These services—all legal—offer hundreds of free TV shows and films, but you'll probably have to watch commercials
By James K. Willcox
If you haven’t checked lately, you may be subscribing to more paid streaming services than you realize. It’s easy to lose track—which is one reason around half of American households subscribe to four or more streaming service. (Almost one-quarter subscribe to nine or more.)
That can get expensive, especially because subscription prices have been rising steadily.
The good news is that budget-conscious consumers can also stream movies free from lots of services. The best free streaming services include Amazon Freevee, Crackle, Hoopla, and several more, all listed below.
These free services are available through most streaming devices and smart TVs, as well as on laptops, smartphones, and tablets—just like Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services you have to pay for.
In exchange for watching TV for free, you’ll have to see some ads. And with most free services, you’re out of luck if you want 4K shows, including any with HDR. Instead, these platforms usually provide regular high-definition video, just like most cable TV companies.
You’re not likely to find recently released movies. And, of course, you won’t be able to watch original shows from paid services, such as Amazon Prime’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” HBO’s "House of the Dragon," Hulu’s “The Bear,” or Netflix’s “The Sandman.”
Still, in a world of $1,000 smartphones and $6 salted caramel mochas, it’s nice to know you can see “Teen Wolf” or “Lethal Weapon” without having to pay. (Looking for another path to free content? Get a TV antenna.)
Here’s a rundown of the best free streaming services. (You can scroll to the bottom for a list of several more to check out.)
Previously called IMDb TV, Amazon Freevee is an ad-supported service that offers a mix of live channels, on-demand classic TV shows and movies, and some original content.
You’ll find shows such as “Lost” and “Mad Men” alongside older ones such as “Bewitched” and “All in the Family.” Movies currently available include “Knives Out,” “Deadpool,” and “Gone Girl.” Licensed content rotates in and out from month to month.
Original shows include “Judy Justice,” starring Judge Judy Sheindlin; “Hollywood Houselift,” with Jeff Lewis; and “Bosch: Legacy,” a spinoff of the popular Amazon Prime series.
Amazon Freevee is widely available on Amazon devices, including Fire TV streaming players and TVs; Android and iOS mobile devices; Apple TV; Chromecast, Nvidia Shield, Roku, and TiVo streaming players; smart TVs from several brands; and game consoles.
Crackle, which used to be Sony’s ad-supported streaming service, hosts a library of mainstream titles that include popular older TV shows, such as “Barney Miller” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” as well as some popular newer series, including “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Movies include everything from “Midnight Express” and “Das Boot” to somewhat more recent fare, such as “River” and “Priest.”
Crackle is now owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul, and is part of a bigger brand called Crackle Plus, which operates several ad-supported and subscription networks, including EspañolFlix, FrightPix, and Popcornflix, among others. The company also recently acquired Redbox. (See below.)
Crackle exclusives include four seasons of “Sherlock,” all five seasons of “Ripper Street,” and a documentary series called “A Life in Ten Pictures” that profiles important cultural figures such as Elizabeth Taylor, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, and Tupac Shakur. The service is also adding a new series from the BBC library every month.
Crackle’s original content already includes “Les Norton,” a 10-episode series starring Rebel Wilson; “The Uncommon History of Very Common Things,” an entertaining and often irreverent history of everyday objects; and season two of “The Vault,” a suspense series set at a fictional college. “Eat Wheaties” is a movie starring Tony Hale and Elisha Cuthbert.
Crackle can be accessed on Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku devices and TVs; Apple TVs; smart TVs from Hisense, LG, Samsung, and Vizio; Android and Google TV televisions; gaming consoles; and Android and iOS mobile devices.
Hoopla and Kanopy
If you have a library card, Hoopla and Kanopy might be your ticket to free movies, music, audiobooks, and comics. Getting started is pretty simple: Just go to the site, create an account, and find your local library. You check out TV shows and movies as though they were books, using your library card.
The main difference between the two services is that Hoopla tends to focus more on popular entertainment than Kanopy does, and it includes other types of media beyond video, such as audiobooks, comics, e-books, and music.
With either service, once you’ve signed up you can browse by title or genre, or get recommendations based on what you’ve previously borrowed and what’s popular. With Hoopla, you have 72 hours to watch a movie. (Your library sets the limit on how many movies you can borrow each month; in my case, it recently jumped from four to eight.) Your movie will start streaming once you’ve made a selection.
If you access Kanopy through a library membership, you may be able to watch a limited number of titles per month. However, members of educational institutions get unlimited access.
Late last year, Hoopla introduced BingePass, which gives library users seven days of unlimited viewing for the titles in each BingePass collection, with the whole group counting as a single title for the purpose of Hoopla’s monthly borrowing limit. BingePass now includes access to The Great Courses Collection and the Curiosity Stream services, as well as a collection of digital magazines. Current movie selections include the Judy Garland biopic “Judy,” “Mansfield Park,” and “The Hating Game.”
Kanopy says it has a catalog of 30,000 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 heavily toward art-house films. Indie flicks include “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird.” Documentary titles include “Meru” and “I Am Not Your Negro.”
You can access Hoopla on a computer, on Android and iOS mobile apps, and via streaming players such as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku. If you’re using the mobile app, there’s a download option for offline viewing. Kanopy is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS devices, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku players and TVs, and smart TVs, as well as through web browsers.
Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, has a free, ad-supported tier of service, along with two paid tiers ($5 per month with ads and $10 per month without). Sign up free of charge and you get access to two-thirds of the library of about 20,000 shows, movies, news, sports, and exclusive original programming. It includes current-season NBC broadcasts a week after they air, plus a mix of classic TV shows, movies, news, and sports programming from several of the parent company’s properties, including NBC, Universal Studios, USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Telemundo, and Universal Kids.
Popular shows include “Law & Order: Organized Crime” and several seasons of “The Office,” which was previously streaming on Netflix. Other NBC shows are available a week after they air. Peacock has deals in place for movies from Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, Focus Features, Illumination, Warner Bros., and Blumhouse, with titles ranging from “The Bourne Identity” and “The Matrix” to “Jurassic Park” and “The Godfather” trilogy.
It also reached a deal for newly released films from Universal Studios, such as “F9” and “Jurassic World: Dominion,” to stream exclusively on Peacock as soon as 45 days after they debut in theaters. (After a four-month window, they’ll be available on Amazon Prime Video.)
With the free tier, you miss out on live sports events, some blockbuster movies, and original Peacock programming such as “Yellowstone,” “Rutherford Falls,” and “Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.”
You can access Peacock through Comcast’s Xfinity X1 cable and Flex streaming platforms, as well as on Apple devices (Apple TV and Apple TV 4K, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch); Google Android TVs, phones, tablets, and Chromecast; Roku streaming players; and LG and Vizio smart TVs. The service is also available on Xbox and Sony PlayStation game consoles. But it’s not on Amazon Fire TV devices.
Pluto TV, owned by Paramount, has about 250 curated channels, drawing content from its own Paramount properties (BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Pictures), plus networks such as Bloomberg, Cheddar News, CNN, NBC News, and Fox Sports. Pluto TV also has a decent library of on-demand content, mainly older movies and TV shows ranging from “Ghost in the Shell” to the original “Gunsmoke.”
In addition to genre-based channels, Pluto TV has added channels powered by other providers, including CBS (“NCIS,” “FBI”) and AMC Networks (“Breaking Bad").
There’s also now a Pluto TV Latino service, with 11 curated Spanish- and Portuguese-language channels covering categories including comedy, movies, music, reality TV, sports, telenovelas, and true crime.
You can designate your favorite channels so that they appear at the top of the channel guide. Plus, you can add programs and movies to a watchlist for viewing on demand later. A preview mode shows trailers and more info about each title.
Pluto powers Vizio’s WatchFree streaming service, which provides about 100 free, ad-supported channels on its SmartCast TVs. It’s also available on several smart TVs; Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; TiVo devices; Android and iOS mobile devices; Windows and Mac computers; and Sony PlayStation game consoles.
Best known for its rental kiosks at grocery stores and shopping centers, plus a newer video-on-demand streaming rental and purchase service, Redbox now has a free, ad-based live service as well, which gets some of its content from Xumo (see below). Thanks to the Xumo partnership, Redbox’s free service includes Magnolia Pictures’ new CineLife ad-supported channel, which features top-rated independent films and award-winning documentaries from the Magnolia Pictures catalog.
However, Redbox was recently acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul, also owns Crackle. The company says for now the streaming service will continue to run as a separate entity.
You can access the content by clicking on “Watch Free” at the top of the Redbox website. It’s still relatively light on blockbuster-type content, though there are about 100 channels. (Redbox does offer a much larger catalog of movies that you can rent.) Redbox’s live TV comes in the form of genre-specific channels that run 24 hours a day, with shows such as “Cops” and “Deal or No Deal.” Genre categories include News & Weather, Action & Sci-Fi, Movies, Sports, Food & Design, Comedy, Classic TV & Movies, and Kids & Family, among others.
The on-demand titles are available only for a limited time because of agreements with programming providers, and the service gains and loses shows and movies each month. Redbox has deals in place for movies and television shows from studios and content creators, including Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, Shout Factory, Legendary Television, Magnolia Pictures, and Relativity Media.
Redbox is available on smart TVs from LG, Samsung, and Vizio; Chromecast and Roku streaming players; game consoles; Android and iOS mobile devices; and computers.
The Roku Channel
Thanks to a rapidly expanding roster of programming, you can watch free shows and movies via the company’s ad-supported Roku Channel, which is now available outside of just Roku streaming players and TVs.
One big focus going forward will be Roku Originals, which will roll out 50 new shows over the next few years. Roku also purchased the content from Quibi when that short-lived service went under. Current Roku Originals include “Reno 911: Defunded,” “Die Hart,” “The Newsreader,” and the holiday movie “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas.” A biopic based on the life of Weird Al Yankovic, starring Daniel Radcliffe, is also in the works. The company also recently announced co-production deals with Marquee Brands and Milk Street Studios that will result in new original food series starring Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse, and Chris Kimball. The deals will also bring over 3,000 episodes of library content.
In addition, Roku has a multiyear deal with Lionsgate that gives it rights to stream Lionsgate’s theatrically released films. Exclusive to Roku, it will be the first time titles are available free anywhere. Roku is also teaming up with a private equity company to acquire up to a 20 percent stake in the premium channel Starz, which was acquired by Lionsgate in 2016.
The Roku Channel can now be accessed beyond its own streaming media players and TVs. The Roku Channel for the Web lets you access free programming from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. In addition, there will be a Roku Channel app on Fire TVs and streaming players, and Samsung smart TVs. On any of those devices, you simply go to the Roku website and log in to a Roku account to start streaming.
To make content easier to find, the company has added an option called Featured Free to the Roku home screen, where you’ll find links to content from not only the Roku Channel but also other providers, including ABC, the CW, Fox, and streaming services such as Crackle, Pluto TV, and Tubi TV.
This ad-supported service has more than 40,000 titles, including selections from the libraries of Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros., plus networks including A&E, Lifetime, and Starz. The options range from old (and probably best-forgotten) Chuck Norris films to classic indie titles (“Requiem for a Dream”) to more recent movies such as “Judy.” You’ll also find full seasons of TV shows ranging from oldies (“The Honeymooners”) to more recent fare (“The Masked Singer”).
Now owned by Fox, Tubi is ramping up its original content with 100 new film and TV titles slated over the next year. Tubi now offers streaming access to many Fox shows, such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” and “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back,” after they are broadcast, and it’s turning to other Fox properties, such as TMZ and animated studio Bento Box Entertainment, for new originals, such as “Classmates,” a comedy directed by Danielle Fishel, who starred in “Boy Meets World.”
These will join other Tubi Originals, such as “10 Truths About Love", "War of the Worlds: Annihilation,” and “Mysteries From the Grave: Titanic.”
It has several programs based on the Lego franchise, specials starring Garfield, and some programs from Mattel featuring characters from Barbie and Monsters High. The company also has a deal that brought six seasons of “Barney & Friends” to the service. Last year Tubi launched “News on Tubi,” which features content from ABC, CBS, Fox, Bloomberg TV, NBC News Now, Fubo Sports Network, and Black News Channel, among others.
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.
Tubi is available on Android and iOS devices; Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku streaming players; PlayStation and Xbox game consoles; Samsung and Sony smart TVs; Comcast Xfinity X1 boxes; and the web.
ViX is a free, ad-supported Spanish-language service owned by Univision, and formerly called PrendeTV. Unlike PrendeTV, which was exclusively a free, ad-supported service, ViX also has an ad-free subscription version, called ViX+, which costs $7 a month. Both offer more than 50 entertainment channels, including movies, sports, and children’s programming. (ViX+ also has premium series and some exclusive live sporting events.) ViX has 11,000 hours of on-demand content, which includes shows from Univision, plus content from large media companies based in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. It also has deals with Disney, Lionsgate, and MGM to offer more than 150 films to viewers.
Other programming includes several soccer channels, nature and wildlife channels from Blue Ant Media, nine telenovela channels, and seven movie channels. There are also three family channels.
ViX is available on Amazon Fire TV devices, Apple TV and iPhones, Roku players and TVs, and Google’s Android phones and TVs.
Xumo, owned by Comcast, is an ad-powered streaming video platform that offers live and on-demand content from more than 190 channels across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment, live events, comedy, lifestyle, and movies.
Content on Xumo includes news programming (ABC News Live, Bloomberg, CBS News Latest Headlines, LiveNow from Fox), movies from FilmRise and Crackle, TV shows ranging from classic (“Candid Camera”) to more current (“Everybody Hates Chris”), and sports (CBS Sports HQ, Fox Sports). Movies also range from classics (“Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”) to modern classics (“In the Line of Fire”).
It also has the Black News Channel, with programming created specifically for African American audiences. A recent deal is bringing three new curated channels from Telemundo, which will include over 3,000 hours of Telemundo scripted shows, reality TV, news, sports, and more.
In addition, the service has about 10,000 on-demand titles, thanks to deals with Magnolia Pictures, Relativity Media, Broad Green Pictures, and A24. You can watch Xumo on a good number of smart TVs, iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Apple TVs (via AirPlay), and Amazon Fire TV and Roku streaming players and televisions.
More Free Services to Consider
You have literally dozens of free ad-supported alternatives to paid streaming services. For example, most smart TVs now either offer their own free services, or let you access the ones included on this list directly from the set.
Here are some additional free services you can try.
• Fawesome.tv is a newer ad-supported streaming service that offers more than 10,000 movies and series in HD quality across a variety of genres, including action, comedy, family and kids, health and lifestyle, horror, and thriller. It’s owned by FutureToday, which operates more than 1,000 streaming channels across 25 genres.
• Haystack News—formerly called Haystack TV—provides local, national, and global news from more than 400 content partners. The company says the service now provides more than 50 live news and weather channels, covering more than 90 percent of local U.S. markets. An expanded partnership with Hearst Television includes the company’s Very Local local news and information channels. A Newsline feature has an interactive news ticker with local news headlines, weather conditions, forecasts and alerts, and stock market data, plus top business, tech, and entertainment stories.
• LG Channels is a free streaming service for LG smart TV owners, with content from both Xumo and Pluto TV. It has more than 190 live and on-demand news, sports, and entertainment channels from the internet, which you can access using an integrated program guide. If you’re using an antenna, free over-the-air channels and Channel Plus options appear together in the same program guide.
• Plex makes software that lets you access movies and videos stored on one computer from a second device. The company also has its own ad-supported free streaming service, with thousands of free movies, TV shows, extreme sports films, music documentaries, Bollywood musicals, and more. Called Live TV on Plex, it features over 80 channels across multiple genres. Plex recently started offering a $5-a-month upgrade that works with an antenna to give you live local channels, plus a DVR, the ability to pause and rewind shows, and a program guide.
• Like LG, Samsung smart TVs have their own free service—Samsung TV Plus—which offers more than 200 ad-supported channels featuring news, sports, and entertainment. A strength is its roster of news channels, including ABC News Live, CBS News, Cheddar, LiveNow from Fox, NBC News, and Newsy, among others. Samsung has also partnered with Bloomberg Media to launch Bloomberg TV+, a 4K business/finance channel. All Samsung smart TVs dating back to 2016 are able to access TV Plus.
• Sling Free is the new ad-supported service from Sling TV. Right now it has about 100 live TV channels and about 40,000 on-demand shows and movies, and you don’t have to register or provide a credit card. You do need to set up an account, though.
• Stirr is an ad-supported streaming service launched by local TV broadcaster Sinclair; it offers local content, plus a mix of national news, sports, entertainment, and digital-first channels, as well as a library of on-demand video titles. Right now it has about 100 channels and 5,000 hours of programming. When you sign up for Stirr, you select your city (or a city near you) so that you can receive local news and other content on the 24-hour Stirr City channel.
• Unlike other ad-supported services, TiVo+ is available only via a TiVo device, either a TiVo DVR or a TiVo Stream 4K. TiVo+ has more than 160 free channels; the service is powered by several services, including Pluto TV and Xumo. It also has news from 12 live news channels, and 12 live sports channels, including Major League Baseball. TiVo is a now wholly owned subsidiary of a company called Xperi, the parent company to brands including DTS and Imax Enhanced.
• Vizio teamed up with Pluto TV to offer an ad-supported WatchFree+ streaming service. It has also added its own roster of channels, along with ad-supported video-on-demand titles, so Vizio SmartCast users can now access thousands of on-demand titles, along with hundreds of current WatchFree+ live streaming channels, all with no subscriptions or log-ins.
• Vudu, formerly owned by Walmart, has merged with Fandango’s FandangoNow service into a single entity that’s retaining the Vudu name. (On my TV, though, it’s called Vudu Fandango.) While its main focus continues to be on newly released big-budget films to buy or rent, there’s a growing selection of free, ad-supported movies and TV shows, which you can find in the “Free” section of the top navigation bar on the Vudu home page. To access the free content, you need a Vudu account, but you don’t have to provide payment information.
• Fans of classic TV shows and movies might want to check out Watchyour.tv, from TVS Television. The content is organized into general-interest “networks,” such as Home Shopping, Sports, Movies, Entertainment, and Kids & Family, then broken down further into subcategories. It has a program guide for live TV, plus movies and TV shows on demand. The service also has a “DVR,” but it’s more like a catch-up feature that lets you scroll through a week’s worth of programming and then stream it.
• YouTube is famous for user-created content, but it also has movies in the Free to Watch section under Movies & Shows. The ad-supported offerings are different from those on YouTube Premium, which bundles videos, original movies, TV shows, and music as part of an ad-free plan that costs $12 per month. YouTube’s free TV roster now has about 100 shows, with almost 4,000 episodes in all. Like many of these services, the content lineup changes periodically.
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