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7 free streaming services for movies and TV shows


Key Takeaways

  • Streaming services can surpass cable costs.
  • Free services like Pluto TV and Freevee offer great TV without the need for subscriptions.
  • Channels like Vudu, Kanopy, and Roku provide a vast selection of free movies and shows.

At first, we all rejoiced when streaming services finally freed us from our outrageous cable bills. We were no longer shackled to whatever channels our cable provider offered, or even to what was airing at that moment. Streaming opened our eyes to a reality where we would watch anything we wanted whenever we wanted, and all for a low cost. At least, that’s how it was at first.

Streaming services have grown in number and in cost over the last decade or so — to the point where subscribing to everything may end up costing more than our old cable subscriptions. If you want to have access to Netflix, Hulu, Max, Disney+, and all the others, your monthly bill is going to suffer. It’s not like we have much choice but to subscribe to at least a couple of these services, right?

Free streaming services can offer all the content you could ever want if you can handle not having access to specific exclusive shows or movies from time to time. Yes, you will need to watch ads, but we used to do that with cable and had to pay for it. From streaming live TV to on-demand TV and movies, you can get everything you need from these streaming services at the low, low cost of $0.

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1 Pluto TV

Catch your favorite live channels

Pluto TV on screen

Pluto TV

The biggest drawback to even the most well-known streaming services is that they tend to offer only on-demand shows and movies, but not live TV. Pluto TV not only provides plenty of on-demand entertainment but is also one of the most robust in terms of its live offerings. It features a very simple interface that lets you browse the current channels for whatever looks appealing, and even dedicates entire channels to individual shows if you want to spend a few hours binging your favorites. Of course, being free, you are limited to the content and channels Pluto offers. This tends to be slightly older shows, but if you’re a fan of reality shows like Survivor and The Love Boat, or classics like I Love Lucy and Happy Days, you will feel right at home on Pluto TV.

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2 Freevee

Great if you have the tech

freevee

Amazon

With Freevee, it’s right there in the name. It stands out as possibly the best free streaming service out there, including not only live and on-demand shows and movies but also its own original content. However, there is one potential barrier to this free service: accessing it. Thankfully, you have a lot of options, but you will need a somewhat new device to get it working, such as:

  • Amazon Fire TV Stick
  • Chromecast
  • Smart TV
  • Apple or Android phone or tablet
  • Modern video game console (PlayStation 4/Xbox One or newer)

Freevee is owned by Amazon, but unlike its Prime Video service, it is free for everyone. That said, don’t expect the same content here as you’d get with Prime, but the selection is still very impressive. You won’t be getting the newest, hottest shows here, but if you missed out on any of the best shows of the past, such as Lost, Mad Men, and The West Wing, Freevee won’t leave you feeling left out.

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Freevee occasionally offers just the first episode of a Prime show for free. Make sure you see if all episodes of a show are available for free before getting invested.

3 Crackle

For the adventurous watcher

crackle

Crackle

Odds are you’ve at least heard the name Crackle before. This streaming service wasn’t the first on the scene but wasn’t far behind when it launched in 2004. A free streaming service doesn’t last two decades without having something special, and for Crackle, that’s a combination of original content, familiar classic shows and movies, and also a great selection of titles you’ve never heard of. This is partially due to Crackle including a good number of overseas shows and movies that typically aren’t available here. Perhaps the best part is just how simple it is to use. While everything we list here will obviously be free, many services do require you to make a free account or download an app to use them. Crackle, on the other hand, lets you simply boot up the site, browse the entire selection, and start watching right away. You do get some nice features for making an account, such as creating a favorites list and saving your place if you don’t finish a movie in one sitting.

4 Vudu

The most movies

Walmart might launch Netflix-like streaming service later this year image 1
Walmart/Vudu

If you’re a pure film junkie, then the selection Vudu offers will likely be a compelling selling point. You won’t find any live options here, as this service is purely for on-demand viewing, but it strives to offer big, mainstream TV shows and films in a timely manner. Yes, there are more recent offerings that ask you to buy or rent them, but Vudu doesn’t skimp on its free offerings to try and coerce you into paying. It boasts over 10,000 movies and shows available for free, and in fact, there isn’t even a subscription option. All you can do is purchase shows or movies individually if you choose. While this is all great, the interface is somewhat outdated, and you can’t select the video quality unless you purchase that specific show or movie.

5 Kanopy

Educational content galore

Kanopy
Kanopy

We hope you still have your old library card or are willing to obtain one because that card is your key to one of the best-kept secrets in free streaming. Kanopy is an astonishingly robust free streaming service available to any library cardholder – and it comes with no ads! That’s right, as long as you have a free library card, you can access its entire library (see what we did there?) without spending a dime or watching a single ad. And this service isn’t limited to just “library movies”; it includes tons of mainstream and recent titles as well. Moreover, there is plenty of worthwhile documentaries and other educational content, including a great selection of kids’ and family-friendly content too.

While Kanopy is free and doesn’t deliver ads, it does function like a library where you are limited to streaming a certain number of shows and movies per month. Kanopy Kids and some select movies don’t count toward this monthly limit.

6 Roku Channel

Quality original content

Connecting to a device on Roku app via iPhone

You probably associate Roku with that little streaming stick, which is accurate, but there’s more to it. Whether you access it through the streaming stick or download the app, Roku Channel is Roku’s own streaming service for live and on-demand content. The service was somewhat lackluster when it first launched, which likely contributed to its slow start. However, after acquiring all of Quibi’s original content when it folded, Roku Channel managed to build a respectable library. It now features exclusive shows like Malpractice and Martha Cooks, along with major movies like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and Meet Me in Paris. Similar to Crackle, Roku Channel doesn’t require you to create an account if you want to dive straight into viewing. However, be prepared to sift through a number of duds and imitations in its catalog.

7 YouTube

Because you’re probably already there

https://www.tomsguide.com/best-picks/best-free-streaming-services movies
YouTube

The YouTube movies and shows menu.

Despite being the biggest video sharing and watching site on the internet, a surprising number of people don’t realize that you can watch a ton of free shows and movies on the site. We’re not referring to those low-quality videos of people recording a movie and trying to upload it. YouTube has cracked down on those and has replaced them with free shows and movies that are as easy to watch as any other video. All you need to do is go into the Movies and Shows tab on the left menu, select the Free with ads tab, and check out everything on offer. You can browse by genre or browse the entire selection. There are hundreds of movies and full seasons and series to see here, and many of them are quite impressive. As always, don’t expect anything terribly recent to show up here.

With these seven free streaming services, you can potentially eliminate most, if not all, of your current paid subscriptions without leaving yourself lacking content. In fact, you’re likely to end up with far more to watch since you can easily switch between them. Sure, the ads can be annoying, but that’s a minor inconvenience for access to all the free TV shows and movies you could possibly want.

YouTube cycles new shows and movies on a regular basis, so check back to see what’s new if nothing catches your eye upon first glance.

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FAQ

Q: What can I watch on free streaming services?

What is available to watch depends on the service you choose and when you look. Every service gains access to different content but also cycles shows and movies in and out regularly to keep things fresh, just like paid services such as Netflix.

Q: Are free streaming services safe?

All the free streaming services we’ve listed here are 100% safe. Unlike many sites out there that claim to let you watch the latest shows and movies completely free, only to infect your device with viruses and malware, these services are completely legitimate. Using them won’t pose any risk to your devices or security. There are other legitimate free streaming services not included in our ranking, so make sure to do a little research if you find another service you want to try before clicking on it, especially if it looks too good to be true or has an unfamiliar or odd name.

Q: How are these streaming services free?

Ads! Just like in the old days of watching cable TV, free streaming services need to occasionally show you ads to pay for the content.



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