MovieFone Is Dead, But These Automated Phone Services Live On
It's a sad day, but some relics of the analog days still live on.
Image: Seinfeld still
Pick up your phone and dial 777-FILM and let the realization sink in. You can no longer fumble through it to get a bunch of listings for showtimes at your local theater. Instead, you’ll get a guy who tells you the service has been disconnected and that you might wanna try out something called an “app” if you want to know when Ride Along is playing. Moviefone is dead.
The service, founded in 1989 and firmly planted in the cultural zeitgeist by Kramer in Seinfeld, has long been a relic of the past—the app has been around for years, and few people actually called the number anymore. But, before you had the whole Internet in your hands 100 percent of the time, there was a nice barrier to looking up random trivia every four seconds on Google or Wikipedia, and there was a real sense of accomplishment you earned by actually getting any sort of real information out of numbers like Moviefone.
If you yearn for the days when you had to navigate a series of complicated menus, listen to ads, and be randomly selected for dubious prizes, there are still some low-tech options barely hanging on. Let's take a look at them, for old time's sake.
Back before you could stare at Twitter and refresh the local news’ website 475 times a minute, you’d have to call the local weather line to figure out if it was going to snow enough to cancel school the next morning. Sadly, like Moviefone, lots of these have gone defunct, but there’s still a few out there that provide the current time and temperature. Others will even tell you the upcoming weather forecast.
Washington, DC weather line: 202-589-1212
Yes, there are still numbers you can call if you want to know what time it is. Most notably, the US Federal Government maintains four distinct time-only services. One is in sync with the US Naval Observatory Master Clock in Washington, DC, (there’s another Naval Observatory one based in Colorado), the other two are run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Those ones are also available via shortwave radio, in case you’re REALLY hard up and your sundial isn’t working, but your short wave radio is.
Nationally, most local weather lines also tell you the time.
US Naval Observatory Master Clock: 202-762-1401
This is pretty related to weather, and most are still run by the National Weather Service, but there are still several phone numbers you can call to check out surfing conditions, which I imagine was once a plot point in some early 90s B-film about taming some gnarly storm wave.
Oahu Surf: 808-973-4380
Sports Scores, Betting Lines, and Odds
I assume most calls to sports scores lines are made by gambling addicts who have just lost their smartphone in a poker game, so this one still makes a bit of sense. The vast majority of calls have to come from pay phones, right? Anyways, Free Sports Call’s national line has been taken over by some contest telling me I’ve won a $100 Walmart gift certificate, but there are still more than 30 local lines (most peppered in the Southeast, none in Vegas or Atlantic City) that will tell you sports scores and odds. Why there are so many local lines I’ll never know—the one I called in Trenton gave you national scores for all sports.
Trenton, NJ: 609-528-2500
The 411 on 411 is that your grandma probably still uses it anytime she wants to order a pizza, especially if the print in the Yellow Pages is too small to see these days.
Judging by the frequency at which their early 2000s commercials came on the television, 1-800-COLLECT and 1-800-CALL-ATT were engaged in a brutal war for your loved ones’ money. "Free for you, cheap for them" ended up in piles of cash for the services, judging by the fact that they could score celebs like Carrot Top and Mr. T. Both still exist.
You can still buy contacts over the phone (how did this even become a thing?), though the line isn’t automated—you’ll get a real, live person on the first ring.
Similarly, 1-800-FLOWERS is also still a thing, and it also lets us avoid the whole talking-to-a-real-person that, for the purposes of this article, I’ve come to dread. If you want to order “sympathy or funeral” flowers, however, you’ll be transferred to a customer service rep for that personal, empathetic touch.
You’re definitely not getting this one for free, regardless of how many ads you’re willing to sit through, but there’s still lots of phone sex lines out there. Though free Internet porn and a seemingly endless supply of webcam sites would seem to make phone sex completely obsolete, NiteFlirt and others are still charging a couple bucks a minute in exchange for the chance to talk to the “Cum Whisperer” and “Nikki the Switch.”
Moviefone is dead, and a not-insignificant factor to the service’s move to smartphones was probably the success of Fandango, which has been selling movie tickets online since 2000. Turns out, however, that Fandango’s movie listings phone line, 1-800-FANDANGO, is still active, as long as you’re willing to sit through an ad about “free” Caribbean cruises and navigate a frustrating voice-activated menu. Turns out we don’t need Moviefone anyway.