black text on a yellow background reading "MUBI GO," with seven black dots to the right
Courtesy MUBI GO

I recently got a tattoo of these opening lines from Frank O’Hara’s 1964 poem “Ave Maria”:

“Mothers of America

                                     let your kids go to the movies!”

A metaphorical approximation of a cinephile’s clarion call, to be sure, but one to which I still can’t help imagine today’s parents replying, “In this economy? Hell no.”

It’s not so much that the price of admission has risen drastically in recent years; per one source the average cost of a movie ticket in the United States has increased from $9.11 in 2018 to $9.17 in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Rather, with rising inflation and the threat of a looming recession, people are having to be especially prudent with their woefully minor ducats. (You can thank a recent screening of Clueless at the Rooftop Cinema Club for that reference; but with tickets starting at $19.75 for lounge seats at the novel moviegoing experience, it came at a cost.) 

There are options to alleviate this burden, ranging from yearly memberships at independent theaters, which typically come with a per-ticket discount and other localized benefits, to robust monthly programs with major chains like AMC Stubs A-List and Regal Unlimited, offering any number of movies for one low price.

But with plans like the latter come that which plagues the modern moviegoer: the paradox of choice, of having so many options from which to choose that it becomes more difficult to do so. This makes programs like AMC’s and Regal’s a double-edged sword, leaving something to be desired for a cinephile—especially one who might not frequently see what they’re interested in on the multiplex marquee—looking to make the most of their money and time. 

As Rebecca Fons, director of programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center, remarked in an email about the fabled days of MoviePass past (when, for one low price per month, audiences could see as many movies as they wanted, which they did with such gusto that it eventually went out of business), she was baffled by a patron at one of the previous venues where she worked who had the service and “walked out of movies as much as he walked into them.”

“I think that ‘too much of a muchness’ (as my mom says) meant there was an undervaluing of individual films and a lot of noise,” she says. 

Enter MUBI GO, a new offering from the streaming service, film distributor, and editorial publisher MUBI. (Full disclosure that I sometimes write for MUBI’s Notebook, but before that was a longtime subscriber to the streaming platform.)

Each week MUBI GO features a new film, and users can redeem a ticket for that movie at participating theaters on the MUBI GO app (which must be downloaded separately from the regular MUBI app). It’s somewhat similar to their streaming service, on which a new film is released every day. Past MUBI GO selections include such lauded 2021 films as The Power of the Dog and Drive My Car, as well as recent standouts like Cha Cha Real Smooth, Neptune Frost, and the Music Box Films release Lost Illusions

After several years of success in the UK, MUBI GO came stateside last October, when it started in New York City and soon rolled out to Los Angeles and, on Friday, July 26, became available in Chicago, at the Gene Siskel Film Center and the Music Box Theatre.

Chicago native C. Mason Wells, the director of distribution for MUBI’s U.S. market, previously worked in exhibition himself (at the Quad Cinema in New York City), and was pitched on the service before he went to work for MUBI. 

“I was impressed at how sustainable the model seemed, on a financial [and] logistical level, and how aggressively curated it was,” he says. “I liked that the idea behind it was that, we’re not just sending people to go to any movie, we’re picking something for them, which is at the heart of what MUBI does. It’s curatorial, always, and it hearkens back to a staff-pick section at a video store.”

The first film for which MUBI GO was available in Chicago was Jono McLeod’s 2022 documentary My Old School, which opened at the Film Center last Friday. A caveat with the service is that participating theaters (such as, in this case, the Music Box, who did not open McLeod’s film) are not guaranteed to have that week’s selection, though once that film becomes available at a participating theater, users will have from that Friday through the following Thursday to redeem their tickets.

For example, Clio Barnard’s 2021 romance Ali & Ava opens at the Film Center on Friday, August 5. Tickets can be redeemed for this using the MUBI GO app, even if another film has taken its place as the main MUBI GO pick. Optimally, subscribers can see up to four movies per month with the service. 

To utilize this functionality at the Film Center, MUBI GO users will select the film on the app and then redeem it for a physical ticket at the box office, while at the Music Box, tickets will be redeemed straight from the service’s app. 

Though Music Box hasn’t programmed any of the films that coincide with the first several weeks of MUBI GO being available in Chicago, theater staff are confident in the partnership; MUBI has sponsored several of the theater’s bigger series these past few years, including the recent 70mm Film Festival and before that David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective—The Return.

No one I spoke with at either theater expressed concerns over this program affecting ticket sales (in large part, I’d imagine, because MUBI fully reimburses them for every ticket redeemed via the app at the end of each month) or their respective membership programs. 

Chicago audiences love the Music Box and Film Center, so, naturally, I wanted to ensure that MUBI GO is as exciting a premise for them as it is for viewers. Keeping in mind the business model, MUBI’s already strong relationship with the Music Box, and both theaters’ own interest in highly curated programming, it seems to be a good opportunity, one that will hopefully benefit these beloved theaters and emphasize Chicago’s standing as one of the country’s premier cities for groundbreaking cinema and unique moviegoing experiences. 

“We already show a lot of films that the audience hasn’t necessarily heard of—but they trust our curation, so they take a chance,” says Kyle Westphal, programming associate for the Music Box. “If subscription services enhance that dynamic, it’s good for everyone.”

Curation is key here; it’s what sets MUBI GO apart from other services of its kind. “It’s really the quality of the movie that dictates what we pick, at the end of the day,” says Wells. “That’s the unifying thing, because if that curation ever stops working, people will stop being interested in it.” 

“I don’t think there’s anything else quite like MUBI GO out there, which I find exciting,” he says later in our conversation. “There are other services that’ll buy you a certain number of tickets a week or something; this is all about pointing you toward something new, à la a book club or something of that ilk, where one thing is selected and it takes the guesswork out of it for you.”

MUBI GO currently costs $10.99 per month and includes full access to MUBI’s Film of the Day selection and streaming library. If you’re currently a MUBI member, you already have access to MUBI GO—just download the app and sign in using your MUBI login.