Netflix and Hulu are great, but they aren’t the end all, be all when it comes to streaming. Any number of smaller services are out there, with some filling a particular niche like horror while others cast their nets wide, and many are well worth the monthly subscription. If you’re looking to broaden your cinematic horizons from the comfort of your own home, here are five streaming services you probably aren’t using — but should be.
The streaming wing of the Criterion Collection was launched following the untimely demise of FilmStruck, a joint venture between Criterion and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) that lasted just two blissful years. That was a huge loss for cinephiles, but this new venture has filled the void and then some. Anyone familiar with the Criterion Collection knows why: the home-video company, which produces DVD and Blu-ray editions of "important classic and contemporary films" loaded with special features and adorned with beautiful cover art, has been beloved by movie fanatics for nearly 40 years. If your two-week free trial goes well, you can then subscribe on either a monthly ($10.99) or yearly ($99.99) basis.
What to watch first: Honestly, where to start? No streaming service can match the quantity-to-quality ratio of the Criterion Channel, whose collection of all-time classics and under-the-radar gems is an embarrassment of riches. Always dreamed of attending the Cannes Film Festival? More than a dozen Palme d’Or winners can be found here. Got time for a curated double feature? There are plenty of those as well. If you’d rather search by director, every world-renowned auteur from Akira Kurosawa and Agnès Varda to David Lynch and Federico Fellini is well represented on the service.
That said, a personal favorite of your humble correspondent is Andrei Tarkovsky’s "Solaris." Said to have been dissatisfied with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which he regarded as cold and sterile, the Russian filmmaker set out to make a sci-fi epic of his own. “Solaris” is that and more — heady and melancholic, it explores the inner space of the mind as much as it explores the outer space of the universe.
If you’re a cinephile and a bibliophile, Kanopy is for you: This streaming service is entirely free for anyone with a valid library card as well as students/professors at participating colleges and universities. That might come as a disappointment to those who aren’t signed up at their local branch, but there’s no time like the present to finally do so. Scrolling through the expansive catalog is akin to thumbing through your favorite books, and the service is especially great for anyone with an affinity for documentaries.
What to watch first: Recent favorites “Lady Bird” and “Moonlight” are as good as you’ve heard, while lesser-known independent fare like “First Reformed,” “20th Century Women,” and “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” are worth seeking out as well. Or, if you're in the mood for subtitles, Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000) is one of the best films of the young century so far — few romances say so much with so few words.
Most streaming services embody one of philosopher Martin Buber’s most prescient truisms: “a wealth of possibilities breeds dread.” Mubi does the opposite. Rather than inundate you with more movies and TV series than you’ll be able to watch in a lifetime, the highly curated service adds one new film every day and makes it available for just 30 days — meaning there are just 30 hand-picked choices at any given time. This adds a sense of urgency to the process, which some of us need to ensure we actually make time for everything in our queue. After a weeklong free trial, a subscription will set you back $7.99 per month.
What to watch first: Mubi has a decided arthouse bent, which is to say that those who love independent and/or foreign cinema will feel right at home here. Many smaller films make their exclusive streaming debut here, including Kantemir Balagov’s excellent (and, it must be said, devastating) "Beanpole." One of the best films of the year so far, it follows the close friendship between two women in 1945 Leningrad: one of them a recently returned soldier, the other a rather tall (hence the title) nurse who’s been caring for the soldier’s young son. It’s beautifully rendered —just like Mubi's curation.
If you love scary movies and have yet to sign up for Shudder, what are you waiting for? With exclusive and original titles alongside pulse-pounding classics, it’s a haven for horror fiends — where else can you binge-watch 11 different “Friday the 13th” flicks before trying out a miniseries that literally can’t be found anywhere else? Launched five years ago, it's owned by AMC Networks and costs just $4.75/month after a seven-day free trial.
What to watch first: That depends on how well-versed you are in the classics. If you haven’t already seen the likes of "Halloween," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and "Night of the Living Dead," you should obviously start there. If you have, opt for deep cuts in the vein of "Viy" or “Twins of Evil.”
If you don’t mind ads, Tubi’s price tag is hard to ignore: it's completely free. Featuring more than 20,000 titles from the likes of Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate, it’s owned by Fox and has a little of everything. That makes it ideal for non-fussy viewers who actually enjoy scrolling through everything they don’t want to watch in order to find what they do want.
What to watch first: Honestly, you're spoiled for choice. Tubi has crime dramas (“The Usual Suspects”), comedies (“Airplane!”), old-school cartoons (“Woody Woodpecker”), and everything in between. You may have to do some digging to find something to your taste, but the sheer number of options ensures that there’s genuinely something for everyone.