Tuning into Netflix’s assortment of original content can be a welcome distraction in these challenging times, but let's be real: the site loses some of its charm after browsing it all day for weeks in a row.
But at the same time, the idea of paying for other streaming services right now can come across as ludicrous, given how many of us are watching our bank accounts dwindle while we wait for the government’s stimulus package.
The good news: tons of media usually reserved for paid customers is free right now. Not even kind-of-sort-of free; we’re talking no strings attached free, the kind you don’t need to worry about cancelling months later. You’ve got more than enough time to stream, and these companies are more than happy to provide the content.
Some of these services also offer generous free trials during the pandemic, and if you’re bored, you should take advantage of those, too. Just be sure to set yourself a reminder to cancel before your credit card gets charged at the end of the trial, or if you’re trying to track down the trials you’ve already forgotten about, a service like Truebill can be a lifesaver. Here’s a (fairly) comprehensive list to all the free content you can binge right now, plus the best free trials you can scam with nothing more than a fresh email address:
Completely free content
Original content is the lifeblood of Apple TV Plus. The company is showing some surprising generosity by making eight of its original shows free worldwide for the foreseeable future. The free content includes:
Apple’s generous free offerings also include access to Epix’s Apple TV channels until May 2nd. Epix has original series of its own, like DC Comics’ Pennyworth and Belgravia, a tale of rich people in London. Access to Epix also affords access to blockbusters like Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hustle, and A Quiet Place.
If you’re in the market for some fresh Apple tech, you’re in luck: all of the company’s new products come with a free one-year trial of Apple TV Plus. Apple’s video streaming service is the youngest on this list, but it has already made itself into a market contender with originals like The Morning Show. If you like what you see from Apple TV’s coronavirus lineup, now’s a great time to take advantage of the service’s extremely long trial. Apple just announced its new iPhone SE, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option.
HBO is notorious for keeping its prestige content locked behind a subscriber paywall, and its trial period is limited to just a week. But the premium provider has taken a more relaxed stance when it comes to opening up its library for purposes of coronavirus distraction.
Every episode of the following series is now available for free streaming:
HBO’s parent company, WarnerMedia, has also been kind enough to allow free streaming of movies like Detective Pikachu and Happy Feet Two. Check out the full list of free content over at Variety.
Notably missing from HBO’s free content are popular shows like Game of Thrones, Euphoria, and The Leftovers, amongst others. HBO does offer a free 7-day trial as well, which puts the rest of its massive catalogue at your fingertips. It’s a short trial, though, so make a plan of attack and stick to it.
That’s an incredible trove of content to keep you busy. Some of the best shows of the past few decades are on that list. We haven’t done the math, but you should be able to stay on the couch for the foreseeable future without a problem, thanks to HBO.
AMC probably isn’t the first service that comes to mind when you go looking for something to watch. But the network holds the keys to lots of notable content, especially given its ownership of BBC America and IFC, both of which are offering free content right now.
The network’s “We’re With You” campaign has made the following content free to stream:
- The first half of season 10 of The Walking Dead
- BBC America nature documentaries such as Wild Singapore: Hidden World and Life Story: First Steps
- IFC’s Baroness von Sketch Show
- Select episodes from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and Comedy Bang Bang
- The entire Planet Earth collection
The Syfy channel has long preserved and amplified science fiction and fantasy shows. Outside of a few prestige hits, sci-fi doesn’t exactly get the funding that more mainstream dramas and comedies do — but Syfy is committed, to say the least. Now the network has extended that service by making the entirety of two of the most-loved sci-fi / fantasy series of all time free to stream (with ads.)
- Battlestar Galactica (2004): all four seasons are online for free, including the two-part miniseries that serves as an extended pilot for the show. Both of the show’s spinoff movies are also free to stream. All told, that’s upwards of 80+ hours of deep-space drama to get into.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: a rare spinoff that did better in ratings than its origin show and some of the most-watched sci-fi of the end of last century, Xena’s now streaming in its entirety on Syfy’s website. There are 134 episodes total. You’d better get started now if you want to finish before quarantine is over.
Sling TV is a favorite of cordcutters across the internet, and for good reason; the Dish Network-operated service offers a wide selection of live TV channels across a variety of interests.
As part of its “Stay in & SLING” promo, Sling TV is offering free live TV service for new customers from 5 p.m. to midnight every day. “Happy Hour Across America,” as the company is calling it, allows access to all channels on Sling’s Blue plan for seven hours per day — and those offers are pretty enormous. Here’s just a sampling of what you can get during Sling’s happy hour:
- More than 50 live channels, including Bravo, CNN, MSNBC, Food Network, Syfy, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, and FX, just to name a few.
- On-demand access to more than 50,000 movies and episodes of TV
- Free cloud DVR service to record shows during happy hour
- Simultaneous viewing on three screens per account
If you enjoy Sling TV’s happy hour enough, the company is also offering $10 off your first month of service.
Remember the public library? You know, the one where you can browse hundreds of books and then borrow them for free? Kanopy extends that service to online video streaming. All you need is a valid public library card or a university login from a participating school.
Kanopy operates by giving users a set number of credits per month, which can then be redeemed for movie streams. Some films don’t require any credits to watch.
Kanopy’s offerings range from blockbusters to documentaries to classic cinema; here’s a small sliver of what the service offers right now:
- Knife + Heart
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- American Dharma
- No Dinosaurs in Heaven
You’ve probably heard of IMDb; it’s one of the internet’s top sources for info about every TV show and movie that’s ever been made. But did you know the site has a dedicated streaming service now — and it’s completely free?
IMDb has tried to get into the streaming game before with very limited success. But the re-launch of the service under the name IMDb TV is much more promising. The company is already licensing plenty of big names and using ads to support the service.
Here’s just a quick look at what IMDb TV is offering right now:
- Schitt’s Creek (all but the latest season)
- The NeverEnding Story
- The Big Short
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
- Donnie Darko
- Addams Family Values
- Muppets in Space
IMDb TV is still finding its footing in the streaming world, and browsing its offerings can be a bit of a task. Hint: you can use IMDb’s main search function to check if a show or movie is currently streaming on IMDb TV.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform is available for the first time this week, and it’s launching with a particularly enticing subscription option: a free, ad-supported tier. That’s something most larger companies won’t even play with in 2020.
The service is only open for Comcast and Xfinity customers at launch, but it will be available for the rest of the U.S. on July 15, 2020. The service plans to offer more 7,500 hours of free streaming content at launch. The free subscription tier even includes next-day access to current seasons of many shows on TV right now.
Here’s some of what Peacock will offer:
- Full series runs of shows like Law & Order: SVU, Will & Grace, and 30 Rock
- Movies like E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial, Lost in Translation, and Jurassic Park
- Kids shows like Care Bears and Where’s Waldo
- A few original offerings, like a reboot of Saved By The Bell
- Late-night offerings like Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Select sporting events
If you’re really invested in NBCUniversal’s offerings, you can sign up for even more back-catalogue content for $4.99 per month or full, ad-free service for $9.99 per month.
Vudu has been around since 2004, which is basically an eternity in internet time. The company started with set-top boxes and later moved its business into dedicated streaming software; it’s been owned by Walmart for more than a decade now, but it’s reportedly in the works to be acquired by NBCUniversal.
You can purchase and rent movies on Vudu, but the site’s most important feature is its free offerings, which vary wildly in popularity and budget. Everything free on the site comes with in-stream ads, but that’s a small price to pay for so much content. Right now on Vudu you can watch:
- Magic Mike XXL
- Black Hawk Down
- March of the Penguins
- Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl, season 10
- 3rd Rock from the Sun, season 1
- 21 Jump Street (the original TV series)
- Black Beauty
- Blue’s Clues (30 episodes)
- The Glass Castle
- Hell’s Kitchen (select seasons)
Pluto TV differs from the other options on this list in that its main niche is live programming. That means its offerings change each day — you might love what’s on Pluto today and find nothing interesting there tomorrow. But it’s all free if you don’t mind a few ads, and all you have to do is punch in the URL and scroll through the channel guide. No account is even required.
Browse featured channels or filter them by category; the speedy, streamlined channel guide is a joy to use either way. Here are some of Pluto TV’s live channel offerings:
- Pluto 007, a 24/7 James Bond marathon
- CBS News
- NBC News
- Buzzr, a game show network
- Three different MTV stations
- TVLand Drama
- Degrassi, a channel dedicated to, well, Degrassi
- Fox Sports
- Major League Soccer
If you somehow manage not to find anything you like on Pluto TV’s live channels, the service does have an On Demand section, too, with offerings like:
- Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
- August: Osage County
- Grounded for Life
- Harriet the Spy
- The Hours
- An Inconvenient Truth
For a completely free service, Pluto TV is impressive in its scope and its clean, responsive user interface. And it’s perfect for when you just can’t decide what to watch — just flip through the channels. You’ll find something.
Tubi calls itself the “largest ad-supported video on demand service,” and that very well may be the case. Tubi’s catalogue boasts over 20,000 titles, and every single one of them is free to stream with ads. Sure, the programming here is hit-or-miss, but there are plenty of great movies and TV shows in Tubi’s library. For example:
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Failure to Launch
- The Adventures of Tintin
- The Bachelorette
- Good Burger
- Shaun the Sheep Movie
Again, no credit card required. You can even add things to your queue for later.
Crackle has been around for a long time, but it still exists mostly on the fringes of the streaming market. Like many of its fellow free-to-stream websites, Crackle is supported by ads, but they’re not too invasive.
Crackle does have some original programming, like comedy specials and sports documentaries. There’s even an original heist miniseries starring Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame (it’s called Snatch, if you’re interested). Other prime offerings from Crackle include:
- Star Trek: First Contact
- The Dictator
- John Carpenter’s Vampires
- The Passion of the Christ
No, Crackle probably won’t keep you occupied for all that long, but there are some gems in its catalogue. And they’re all free to watch.
The Roku Channel
You’ve probably heard of Roku, the little device that transforms your TV into a streaming machine. But did you know Roku also offers a huge network of free content even if you don’t own one of the company’s products?
The Roku Channel is truly, blessedly free. Roku’s ad-supported video service has been around in the U.S. for almost three years now, but for some reason it still flies under the radar. You don’t even need a Roku device to access the channel; just create a free account and stream. Yes, videos across the channel have ads, but that’s a small price to pay for unlimited access to a 10,000-piece catalog, with hits like:
- Schitt’s Creek
- The Nanny
- The Iron Giant
- Practical Magic
- The Pink Panther
- A Walk to Remember
The Roku Channel also offers connections to trials for popular premium services like HBO and Showtime. You can also rent or buy movies and shows that aren’t offered for free. If you’re feeling particularly sappy, you can even sign up for a 30-day trial of The Hallmark Channel right in the app.
Other free trials
Amazon Prime Video
Prime Video comes bundled with your Amazon Prime subscription, so it can feel “free” in a sense, an extra that comes with your free two-day shipping. If you don’t have Prime yet, now is the perfect time to cash in on its generous 30-day trial period. That’s 30 days of truly free video streaming.
Prime Video’s most impressive asset is its movie offerings. Prime's movies span decades and interests. Hits from the last decade like The Farewell, True Grit, and First Reformed sit comfortably alongside classics like Clue, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Pretty in Pink. Amazon's might not be the largest movie library, but it's certainly the most diverse. There's something for every mood here.
The 30-day trial does also include free two-day shipping, so you can use that time to order some essentials while you binge-watch.
Hulu’s catalogue has grown over the years to rival Netflix’s in both breadth and prestige. Maybe you feel like zoning out to some reality TV for a few hours. Or perhaps you want to watch the last few episodes of that cable TV show you missed last month. And, I don't know, maybe a prestige movie after dinner? Hulu covers it all:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- RuPaul’s Drag Race
- Every Real Housewives franchise
- Mrs. America
- The Handmaid's Tale
- Little Fires Everywhere
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire
And Hulu posts new episodes of cable TV shows much more quickly than other streaming sites.
The 30-day free trial is generous, and it can be redeemed without commercials (which can sometimes be Hulu’s downfall in the streaming world.) Hulu also offers a 7-day trial of its Live TV service, if you’re looking to watch episodes as they air.
If you’ve somehow managed to hold off on signing up for a Netflix subscription, the site offers a great 30-day trial period. After so many years in the streaming game, Netflix's library is still unrivaled in its size. Movies, TV, documentaries, anime, shows for kids — you'll never run out of content with Netflix.
Netflix has a huge budget for original content now, bringing us hits like:
- Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
- Bojack Horseman
- Love is Blind
- Nailed It!
And many, many others.
Netflix is also home to plenty of other incredible movies and TV shows:
Say what you want about the OG streaming company — but its library will keep you occupied.
While perhaps not as popular as its prestige sibling HBO, Showtime does offer a much more generous 30-day trial for new users. Showtime offers plenty of blockbusters, as well as a back catalogue of new classics like:
- The L Word
- Penny Dreadful
- Twin Peaks: The Return
- The King’s Speech
- Good Will Hunting
- A variety of exclusive documentaries and comedy specials
There's no shortage when it comes to anime streaming sites, but many of them are neither legal nor high quality. Crunchyroll presents an antidote to that problem, and the paid version of the site offers a 14-day trial for new users. The service is timely in uploading new episodes of favorite series, sometimes as soon as an hour after they air in Japan. There's a hefty library of older episodes and series, too.
Crunchyroll does offer free ad-supported content as well, but not every series is available without a premium subscription. The most recent episodes are usually reserved for premium users, as are the site’s high definition streaming options.
Don't be fooled by the site's crowded design — its videos are really great quality, especially compared to other anime-streaming sites. Crunchyroll also has its own apps for iOS, Android, and just about every other platform you can think of (even for the Wii U, somehow.)
While other, larger companies are also getting in on the anime market — Hulu has a pretty good licensed collection, now, and Netflix is creating original anime series like Beastars and Castlevania — Crunchyroll's library really can't be beaten.
Because streaming companies operate on profits, most offer what they think will be popular with the general public. The Criterion Channel, on the other hand, collects films that it deems important. It's the most heavily curated service on this list; while it's library may be small when compared to Netflix or Hulu, every film in the collection has been hand-picked for your viewing pleasure. Here’s a sampling of what you can watch on Criterion right now:
- ‘70s Style Icons, a collection of 13 films
- Long Day’s Journey Into Night
- Watership Down
- Dr. Strangelove
- 3:10 to Yuma
- The Graduate
- Exclusive interviews with directors like Julie Taymor and Rian Johnson
- Tours of America’s art-house cinemas
The Criterion Channel offers a 14-day trial. In that time you could easily catch up on the classics you've been meaning to get around to — and Criterion even does restoration on older films, so they'll look good on your HD screens.