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6 Free (and Legal) Streaming Options for the Cash-Strapped Cinephile

There’s no two ways about it: things are tough. The world is in turmoil, and people are strapped for cash. As we look for more ways to make more financially sustainable decisions, our streaming service subscriptions are starting to look quite onerous. In the middle of 2019, I started shifting into a new life philosophy: minimalism. The idea of being happy with what I’ve got, rather than chasing owning more things in hope that they would bring me joy, was really appealing. So, when the pandemic enveloped the world in uncertainty, I jumped at the opportunity to ditch Netflix (my last remaining paid subscription), and enjoy the many free options available for us to watch films legally. Here are some of my favorites. The best part? I have something for everyone on this list, regardless of where you are in the world.

Tubi.tv (Worldwide)

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I’ll start strong, with my favorite pick of the lot. Tubi is a free streaming service, available in most regions. It requires no account (though you can create one if you want to track your watchlist across different devices), the selection is amazing (it varies by region, of course), and the streaming quality is great.

As for negatives, I can’t really think of many. You won’t get the latest releases, and of course, network-exclusives like Stranger Things or whatever is happening over at HBO Max won’t be here. But the truth is, if you leave the marketing aside, the quality of the content is just as good.

Tubi.tv would be my first suggestion for anyone looking for a good, free and widely available streaming service.

Kanopy (Select regions, US and Canada included)

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If you’re in a region which supports it, Kanopy offers the highest quality film experience you can get for free. This service is provided for free to library card holders in select regions. The primary supported regions are US and Canada. No library card? No problem. Most libraries are happy to set you up with a card over the phone. Some even offer the opportunity to do so online. Just enter your details and you should be good to go.

The main con against Kanopy is availability. If you’re in an unsopported region (which is most of the world), you’re out of luck. Another thing to get into consideration is that you get 10 credits a month. So if you’re a cinephile who goes through films like t-shirts, you might run out of credits quite quickly. I have found that balancing Kanopy with other free streaming services like Tubi provide more than enough content for my needs.

Vudu (US only)

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One of the most familiar options to US readers, Walmart’s Vudu service is well-known for providing free, ad-supported films to anyone with an account. You can also redeem some digital codes (which come with Blu-Ray discs) and purchase digital films directly on the platform. The selection is fantastic, as Vudu has pretty great licensing agreements.

Again, Vudu’s main knock is availability. It’s a pain in the ass to come across a service like this only to be met with a “not available in your region” message. Another knock against Vudu, at least for me, is that it’s tied to Walmart, and I’m really not a fan of a lot of their corporate policies. If you’re in the US, though, this might be a great place to start.

Pluto (Worldwide)

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This is quite a unique one, as this is the only option which provides a live TV experience. Yes, that’s right: though Pluto offers VOD as well, its main selling point is that it mimics a regular cable box. You get the programming tables, ads (of course), no choice in what to watch at any given time other than “tuning into a channel”… and everything else that just screams: “welcome to 2005!”. The fact that it is available in most regions is the cherry on top of the retro-cake.

For some, this lack of on-demand by design would be a negative. As a fan of radio myself, I like this. It takes the “endless scrolling” experience out of the equation, and I might discover something that I would not have otherwise watched. Also, because it runs over the internet (of course), you need a pretty good connection to get TV-like quality. Aside from that, it’s a very good, quirky and fun alternative.

Crackle (North America only)

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Crackle used to be one of my go-to services back in the day, as it had a pretty great selection. In fact, it was the original home for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, the Jerry Seinfeld show that does what it says on the tin. But over time, Sony decided that it would focus on the North American market (leaving little old me, now living in Paraguay), out of the game. It provides better programming for those who can access it, as there are a lot of Sony original IP on it, but sadly, availability is pretty limited.

I know I sound like I’m having a massive downer on Crackle, but it’s actually pretty good. I’m just mad that one of my favorite places to watch stuff on for free is no longer available to me. And that, my friends, breaks my heart.

Viki (available worldwide)

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Oh, yes. Korean doramas as far as the eye can see. Viki might be a left-field choice, but I’m a huge fan, mostly because I adore Asian film and TV, and this is the best way to enjoy it all for free. Selection varies greatly by region, pricing for VOD is confusing, and not everything has subtitles or dubbing. But if you’re a fan of Asian cinema, that is all par for the course, and honestly, part of the fun.

Any negatives? No, not really. If ever there was a streaming service that lived up to expectations, Viki is it. Quirky, confusing, but overall great, Viki is the best resource for watching this kind of content for free. And that, friends, is absolute perfection to me.

If you have any other suggestions for free streaming services, please leave them in the comments below. I cannot wait to see where you guys watch your stuff. Just remember to keep it legal. We strongly believe in supporting filmmakers, so help us do so responsively!

Written by Marcos Codas

Born in Paraguay and raised in Canada, Marcos has been a fan of horror for as long as he can remember. An indie filmmaker himself, he loves exploring how to narrow the gap between a film and its audience. Favorites include THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, THE EXORCIST, and HEREDITARY. Find him on Twitter @MarcosCodas

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