Essays · Movies

The Movies I Saw in Theaters Because of MoviePass

If the end is indeed at hand for MoviePass, here are the films where MoviePass made a difference for one critic.
Miles Ahead Don Cheadle
By  · Published on July 31st, 2018

If the end is indeed at hand for MoviePass, here are the films where MoviePass made a difference for one critic.

It feels like we’ve spent years eulogizing the death of MoviePass. Two years ago, we were discussing the upcoming price hikes for the theatrical subscription service and suggesting that the major theater chains would eventually recreate the idea for themselves. In May of this year, we explored the news of MoviePass’s dwindling cash reserves and the tumbling stock prices that came with it. Every few months seemed to bring about a new disaster for the company, and with the recent news that MoviePass will no longer be offering tickets to high-profile releases, it feels like we’re only a matter of weeks from the service’s inglorious end.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to write another piece discussing the end of MoviePass. If this is truly the end of the service – if they don’t have another golden parachute tucked away for a situation like this – then I’d like to remember it as a service that changed the way I went to the movies. At its best, MoviePass helped launch the careers of influential film critics; it encouraged people to travel outside their comfort zone and find movies and genres they might not otherwise have sought out. And it made me take better and smarter risks with my free time. According to MoviePass, I’ve seen 107 films over the past two+ years using their service. Here’s seven that wouldn’t have happened without it.

Miles Ahead Don Cheadle

Sony Pictures Classic

Miles Ahead
Regal E-Walk Stadium 13 | May 02, 2016

I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that Don Cheadle‘s Miles Ahead hit theaters with a minor degree of hype. While the movie did have its supporters – Angelica Jade Bastien wrote a stunning review at, for example – most critics seemed comfortable treating it like any other passion project by an actor-turned-filmmaker: excellent acting, mediocre storytelling. It just so happens, however, that Miles Ahead was one of my favorite movies of 2016 and a dynamic biopic at a time where the industry desperately needed one. Cheadle’s desire to explore both sides of Miles Davis – the mythology and the man – resulted in something utterly unique: a brash and unapologetically messy film about a brash and unapologetically messy man.

Film Society of Lincoln Center | May 14, 2016

The wonderful thing about living in New York City is that there’s never a shortage of interesting movies to check out. The terrible thing about living in New York City? There’s never a shortage of interesting movies to check out. High-Rise was already a festival darling on its initial release – it had played everything from the Toronto International Film Festival to Fantastic Fest here in Austin – but it was still a movie that was deceptively easy to miss in theaters. It’s abstract, it comes from a filmmaker with a (relatively) opaque body of work, and it topped out at 41 theaters across the country at the point of its widest release. You’re not going to sell a pitch writing about High-Rise three weeks after its limited theatrical release, but that doesn’t make me any less glad I saw it.

Train To Busan
AMC Empire 25 | August 18, 2016

Those who live in New York City know that they can count on the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square to program some of the best Asian cinema in the city, but it would’ve taken more than just a little bit of internet buzz to get me to check out a zombie movie in 2016. In fact, I’ll got a step further: indie horror movies have always been my favorite outlet for my MoviePass, as you often have to be well-versed in the people doing the buzzing to know if it’s a movie you’re going to like. Horror fans bring enthusiasm; mainstream critics bring disdain; and somehow, in the midst of all that, you’re supposed to decide which movies are the next genre breakout and which are just mediocre jump scares for the arthouse crowd. Train To Busan ended up the former, of course, but I didn’t know that going in.

Hollow Point Patrick Wilson

Vertical Entertainment

Hollow Point
Cinema Village 12th Street | December 16, 2016

Listen, Hollow Point probably isn’t anyone’s idea of a good movie. In his inarguably unkind review of the film, Glenn Kenny wrote that there’s “literally nothing in this movie that feels like it arose from an impulse to either entertain or create art.” Ouch. So why does it make the cut? Part of this is because the film opened at Cinema Village 12th Street, an absolute travesty of a first-run theater that somehow exists to give independent genre movies – movies that would not see the light of day in any other city in America – a few moments on the big screen. I was never once comfortable at Cinema Village and never once disappointed I went. Mostly, though, I choose to remember Hollow Point as exactly the kind of movie I wanted to gamble on in during a slow weekend. Patrick Wilson and Ian McShane are enough to command my attention, and if I can make the gamble without hurting my budget’s bottom line, the more the better.

The Girl With All The Gifts
City Cinemas Village East | February 26, 2017

Same story you’ve heard before: zombie movie with a little bit of buzz, playing on only a single screen in your city, and you’ve got to decide if it’s worth taking an extra train to get down to East Village to make it happen. MoviePass has always worked best as a cinematic tiebreaker for me. If the film is ostensibly free, and it only costs me a few extra minutes of transportation, is that enough to make up for the movie itself only being a coin toss in terms of quality? Maybe the Germans have a word for that extra degree of enjoyment you get out of a movie that you knowingly gambled on. If everyone had been talking about The Girl With All The Gifts prior to its release, I would’ve liked it less than I did as only one of a handful of people at City Cinemas Village East on a weekend matinee.


Fox Searchlight

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar | September 4, 2017

MoviePass was probably made for documentaries. Right now, RBGWon’t You Be My Neighbor?, and Three Identical Strangers are all playing at a theater near you; each of those films has also cracked the Top 40 on the list of the highest-grossing documentaries of all-time. You can argue that these are special documentaries – documentaries with their finger on the pulse of America – but there’s no doubt that MoviePass has played a roll in helping these movies break out simultaneously. And, if I’m being honest, that was part of the reason I went to see Step. I anticipated it being a good movie – most of the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and the trailer for the film was one of the best of 2017 – but justifying that usage of my entertainment dollars was a whole lot easier when I wasn’t responsible for the individual ticket.

Regal Gateway Stadium 16 & IMAX | April 29, 2018

It seemed like Beirut was joked about as future Redbox fodder even before it hit theaters, which is par for the course when you’re a political thriller that’s light on both plot and violence. That was always kind of understood, though. I didn’t want to see Beirut in theaters because I thought I was going to be watching one of the stealth-best movies of 2018; I wanted to see Beirut in theaters because I wanted to see Jon Hamm take his stab at being a dramatic lead and director Brad Anderson tackle yet-another story about someone unravelling with guilt. Grading films on a binary scale – where everything is either fresh or rotten – ignores the fact that we are often satisfied if just a few things break right in the movie. Strong performances? A good action sequence or two? Recognizing movies like this isn’t particularly hard. Deciding which are worth a full-price ticket? That’s another story altogether.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)