(Almost) Free Movies



Gaming the “system” feels especially good in a city built upon what seems like layers and layers of systems. Like when you find an apartment without a broker, or enter in different emails to get that first-time discounted Seamless offer every time. Or win HQ.

MoviePass feels like one of those shortcuts, something too good to be true until it is: $9.95 a month to watch as many movies as your cold, calculating heart desires, at (most of) the great movie theaters New York has to offer: IFC, the Angelika, Nitehawk, any AMC, any Regal… I could go on. And all you have to do is check in on the app when you’re at the theater, and swipe a card, like being on your phone and spending money aren’t things you expected to do anyway. For comparison, that’s at or around the price of a small popcorn and soda pop, and nearly half of what I paid to see Blade Runner 2049 in Union Square a few months back. It was a time before MoviePass—a time when all seemed bleak in my movie-going life.

But I’ve been liberated from the despair that accompanied paying more than $15 every time I wanted to see a movie. I live now in a make-believe land free of price tags, where anything is possible—at least until this insane business idea goes the way of cryptocurrency. The new Jumanji with The Rock? That superhero movie you can’t remember the name of right now? The next Fifty Shades of Grey with an even more erotic name and movie poster than the last one? Sure, why not? Who cares? Last month, I spent six hours in the theaters, binge-watching Oscar nominations like I was A.O. Scott, just because I could. Here’s something you don’t hear often: it doesn’t matter.

Sure, you have to actually go to the theater to buy tickets and can only reserve seats for a showing that same day, which means you probably won’t use this magic card to attend midnight premieres (Sorry, Star Wars fans, but you’ve got to put in the work for The Force). And sure, the app’s interface looks like it was designed on Microsoft Paint. And sure, the only way this business might stay afloat is by selling our data en masse to greedy studios who want to know anything and everything you do at all times. But show me someone who doesn’t.

If my calculations are correct (and this is pretty easy math), I’ve watched $75 worth of movies (five so far), but have only paid $20. And tonight I’ll hit $90. Because when I’m done here—and I’m nearly there, I promise—I’m going to see The Post at 7:20 on a weeknight. Without any real price barrier, movies become something you can just do; a nice, easy insertion into your routine, so much so that my girlfriend and I recently carefully smuggled our dinner into a 7:30 showing of Lady Bird.

Put simply, seeing a movie in New York is fucking expensive. And MoviePass isn’t. In fact, seeing just one movie effectively earns you money, if you’re one of the poor schlubs who is still shelling out their hard-earned cash to see a film reel projected on a screen in front of you at least once a month. Think of it as the Amazon Prime of the movies, but an Amazon Prime that isn’t destroying everything in its path—yet.