The main casualty of the streaming wars so far has been your wallet. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Apple TV+, Disney+: They all demand a monthly tithe. Toss in a live service like YouTube TV, the music app of your choice, and whatever gaming concoction suits your needs, and you’re suddenly ringing up a pretty grim bill. But wait! The proliferation of streaming services has also yielded a bumper crop of free options. They’re the perfect cure for subscription fatigue.
The adage “you get what you pay for” does apply here to some extent. The selections generally aren’t huge, and most make you watch a few ads along the way. But they’re also better than you might expect, and continuing to improve. On Wednesday, popular streaming platform Plex introduced an ad-supported movie and TV show library comprising thousands of titles, with about half the ads you’d expect from broadcast television viewing.
In other words, while you shouldn’t expect any of the following to replace Netflix from your streaming regimen, you shouldn’t count them out, either. Each almost certainly offers at least something you want to watch, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg—or anything at all—to take advantage.
We just talked about this one! But more specifically, Plex makes a compelling case by partnering with big-name studios like MGM, Lionsgate, and Warner Bros., which means it has a relatively well-stocked streaming larder focused on classics: The Right Stuff, Raging Bull, and Apocalypse Now just for starters. It also carved out international licensing deals, meaning unlike many streaming services, your library won’t suddenly disappear when you travel.
To access the IMDb library, you’ll need to create an account, or use your existing Amazon credentials. Your current options are decent but not great; the most popular movie appears to be Fury, although bonus points for also carrying Sing Street. Your best bet for a binge is probably sci-fi series Fringe, and not just because it rhymes. Even though it’s getting a deluge of new content, it’s probably unlikely that IMDb TV will ever catch up to its Prime Video sibling, so manage those expectations accordingly.
OK, this could potentially be confusing, since Roku comprises thousands of “channels,” including the majors like Hulu and HBO Now. But it also operates the Roku Channel, which offers a smorgasbord of classics like Groundhog Day and Tombstone, slightly more recent fare like Spotlight. But really the important thing to know is that it has all five seasons of the incomparable Schitt’s Creek. You’re welcome!
The more interesting reason to take a look at the Roku Channel, though, is that it also offers free live streaming, including news reports from ABC and indie movies and classic TV from Filmrise. During a Friday afternoon check-in, the latter was playing a black and white episode of Lost in Space. Fun! You can also subscribe to other streaming services—HBO, Showtime, Acorn TV, and so on—through the Roku Channel, which should save you some navigational clicks.
Again, if you already have the Roku app on your smartphone, the Roku Channel is right there waiting for you. Or you can get it—and everything else on this list—through your Roku device.
Do you have a library card? Then you have Kanopy! Well, sort of. You still have to sign up for a separate Kanopy account, but once you have, you can connect it to your public library, assuming you’re a member, which you should be because libraries are great! Individual libraries set their own limits; mine allows for 10 movies a month, with three days to watch from the time you press play. Your credits refresh on the first of each month, and there are apps available for Android, iOS, Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, and so on. The selection here leans toward indies, but it includes lots of Criterion Collection flicks like The 400 Blows and Rashomon, making it a cinephile’s dream. Also? No ads. Libraries!