Last summer's blockbuster was Helios and Matheson Analytics(OTC:HMNY) majority-owned MoviePass. But this year, the hot multiplex subscription plan has to be AMC Entertainment's (NYSE:AMC) fast-growing AMC Stubs A-List service. AMC announced after Thursday's market close that its monthly movie subscription service has topped 260,000 paid subscribers. Those members have now seen a million movies under the plan, and that's not a bad haul for a service that was launched just seven weeks ago.

AMC Stubs A-List rolled out in late June, and AMC announced in its second-quarter earnings call that it had 175,000 moviegoers on the platform by the end of July. In other words, it has padded its rolls by 85,000 subscribers over the past two weeks. The appeal of AMC Stubs A-List is clear, but the slightly accelerating growth (it has nabbed nearly half as many net new users as it did during the five previous weeks) is likely coming at the expense of the mess that the cash-strapped MoviePass service has become. 

AMC 14 at Saratoga.

Image source: AMC Entertainment.

MoviePass was a gateway drug 

AMC Stubs A-List offers film buffs access to as many as three movies a week for $19.95 a month. It may have initially seemed like an overpriced alternative to MoviePass, with its access to daily screenings at half the price, but AMC sweetened the offer by including premium-format showings and advance reservations.

Two weeks ago, AMC Stubs A-List started sounding like an even better deal after MoviePass outages and drastic changes to access rocked its growth. MoviePass is now limiting members to just three movies a month, and on any given day it will limit the particular movies and showtimes that are available. AMC couldn't have scripted this any better. MoviePass created a product that at its peak had 3.2 million subscribers spoiled by a multiplex smorgasbord, and along comes the country's largest theater chain disrupting the original disruptor. 

AMC has always been an outspoken critic of MoviePass, arguing that it devalues the moviegoing experience. It never had a problem running MoviePass debit cards (AMC was collecting roughly $2 more per movie purchase by MoviePass users than its nationwide average), but it was trolling MoviePass and its sustainable model every step of the way. 

AMC is still picking on MoviePass. Thursday afternoon's press release reiterated the exhibitor's promise to keep terms of the deal in place for at least the next 12 months. MoviePass seems to change its model about once or twice every lunar cycle. 

It's fair to tag AMC's knocks on MoviePass as hypocritical. AMC Stubs A-List offers access to just a dozen movies a month at twice the price, but isn't including marked-up Dolby, 3-D, and IMAX films devaluing the premium screening experience? The big difference here is that AMC's plan has always been sustainable. It's the one that can cut deals with studios. It's the one cashing in on the spike in high-margin snack and beverage sales. Now it's in an even sweeter spot, catching all the angry and now celluloid-addicted, MoviePass-canceling subscribers who happen to live close to an AMC. 

Well played, AMC. It's almost as if you've seen enough movies to know that the ultimate plot twist is when the villain returns in the final act as a hero to save the day.

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