Best free streaming services for movies


Sep 11, 2020 — 7 min read

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The online streaming marketplace is awash with services that enable users to watch great movies, but they don’t always have to pay to do so. There are now many streaming websites that offer a wide selection of free movies, from cult classics and recent Hollywood hits to niche films from every genre imaginable.

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How we found the top sites for free movies

Our evaluation of the best sites for free movie streaming was based on the same methodology used in our review of the top 10 best free streaming sites. We selected the six free sites with the most movies, using data from JustWatch, and selected films that are exclusively available on those streaming services.

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Best free movie streaming services

Hoopla: Best overall movie service

Content: Hoopla enables library cardholders to download and stream audiobooks, comics, ebooks, movies and TV shows on their computer or mobile device. Hoopla’s free online movie catalog includes 21 films that make it into the IMDb top 250 list, which is more than can be found on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu

The Hoopla content library also has movies that can’t be found on other free streaming sites, including Edward Norton in 25th Hour, Matt Damon and Robin Williams starring in Good Will Hunting, Korean horror The Host and Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman starring in the thriller The House That Jack Built.

User Experience: Hoopla provides one account and one simultaneous stream per user, and the service is only available to library cardholders. The service charges libraries when a movie is borrowed, which means they tend to limit the number of items that a user can borrow. Therefore, there’s less chance of binge-watching movies than with other popular streaming services. Users can either stream movies online or download them to watch offline on a mobile device.

Hoopla makes it easy for users to navigate its movie library with a wide range of options for them to narrow down their search. The movie library is sorted into three main sections of featured movies, popular films and categories, which can be narrowed down by release date, when the movie was added to Hoopla, patron rating and language, as well as an option to only show children’s titles. Users can also sort movies alphabetically and chronologically, as well as by popularity and relevance. The service also enables users to bookmark movies to borrow at a later date.

Kanopy: Best free movie selection

Content: Kanopy is also free to use for library cardholders, as well as university students. It’s also the exclusive place to watch online free movies like Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky, Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, Claire Danes and Leonardo di Caprio starring in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. in Zodiac.

User Experience: Kanopy limits its library of nearly 7,000 films to one account and one simultaneous stream per user, who must hold a library card or a university login. Navigating the Kanopy library is a little more difficult than with Hoopla. The service organizes movies into curated content sections, such as New to Kanopy, Popular Documentaries, Popular Movies and Popular World Cinema. It also provides a search function, but it doesn’t provide options for users to sort content by category, release date or title. 

Kanopy users can watch movies online free on computers, mobile devices and streaming devices, but cannot download content to watch offline. However, all content on the service is ad-free. 

Pluto TV: Best for live streaming movies

Content: Pluto TV is a free TV streaming service that enables users to watch movies online free via the service’s live channels. These include Pluto Movies and Pluto Movies 2, as well as Action, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Romance and Terror channels. The service is home to many movies that aren’t available on any other free streaming sites. These include Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, Ryan Gosling in Drive, Karl Urban starring in Dredd and Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in the original The Fast and the Furious movie.

User Experience: Pluto TV doesn’t require people to create an account to watch its live service. However, creating an account enables users to select their favorite channels and shows, which makes navigating the service much easier. Content is restricted to one account and simultaneous stream per user.

The Pluto TV service is available through a web player as well as apps for mobile devices, streaming devices and smart TVs. But Pluto TV content cannot be downloaded to be watched offline. Users navigate the Pluto TV service by scrolling through a live TV guide while the current channel plays in a minimized window. Users can select channels from categories like Vinge Watch, Comedy and Kids in a sidebar to the left of the TV guide. Live channels have regular ad breaks, while the service’s on-demand content is also supported by commercials around every 12 minutes.

Roku Channel: Best movies for Roku users

The Roku Channel currently has 1,617 movies available on-demand, with several that are exclusive to it among free streaming services. These include comedy horror Gremlins, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the star-studded Interview With The Vampire, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master and Jack Nicholson in the classic horror movie The Shining.

Roku Channel movies are only available to people who use a Roku streaming device. Its movies are supported by commercials, with the first 15 minutes of content being ad-free then a break every seven minutes. The service provides a solid user interface that makes it easy for users to find movies by genre and enables them to pick up where they left off with the “Continue Watching” option. 

Tubi: Largest movie selection

Content: The Tubi content library is home to more than 17,000 movies, which is more than double the combined film collections of paid-for streaming services Disney Plus, Hulu, Netflix, SHOWTIME and STARZ. It’s therefore not surprising that it offers a wealth of movies that aren’t available on other free streaming sites. Some of the most popular options are Will Smith in Ali, Hyle Chandler in Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, Uma Thurman in both of the Kill Bill movies and Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling starring in The Big Short.

User experience: Users don’t have to create an account to start watching Tubi, but signing up for free enables them to create a movie wishlist and resume watching content on another device. The service is available via a web player plus apps for mobile and streaming devices and smart TVs. But content can’t be downloaded to watch offline.

Finding content on Tubi is simple with movies sorted into popular categories such as Featured, Most Popular and New Releases, a long list of genres and curated collections like Award Winners, Cult Classics and Not On Netflix. The Tubi service is ad-supported, but commercials are relatively light compared to other free streaming sites. The company offers up between four to six minutes of ads per hour of viewing.

Vudu: Best for free family movies

Content: Vudu is primarily a video rental service, but it does offer more than 5,000 free movies online, many of which aren’t available on any other free streaming site. These include Al Pacino and Russell Crowe in The Insider, classic horror film Scream 2, Christian Bale and Huge Jackman in The Prestige, and Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in the all-star cast of Greek mythical adventure Troy. Vudu also provides a particularly solid range of movies for all the family with a selection of more than 380 movies for kids.

User Experience: Vudu users can stream movies for free on the site’s web player and via its mobile and streaming device apps. The service doesn’t specify simultaneous screen viewing limits but does allow users to link up to eight devices per account. However, content can’t be downloaded to watch offline. 

The Vudu app and website both provide a user interface that simplifies navigation and enables users to discover movies through categories like What’s Popular and Leaving Soon, curated collections and by genre. Vudu’s free movies are ad-supported, and users can expect to see four ads every 20 minutes.

The bottom line

The sheer number of streaming services now available means there’s definitely an online resource out there for everyone. That certainly includes people who want to watch movies without having to pay for a monthly subscription. There are now many streaming services that offer users thousands of online free movies, with the only catch being that they may have to sit through a few minutes of ads for every hour of viewing. However, the ad experience is typically less intrusive than sitting through regular TV broadcasts.

The user experience benefits that come with paid-for streaming services, such as 4K video quality, cloud DVR or multiple simultaneous streams, are likely to be lacking. However, many of the free services on this list offer high-definition (HD) viewing and several don’t even require the user to create an account.

It’s difficult to look past Tubi’s impressive content library of 17,000 movies, which only Amazon Prime Video can do better. It offers a wide range of films that aren’t available on other free streaming sites and keeps the ad interruptions to a minimum. It also doesn’t force users to create an account or limit its services to library cardholders. So users looking for a free movie resource would do well to start with Tubi.

By Rob Latham

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