MoviePass could save this summer’s bad movies

It may not take much for sequels to soar this summer.
It may not take much for sequels to soar this summer.
Image: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Franchise fatigue hit Hollywood hard last summer. The sequels and remakes that the movie industry bet on, like the Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises and reboots like The Mummyscored miserably on Rotten Tomatoes and couldn’t compel audiences to visit theaters. It was the worst-attended summer movie season (paywall) in the US in 25 years.

This summer, MoviePass is giving the dubious sequels no one asked for, like the sixth Mission: Impossible film and Sicario 2, fighting chances to find audiences.

The movie-ticket subscription service, which boasts 2.7 million members, gets users into a showing per day in the US for $9.95 a month. A film that looks mildly interesting, has a big name attached like “The Rock” in Skyscraper, or is tied to a familiar property could be enough to grab MoviePass subscribers—even if reviews are working against it.

“In the summer, you have a lot of blockbusters that people will go to regardless of whether they’re good … and it’s MoviePass, so I don’t really have to pay for it,” Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Quartz. “It’s probably a boon to bad sequels everywhere that MoviePass exists.”

It could be good news for upcoming sequels like Mission: Impossible—Fallout and the next Mamma Mia film, which both hit theaters this summer. Mid-budget titles like Adrift could also get a lift from adventurous MoviePass members; the company partners with studios to promote some smaller titles like RBG and Beast to its members.

MoviePass said its customers are more willing to take shots on movies than other theatergoers. Nearly half said they see movies with MoviePass that they wouldn’t normally see in theaters, a survey conducted by the National Research Group for the Hollywood Reporter found. MoviePass cited the data in its most recent earnings release.

CEO Mitch Lowe previously told Quartz that MoviePass was planning to build its own user-driven recommendation engine, which could make subscribers less susceptible to negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Some Hollywood producers pinned the downfall of poorly reviewed movies last summer on the movie-review aggregation site. “They tell us they would prefer to read reviews by fellow MoviePass subscribers than go to Rotten Tomatoes,” Lowe said of his members. “They find Rotten Tomatoes to be overly negative.”

MoviePass probably won’t save truly awful titles like Pacific Rim: Uprising and Tomb Raider, which bombed in US theaters over the spring. Nobody wants to waste their time, even those paying just $10 a month. But they might take chances on movies, sequels or otherwise, they’re on the fence about—because, why not? ”People are going to these films that they would probably wait until they come out on Redbox or streaming [to see] but they’re now going to those in movie theaters,” said Bock. “We have sequels upon sequels hitting theaters and people will just go because they feel like, I saw the first one, I gotta go see the second one.”

MoviePass members go to the movies regularly and are looking for new titles to watch. People who signed up for the service between November and March went to the movies at least twice on average during the month of April, MoviePass reported. And, in order to cut costs, MoviePass recently tweaked its policy so that members can only see each title once, which gives them more reason to explore different movies.

But while the changes could give a boost to ho-hum movies, it could end up being a drag on tentpole blockbusters. MoviePass told Business Insider in March that it sold the most tickets in recent months to movies like Black Panther and Jumanji. Box-office analyst Bruce Nash at The Numbers suspects from the data that a lot of those tickets were repeat viewings from MoviePass users, who might have seen the movies on their own and returned to see them again with friends.

Any effect MoviePass could have on the box office depends on whether the company survives the busy summer movie season. MoviePass pays theaters for each ticket subscribers use. The more they go to theaters, the more it costs the company. If MoviePass users are going to theaters roughly twice per month, and the average cost of a movie-ticket in the US is $9.16, than MoviePass is losing round $8.37 a month per subscriber.Its parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics’s stock sunk to an all-time low of $0.54 on Tuesday because of doubts about MoviePass’s subscription model.

Major theater chains haven’t welcomed MoviePass to the industry with open arms, but they could use a boost. The box office fell 2% in the US and Canada last year to $11.1 billion from a record high in 2016, the Motion Picture Association of America reported (pdf). Attendance dropped 6% to 1.24 billion tickets sold.

Hollywood has a better lineup this summer than it did last year when failed big-budget films like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Baywatch, Pirates, and The Mummy offset wins like Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The domestic box office is already 6% ahead of where it was this time in 2017 with $4.6 billion in returns, thanks to films like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

The summer movie season—running from the first Friday in May through Labor Day weekend in the US—also has Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Pixar’s long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles, and Marvel’s Ant-Man and Wasp. And, this weekend, the latest Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, hit theaters, which is the closest Hollywood has to a sure bet.