Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
When it comes to streaming services, the first names that come to mind probably include Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, and Netflix. They offer hundreds of titles, including recent releases and original TV series.
But consumers can also stream movies free from services that are—in most cases—supported by ads. The best bets among these services include Kanopy, Pluto TV, Sony Crackle, Tubi TV, Vudu, and Xumo.
Like Netflix or Hulu, these free services are available on most streaming devices , making it easy to watch on your TV, laptop, or tablet.
In addition to making you sit through ads, these services require other trade-offs. You’re out of luck if you want Ultra High Definition, or 4K, shows . Instead, they provide regular HD video (as do cable TV companies).
You’re also not likely to find recently released movies. And, of course, you won’t be able to watch original shows such as HBO’s “ Game of Thrones ,” Hulu’s “Runaways,” or Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
But in a world of $1,000 smartphones and $5 salted caramel mochas, it’s nice to know you can still see “Teen Wolf” or “Lethal Weapon” free of charge. (Another path to free content is to get a TV antenna .)
Here’s what you need to know to stream movies free from the services mentioned above and others.
If you have a library card, Hoopla might be your ticket to free movies, music, audiobooks, comics, and more. Getting started is pretty simple: Just go to the site, create an account, then find your local library.
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. When you check out a movie, you have 72 hours to watch it. (Your library sets the limit on how many movies you can borrow each month; in my case, it’s four.) Your movie will start streaming once you’ve made a selection.
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.
Powered by the Amazon-owned IMDb movie and TV show database, IMDb TV—formerly called IMDb Freedive—is Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service, which is very similar to the free Roku Channel available on Roku TVs and streaming players.
Unlike Amazon’s premium video offerings, though, it's been focused on older movies and TV shows, plus IMDb programs such as celebrity interviews, documentaries, and coverage of film festivals and award shows.
But that's soon about to change, thanks to a spate of recent deals with studios including MGM, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Warner Bros. The company says these new deals will triple the amount of content available on the service this year.
For example, newer movies will include the Oscar winner "La La Land," making its first appearance on an ad-supported service. It will join older movies such as “Memento” and “True Romance,” and TV series like “Fringe” and “Heroes."
You can watch IMDb TV via the IMDb website , as well as on Fire TV devices or through Amazon Prime Video apps on smart TVs, mobile devices, tablets, Echo screen devices, and Apple TV. To watch, you’ll need to sign in using your IMDb or Amazon account, or create one. You can also sign in with your Google or Facebook account.
IMDb TV videos include advertisements that run before and/or during playback, and—no surprise—they can’t be skipped.
Unlike the other streaming services on this list, Kanopy doesn’t show ads. But to use the service, you’ll need a membership at a participating library, university, or other learning institution.
Kanopy says it has a catalog of 26,000 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 away from Michael Bay blockbusters and toward art-house films. Indie flicks include “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Lady Bird.” Available documentary titles include “Leaving Neverland,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” and “I Am Not Your Negro.”
The service is currently showcasing more than 200 top titles previously featured at the Tribeca Film Festival, too.
If you access Kanopy through a library membership, you may be able to watch a limited number of titles per month; members of educational institutions get unlimited access.
Kanopy maintains a list of participating institutions. The same page lets you request access for your library if it doesn’t participate.
LG TV Plus
LG’s Channel Plus is a free streaming service powered by Xumo, which is described in greater detail below. Basically, it offers more than 100 live and on-demand news, sports, and entertainment channels from the internet, which you can access using the included program guide.
If you’re using an antenna to get free over-the-air channels, both of those stations and the Channel Plus channels will appear in the same program guide.
Channel Plus is included in LG’s webOS smart TV system on newer TVs, and it can be added via firmware to select older TVs going back to 2012. You can access the Channel Plus feature from the main menu bar that runs along the bottom of newer LG webOS TVs.
At first glance, the Pluto TV website looks a lot like the navigation menu from a cable box, with scores of channels.
Many of these, however, aren’t familiar broadcast channels, because they feature video content curated from around the web, including online newscasts from CBSN, Cheddar, and NBC News, as well as comedy content from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and The Onion.
But Pluto, which was purchased recently by Viacom, is starting to change. In addition to some more conventional streaming-service content, including modern movies (“True Grit,” “Shutter Island”) and earlier-era classics (“Clue,” “Clear and Present Danger,” “The Way of the Dragon”), Pluto TV is about to receive new versions of 14 popular Viacom channels, which are based on existing Viacom networks. These "specially curated" shows will come from Viacom networks such as BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, Spike, CMT, MTV, and Paramount.
Pluto now powers Vizio's WatchFree Wednesdays streaming service, which provides about 100 free, ad-supported channels on its SmartCast TVs.
The company also announced a deal with the BBC that will add shows such as “Doctor Who” and “Antiques Roadshow” to the mix.
The Roku Channel
But Roku is moving beyond its own players and Roku TVs with The Roku Channel for the Web, which lets you access that free programming from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. In addition, there will be a Roku Channel app on Samsung smart TVs. Using any of these devices, you simply go to therokuchannel.com and log in or create a Roku account to start streaming.
Roku recently updated the Roku operating system software (Roku OS 9.1), and one of the new features lets you use the voice search function to begin playback on movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. This also applies to more than 25 of the premium subscriptions services available via The Roku Channel.
To make free content easier to find, the company has also added an option called Featured Free to the Roku home screen. In that section, you’ll find links to content from not only The Roku Channel but also other content providers, including ABC, the CW, Fox, and streaming services such as Crackle, Pluto TV, and Tubi.
Designed for those who might be interested in programming that’s outside the mainstream, SnagFilms offers more than 2,000 on-demand movies, TV show episodes, documentaries, and original comedy shorts.
Categories include Climate Change & the Environment, Refugee & Immigrant Stories, Celebrate Pride, and Before They Were Stars.
Like many of the other free services, SnagFilms is supported by ads. You can access the service via a computer; Android and iOS smartphones and tablets; Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; and PlayStation and Xbox game consoles.
Crackle , Sony’s ad-supported streaming service, hosts a library of mainstream titles including older TV shows (“Seinfeld,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” “Who’s the Boss?”) and popular older movies (“Lethal Weapon,” “Big Fish,” “Pineapple Express”).
And the service has a smaller collection of somewhat more recent movies, including “The Bang Bang Club” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
Like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, Crackle has been developing some of its own content. These series include “Snatch,” a drama based on the movie of the same name, and “StartUp,” which is essentially a darker version of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” It also has a few original movies, including “The Oath,” about a gang of crooked cops, and “In the Cloud,” about a London terrorist.
This ad-supported service has more than 7,000 titles, including selections from the libraries of Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount Pictures, as well as Starz Digital.
These range from old (and probably best forgotten) Chuck Norris films to classic indie titles (“Bagdad Cafe”) and more recent acclaimed movies such as “The Hurt Locker.” Seasons of TV shows, such as “Pokémon,” “Merlin,” and “Blue Bloods,” are also available.
The latest news is that, thanks to a deal with MGM Television, Tubi TV will be the exclusive home for all 15 seasons of "The Apprentice" franchise.
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.
In much the same way that LG has partnered with Xumo for its Channel Plus service, Vizio has teamed up with Pluto TV for its free, ad-supported WatchFree streaming service.
WatchFree is included as part of Vizio’s SmartCast smart TV service, and it offers access to about 100 news, sports, movies, and TV shows. (See Pluto TV, above, for more details.) WatchFree is treated as its own input on SmartCast TVs, so you can find it by pressing the Input button on the Vizio TV remote control.
Vudu is best known as Walmart’s online video site, where you can buy or rent a wide range of movies and TV shows. But the service recently expanded its free, ad-supported content lineup to include more movies and full seasons of TV programs, which you can find under the Vudu: Free Movies & TV page.
The rotating collection includes hundreds of popular older movies, such as “Paddington,” “Stargate,” and “National Lampoon's Vacation,” and TV shows such as “Roseanne,” “21 Jump Street,” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”
But the company recently unveiled a slate of original ad-supported programming, which includes a sci-fi series starring Evangeline Lilly (“Lost,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp”), a travel/comedy show produced by Queen Latifah, a reboot of "Blue's Clues" done with Nickelodeon, and a documentary-style interview series with Randy Jackson.
To access the free content, you need a Vudu account, but you don’t have to provide payment information.
Xumo is a free, ad-powered streaming video platform that offers live and on-demand content from more than 100 channels.
Unlike other free services, Xumo focuses on premium branded channels, and you’ll find a lot of short-form content across a wide array of entertainment, lifestyle, news, pop culture, and technology content providers. That includes everything from The Onion and Funny or Die to TMZ, GQ, Vogue, NBC News, and Sports Illustrated.
After you’ve used the service, it can start making program recommendations based on your interests. Among the latest news: Xumo has now added content from the History Channel to its lineup. Also, the PGA Tour’s first ad-supported streaming channel is now on Xumo. Launched on smart TVs as part of a partnership with Xumo, the channel will include live coverage of matches as well as highlights and interviews.
You might think of YouTube mainly as the home of user-created content, but the site also has some free movies in the Free to Watch section under Movies & Shows. This offering is something different from YouTube Premium (formerly known as YouTube Red), which bundles videos, original movies, TV shows, and music as part of an ad-free plan that costs $12 per month.
Last time we checked, there were about 130 titles available, all of them free with ads. The mix is pretty far-ranging, so you get everything from older, bigger-budget Hollywood fare (“Legally Blonde,” “Bull Durham”) to animated movies (“Igor”) to documentaries (“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”).
The lineup changes routinely, though. A few months ago, we were able to watch several of the “Rocky” movies, but they’re no longer listed. So be sure to check back to see which new movies have appeared.
And because Amazon and Google have apparently ended their long-standing feud, YouTube will soon be available on Amazon Fire TV devices.
More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.