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You don’t have to leave your couch anymore to rent movies, but many might long for the simplicity of their local video rental store. Like a lot of aspects of streaming, the sheer number of options available can make the process feel overwhelming.
Oftentimes, you’ll be limited by the streaming device you’re using — Apple TVs only let you rent from iTunes, for instance — but if you’re using a smart TV or gaming console, you’ll probably have some more options.
|Amazon Fire TV||✔*||✔||✔|
*Movie must be rented first on an Apple device
But with those options numbering in the dozens, it can be hard to figure out where you’ll get the best deal. We looked at six of the top movie rental streaming services to find out which one deserves to be your go-to.
How we evaluated movie rental services
To evaluate movie rental services, we focused on three factors: how many movies are available on each service, the picture quality you can rent them in and, most importantly, price. We also wanted to see how options compared when you rented new releases versus older movies.
For the older movies, we used IMDb’s list of the top 250 movies, pulling rental options for each service for the first 50 movies on the list. For newer releases, we used a list of the 25 top-grossing films of 2019, and again compared all their rental options.
|Rental period||48 hours||48 hours||48 hours||48 hours||24 hours||48 hours|
We’ll be honest — prices and selection were fairly uniform across the board. That said, there were some small differences that could add up over time, particularly if you’re renting 4K movies on a regular basis.
In many of the 4K movies we logged, Google Play and YouTube charged $7.99, while the standard for Vudu and FandangoNOW was $5.99. iTunes, meanwhile, only charges $3.99 for most of its rentals in 4K.
iTunes: Best overall
Works with: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Samsung and LG smart TVs
If you have an Apple TV streaming device, you should absolutely use iTunes to rent movies. Its selection is as strong as anything we saw, and its prices are as low as it gets.
For example, Forrest Gump costs $3.99 to rent in 4K on iTunes; Vudu and FandangoNOW charge $5.99, and it’s $7.99 on Google Play and YouTube. iTunes doesn’t ever charge anything extra for 4K rentals, and it automatically plays in the best format your TV supports. That said, you can only play 4K rentals on an Apple TV 4K streaming device.
You can also watch iTunes rentals on Amazon Fire TV Sticks and Rokus, but it’s a little more complicated. You’ll have to rent them first on your Apple device, then sign into the Apple TV app on your streaming device.
Works with: Roku, Chromecast, PlayStation, Xbox, Vizio, Samsung and LG smart TVs
If you can’t use iTunes with your streaming device or smart TV, Vudu is a strong second option. In our test, it had almost all the same movies available to rent as iTunes did, missing only Modern Times and Harakiri — both more than 50 years old. If a movie was available anywhere in 4K, Vudu typically had it, too.
|IMDb top 50 available||90%||88%||82%||82%||88%||78%|
|IMDb top 50 in 4K||28%||8%||22%||22%||24%||24%|
|New releases available||56%||56%||56%||56%||56%||56%|
|New releases in 4K||24%||12%||24%||24%||24%||24%|
The only downside is that it will probably cost you a little more to rent 4K movies through Vudu. The app typically charges $5.99 for 4K Ultra HD rentals, compared to only $3.99 for most iTunes movies in 4K. It was still less than the $7.99 we frequently saw on Google Play and YouTube, though.
Before you rent, make sure it’s not available for free
There are dozens of free streaming services that let you watch movies without paying a dime. In some cases, you’ll need a library card from a branch that participates; in others, you’ll just need sit through a few commercial breaks.
To find out if you can watch a movie for free, we recommend using a streaming search engine like JustWatch or ReelGood. Just type in the movie you want to watch, and they’ll bring up everywhere you can stream it, including from free (and legal) services.
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