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Discount movies: Which theatre subscription is best?


NEW YORK — A movie a day in theatres for $10 a month seemed too good to be true. And it was.

MoviePass, which tried to bring Netflix-like subscriptions to the movie theatre, pulled back on its deal last summer. MoviePass was a consumer success, but a financial disaster. MoviePass had to pay theatres the full price of most tickets, which quickly exceeded $10 each month.

Today, MoviePass chugs along with an offer for three movies a month starting at the same $10 fee. But it faces competition from theatre chains and a Turkish startup that brought back a movie a day, at least temporarily — this time for $20 a month.

Here's a look at the major subscription offerings for theatres in the U.S.:

MOVIEPASS

You get a debit card that MoviePass loads with money when you show up at a theatre and check in on the MoviePass app. The card works at most theatres, but not necessarily with all movies. You can only get tickets for showings that day.

The $10 monthly rate limits you to a rotating list of about six movies each day, only one or two of which is a major studio release. It's good if you like independent movies, but awful if you live where independent movies aren't shown. If movie tickets tend to cost more where you live, the subscription price goes up to $13 or $15.

For $5 more each month, MoviePass will let you see the movie of your choice. Yet another $5 — a total of up to $25 — gives you one Imax or 3D screening per month.

Movie credits disappear if you don't use them before the billing month is up. If you watch all three movies, MoviePass is cheaper than regular tickets. But you can often come close by choosing matinee and other discount showtimes or by buying discount vouchers through theatre chains or retailers such as Costco.

There's no long-term commitment, though if you cancel, you're not allowed back for nine months.

SINEMIA

The Turkey-based Sinemia service works much like MoviePass, except you pay a one-time fee of $25 to get a debit card for same-day tickets at theatres. There are no restrictions on which movies you can watch.

Without a card, or for future dates, you can get tickets online. Sinemia passes along the ticketing fees that Fandango and other online services charge. It also adds a "processing fee" of $1.80 per movie. Those fees are waived, at least for now, when getting tickets in person at theatres, so paying for the debit card is cheaper in the long run.

Prices and plans change frequently, so if you see one you like, grab it right away. Over the past few weeks, Sinemia had a movie-a-day plan for $20 a month, excluding 3D and other premium movies. But by Friday morning, Sinemia was offering eight movies a month at that price. Other non-premium plans range from $4 for one movie to $8 for three. You can pay more for premium plans.

Though Sinemia occasionally offers pay-per-month options, all plans currently require a year-long commitment, paid up front. One unused ticket can be carried over to the next month.

AMC A-LIST

The nation's largest theatre chain offers three movies a week, including an unlimited number in premium formats, starting at $20 a month. The subscription fee is higher — $22 or $24 — in states where ticket prices are higher.

You get same-day and advance tickets through an app, with no fees, and can cancel up until showtime. Getting tickets is easier, compared with Sinemia and MoviePass. But the plan is good only if you live near an AMC theatre and like the major studio releases typically shown there. Independent movies are limited.

There's a three-month commitment, though you're still billed monthly. If you cancel, you can't come back for six months. AMC does offer $5 tickets on Tuesdays, so that might be cheaper if you aren't going to watch at least four movies a month.

OTHER THEATER CHAINS

With Cinemark Movie Club, $9 gets you one non-premium ticket per month, which isn't necessarily cheaper, considering that the average U.S. ticket price is $9. Unused tickets can be rolled over into future months. You also get 20 per cent off concessions.

Alamo Drafthouse is testing its own subscription offering, initially in Yonkers, New York, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Prices and terms vary during the testing period.

Sinemia, meanwhile, is helping other theatre chains create their own subscriptions distinct from the main Sinemia service. Studio Movie Grill and Showcase Cinemas offer plans this way.

Anick Jesdanun, The Associated Press

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