You remember MoviePass, right? The company raised Hollywood's hackles in 2017 and 2018 with an all-you-can-watch subscription service for movie tickets. Under the wings of data analytics company Helios & Matheson, MoviePass butted heads with theater chain operators AMC (AMC -7.79%) and Cineworld (CNWGY) before collapsing under a cash-burning business model.

It's been three years since the MoviePass service shut down and two years since Helios & Matheson filed for Chapter 7 liquidation. But that's not the end of the story.

MoviePass co-founder Stacy Spikes is ready to relaunch the service on Labor Day, in a radically different movie market.

Will this relaunch be a glorious success, like Godfather 2, or an unwanted failure like Godfather 3?

What's the back story?

Longtime Hollywood insider Spikes started MoviePass as a labor of love in 2011, kicking around various business models in its first six years. In 2017, the company launched a promotion with unlimited viewing for a low monthly fee. That move turned out to be hugely popular, attracting 3 million subscribers in a few short months. Along the way, Helios & Matheson adopted this promotion as a permanent policy and waved farewell to Stacey Spikes.

When each subscriber adds more expenses than top-line revenues, you won't turn a profit by adding millions of customers. Instead, MoviePass dug its financial hole deeper and deeper until its creditors wanted their money back. The service collapsed, Helios & Matheson went out of business, and MoviePass was put up for bankruptcy auction.

What MoviePass accomplished the first time around

Back in 2017, the movie industry had a long history of slowly shrinking audience numbers and rising ticket prices. MoviePass brought in a new ticket-selling system that could inspire higher attendance. Without it, I don't think we would have subscription-style movie ticket programs such as AMC's Stubs A-List or Regal's (a Cineworld company) Unlimited subscription pass.

These subscription plans were significant success stories in the space between the MoviePass collapse and the outbreak of COVID-19. For example, AMC highlighted the Stubs A-List plan as a powerful attendance booster at the end of 2019.

"We continue to have between 900,000 and 1 million paid members," CEO Adam Aron said in that quarter's earnings call. "A-List members currently represent between 15% and 20% of our total US admissions."

So MoviePass inspired a promising change to Hollywood's ticket-selling operations, though its own business didn't survive that heroic effort.

A group of frowning people in movie theater seats.

Image source: Getty Images.

How will it work this time?

Stacey Spikes was a vocal critic of the permanent-promotion idea. This time, he owns the MoviePass assets outright and doesn't have to answer to a parent company, its board of directors, and its shareholders. Furthermore, the man saw exactly what happened in the 2017 adventure and can apply the lessons learned to the upcoming relaunch.

And it looks like MoviePass really will do things differently this time. The new service will open with an invite-only system, starting with a first-come, first-serve waiting list with limited space. Sign-ups for that waiting list will be used to gauge market-by-market interest in the new MoviePass service.

According to Business Insider, MoviePass will offer a tiered subscription service with a limited number of movie credits per month. There won't be an unlimited option and monthly fees will be higher this time. That combination of higher prices and constricted benefits should result in a much smaller subscriber base and a more sustainable business model.

It's unclear how this idea will work in a movie industry transformed by the coronavirus pandemic and the unquenchable rise of video-streaming services. Movie studios are still producing big-screen blockbuster fare, but many movie viewers are getting used to watching them at home instead, with conveniences like unlimited snack breaks and bathroom visits.

I find this relaunch intriguing and I wish Stacey Spikes the best of luck. Maybe I'll give it a whirl myself, just to see how different it is to Stubs A-List and Regal Unlimited. But I don't expect game-changing innovation from this iteration of the MoviePass idea, unless Spikes has a reserve of extra features up his sleeve.

Either way, both traditional movie theaters like AMC and all-digital usurpers such as Netflix (NFLX 0.87%) will pay close attention to this experiment. Regal parent Cineworld stands on the verge of bankruptcy filings and AMC is preparing to raise some much-needed cash through the new AMC Preferred Equity stock. Hollywood should welcome fresh ideas in this challenging climate.