MoviePass owner sells Moviefone for a fraction of its original worth

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Jon Fingas/Engadget

Moviefone is far from its glory days. The defunct owner of MoviePass, Helios Matheson & Analytics, has sold the once-legendary movie listing service for just $1.075 million as part of bankruptcy proceedings. That's just a fraction of the $388 million AOL (subsumed into Engadget's parent company Verizon Media) bought it for in 1999. It's not clear what winning bidder Born in Cleveland LLC intends to do with Moviefone, but it's safe to say Moviefone's heyday isn't coming back.

The service has a long and tortured history. It started as an automated phone offering in 1989, and quickly grew in popularity as an option for finding showtimes in an era when newspapers and landlines ruled. Its role in a famous Seinfeld bit spoke volumes about its influence on popular culture.

However, the growing ubiquity of internet access was not kind to Moviefone. Although it did embrace the web and mobile apps, it simply wasn't necessary when any theater or search engine could offer similar features. It shrunk to the point where Helios & Matheson could snap it up for a total of $9 million in cash and stock. After Helios & Matheson went bankrupt, Moviefone was reportedly run by just one person. It was a classic example of a company basing its business around technology became obsolete -- the surprise is simply that Moviefone has clung to life for so long.