass still might be a better deal for you. Neither plan is objectively better or cheaper for everyone. You’ll have to take stock of how many movies you want to see, where and when you want to see them, and even how likely you are to buy concessions.

You might also note that we left out how many movies you’re allowed to see per month. There’s a good reason for that. While A-List is technically more restrictive than MoviePass, you can still see up to three movies a week, or twelve movies a month. Meanwhile, MoviePass’s own CEO says the average user of their service goes from seeing 4-5 movies a year to 10 per year. Even if you exceed that (I do), seeing more than 12 movies per month is a tall, tall order. It’s even harder when MoviePass doesn’t allow you to watch the same movie multiple times. So, yes, on paper, MoviePass lets you watch “more” movies, but unless you plan to watch more than a dozen unique movies in a single month, the distinction hardly matters. Don’t let MoviePass’s marketing tell you otherwise.

How the Experience Compares to the Competition

This little checkbox makes all the difference.

To say that MoviePass has some rough edges is to undersell it. While the company has launched a new, improved version of its mobile app that looks and feels a lot better than it did last August, there are pain points that the company just can’t fix. For most theaters, you still have to be physically present on the day of the showing in order to buy tickets. You check in on the app once you’re at the theater then swipe the red MasterCard to get your tickets. Oh, and don’t forget to take a picture of your ticket stub.

Comparatively, AMC’s A-List couldn’t be simpler. If you already use AMC’s website to order tickets, you might not even notice it at all. During the step in the order process where you choose which what type of ticket you’re buying (adult, child, or senior), there will be a new checkbox saying this is one of your A-List reservations. If you check this, then one of your Adult tickets will be free. The good news is that this means AMC always defaults to giving you one of the most expensive tickets for free. The weird news is that if you buy tickets for just seniors and children, A-List doesn’t apply savings at all. This is a minor quirk that can be fixed by selecting an adult ticket instead of a senior, but it’s something to keep in mind if grandpa is going to take the little one to see Incredibles 2 this weekend.

If you prefer to buy your tickets in person, the process is still pretty familiar. At least if you’ve ever used a movie theater’s rewards program. Just like with AMC Stubs Premiere, you can scan your card or enter your loyalty number to get your free ticket. If you use the AMC mobile app then you’ll have a virtual card on your phone with a QR code you can scan. I also tried ordering through Fandango which currently doesn’t seem to support using A-List to pay for tickets, but it is the first day. Fandango does support AMC Stubs’ fee waiving benefit, so this may just be an issue where third-party ticket services have to catch up.

In general, A-List is a smooth process, but there’s one minor hiccup that’s worth keeping an eye on. AMC says you can watch up to three movies a week, but also that you can’t have more than three active reservations at one time. This can create some confusion if you’re reserving a lot of tickets too far out.

You have to be mindful of both your reservation slots and your A-List slots.

With A-List, you’re given three A-List slots per week, and, separately, three reservation slots. You can use up to three A-List slots per week, as long as you have reservation space available. So, in the example image above, I have a reservation for Infinity War on Tuesday (today, at the time of publishing), and a reservation for Ant-Man and the Wasp next week. As AMC clarified to meInfinity War counts as one of my three A-List slots this week, but Ant-Man and the Wasp counts for next week’s A-List slots.

And yet, I only have space for one more reservation right now, as seen on the right. So, if I want to watch a movie on Wednesday and Thursday this week (which I can do before the three weekly slots resets on Friday), I can only reserve one of them today, on Tuesday. If I set up a reservation for a movie on Wednesday, all three of my reservation slots will be used. Once I see Infinity War tonight, that will free up one reservation slot, so I can go ahead and reserve a movie for Thursday.

The reason for this overly complicated system is pretty clear: AMC doesn’t want you stacking up reservations for every movie they have available through the next couple months, taking up seats, and then possibly not showing up. It’s a risk-management feature. However, it could get inconvenient if you have a long period of time where you’re reserving multiple movies weeks ahead but still want to see other movies in the meantime. As an example, earlier this year, Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story came out near each other. By May 4th, I’d pre-ordered tickets for both, but the first of the two didn’t come out until May 17th. If A-List had been around, that would’ve been a two week period where I only had one free reservation slot to use my other three movies in the interim weeks. You can cancel reservations in order to free up a slot, but understandably you might not want to.

All that being said, the times where this will be an issue are likely to be rare, edge cases. I’m a pretty avid movie goer and I’d still struggle to find a time where I’d need three separate reservations and still need to see more movies. Especially since most movies rarely go on sale more than a month or so before their release. Your mileage may vary, and it will probably inconvenience someone, but for most people, even a little bit of planning should ensure this is never an issue. Moreover, it’s still more convenient than MoviePass’s current system where you can’t order advance tickets for any movie ever.

AMC Has a Solid Service, and It’s Less Likely to Go Out of Business

You have to be a pretty avid moviegoer—or at least aspire to be—in order to get anything out of a movie theater subscription in the first place. With that in mind, AMC has created a compelling option for film buffs. Yes, it’s more expensive than MoviePass, but the luxury of being able to guarantee prime seating weeks ahead of time, even in IMAX theaters, may be worth the price of entry to you. That you earn money towards concessions with it only sweetens the deal.

And yet, AMC’s biggest advantage might not be in features or rewards, but in sustainability. Just last month, MoviePass’s parent company submitted filings that said the company only had $15.5 million in cash on hand. Meanwhile, the company is burning through at least $21.7 million a month. The company still had around $27.9 million in deposits it could get back from merchant processors, but beyond that, the plan to stay afloat seems to be to either sell more stock—a little hard to convince people to buy into your company while you’re bleeding money—or to borrow cash. Which is a bit like paying off your mortgage with your credit card.

That’s not to say that MoviePass is definitely doomed. But there’s a higher chance that AMC will still be around next year than MoviePass. That’s especially important to keep in mind if MoviePass tries to push you towards a year-long commitment. For now, there are good reasons to use both, but we can only hope that MoviePass manages to become profitable—even if that means raising prices—so AMC will continue to have solid competition.

Eric Ravenscraft Eric Ravenscraft
Eric Ravenscraft has nearly a decade of writing experience in the technology industry. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, PCMag, The Daily Beast, Geek and Sundry, and The Inventory. Read Full Bio »