Netflix has become a verb (“let’s netflix tonight”), everyone knows about Amazon, and Hulu is a force to be reckoned with. You could even refer to them as the new Big Three, given their growing influence over the industry.
As these behemoths flex their muscles by repeatedly raising prices, consumers looking for alternative sources for online movies, TV shows, and other forms of video entertainment would be wise to sample some of these alternative services. Most of them target niche audiences, but they’re all inexpensive—indeed, some don’t charge any fees at all.
Incidentally, there are a few sites operating in the darker corners of the web that we don’t recommend visiting. We’re talking about the ones that offer Hollywood movies that are still playing in theaters. All the services listed here—in alphabetical order—are completely above board.
Updated February 6, 2019 to let readers know that the all-new Criterion Channel is now accepting charter member signups. The service won’t actually launch until April, but signing up now will not only net you a discounted rate, but you’ll also get to watch a new movie each week as part of the service’s pre-launch “Movie of the Week” series. You’ll need to provide a credit card number now, but when the service launches on April 8, charter members will get a 30-day free trial. The Criterion Channel says your card will not be charged until the end of the trial. Scroll down to our description of the service for more details.
This amazing resource is absolutely huge, with billions of sound files, ebooks, and video files, all of it free and in the public domain. A huge number of both cheesy and quality movies are available, ranging from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space to the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn thriller Charade. The “Feature Film” section alone promises more than 5,000 titles. Because of the sheer number of files, searching for things can be a headache, and there are many duplicates, but patience pays off. All files can be downloaded and saved in various formats. Archive.org
Big Five Glories
Big Five Glories is another public domain site, but it’s a little better organized, focusing mainly on feature films. Highlights on the homepage include F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise and Jame Whales’ The Old Dark House. Viewers can search by any number of criteria (including silent-era films and color films), and the site has a clean, simple design that gives screenshots of the movies as well as opportunities to buy the actual DVDs if the need arises. The videos are powered by YouTube, plus there’s no need to sign up or log in. It’s all free. Big Five Glories
If live-action entertainment doesn’t provide enough escape, here’s Boomerang, for cartoon lovers only. It includes a generous, but sadly not complete, selection of classic theatrical Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Popeye, and Droopy cartoons, plus TV shows like Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, Garfield, Bunnicula, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and many Hanna-Barbera shorts (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, etc.). The service also offers a small number of feature-length films, and many holiday specials. It runs $4.99 per month or a yearly fee of $39.99 (an average of $3.33 per month). It’s a lot of fun, but the content doesn’t appear to be updated regularly, so it might be a bit pricey for what’s actually here. Boomerang
Anglophiles will want this streaming service, consisting entirely of fine TV series from the BBC. Highlights include Brideshead Revisited (with Jeremy Irons), Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth), Prime Suspect (with Helen Mirren), Blackadder, Father Ted, Fawlty Towers, The Office, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, State of Play, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple, Hammer House of Horror TV specials, plenty of Doctor Who, and much more. Subscriptions for U.S. customers are $6.99 per month or $69.99 annually (roughly $5.83 per month), with a seven-day free trial period. Britbox
Owned by Sony, Crackle is free, and you don’t even need to register, unless you’d like to keep a queue. There are ads every so often during streaming, which is annoying, but depending on your pocketbook, it can be a worthy exchange. Their selection isn’t huge, but what they have is fairly high profile, and the percentage of good movies vs. bad ones is pretty solid. They also offer some sitcoms (Married, with Children, Just Shoot Me, etc.) and a selection of anime. They are producing more and more original content, like the series Snatch (starring Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint) and StartUp (starring Martin Freeman), or the original movie Party Boat (not that we really needed the latter). Crackle
The Criterion Channel
Scheduled to launch in spring of 2019, this is the mother lode for film fans, likely with access to most of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman’s films, as well as the cream of the crop of world cinema and many of the greatest films in history. Criterion had previously collaborated with FilmStruck, but it shut down at the end of November, 2018.
Criterion says it will be entirely in charge of its new direction, which sounds like great news. The price tag is still shocking, but it’s a few pennies less than FilmStruck’s premiere price was. Viewers who sign up now to be a “charter subscriber” will get discount prices: $9.99 per month or $89.99 annually (or $7.49 a month), plus a whopping 30-day free trial period. Regular prices will be $10.99 a month or $100 annually. The Criterion Channel
A cornucopia for comic book fans, DC Universe not only includes just about every DC related TV show, cartoon, and movie you can think of—from the 1940s full-color Fleischer brothers Superman animated shorts to the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It also offers original content, such as the currently-running Titans TV series, and the upcoming Swamp Thing. Subscribers also have access to an enormous library of eComics, a social media site to connect with other comic book fans, and tons of other nerdy, fun stuff. It’s $7.99 per month or an annual subscription for $74.99 (an average of $6.25 per month), with a seven-day free trial period. DC Universe
Not much is known yet about Disney+. It could just be a niche market for Disney nerds, but if it succeeds, it could be as big as—or bigger than—any of the Big Three. There are no pricing plans as of yet (some pundits are guessing that it will be cheaper than Netflix), and not even a firm launch date. But the website displays logos for Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic, which seems like a pretty good mix. As of now Disney has a deal with Netflix, so expect a lot of that content to shift over to the new service. Also expect lots of original content, starting with a proposed Star Wars series, set before the events of Rogue One. Here’s more of what about Disney+ we know so far. Disney+
Though Epix has an impressive selection of movies from Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM—Fences, Arrival, and A Quiet Place are available—users must sign in with their cable account, if they have one. But anyone can sign up for a free 14-day trial to check it out. Epix appears to have some original content, including the Get Shorty series, and there are even sections for LGBT and erotic films. Epix
The service boasts that it has titles not available on Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Netflix, with thousands of them available for individual rental or purchase, with no paid subscription necessary. But Fandango Now is essentially like Vudu or the iTunes store, with virtually the same selection and prices. A major difference is that viewers can join the Fandango VIP+ club and get points toward free movies. Not to mention that it could appeal to those that are not fans of Apple or Walmart, Vudu’s parent company. Fandango Now
Based in San Francisco and launched in 2011, Fandor is for hardcore cinema buffs. It specializes in arthouse films, weird cult and horror flicks, indie cinema, and foreign titles, as well as a massive silent era library, but nothing mainstream. It allows users to write their own reviews and keep and share movie lists, and it also includes well-produced online movie magazine with original articles and videos. Viewers can buy a yearly plan for $49.99, which averages to about $4.17 per month, or pay $5.99 per month on a month-to-month basis. (Note: Fandor was recently sold to a new company, and it’s unclear as to how or if the service will continue.) Fandor
Film Movement Plus
Film Movement began as a DVD-of-the-month club, sending its members interesting foreign and indie films in the mail. The company moved into distribution, built a fine library, and launched its first streaming service in 2018. Titles include the excellent, Oscar-nominated adventure film Theeb, the wonderful coming-of-age film Alamar, and After the Storm, by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda. Film Movement Plus also has bonus features and exclusive content, including the premiere of Takeshi Kitano’s new Outrage Coda (the third chapter in his Outrage action series). Categories include “Family,” “Directed by Women,” “LGBTQ,” and many others. Pricing is $5.99 per month, with a 14-day free trial. Film Movement Plus
These amazing services are connected to your local public library. Once you sign up (free) with your library card, you can “check out” a certain number of titles per month, which then expire after a certain amount of time. Kanopy is for more serious movie buffs, with plenty of high-class, arthouse films, and a limit of eight checkouts per month. Hoopla has a wider range of services, including audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and music, and 20 checkouts per month. Kanopy is more family-friendly, with a wider range of lesser titles to comb through before finding the good stuff. There are no ads on either, and both services offer Roku apps now, for easy streaming. Hoopla; Kanopy
With offices in San Francisco, London, Munich, and Istanbul, MUBI is one of the most acclaimed movie sites for serious cinephiles. It operates on a subscription-based service, either $8.99 per month or a discounted yearly rate of $71.88 (an average $5.99 per month). There’s also a seven-day free trial period available. Their content is comparable to Fandor, with classics, cult movies, and art-house movies, as well as current items like Quentin Dupieux’s Keep an Eye Out. The MUBI staff offers a “film of the day” each day, and the site also carries an online magazine called the Notebook. MUBI
Yet another site that curates public domain movies, Open Culture simply has a long list (1,150 titles) of free movies with links and descriptions; many of the links go back to Archive.org, but there are others. If you’re up for browsing through the list, there are some surprising picks, such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s wonderful A Matter of Life and Death, or one of Natalie Portman’s more daring efforts, Free Zone, as well as a curated selection of free Charlie Chaplin films. The site also contains a plethora of information relating to cinema, free online courses, lectures, books, and other stuff. Open Culture
This service, intended for hardcore cineastes, is scheduled to launch in March, 2019. It assembles the film libraries of no less than six independent distributors—Bullfrog Films, Distrib Films US, First Run Features, Grasshopper Film, Icarus Films, and KimStim—with “more companies expected to join soon.” If filmmakers like Chantal Akerman, Pedro Costa, Claire Denis, Eric Rohmer, Raul Ruiz, or Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet stimulate your palate, then keep an eye out for this one. Pricing and other details are not yet available. Ovid.tv
Here’s another free service for those budget-minded viewers who don’t mind watching ads. PopcornFlix has its own Roku app and a wide selection of used-bookstore-type movies. Even if you can’t find something you’re specifically looking for, odds are you’ll find something pretty good. As a bonus, the service offers an “Asian Action” section and a Spanish-language section, as well as the first eight Friday the 13th movies! The TV section is skimpier, offering Rosanne and a bunch of other stuff you’ve probably never heard of. PopcornFlix
Don’t stop now: We have even more recommendations on the next page!