MoviePass: Idiotic, but Kinda Brilliant

Plus: 'Red Notice' reviewed and some *exclusive* 'Dune' data

This week at the Washington Post I looked at some exclusive data from the Harris Poll about the state of moviegoing. The tl;dr version is that older audiences have fled multiplexes almost entirely, younger audiences are going less frequently than before the beginning of the pandemic, and regardless of genre, audiences prefer watching movies at home to watching them in theaters.

I can think of several reasons for that last fact, even though it’s objectively better to see a movie like Dune on IMAX than at home. COVID remains a concern, of course. Cost is a factor. Comfort matters. But you can add another “C” to COVID, cost, and comfort: convenience.

It’s not just that it’s more convenient to watch a movie at home and avoid the rigmarole of finding a showtime, driving, parking, getting a babysitter for your kids, etc. It’s simply being able to plop down on the couch, fire up your Smart TV, open Netflix, and scroll until your eyes glaze over and your mouth starts foaming and you pass out or you find something worth watching.

Netflix is always going to have a leg up on delivering movie-like content such as Red Notice (review below!) directly to your TV or your laptop or your iPad or your phone. That’s a level of convenience that can’t be beat. But Netflix has upended our expectation on cost in a way that not even HBO, with its monthly fee for access to tons of movies, did. And theater owners, if they want to retrain audiences to return to the multiplex, are ill served if they don’t take advantage of this innovation.

I speak, of course, of the subscription model. When MoviePass tried this a few years back, their business model was just about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of: They were charging people a monthly fee and offering them access to a movie a day at the theater. This might make sense if you were charging them something like $200 a month, on the theory that there aren’t 15 movies a month anyone would want to see. But MoviePass was charging much less than that and they quickly ran out of money because they were just buying movie tickets to theaters at retail and sending them to MoviePass customers. It was, how do you say, “nuts.”

Any third-party vendor trying this is going to quickly run out of money. Which is why I am … skeptical … that a renewed MoviePass has much of a shot at lasting. But the MoviePass/Netflix model makes a lot of sense for theater owners like AMC, with its A-List program or Alamo Drafthouse with its (currently paused) Season Pass program. Not only because they generate a consistent monthly base of revenue that will come in regardless of what’s in theaters in any given month but also because they lock patrons in to attending your shows. Which means you’re capturing a regular audience, an audience that, having not paid anything to enter, might feel more comfortable about spending more cash on popcorn, soda, and beer.

Convincing audiences to come back to movie theaters is the first and most important job movie theater owners have right now, and offering the wary a subscription-based model at a low introductory price point may help to reacclimate them to the moviegoing experience.

Random Dune Data

As someone who spends a lot of time reading about movies in the Hollywood trades and on the Hollywood blogs, I was aware that Dune only covered the first half of Frank Herbert’s book. Yet I was still somewhat surprised when, watching Dune for the first time, the title card at the beginning of the movie was Dune: Part One. And I was surprised because it was not marketed this way at all. The title Dune: Part One appeared in no ad, no trailer, no poster.

When I suggested that normal moviegoers might be somewhat surprised by that “Part One,” many nerds lashed out at me, telling me that it was obviously always just the first part, they’d been very clear about this, etc. I was curious to see if this was the actual public sentiment, and the Harris Poll helped settle that question.

Of those surveyed between 10/29 and 10/31 who were aware of the film Dune, 51 percent were “under the impression that the movie was one complete story, not the first part of a longer series” while 49 percent responded that they believed it would be “Part One of a longer series.”

In other words, almost exactly 50/50. I would say that this counts as a marketing failure—unless, of course, the intent was to obscure the fact that this is only the first part, in which case it was deviously savvy marketing—but your mileage may vary.

Red Notice Review

“Inoffensive competence” is Red Notice’s métier. There isn’t a single memorable image or line of dialogue, aside from the one about MacGuffins above that annoyed me. It feels like watered down Michael Bay, with knock-off parallax shots and some drone work that made me yearn to re-watch the Ambulance trailer that played in front of Red Notice just so I could feel anything at all.

The good news for Netflix is that this flick will undoubtedly be watched by 95 million people for at least two minutes, or whatever metric they’re using to justify spending $200 million on a picture like Red Notice. The bad news is that no one will remember it exists four weeks from now, just another piece of content swallowed by the big red N’s maw.

Read the full review here!


We had a great week of #content over at the Bulwark’s culture section.

On the podcast front, I had an excellent chat with Christian Blauvelt about his new book Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II at The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood. Why is Casablanca the quintessential Hollywood World War II movie?

At Across the Movie Aisle, I talked about Eternals with Peter Suderman and Chris Orr (spoiler: we didn’t love it) and we discussed which “rotten” entries from beloved franchises we enjoyed (spoiler: the Nuclear Man makes an appearance).

I took a look at the work of Jim Cummings, the most interesting writer/director/actor you’ve never heard of, and why his “anti-protagonists,” as I like to think of them, linger with us.

And we had a new writer, Jessica Crets, join the site this week with this wonderful essay about The Eternals, blind MCU fandom, and how both somewhat betray the spirit of Jack Kirby.

Assigned Viewing: The Great Dictator (HBO Max, Criterion Channel)

While reading Christian Blauvelt’s book on World War II, I came across an interesting factoid I’d never heard before. While Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will was playing at the Museum of Modern Art, both Frank Capra and Charlie Chaplin happened to see it. Capra’s response was one of borderline terror: He was so overwhelmed by the mechanized, goose-stepping Nazi masses that he’d be inspired to work on the “Why We Fight” series for the U.S. government.

Chaplin had the exact opposite experience: He thought it was ludicrous, this angry, stroppy fellow screaming on a stage while the assembled masses looked up adoringly. Chaplin would pour that feeling into The Great Dictator, one of the biggest commercial and critical hits of 1940 and a film that ended up earning a raft of Oscar nominations. It’s a handy reminder that one can never predict how, exactly, someone will respond to a work of art.