Movie-watching online always used to be such a messy business. All that hassle with file downloads, broken links, dodgy content and illegal movies – it was enough to make you weep in your popcorn. Not anymore, though. Online movies have got out of those awkward teenage years, and grown up a little.
There is now a big fat wedge of web-based, thoroughly legal movie channels to choose from. Better still, you can watch those movies in an instant, streamed direct to your screen, without all those download and media player woes. And best of all, many of those movies are completely free. Don’t believe us? Check out the sites below which prove that web movies have finally come of age.
LoveFilm started out very much as an old-school DVD-in-an-envelope money-spinning firm. So it may seem odd to start off with them when you’re looking for the best in online streaming; especially free-to-view. But those pay-to-view companies need as many hooks as possible, if they are to get your custom. So they’re often happy to put out some free tidbits to tempt you in – and LoveFilm actually took that step some time ago. The free movies you can get from their free section are delightfully ad-free, as well as easy to start, with no registration problems. OK, the offering is somewhat meager – at around 50 films – but they do get continuously refreshed, and there’s often some real cinematic gems to be discovered. So well worth checking out.
Blinkbox is another big commercial vid-streaming outfit, who have certainly not neglected the freebie market. They have gathered around 1000 films under their free section, covering everything from Action and Thriller to World Cinema and Animation. Obviously these aren’t going to be the ‘now showing at your local theater’ style of blockbusters. But there’s some great films here – and the streaming technology works quite wonderfully. The one irritation is the adverts – they’re scattered in 1-2 minute blasts throughout the film. Still, that’s possibly less promotional broadcasting than you have to wade with many-a-terrestrial TV network.
At the other of the spectrum, from the slick-as-you-like Blinkbox, is the Internet Archive. This is a non-profit organization, and is more about building itself up as an internet library, than in rolling the dimes. So the films here tend to be less on the commercial, and more on the artsy side of the street. But there’s a lot of reel footage on this site; more than 12,000 feature films, shorts, amateur movies and stock footage. And nary a whiff of a promotional ad comes near to any of them, which has to be a good thing.
Keeping the theme a little left-field, if you like your films fresh and edgy (and quite often subtitled), IndieMoviesOnline may be the kind of site you’ll want to stream from. As the title suggests, this site is all about the independent movie scene – so no Hollywood blockbusters here. But what you will find is a couple hundred films made by budding directors and foreign film companies – and some great cinema. As you might expect, there’s a real sense community surrounding IndieMoviesOnline, and it’s won awards for being the best website for free movies.
U-verse online, the streaming site set up by AT&T, sticks to the more obvious movie fare, but it does cook them up well. There’s a good smattering of classic films from down the ages, and plenty of more recent movies too, with two hundred all told. If you want the very latest releases, though, you’ll have to pay. And it’s worth noting that U-verse is one of several sites that are licensed for US viewers only.
One of the big success stories of the online movie-streaming scene is Hulu. Not surprising – it has had big mogul backing, and a mountain of free movies for you to choose from. The site clicks through nice and cleanly, without the flashy distractions of some. The free movies themselves are funded by a liberal sprinkling of adverts, but given the range of what’s on offer, you probably won’t want to be too churlish. If you’re outside the US, though, you might want to have a look at getting yourself a proxy service. Hulu blocks access from outside the United States, but a proxy can get round that.
Another advert-funded movie site is Crackle. Unlike Hulu, though, its rolling range of free films is fairly limited. There are some stand-out films in there, but you may find yourself quickly running out of films to watch. That said, like Hulu, Crackle does gives you access to a fair whack of TV shows too. And it is available for streaming onto Apple’s iOS and Android – so bringing streaming to your phone or tablet (which can be tricky at times).
This is an interesting take on the streaming websites paid by adverts; MyLifeTime doesn’t have a huge movie archive, just 7 free movies, that get rotated around during the month. But you do get the opportunity to decide what movies you’d like to see. MyLifeTime let’s you vote for 2 of the titles to be uploaded each month. The site also caters for TV series fans, having a selection of full-length episodes for you perusal. Not the most compelling movie-streaming site looked at, but one worth checking on occasionally (but only, again, if you’re in the US).
YouTube may have descended into a low-quality movies ‘free-for-all’ for a long while; and its swarms of illegally loaded content didn’t win friends within the film industry. But YouTube long realized that its future lies with premium quality, and it has cracked down on the un-copyrighted vids onsite. It now has its own Films section, too, where you can watch legally streamed movies. Many of these cost, especially the recent blockbusters, but there’s a large number that are totally free. Among them, in addition to the more usual Hollywood classics, YouTube have interestingly streamed a lot of Japanese and Bollywood films.