The big players
Once known simply as “Crackle,” Sony Crackle features a robust lineup of movies and TV shows from Sony Pictures Entertainment — for now. In March 2019, Sony announced that it was selling Crackle to Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSS) and that it’ll be partnering with CSS to rebrand the service as “Crackle Plus.” The updated service will include content from six of CSS’ ad-supported streaming services (Popcornflix, Popcornflix Kids, Popcornflix Comedy, Frightpix, Españolflix, and Truli), as well as a number of Sony movies and television shows.
While that deal is being finalized, you’ll still find a good number of blockbuster hits and a generous smattering of obscure-but-interesting B-movies on Crackle. Crackle is a great resource, though the constant interruptions from advertisers can get old pretty quickly. The service is offered in 21 countries, but has shut down its Canadian, Latin American, and Australian offerings.
Newer to this roundup is the Amazon-owned IMDb TV (formerly known as Freedive). It has free, ad-supported TV shows and movies. So far, it’s not a very big library, but it has some decent titles. TV shows include Fringe, Heroes, Quantum Leap, and Forensic Files. Movies include Memento, La La Land, Drive, Monster, Donnie Darko, Dune, The Illusionist, Zodiac, Clue and more. You can watch IMDb TV on the web, Amazon Fire devices, and Apple TV, and through the Amazon Prime app that you can find on many smart TVs, tablets, and phones. IMDb TV is U.S.-only for now, although a European expansion is in the works.
Walmart-owned Vudu might be better known for its subscription streaming service, but the platform also has an impressive and free ad-supported content section. Titles such as Gravity, The Iron Giant, and Bad Santa are good examples of what you’ll find. If you take a cruise through the site’s selection of 4K/HDR titles, there are even one or two free-to-watch options, such as Apocalypse Now and Shutter Island. You’ll still need a Vudu account, but you can create one for free. The Vudu app is already supported by plenty of platforms including Roku, Apple TV, game consoles, and more. Plus there’s an app for most mobile devices. Vudu is only available in the U.S.
How’s this for a good deal: Sign up for a library card and get free downloads or streams of movies, with no ads at all. That’s the deal when you use Hoopla, a digital media streaming platform that has partnered with local libraries to let members access borrowable content online. It’s similar to Overdrive, but with more than just ebooks and audiobooks. Availability of any given title will depend on your location and the number of copies available for download. Streaming will work on any device with a browser, while downloads require the Hoopla app on a mobile device. Not every library currently supports Hoopla, so make sure you ask. So far, libraries in the U.S. and Canada have access to Hoopla.
This one is a no-brainer. Everyone knows YouTube is the biggest video-hosting service online, and you probably already use the site for silly cat videos and footage of people getting hit with exercise balls. But YouTube has a sizable collection of feature-length movies on its free tier as well. Granted, the majority of these are B-list novelties, but there are a few quality flicks hiding in there.