When it comes to streaming services, the first names that come to mind probably include Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, and Netflix. They offer hundreds of titles, including recent releases and original TV series. One thing these services have in common, however, is that you have to pay. And they can get kind of expensive. It’s possible, now, though, that consumers can also stream movies free from services that are—in most cases—supported by ads. The best bets among these services include Kanopy, Pluto TV, Sony Crackle, Tubi TV, Vudu, and Xumo. Here’s everything you need to know on where to stream movies for free.
Consumer Reports tells us that like Netflix or Hulu, these free services are available on most streaming devices, making it easy to watch on your TV, laptop, or tablet.
In addition to making you sit through ads, such services bring some other trade-offs. You’re out of luck if you want Ultra High Definition, or 4K, shows. Instead, these services provide regular HD video (as do cable-TV companies). You’re not likely to find recently released movies. And, of course, you won’t be able to watch original shows such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Hulu’s “Runaways,” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
But in a world of $1,000 smartphones and $5 salted caramel mochas, it’s nice to know you can still see “Teen Wolf” or “Lethal Weapon” free of charge. (Another path to free content is to get a TV antenna.)
Here’s what you need to know to stream movies free from the services mentioned above.
Unlike the other streaming services on this list, Kanopy doesn’t show ads. But to use the service, you’ll need a membership at a participating library, university, or other learning institution.
Kanopy says it has a catalog of 26,000 films, from sources including the Criterion Collection, the Great Courses, New Day Films, and PBS. If that sounds like a cerebral list, it is. Kanopy’s selection leans away from Michael Bay blockbusters and toward art-house films. Indie flicks include “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Available documentary titles include “America Divided,” “Helvetica,” and “I Am Not Your Negro.”
If you access Kanopy through a library membership, you may be able to watch a limited number of titles per month; members of educational institutions get unlimited access.
Kanopy maintains a list of participating institutions. The same page lets you request access for your library if it doesn’t participate.
At first glance, the Pluto TV website looks a lot like the navigation menu from a cable box, with scores of channels.
These aren’t familiar broadcast channels, however.
Most of the channels feature video content curated from around the web, including online newscasts from CBSN, Cheddar, and NBC News, as well as comedy content from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Onion.
But Pluto also offers more conventional streaming-service content, including modern movies (“True Grit” and “Shutter Island”) and classics from earlier eras (“Clue,” “Clear and Present Danger,” and “The Way of the Dragon”).
Compared with its competitors, Pluto TV has a somewhat hit-or-miss selection. The TV show pickings are particularly sparse, though they will satisfy fans of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “Storage Wars.”
Pluto also recently reached a deal with Vizio to power the company’s “WatchFree Wednesdays” streaming service, which provides about 100 free, ad-supported channels on its SmartCast TVs.
The Roku Channel
If you have a Roku streaming media player or a Roku TV, you’ve been able to watch free shows and movies via the company’s own free, ad-supported streaming channel, called The Roku Channel, since last fall.
But Roku is moving beyond its own players and Roku TVs with The Roku Channel for the Web, which lets you access that free programming from a computer, smart phone, or tablet. In addition, there will be a Roku Channel app on Samsung smart TVs. Using any of these devices, you simply visit therokuchannel.com and either log in or create a Roku account to start streaming.
To make finding free content easier on the Roku platform, the company has rolled out a new feature, called Featured Free, on the Roku home screen. In this section you’ll be able to get links to free content from not only The Roku Channel but also other content providers ranging from channels such as ABC, the CW, and Fox to streaming services including Crackle, Pluto TV, and Tubi.
Crackle, Sony’s ad-supported streaming service, hosts a library of mainstream titles including older TV shows (“Seinfeld,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” and “Who’s the Boss?”) and popular older movies (“Lethal Weapon,” “Big Fish,” and “Pineapple Express”).
And the service has a smaller collection of somewhat more recent movies, including “The Bang Bang Club” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, Crackle has been developing some of its own content. These series include “Snatch,” a drama based on the movie of the same name, and “StartUp,” which is essentially a darker version of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” It now also has a few original movies, including “The Oath,” about a gang of crooked cops, and “In the Cloud,” about a London terrorist.
This ad-supported service has more than 7,000 titles, including selections from the libraries of Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount Pictures, as well as Starz Digital.
These range from old (and probably best forgotten) Chuck Norris films to classic indie titles (“Bagdad Cafe”) and more recent acclaimed movies such as “The Hurt Locker.” Seasons of TV shows, such as “Pokémon,” “Merlin,” and “Blue Bloods,” are also available.
You don’t have to register for Tubi TV, but if you do, you get some perks, such as being able to resume play from where you left off and keep track of what you’ve watched.
Vudu is best known as Walmart’s online video site, where you can buy or rent a wide range of movies and TV shows. But the service recently expanded its free, ad-supported content lineup to include more movies and full seasons of TV programs, which you can find under the “Vudu: Free Movies & TV” page.
The rotating collection includes hundreds of popular older movies such as, recently, “Traitor,” “Valkyrie,” and “Teen Wolf” and TV shows such as “Peep Show,” “The Inbetweeners,” and “Happy Endings.”
To access the free content, you need a Vudu account, but you don’t have to provide payment information.
Xumo is a free, ad-powered streaming video platform that offers live and on-demand content from more than 100 channels.
Unlike other free services, Xumo focuses on premium branded channels, and you’ll find a lot of short-form content across a wide array of entertainment, lifestyle, news, pop culture, and technology content providers. That includes everything from The Onion and Funny or Die to TMZ, GQ, Vogue, NBC News, and Sports Illustrated.
After you’ve used the service, it can start making program recommendations based on your interests. Among the latest news: Xumo has now added content from the History channel to its lineup. Also, the PGA Tour’s first ad-supported streaming channel is now on Xumo. Launched on smart TVs as part of a partnership with Xumo, the channel will include live coverage of matches as well as highlights and interviews.
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