NEW YORK —
At $15 a pop in major cities — and sometimes more — going to the cinema can easily break the bank.
That’s where a movie subscription comes in. Although MoviePass failed in its bid to let you catch first-run movies just about anywhere for a low monthly price, many theater chains are now offering plans of their own.
These plans cost more than MoviePass’ $10-a-month starting price, and they work only at each chain’s own theaters, which mostly show big studio releases. That means you’ll still have to pay full price for that obscure indie flick at the local art house. But these plans can still be a good deal if you average just a few movies a month at those theaters.
If you’re still looking to catch up on the Oscars nominees for the Feb. 9 ceremony, here are the major subscription offerings in the U.S. to consider:
AMC STUBS A-LIST
The nation’s largest theater chain offers three movies a week, including an unlimited number in premium formats such as Imax, Dolby and 3D, starting at $20 a month. The subscription fee is higher — $22 or $24 — in states where ticket prices are higher. You can watch all three movies on a single day if you wish.
You get same-day and advance tickets through an app, with no fees, and can cancel up until showtime. Some special events, such as concert and opera screenings, are excluded. One new feature lets you and friends who are subscribers book seats together. Otherwise, you can buy individual tickets for friends at regular prices.
There’s a three-month commitment, though you’re still billed monthly. If you cancel, you can’t come back for six months.
There’s no weekly cap with Regal’s plan, and you can spend all day at the theater if you wish. Subscriptions range from $18 to $23.50 a month; the higher prices are for theaters in bigger cities, though you can pay a surcharge of $1.50 or $3 if you’re just visiting a pricier theater occasionally.
Unlike AMC, Regal charges extra for Imax and other premium screens. And tickets obtained through Regal’s app carry a surcharge of 50 cents each. You can avoid the surcharge only for same-day tickets at the theater. Some foreign language movies and special events may be excluded or carry surcharges. You can buy tickets for friends at regular prices.
Because the plan is unlimited, you can technically cancel a ticket by just not showing up. But Regal warns that doing so repeatedly may void the subscription, without refunds. You can officially cancel up to an hour before showtime.
The biggest catch is the plan’s one-year commitment. You can pay for the full year at once or choose monthly billing, but either way, you can’t leave for a year.
ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE SEASON PASS
This theater chain is rolling out its $20-a-month subscription plan slowly. After tests in Yonkers, New York, the program has officially expanded to the Denver area, Kansas City, Missouri, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas. It’s being tested elsewhere on an invite-only basis at varying prices. The subscription works at Alamo theaters in about a dozen cities.
The plan limits you to a movie per day. Premium screenings carry a $1.99 surcharge, and some special events are excluded. You can book tickets only through Alamo’s app — for a convenience fee of nearly $2 per ticket. If you can’t make a movie and fail to cancel at least an hour ahead of time, Alamo may ban you from making advance reservations.
You can cancel your subscription anytime, but there’s a waiting period of a year before you can sign up again.
What makes Alamo different is the ability to buy additional seats for friends at $19 a month each. Anyone can come with you; it doesn’t need to be the same person or another subscriber. But you must accompany your guests. If it’s a spouse or a friend who might want to come without you, getting a separate subscription for just $1 more makes better sense. You can also buy individual tickets for companions at regular prices when booking your free one.
Showcase Cinemas and Cinemark also offer subscriptions but with big limits — just two or three movies a month with Showcase, and one with Cinemark.
Many independent theaters offer discounted tickets through memberships; a few offer free movies, especially at pricier tiers. You also might consider a membership at an art museum. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for instance, screened several award contenders over the past few months — all free with a membership.
Subscriptions are typically for individual use only, and theaters sometimes check IDs or a photo you submit ahead of time.
Which subscription is right for you will largely depend on which theater is most convenient. The prospect of free premium movies at AMC might sound enticing — but not if the closest theater is an hour away. And be sure to factor in the surcharges, especially at Alamo, where they’re unavoidable.
It’s OK to binge for a month or two and then let your membership lie fallow for a few months, so long as you’re still averaging a few movies a month. Otherwise, you risk falling into the “gym membership” trap in paying every month for something you never use.