Mark Wahlberg’s Unrealistic Ideas—the production shingle that is also a presumably unintentional self-burn on Wahlberg’s own firmly stated convictions that he could have somehow stopped 9/11—is working up a new project this week, exploring an admittedly even more delusional set of beliefs: Those powering the late, not especially lamented MoviePass. Wahlberg’s company—which previously produced McMillions, about the McDonald’s Monopoly game scandal, for HBO—is gearing up for a new docuseries about the subscription movie ticketing company, based on reporting by Jason Guerrasio, who meticulously documented the company’s rise and fall for Insider (formerly Business Insider), a story that represents one of the most blatant examples in recent memory of someone looking at that South Park “Phase 2: ?, Phase 3: Profit!” meme and saying, “Yeah, sure, let’s go with that” as their business model.
For those who’ve managed to willfully block it out of their memories, MoviePass was a company that sold you a subscription card for $10 a month, which then let you go to the movie theater and see as many movies as you liked. (Movie theaters, in case that one’s getting fuzzy, were cold boxes where hundreds of people got together to spread germs and spill popcorn on each other while looking at big pictures of Mark Wahlberg.) As many people at the time pointed out, the company’s firmly established practice of selling movie tickets for considerably less than they paid for them—on the assumption that theaters would, like, gratefully offer them a cut of popcorn sales, or maybe pay them for their data—was not, in fact, sustainable, which is why MoviePass eventually transitioned into being a company that wouldn’t let you see movies in exchange for $10 a month, and then folded in 2019.
As Guerrasio’s reporting revealed over the years of the company’s operation, the whole MoviePass story was driven by a pretty standard “get the cash, strip-mine the company, get out” approach to American business, mixed with just a bit of belief that, hell, if you have enough customers, the money will probably follow, right? It’s a twisty enough story that it’ll be interesting to see how Unrealistic’s documentary covers it; from press statements, it sounds like it’ll focus heavily on Stacy Spikes and Hamet Watt, who founded the company on more sustainable (if far less flamboyant) lines before being ousted in favor of the executives who instituted the flashy but ultimately disastrous $10 a month for unlimited movies plan.