While many people subscribe to at least one paid service, there are still quite a few streaming services out there that offer licensed programming without charging their viewers a monthly membership or pay-per-view fee.
Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, it’s not. These free services afford fee-free streaming through sponsorships with film studios and other web-based companies, partnerships with film and university libraries, and of course, ad support.
While their content isn’t as diverse or as plentiful as that of the Netflix or Hulu, the services have several things going for them. The quality of the videos available is usually great, many services have their own specialty (e.g., TV shows, documentaries, vintage and classic movies), and you might even stumble into a few obscure, hard-to-find titles. (As with all video services, the availability of movies and shows changes from month to month, so the examples that follow were on the services at the time of publication.)
Intrigued? Try these free streaming services to start. (And check out our guide to setting up streaming services on your TV.)
While Crackle hasn’t reached Netflix’s level of success, having Sony Pictures Entertainment as a parent company certainly has its perks and has helped keep it afloat. The free streaming website boasts a legitimately decent collection of movies and TV shows and a good number of original programs.
Though you’ll find that most of Crackle’s content is not exactly in high demand, they’ve got some pretty good older movies on their roster. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind, King Kong, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Star Trek: First Contact are some of the biggest hits on the site. Snatch, Stuart Little and Donny Brasco are also currently available.
Crackle does a little better on old TV series and anime/cartoons, with shows like Charlie's Angels, Bewitched, Dilbert, Ironman (the animated series) and The Tick.
Supported devices include iOS and Android devices, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast and gaming consoles.
Pluto TV gives viewers access to many of the top current and old TV shows, but of course, content is limited. Not all episodes of the shows available for streaming on this service will necessarily be available.
On-demand shows on hand include Degrassi The Next Generation, Hell's Kitchen, Discovery Channel's American Chopper, Animal Planet's River Monsters, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and TLC's Family S.O.S with Jo Frost. There are also streaming channels, which include Nick and Nick Jr., SciFi, People TV, Fox Sports, Comedy Central, CNN, CBSN, Cheddar News and more. Movies include Raging Bull, The African Queen, Alpha and Omega, Starman, The Big Short, and Fist of Fury.
You can watch for free on iOS and Android devices as well as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Smart TVs (Samsung, Sony and Vizio), and your computer.
Kanopy markets its content as “thoughtful entertainment” and its collection as “the world’s finest cinema.” As far as diversity, it’s hard to compete with Kanopy’s. It’s got everything from movies to documentaries to “The Great Courses” educational videos.
This streaming service, which originated in Western Australia, was created for public libraries, educational institutions and universities all over the world. It also claims to stream more than 26,000 films, many of them obscure titles you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. And as long as you have a public library membership or belong to an educational institution that has a partnership with Kanopy, you have access to all of them.
Examples of movies on the site are foreign films like Breathless, The 400 Blows and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, thrillers like Memento, black comedies like The Little Shop of Horrors, and documentaries such as Life Off Grid, Being Serena, and The Future of Work and Death.
You can stream Kanopy content on iOS and Android devices, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.
True to its name, Popcornflix is all about the movies — more than 1,500 movies. It’s not as big as Netflix or even Crackle, mind you. But it does its best to deliver entertainment in different genres and boasts some pretty enjoyable, if lesser-known or older, films. If you need a break from motion pictures, Popcornflix also has some TV series and webisodes on its roster. All for free.
Star Trek VIII - First Contact, Bad News Bears, Night of the Living Dead, and Serpico are some of the most popular titles it offers currently. The shows aren’t the most popular and the selection isn’t that big, but kids might enjoy the old school cartoon selection and reality TV buffs might find something on their short list.
The reason its content is a little limited is that Popcornflix mostly streams videos from Screen Media's library, which includes only independent films. It relies on ad support to offer free viewing. The great thing about this service is that you won’t have to sign up for a membership to watch anything.
Supported devices include Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV and iOS and Android devices.
It takes less than a second to sign up for a Tubi TV account. In exchange, you get completely free access to over 50,000 movies from big film/entertainment companies Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Starz, and Lionsgate. Tubi TV boasts blockbusters, award-winning or nominated films, indie flicks and classics.
Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and One Punch Man are some of the titles currently on offer. Excellent documentaries and popular TV shows are also available: Hell's Kitchen, Duck Dynasty, Anger Management, and 3rd Rock from the Sun are among many on the list. To compete with Netflix, Tubi has a category called Not on Netflix, which includes movies and shows like Unsolved Mysteries, The Dictator, The Bachelor, and The Running Man.
To provide free viewing, Tubi relies on ads, investments and content partnerships. Outside the US, it also serves Mexico and Canada.
Besides iOS and Android devices, Tubi is also available on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, TiVo, Chromecast, Smart TVs (Samsung, Sony and Vizio) and gaming consoles.
The Roku Channel
Roku Channel is another good ad-supported streaming service. It’s subscription- and login-free and its content comes complimentary with your Roku device.
Thanks to its strong partnerships with studios and content publishers, this service offers 10,000 plus Hollywood movies and shows. Featured films for January include The Dark Knight, The Joy Luck Club, Contact and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. There are also TVs shows, like Without a Trace, Schitt$ Creek, and Food CIA, as well as streaming shows like ABC News, This Old House, and Food52. and To keep its viewers updated on new content, Roku routinely releases new stuff.
The service is available on iOS and Android devices, laptops, and, of course, Roku devices.
With very niche content, SnagFilms isn’t as popular as the other free streaming services. However, it’s a great resource for folks who enjoy documentary-type movies and shows. Here’s where you go if you’re looking for a more cerebral form of entertainment.
This service’s selling point is that it showcases philanthropic, thought-provoking and educational videos — more than 2,000 of them — for free. And you need not set up an account, though having one lets you create a watchlist and track your viewing history. Current great features include Yoga, Inc., We the People: The Market Basket Effect and The Good Son.
Ad-supported SnagFilms managed to secure such an amazing library of harder-to-find titles through partnerships and affiliations with web companies, nonprofits and special interest sites.
The service is available iOS and Android devices Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Smart TVs and gaming consoles.
Classic Cinema Online
While we’re on the subject of specialized streaming services, we need to talk about Classic Cinema Online. This site offers viewers old, classic and even silent movies for free and without membership or registration.
There are a couple of snags: The movie quality isn’t the best — don’t expect high-definition here — and the selection is limited. But the modest library does span several genres including animated, comedy, drama, Western, sci-fi and musical. Episodes of some old TV shows are also available.
Current movies and shows in the showcase include Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Pinocchio, The Little Shop of Horrors, Curly Top, and Roy Rogers and The Arizona Kid.
Classic Cinema Online is only available on computers.
To set up these streaming services on your TV, check out our guide to the best streaming devices.
Updated on 1/20/2020
[Image credit: family watching TV via BigStockPhoto, Crackle, Kanopy, Popcornflix, Tube TV, Roku, Pluto TV, SnagFilms, Classic Cinema Online]