Peacock also throws in a few “channels,” in case you’ve got decision fatigue, with dedicated streams of The Tonight Show, Today, and yes, a 24/7 Real Housewives fix for those who need it.
For $5 a month, you can upgrade to unlock those other seasons, movie series installments, and other premium selections. For $10 a month, you can watch it all without ads. But the free plan has plenty to keep you entertained until you hit that wall.
Do you have a library card? Then you have Kanopy! Well, sort of. You still have to sign up for a separate Kanopy account, and your public library needs to be a Kanopy customer. Some big ones aren’t; the New York Public Library system dropped it in 2019 because of ballooning expenses. (While you can watch movies on the platform for free, your library pays per stream.) If your library does offer it, though, you can’t do much better in terms of quality indie fare. That includes recent breakouts like Another Round and, crucially, dozens of movies from the storied Criterion Collection. It’s a cinephile’s dream, and the perfect excuse to renew your library card. Everyone needs one!
Hoopla is another library-connected service that has a great selection but no Criterion. On the plus side, you can also manage your library ebooks, comics, and other media through it, while Kanopy is strictly video. So do with that what you will.
Most of the streaming services on this list specialize in on-demand content. Viacom-owned Pluto TV does have that—including 19 James Bond flicks—but its primary aim is to replicate the traditional cable-viewing menu with specialized channels serving up nonstop Doctor Who, Antiques Roadshow, and even Survivor. It also has traditional networks, like CNN and Fox Sports. There are hundreds of channels to surf through in all. Basically, if you’ve got decision fatigue—if you’re tired of wasting an hour scrolling through Netflix before you actually watch anything—Pluto TV is the elixir you’re looking for.
Tubi lacks the name recognition of some of its peers, but its library outpaces most of them, with thousands of ad-supported TV and movie titles. You don’t even need to register an account to watch. It also arranges its haul into helpful categories—including a “Not on Netflix” collection to help you better appreciate what you’re not paying for. There’s still a lot of junk to sift through on Tubi, but it doesn’t take long to turn up rewatchable classics like Boogie Nights, star vehicles like Cast Away, and hall-of-fame schlock like Snakes on a Plane. And if that doesn’t do it for you, might I recommend hours and hours (and hours) of Columbo on demand?
If you’ve never gotten around to Mad Men, here’s your chance. IMDb TV has the complete series, along with 31 seasons of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. That alone should keep you busy for a few months. To access the IMDb library, you’ll need to create an account or use your existing Amazon credentials. The overall selection is decent but not great; the most popular movies currently appear to be Blue Valentine and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, if that gives you some idea. There’s some original programming here as well, mostly centered around the film industry. It’s probably unlikely that IMDb TV will ever catch up to its Prime Video sibling in terms of high-quality content, so manage those expectations accordingly.
Traditionally a media server, Plex entered the free streaming market a couple of years ago. If you already use it to store your digital content, it’s a very small jump to try out some of its gratis movie and TV options as well. The selection is a little hit or miss, but comedy fans can get every episode of the short-lived Dana Carvey Show, and art house devotees will be happy to see modern classics like Man on Wire and Melancholia. Plex also recently introduced dozens of narrowly targeted linear television channels as well, which offer a 24-hour fix of everything from poker tournaments to IFC hits.
Did you know that Sony Crackle has been around in one form or another since 2004? That’s three years before Netflix started streaming. The head start may not have won it a massive following, but Crackle does house some gems, particularly in the realm of cult and classic TV. You can binge the entirety of News Radio and Peep Show, and early seasons of The Carol Burnett Show and Father Knows Best. Relatively rare for a free streaming service, Crackle also has original shows like Rob Riggle’s Ski Master Academy and the very much less ridiculous StartUp. There are plenty of movies here, too, although your mileage will vary. You don’t need an account to watch, at least, and the content gets updated pretty regularly.
Updated May 2021: We’ve added Peacock TV, updated availability details on other streaming services, and dropped our Vudu recommendation.
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