innocent pleasures

The Distinct Pleasure of the ‘MoviePass Movie’

A movie theater.
Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

Going to see a movie in New York will usually set you back $15 per ticket, around $30 if you factor in snacks — money that could otherwise go toward your retirement fund, the entire down payment on a house in the Midwest, or even more snacks. For years, it was an experience I reserved only for movies that both appealed to me personally and won critical acclaim. But something has changed and now, I live recklessly.

My foray into seeing shitty movies outside of my house began when I signed up for MoviePass, a service that allows you to attend one movie a day at participating theaters. When I joined, it cost $9.95 a month, meaning that it basically pays for itself after 2/3 of a movie. I can potentially walk out of one movie a month and, if I time it right, still come out even. (Previously, I’d only ever walked out of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life back in 2011, and it’s a high I’ve been chasing ever since.) The immediate visible downside to the low cost is the company’s extensive data collection — but between my Facebook use and the NSA guy who lives inside my computer, that’s already a losing battle.

What MoviePass has essentially done is create a cinematic category I like to call “the MoviePass Movie.” A MoviePass Movie is one that you’re interested in seeing but wouldn’t actually actively go to if you didn’t have the service. This is similar to an “Airplane Movie” — a film I’d only bother to watch when stuck on a plane ride (for instance, The Intern) and then inevitably cry about it on the plane ride (again, The Intern) — but with no tomato juice.

Recent movies with strong potential as MoviePass Movies include: Tomb Raider, Fifty Shades Darker, I Feel Pretty, and that movie with the Rock and a giant CGI ape — no disrespect meant to Mr. Rock, or the CGI ape. The MoviePass Movie will differ from person to person, of course; one woman’s Pacific Rim Uprising is another woman’s Phantom Thread.

My friend Amelia initially got me into MoviePass — in general, she’s very good at finding bargains and, as someone who was raised by frugal immigrant parents, I recognize this is an integral part of our friendship. (On the flip side, I can never really trust a person who regularly pays full price for things.) “I’m definitely more willing to see things that seem iffy now,” she tells me. “For example, if I think a movie looks dumb, but all of my co-workers insist it’s good, I might end up seeing it with MoviePass. I guess this allows me to seem more affable and open to other people’s recommendations, which is probably good for my social life.” Last month, we saw Thoroughbreds together, which is a step above what I’d typically define as a MoviePass movie. Still, I fell asleep — I had just eaten a big dinner, the theater was warm and dark, I love sleep — but didn’t leave feeling profoundly guilty for having taken a $15 nap.

“I would say that at least 80 percent of the films I’ve seen with MoviePass I would not have seen in the theater, even though I love the movie-theater experience and am a movie-theater obsessive, actually,” writer and editor Lindsay Robertson, who was evangelizing about MoviePass the last time I ran into her at a party, shares. Robertson acknowledges that she and fellow MoviePass friends will sometimes exclude non-MoviePass members from their movie going (“not in a mean way”) because “it’s just a different kind of hangout experience.” My colleague Kathleen Hou also brought up the potential for spontaneity, adding that there’s a lack of background work that needs to be done when selecting what to see. “Normally when my friends ask me to watch a movie, I start researching and looking at reviews. With MoviePass, I just don’t care,” she says. “I even saw Tomb Raider in 3-D. It’s made me just enjoy watching a good bad movie.”

But ultimately, regardless of how much money I save, seeing more MoviePass Movies definitely means wasting more precious time stuck inside a dark room. Will I rot my brain? Will I develop a vitamin D deficiency? Could I instead have been working on a novel, or on getting a six-pack? This, I do not know. But what I do know is that I kind of want to see the Rock fight a giant CGI ape.

The Distinct Pleasure of the ‘MoviePass Movie’