This first-week-of-January, trending topics range from annual resolutions to government shutdowns, Dry January to Whole 30, and… Bandersnatch to Bird Box? Our collective thirst for new digital content — books, articles, podcasts, music, TV, movies, art, memes, ideas — seems to be reaching an all-time high. While holiday inertia is starting to subside, many of us will remain in hibernation mode well into March and we are eager to consume, listen, watch, read, and share, share, share. A vast palette of Twitter-trending content is available to stream at the click of a button, so staying indoors for hours on end (or days, no judgement) just doesn’t seem so wrong. In fact, at a time when entertainment is becoming eerily reflective of reality, I’d venture to say it feels like the right thing to do.
Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, and the like are undoubtedly the biggest dogs of ad-free subscription streaming. However, niche platforms fill gaps these players tend to desert in favor of more commercial endeavors. It’s not easy to be a wee fish in this pond — even FilmStruck, a beloved site dedicated to streaming classic and arthouse films, shuttered in November, leaving its cult of cinephile subscribers in mourning (though at least The Criterion Collection is launching a standalone service this spring). It was a sad moment, but other small platforms still stand, are available across devices, and cater to a spectrum of viewers.
MUBI — $8.99/month
At any given time you can choose from just 30 movies to stream on MUBI. Every day, they rotate one title out and add a new one. Buh-bye, wasted hours spent browsing titles on Netflix. This platform is great for movie buffs who seek lesser known indie films — instead of acquiring mainstream crowd pleasers, their curators go out to festivals across the world in search of new titles. They’ve also established an online publication called Notebook, as well as a social network-esque film lover community.
This one isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a horror/thriller fan like me, it’s a gold mine. Owned by AMC Networks, it offers both movies and series, from cult classics to platform originals to new titles like Nick Cage’s Mandy. They even set up Shudder TV, which includes a few channels playing movies ad-free 24/7. If you subscribe to Amazon Prime and prefer to streamline your app usage, you can include Shudder as an add-on service—just note this won’t allow to you also stream directly via Shudder.
Seed&Spark — $2.00/month (or more, if you choose)
In the next iteration of experimental business models, Seed&Spark is crowdfunding-meets-streaming. Filmmakers can apply to run fundraising campaigns on the site and/or to publish their films for subscribers to watch. The site allows you to “pay what you can” at a two-dollar minimum, making it one of the most accessible subscription streaming sites I’ve ever encountered. Though you probably won’t find any household names here, it’s a way for consumers to support young, aspiring filmmakers, especially as we inch toward a democratization of this industry.
Fandor — $5.99/month
Like Shudder, Fandor has a partnership with Amazon that allows you to add their service to your existing Prime account. It’s somewhat similar to MUBI in terms of genre and quality, but the offer thousands of films at any given time. You can watch indie, classic, foreign, documentary, and other films to your heart’s content. They also publish editorial content like film reviews and analysis on their site in case you’re looking to stay on top of hot topics in the film world.
Le Cinéma Club — Free!
This one is fun and simple — every Friday, Le Cinéma Club puts up one film for you to stream that week. They’re usually obscure shorts, but the curation is on point and after a few weeks you’re bound to discover a new favorite director. Continuing the trend of pairing streaming content with editorial, they publish a series titled “In the CiNéMa Club of…”, which features lists of recommended films hand-picked by prominent professionals like Luca Guadagnino, Jonah Hill and Wes Anderson.
Despite it being the start to a new year, I’ll be the first to tell you it’s okay to get back on the couch and power up your streaming device of choice. These movies aren’t going to watch themselves.