5 best free movies on the Roku Channel right now

Roku Channel on a television set
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In case anyone still isn’t aware, you don’t need a Roku device to watch the Roku Channel. The streaming service from the makers of smart TVs and streaming devices is completely free for anyone to watch, as long as you don’t mind sitting through some ads. Although services like Tubi and Pluto TV tend to get the most attention, the Roku Channel has plenty of worthwhile content available, with similarly minor disruptions from advertising.

There’s so much content available on the Roku Channel, actually, that it can be tough to figure out what to watch. In addition to many live channels and on-demand TV shows, the Roku Channel has a wide selection of great movies. Here are five perfect picks to get you started.

'The Terminator'

The subsequent franchise is uneven at best, but James Cameron’s original sci-fi action movie remains a classic. It’s a scrappy low-budget production compared to the later entries in the series, but even at this early point in his career, Cameron demonstrates his creativity in deploying special effects and crafting action sequences. He constructs an immersive, grand futuristic world by mostly sticking to simple locations in the present day.

“The Terminator” also perfectly showcases Arnold Schwarzenegger’s talents, as an implacable cyborg from the future, sent back in time to kill unassuming waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). Human freedom fighter Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), also sent back from the future, is Sarah’s only hope for survival. Cameron captures emotional intensity along with suspense and heady philosophical ideas, all in an efficient, propulsive grindhouse-style thriller.

Watch on the Roku Channel

'Weird: The Al Yankovic Story'

The Roku Channel isn’t really known for its original movies, but the service had a huge hit with this tongue-in-cheek “biopic” about comedy musician “Weird Al” Yankovic. Appropriately enough for the artist known for his parodies of popular songs, “Weird” is a parody of music biopics, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Yankovic as he rises to stardom.

In the world of the movie, Yankovic has a torrid affair with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) and faces off against a drug cartel, as director Eric Appel delivers a joke-filled takedown of biopic clichés. “Weird” is clever and goofy, just like Yankovic’s music, which is featured throughout — even if in a wildly different context than its actual creation. In its own absurd way, “Weird” takes the ideal approach to showing audiences who Yankovic really is.

Watch on the Roku Channel

'Raging Bull'

Martin Scorsese’s film about the life of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) may be the best boxing movie ever made, although its portrayal of the sport is not exactly flattering. That clear-eyed approach is part of why “Raging Bull” is so successful, never pulling its punches in its depiction of a nasty, abusive man who was quick with his fists, both in and out of the ring.

De Niro gives one of his greatest performances as the quick-tempered, mean-spirited Jake, who treats both his brother/manager Joey (Joe Pesci) and his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) with barely disguised contempt. Jake is still a tragic figure, despite his boxing championships, and De Niro makes him both sad and reprehensible. The boxing scenes are just as complex, with a dazzling visual style that emphasizes their stark poetry more than any athletic prowess.

Watch on the Roku Channel

'Easy A'

While Emma Stone had appeared in a few movies before taking the lead in "Easy A," it’s this movie that turned her into a budding star. And even after just watching the trailer it’s easy to see why. She’s funny, she’s witty and just dominates the screen in a way that’s noticeable but not so overwhelming that she can’t play off others. 

But trust me, you’ll want to watch the whole movie — not just the trailer. While not quite in the same tier as "Dazed and Confused," "Easy A" is a great high school movie. Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a seventeen-year-old high school girl who embraces her reputation as the easy girl in school, even going so far as to wear a literal scarlet letter at one point, a nod to the famous novel. If you are a fan of "Mean Girls," you’ll easily connect with "Easy A," which hits a lot of the same notes but with a more talented leading actress. 

Watch on the Roku Channel

'Spider-Man'

Spider-Man's debut on the big screen was just about everything fans could have hoped for — at the time. Bear in mind that Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" film came out well before superhero blockbusters were a sure thing, having just piqued audience's interests with solid fare like "X-Men" and "Blade." 

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe as Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson and Norman Osborn, respectively, "Spider-Man" retells the wisecracking webslinger's origin story, from his chance encounter with a genetically manipulated spider, to his first climactic showdown with the Green Goblin. Horror director Sam Raimi infused the film with a lot of the same over-the-top energy as his "Evil Dead" films; your mileage may vary on that. Some fans think the emotional melodrama is true to the original Stan Lee comics; others think it's a bit too much. Either way, the movie is still a good ride, even all these years later. 

Watch on the Roku Channel

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Josh Bell
Writer

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.