From arthouse cinema to LGBTQ+ gems, the world of streaming now offers up far more than the usual suspects
As people throughout the US and around the world continue to hunker inside their homes and apartments in order to combat the spread of coronavirus, they have become even more reliant on streaming services than they were before the pandemic. Film lovers looking for escapism and/or artistic sustenance currently have nowhere else to turn for the fix, so the question for many becomes: what streaming services offer the best selection?
The answer, of course, depends on what you’re looking for. The problem with most of the big on-demand platforms – Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ – is that for all their seemingly limitless content, their selection is actually … quite limited. This is especially true of films that fit into niche categories: while classic, foreign, independent, cult and experimental cinema aren’t entirely absent from these services, they certainly aren’t to be found in abundance. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime has a far deeper and more eclectic selection to choose from, but the complete lack of curation ensures that much of it will go completely overlooked.
Obviously, it’s easy to search for the availability of any particular title, but when it comes to discovering films, restless cinephiles and movie buffs may want to venture beyond their current subscriptions and consider one or more of the following on-demand streaming services.
The premier distributer of arthouse, foreign and classic films for over 35 years, the Criterion Collection has always been on the forefront of new technology, from Laserdisc, to DVD and Blu-ray, to, more recently, streaming. The brand has set up shop across a number of platforms over the last decade, including Netflix, Hulu and the sadly shuttered Filmstruck (which boasted the single best film library of any platform). Now, finally, there is the Criterion Channel, which debuted last year. It’s the single most essential streaming service for cinephiles, thanks to an immense library of classic and modern titles from around the world and an expert curation that includes bonus features, original programming and thematic presentations such as spotlight series, double features and more.
Staying in the realm of the arthouse, Mubi offers “forgotten gems to festival-fresh cinema … cult classics to award-winning masterpieces”. What makes Mubi so unique is their highly specific curation model: they offer a selection of 30 films at a time, with each film available for only 30 days. This mean that every day, one movie is swapped out for a new title. While some may scoff at such an intentionally limited selection, others will find it a welcome change of pace, as it narrows down the often-overwhelming process of deciding what to watch. Mubi subscribers also get access to their online journal the Notebook, and as well as their community forum comprised of fellow film lovers.
Kanopy offers over a selection of more than 30,000 films, documentaries and children’s programming, all commercial free, to those with a public library card or currently enrolled in college. Their documentary catalogue is particularly impressive, containing not only feature-length films, but also those produced for television and for educational purposes. A Kanopy membership should make for a particularly appealing prospect for those who want to use their newfound downtime to educate themselves on new subject matter, as well as parents looking for more substantive programming for their children.
For many in the film industry, one of the long-term worries caused by the coronavirus is the dire effect it may have on the independent scene, which is reliant on not-for-profit run theaters and film festivals, many of which don’t have the means to whether a prolonged shutdown. One of the ways individual viewers can support independent film-makers is through IndieFlix, a streaming distributer of microbudget features, shorts and documentaries, as well as a collection of classic film and television content. IndieFlix’s distribution model works with film-makers to ensure they earn payment every time their work is streamed.
On Demand has not only disrupted the market for theatrical and home video film releases, but also for television. Whereas previously viewers knew what channels to turn to find programming tailored to their particular demographic, that has become trickier in the streaming age. Now though, several services have stepped up to fill that gap, one such example being the Urban Movie Channel. Created by BET co-founder Robert L Johnson, this subscription service offers a wide selection of black-centric films, television, comedy specials and more.
Dekkoo meets a similar demographic demand by offering the “largest collection of gay entertainment available anywhere”. Their selection is surprisingly diverse, offering mainstream fare alongside experimental, erotica, camp, documentary, horror, history and more. They also produce original films and series dedicated to telling “great gay stories” from around the world
India produces the largest number of feature films each year, so we’d be remiss not to list the No 1 streaming platform for that nation’s cinema. Spull offers a massive, but carefully curated, selection of Indian films, in a variety of languages and from several region-specific industries, including, but not limited to Bollywood. It also offers television series, live channels and movies to rent.
There are many finely curated on-demand services tailored to specific genres, but Shudder is the current gold standard. Specializing in horror, thriller and suspense, their library of films runs the gamut in terms of classics and new (sometimes even current) releases, foreign and domestic, classics and deep cuts. Their platform is one of the easier to navigate ones out there, featuring highlighted selections divided into neat subgenres such as giallo (mystery fiction), queer horror, revenge and so forth. They also provide a wide and eclectic selection of original programming, including features, documentaries, shows, live viewing and highly anticipated specials, such as their immensely popular recurring series The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
For adventurous movie lovers who want to dive even deeper into cinematic esoterica, there’s Full Moon Features, which offers a mind-melting selection of horror, exploitation and all other manner of cult and trash classics. Bolstered by their partnership with several boutique distributors such as Something Weird and Blue Underground, Full Moon Features is probably the closest streaming has come to replicating the experience of the grindhouse. The only thing they can’t provide are the sticky floors, though depending on how quarantine has affected your standard of housekeeping, you may already have those.
For viewers interested in a broad selection of modern mainstream movies, Tubi TV offers an enjoyably meat and potatoes selection reminiscent of the display cases you used to find at Blockbuster thanks to their partnership with major studios such as Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate and others. One giant plus is that the service is free to all, although subscribers do have to put up with commercial breaks. For viewers of a certain age this shouldn’t prove too distracting (they might even get a nostalgic kick out of it), although it may take some getting used to for members of Gen-Z, who know not but uninterrupted service, with previews only ever running over the end credits.