You might want to think twice before you rent that next movie. There’s a good chance it’s available for free (and legally). There’s been plenty of attention paid lately to the 271 streaming services available in the U.S. and the subscription fatigue they engender. And with prominent new services like HBO Max debuting this year, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
But just as subscriptions to streaming services have exploded in recent years, so has the availability of free ones. Viacom purchased the free service Pluto TV for $340 million in 2019, Tubi announced that it would spend $100 million to license content last year and NBC is offering an entirely free version of its Peacock streaming service in July.
Put simply, if you’re willing to put up with around five minutes of commercials per hour, there is an endless supply of quality movies and shows you can stream for free. These are ten of our favorites.
- Hoopla: Best overall
- Kanopy: Best movie selection
- Locast: Free local TV channels
- Tubi: Largest library
- Pluto TV: Hundreds of live TV channels
How we found the best free streaming services
To evaluate free streaming services, we used the same methodology as we did for our review of the best on-demand streaming services. We took into account both the quantity and quality of titles available on each service. For quantity, we used data from JustWatch.com, which collects all the titles available on every streaming service.
To gauge how much those raw numbers actually meant, we turned to IMDb’s lists of the top 250 TV shows and movies, which combine user ratings and popularity to determine its rankings. We counted how many titles in both lists were available on each free streaming service. Here’s how they stacked up:
Hoopla: Best overall
Great for: Critically-acclaimed dramas, classics, documentaries, horrors and family movies
Not so great for: New releases
You’ll need a library card from a participating library to use it, but Hoopla is in a class of its own when it comes to free streaming services. It has more than 9K titles in its library, and while that alone doesn’t put it in first place — Tubi actually has about 6K more — the quality of its movies and TV shows does.
Hoopla has 21 movies and 18 TV shows from IMDb’s top 250 lists. That’s more shows than Disney+, Starz and CBS All Access and more movies than Prime Video, Hulu and HBO Now. Granted, Hoopla doesn’t have as much exclusive content as those services, but it’s still shocking that a free service can maintain a selection on par with such big names.
Recommended movies: City of God, Memento, Good Will Hunting
Recommended TV shows: Planet Earth, Rick and Morty, The Vietnam War
Available on: Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, Roku
Kanopy: Best movie selection
Great for: Oscar nominees, foreign and indie films, documentaries, educational courses
Not so great for: Comedy and action
Like Hoopla, you’ll need a participating library card to access Kanopy. If you have access, you should use it. Kanopy has one of the best collections of movies of any streaming service — free or paid. By our metrics, the only service that’s stronger is Netflix.
While Hoopla’s popular movies are mostly on the older side, Kanopy has an outstanding selection of new releases. You can catch more serious Oscar fare like Lady Bird, Moonlight and Last Men in Aleppo, as well as recent horror classics like Hereditary, The Witch and Under the Skin.
In keeping with its library affiliation, Kanopy is also a terrific resource for educational content. It has hundreds of courses in topics like hair and beauty, food technology and teacher education development. Whether you’re looking to be entertained or taught, Kanopy has something for everyone.
Available on: Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, Roku
Recommended movies: Lady Bird, Moonlight, First Reformed
Locast: Free local TV channels
Great for: Live ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, The CW
Not so great for: On-demand shows and movies
Locast is one of the best-kept secrets in streaming. The nonprofit service is like a TV antenna for the streaming age — just download the app and you’ll get dozens of live TV channels for free. They aren’t obscure names, either. In fact, 47 of the top 50 most-watched programs of 2019 aired on these local channels.
Unfortunately, Locast is currently only available in 17 U.S. cities, but it’s expanding to new markets constantly. Here’s where you can access it right now:
- Los Angeles
- New York
- Rapid City
- San Francisco
- Sioux City
- Sioux Falls
- Washington, D.C.
For more on Locast and how to use it, you can find our detailed explanation here.
Available on: Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV Stick, Roku
Tubi: Largest library
Great for: Comedy, action, anime, horror, family
Not so great for: New releases, classics
With more than 15K titles in its library, Tubi has the largest selection of movies and TV shows of any free streaming service by a mile — and more than paid services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and HBO Now. Granted, a lot of that is filler, but Tubi still has plenty to offer.
If Hoopla and Kanopy are like your college library’s DVD collection, Tubi is more like your local Blockbuster. It’s full of blissfully entertaining fare, from classic comedies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Tom Cruise thrillers Minority Report and The Firm.
Tubi also has the best collection of anime movies and shows around, including popular titles like One Punch Man, Akira and Cowboy Bebop.
Recommended movies: New Jack City, Spotlight, Kill Bill
Recommended TV shows: Cowboy Bebop, The Beatles Anthology, Mr. Bean
Available on: Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox One
Pluto TV: Hundreds of live TV channels
Great for: Live TV channels
Not so great for: Action and comedy movies
Unlike most of the services on this list, Pluto TV is primarily a service for live TV channels rather than on-demand movies and shows. If you don’t have cable but still want the feel of channel-surfing, it’s a surprisingly decent substitute.
You’ll get more than 100 channels with Pluto, with 19 devoted entirely to news coverage and another 17 to sports. They’re generally B-versions of popular cable channels, but the programming often overlaps. When we checked Pluto’s NBC channel, for example, it was playing the same Meet the Press as our cable subscription.
And while Pluto is best known for its live TV component, it does have a decent on-demand selection, too. We were pleasantly surprised to find a number of movies we hadn’t seen on any other free streaming services.
Recommended movies: The King of New York, Election, Big Fish
Available on: Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, Roku