Review: MoviePass, MovieCrash


Back in 2018, all that we could talk about here on Flixist was MoviePass. We didn’t talk about it publicly, except for one of our writers at the time who made it his life’s mission to abuse MoviePass for the entire year by seeing 300 movies in theaters, but in our day-to-day chats, we kept openly wondering when the company would collapse. MoviePass was a wonderful, terrible idea that even average schmucks like us knew was a train crashing in slow motion over the course of the year.

But for that entire year, none of us really bothered to look into the history of the company or the people behind it. Understandably, we were more interested in the media spectacle the company was drumming up for itself. Little did we know that the actual people who created MoviePass had nothing to do with the pariah it became and the people in charge of the day-to-day operations were swamped with an absurd amount of complaints they had no control over. Of course, the heads of the company who claimed they were the founders profited until everything was burnt to the ground because of course they did.

MoviePass, MovieCrash is an interesting history lesson, one that I wish I had known back when we were making fun of the business. I’m not saying this documentary completely changed my outlook on that period in film history, but it made me appreciate the company’s founders and what they went through more.

MoviePass, MovieCrash | Official Trailer | HBO

MoviePass, MovieCrash
Director: Muta’Ali

Release Date: May 29, 2024 (MAX)

For those who may have forgotten or never knew what MoviePass was, MoviePass, MovieCrash has you covered. The film’s first ten minutes is a blitz of information quickly informing the viewer what the program was. It was a subscription service for movie theaters that, for $9.95 a month, allowed a person to see as many movies as they wanted. In 2018, there were over three million subscribers and people were flocking to theaters to see movies daily. All the while, the founders of the company, Mitch Lowe and Ted Farnsworth, talked about its great potential and how they weren’t actually losing money on this clearly non-profitable business model. In reality, of course, they were, but they were firing the people criticizing their big plans for the company so they could keep on trucking along.

The documentary then reveals that two of these people who were fired were the actual founders of the company, two black men named Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt. MoviePass, MovieCrash then shifts to the actual history of the company and not just the big news stories surrounding it. We learn about how disruptive the subscription service was in the late 2000s and early 2010s and how Stacy and Hamet were planning on having it grow slowly and carefully. It had only 20,000 subscribers by the time Lowe and Farnsworth entered the picture, and from there, both of them ran it to the ground in a spectacular blaze of glory. And yes, Lowe and Farnsworth are both rich white men. What gave it away?

That’s the angle that MoviePass, MovieCrash sticks with for most of its runtime. It frames the program in a racial light, showing how what originally had the potential to become a major player in the film industry was quickly sapped dry by two white men who only saw dollar signs. To be fair, the documentary doesn’t paint Lowe in a hugely negative light. In interviews, we see how he regrets the decisions he made and how he was going through a messy divorce and distanced himself from the company during the peak of its insanity. The same can’t be said for Farnsworth, which multiple people in the documentary call a con artist and very clearly abused the wealth that he somehow earned running the company.

Review: MoviePass, MovieCrash

Copyright: HBO

It’s a point that is effectively conveyed through multiple interviews and it paints the situation as a farce. We see just how ludicrous some of the decisions made were to simultaneously increase their subscriber count and also find some way to make money and stay afloat. It’s the kind of obviously shady business that would fit right into something like The Wolf of Wall Street. Hearing the documentary talk about fiascos like when MoviePass decided to produce movies such as Gotti, going to Coachella with Dennis Rodman and burning over one million dollars in the process, or barring users from seeing movies because they were too popular felt somewhat nostalgic. A horrible sense of nostalgia, but nostalgia nonetheless.

I always view documentaries from the perspective of how much more educated I am about a topic by the end of it, and I would say that MoviePass, MovieCrash does an admirable job of informing the viewer about everything they want to know about the company. I can’t say it’s an incredibly comprehensive look at what happened, however. For as much as the documentary lays out the origins of the company, its meteoric rise, and how all of the problems began to pop up, the actual “crash” portion of the title is murky. It’s almost as if by the time we’ve established everything that was going wrong for the company, suddenly it declares bankruptcy, and then that was it. There is no discussion of what the straw was that broke the camel’s back.

The year 2018 is the central focal point of the film, which is fair given that’s when it exploded, but the company declared bankruptcy in 2020. 2019 is more or less ignored and we don’t learn the why of how they declared it. Logically, one would assume that everything came crashing down all at once, but the documentary instead doesn’t offer a definitive explanation or key moment when everything began to fall apart. It frames the company as being this chaotic mess, which it was, but its actual death wasn’t a devastating crash. Instead, it was a slow and painful gutting, one that Stacy Spikes was devastated to see.

Review: MoviePass, MovieCrash

Copyright: HBO

MoviePass, MovieCrash does get a wide assortment of people to share their thoughts on the company. Stacey, Hamet, Mitch, several former employees, journalists, and other entrepreneurs and businessmen all explain in pretty great detail that what MoivePass became was unsustainable. It’s not afraid to get into some more light-hearted moments though. Some highlights were when Stacy said that whenever he was talking to Mitch Lowe he felt like he needed Luther the Anger Translator from Key & Peele on standby, and when a former MoviePass employee looks wistfully at his old card and calls it a valuable memento, he rushes home to sell it on eBay once he’s told the cards sell for $1,000 or more.

It’s moments like that that really give MoviePass, MovieCrash a unique identity of its own, especially given that it has a somewhat happy ending. I won’t get into the specifics of it here, but it’s one where you feel hopeful for the company and are eager to see what happens to it next. It’s rare for me to feel optimistic about a company, especially one that had such a polarizing reputation as MoviePass, but by framing the story of MoviePass, MovieCrash around two black businessmen losing something they created and seeing it be destroyed, you do feel somewhat vindicated about how things eventually turn out.

It’s not a perfect documentary – the murkiness of the actual end of the business and some rather cheap animation – can take you out of it for a moment, but only just for a moment. The rest of MoviePass, MovieCrash is a highly informative documentary that is essential if you’re someone who remembers this little period of time in the film industry. It was indeed disruptive and led to companies having their own subscription services (gotta love my AMC A-List), so at the end of the day, though it may be well past its glory days, the legacy of MoviePass lives on, both for the good and the ill.




MoviePass, MovieCrash is an enlightening look at one of the most disruptive moments in recent film history, even if the Crash part of the title isn't fully represented.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.