I’m a fan of seeing movies the old-fashioned way: in the theater. I find that when watching movies at home, whether streaming or on disc, it’s just too easy to give in to the distractions around me. In the theater, though, I can just sit back and lose myself to the entertainment on screen.
Like other modern geeks, I don’t go anywhere without my phone, and while I don’t actively check it while in the theater, I do have a set of apps that I rely on heavily to enhance my movie-going experience. These help me decide what to see, keep me from interrupting my fellow movie-goers, and most of all save me some money. All of these apps are free and available on both iOS and Android unless otherwise noted.
MoviePass: I describe MoviePass to my friends as “a gym membership for movie lovers.” It works on the same principle: you pay a monthly fee for access to pretty much as many movies as you want. There are only a couple of restrictions: you can’t use it to see 3D, XD or IMAX movies (although the company is rolling out a pilot program in a few cities that allows members to pay a bit more for those), you can’t see the same movie more than once, and you can only see one movie every 24 hours. The first two restrictions don’t bother me; I hate seeing movies in 3D, I’m fine skipping XD, and the once or twice a year I see something on IMAX I’m OK paying out-of-pocket. Also, I hardly ever see anything more than once. The last restriction–the 24 hour limit–sometimes does get in my way, since seeing the latest showing of a movie on one night pretty much means I can’t see anything the following day, but what I save from MoviePass makes up for that minor annoyance.
The service works by issuing you a branded credit card issued from Discover. When you arrive at the theater, you check in to the movie you want to see on the free MoviePass app, and that activates the card for the cost of the single admission. The theater swipes the card as normal and will receive the full admission price for the ticket. The app is extremely simple, automatically detects your location so the theater you’re at is almost always at the top of the list, and even keeps track of your viewing history.
Depending on where you live, you only need to see two or three movies per month for MoviePass to pay for itself. When you see the quantity of movies I do, it pays for itself many times over–it has already saved me close to $180 this year.
RunPee: If you’ve ever been sitting in a theater having consumed a little too much of that ridiculously-sized beverage you bought on the way in, but are afraid to get up and go to the bathroom for fear of missing some important plot point, then RunPee is for you. It’s designed and run by a family in North Carolina, who fan out each weekend to cover all of the movies so they can get the app updated quickly, RunPee does one simple thing: it tells you when it’s safe to, well, run and pee. Listings usually contain 2 or 3 times, and give you a synopsis of what you missed while you were out. It’s totally ingenious.
Obviously, though, you don’t want to be constantly waking up your phone during the movie to see if it’s time to go, and the app has that figured out as well: just before the film starts, you can activate the built-in timer and your phone will unobtrusively vibrate just before each pee time. You can even set it so that the timer starts when you flip your phone over, allowing you to get everything set up in advance and not disturb your neighbors at all as the movie begins.
I use RunPee for every movie I see, but I hardly ever use it as designed. Instead, I use it for two other purposes. The first is to manage my popcorn consumption. I always get a small popcorn (with no butter), but I know if I start chowing down on it as soon as the movie starts I’ll be done too early and then have to sit through the rest of the film wanting more. So instead, I put my popcorn down when I arrive and wait until the first pee time to start eating. Since that first time is usually 30-40 minutes into the film, it works out really nicely.
The second feature I use all the time is that it tells you whether or not there’s an extra scene at the end of the credits, so you don’t have to sit through tons of them (Insurgent, for instance, has end credits that run for an incredible 11 minutes) only to find out that you didn’t need to.
Theater rewards apps: All of the theaters in my area are run by one of two chains: Century and Regal. Both chains have apps that offer coupons and rewards. Century’s, called CineMode, is designed to keep your phone from interrupting other moviegoers by silencing it during the film. If you turn it on at the beginning of the movie and leave it on throughout, you’ll be rewarded at the end of the film with a coupon for discounted concessions for your next movie. It’s a great little app, but it doesn’t play well with RunPee so I don’t use it very often. (Also, Century has an email subscription service that sends you coupons once a week, so I don’t feel I’m really missing out.)
Regal’s app is less useful on a film-by-film basis. It mostly shows local movie times, lets you buy tickets in advance, and view trailers for upcoming films. Where it is helpful, though, is in giving you access to your Regal Crown Club rewards account. The Crown Club is a frequent visitor program that lets you build up points for each movie you see, and eventually gives you discounted concessions or even free movies. Using the app lets you ditch the plastic card. When you arrive at the box office or the concession stand, you can open the app and show the QR code to the cashier to get your points.
The closest AMC theater to me is over 100 miles away in San Francisco, so I don’t have or use their app, but from the description online it appears to be very similar in form and function to the Regal app.
IMDb: Given its status as one of the most popular sites on the web, I’m going to assume that I don’t need to go on about how great IMDb is. The app is handy to answer all of those trivial questions you may have about the cast or crew after the movie is over.
Fandango: There are a ton of apps for checking movie times, but Fandango is my personal tool of choice. It’s not the fastest app out there, and it has a few more ads than I’d like, but it does have the most consistently accurate and complete listings that I’ve found.
A runner-up here isn’t technically an app, but did you know that Google has movie listings? Simply go to http://www.google.com/movies and type in your location. It’s blazingly fast, shows listings up to three days in advance, and you can choose to see the listings by theater or by film. My only beef with it is that it doesn’t indicate when a film is XD, and since MoviePass won’t pay for those that can be a problem.
Shush! Ringer Restorer: Unlike the other apps on this list, Shush is Android-only. It’s an amazingly simple app, and after Gmail is probably the app I use the most on my phone. Anytime you mute the volume, Shush pops up and offers to turn the volume back on after a certain time. It’s great for work, for meetings, and most of all for movies. Using RunPee or IMDb, I can check how long the film will be, and then use Shush to silence the phone for that amount of time. (I add about 30 minutes on to the time to account for trailers.) That way, you can be polite and silence your phone, but not have to worry that you’ll forget to turn the volume back up after the movie and miss an important call.
On iOS, you can get similar functionality with Do Not Disturb, which is available by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and tapping the crescent moon icon. If you want to get it to automatically turn the sound back on at a certain time, you can dig into the phone’s settings and control it from there. It’s not quite as simple to use as Shush, but the end result is the same which is what’s important.
Download Shush from Google Play.
Honorable Mention: As a geek, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a bit nerdy when it comes to tracking my movie watching. Since I see a pretty ridiculous amount of movies–I’m already at 35 for this year–I maintain a spreadsheet. It lists the movie I saw, when and where I saw it, my rating of the movie on a 1-5 scale, notes about who I might have seen the movie with, and how much the ticket cost. And because it’s a spreadsheet, I’ve also added functions to calculates how many movies I’ve seen, the average number of days between movies, the average rating by year and month, and just how much MoviePass is saving me. Best of all, it’s all in a Google spreadsheet, so it’s instantly available to me on my phone, allowing me to enter all of the relevant information as soon as I get to the theater.