Just a few years ago, lovers of movies had one option of finding out where and when a film was playing: the newspaper. Remember them? They came sometime after scrolls and before Pong.
Next came Mr. Moviefone. Who of you cannot hear a certain voice in your head as you read: 'Hello and welcome to Moviefone'? The voice has been doing it since 1989, and has recorded over three million voice prompts. Moviefone represents many theater chains including: some AMC screens, Cineplex Odeon, Clearview Cinemas, Galaxy Cinemas, and National Amusements theaters depending upon location.
And then came the Internet.
Some years later, in 2000 Fandango emerged to create some competition. Using a ton of funny commercials and movie trailers featuring paper bag puppets, they gave Moviefone a run for their money representing such chains as: some AMC screens, Carmike Cinema, Century Theaters, CineArts, Cinemark, Edwards, Regal, United Artists, and others depending upon location.
Both have Internet sites where, for a service charge ranging from $.75 to $2.00, tickets could be bought online to make sure you wouldn't be shut out of that midnight showing of Transformers 2.
Then came the iPhone/iPod Touch and things got considerably easier, although there is no clear demarcation of what service sells what, or where. I want to give you two alternatives, each using one of the two competing services.
Now Playing - Free
This is one of the nicest apps going. It uses Fandango for purchasing tickets, but it does a whole lot more. In fact, it has the fullest feature set of any movie app I've come across. Here are some of the things it can do:
Netflix management: Many options found on the Netflix site are available here but I found them a bit harder to get to than on the web site. Queues can be re-ordered, add to or deleted from. When adding you have the option of moving your choice to the top of your queue. If you're not sure if you want it, you can be transferred to Amazon, IMDb, Wikipedia or even the Netflix site via Safari for more information. I should note that when using any of the Netflix oriented functions, the app takes quite a while to download all your Netflix account information.
Movie searching by theater: Choose a theater and get show times and the option of playing a trailer. A website button brings you to all of the sites mentioned plus the Metacritic review site, or you can read the first paragraph of a number of reviews from top critics. You are also alerted if the movie is already in your Netflix Queue and given the Netflix star rating.
Movie schedules can be emailed. A full list of upcoming movies along with DVD release dates can be found along with the ability of saving any upcoming title to your Netflix queue to receive it after it's released.
It doesn't have the nicest interface out there, but it's jammed with functionality and the price is certainly right.
Note: Fandango service charges a 'convenience fee' ranging from $.75 to $2.00 depending upon venue and location.
Movies Now - Free
This app uses MovieTickets.com as their ticket vendor. After the GPS finds your location, you can choose a theater, from a list. Each theater shows a clear indication of whether you can buy tickets or not. Tapping on 'Now' brings up a display of how long until a scrolling list of movies starts.
Choosing 'Movies' brings up a board of movie posters. Click on one and a description, release date, and a trailer button will be displayed, but clicking on 'Showtimes' brings up nothing but a screen saying that there are no showtimes, of anything. With over a dozen theaters within a dozen miles, this is just wrong. The listing of films is hopelessly out of date with most choices already having been released on DVD. There is also a button to display your bought show tickets. Not the best of the best, but included as a way to buy tickets not available through Fandango.
Note: MovieTickets charges a 'convenience fee' of $1.00.
Flixter - Free
I have a warm place in my heart for Flixter. It was the first movie app I downloaded shortly after getting my iPhone when I was amazed at all it could do.
Using GPS it could find me and know what theaters are around, what's playing and at what times. It gave me Rotten Tomatoes ratings, let me play streaming trailers and save favorite movies and theaters for easy access. I could browse movies by topic, know when the DVD is coming out and be transported to movie websites such as their own: Flixter.com, Rotten Tomatoes, or IMDb via Safari.
As you can see, all of these functions are included, to a larger or smaller extent, in other apps, but I love the interface and the ability to save favorite theaters, bring up a Google map or a live phone number, and play trailers by tapping on a photo on the left side of most screens. Of course it's personal subjective preference, but I keep coming back to Flixter, even with no online buying or Netlix capability.
Movie Genie - $1.99
This is IMDb in your pocket without having to traverse the website. Using Safari to navigate IMDb.com is, of course, easily doable, but still a chore and to many the convenience, elegance and ease of use of an app, are worth a couple of bucks.
Just like the IMDb site, you start by searching for a film, TV show or person. If looking for a person, details are displayed as well as a button for a reverse chronological list of credits broken down into each functions; actor first, then groupings for writing, directing, producing, etc. Every instance when tapped upon brings up the underlying IMDb information. If you choose a movie, there are two choices: Details and Cast & Crew.
All you need to know is that it's all of IMDb presented in a familiar format with no pinching or stretching needed. It's very nicely done, and to me, well worth the money.
You can find similar functionality in MovieStar, for free, but I just don't think it's as finely produced. Try MovieStar first and if you feel something is lacking. Pay the $2.00.
And now for something completely different.
MovieLingo - Free
This app lists nothing and sells less (outside of advertising). It's a game. The screen is set up in the manner of UrbanSpoon, looking like a two reel slot machine. On the left reel are movie genres and on the right wheel are decades. Give it a shake and you'll get a random genre and decade while the app plays an audio snippet of a famous phrase from a film in that category. Try and guess and then click 'Reveal Movie' and you'll be presented with the name and a publicity poster of the film. Sometimes the quotes are a bit hard to hear using the internal speaker so I'd suggest plugging in headphones. I would have paid for this, but advertising beat me to it.
So there are my five. I'm sure that some others are better and a lot are worse, but these are my five. There are many like them but these five are mine.
Yes, that was a fairly arcane movie reference.
Note: Netflix is US only and I have no idea if the others work outside of the US.
Also, like TUAW, Moviefone is owned by AOL.