With the best free streaming services, you can watch great movies and TV shows — and not add a single dollar to your monthly bills. These free streaming services offer both live TV and on-demand content, mostly older and classic titles but also some newer hits.
The streaming space has gotten very crowded in the last year, with the launches of Peacock TV, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and HBO Max. They joined already existing streaming behemoths Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. They have different pros and cons, but they have one thing in common: they cost money (though Peacock is unique in that it has a free tier).
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With movie theaters and other entertainment venues closed during the pandemic, people needed streaming services more than ever. But signing up for all of them is just not financially feasible. That’s where the best free streaming services come in. They can provide hours of bingeing pleasure at no cost. You will have to watch ads, but that’s no different than what you get on cable. And again: They’re free!
And since they cost $0, you can sign up for all of the best free streaming services on our list. Still, they have different strengths and weaknesses, so keep reading to find out what each of them offers.
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What are the best free streaming services?
The best free streaming services aren’t meant to compete with the likes of Netflix. They don’t have the latest TV series, blockbuster movies or high-quality originals. You’re not going to get next-day episodes of popular shows or watch award winners with Hollywood’s biggest stars. And that’s fine since, well, they’re free.
All of the best free streaming services are ad-supported. They play 30-second to 60-second commercials, generally at the same rate as a cable network. Yes, watching commercials is annoying but again, that’s what enables these platforms to be free.
Some free streaming services offer live channels, others offer on-demand content. A few have both. Our top choice, Peacock Free, boasts 13,000 hours of content drawn from the NBC Universal stable of brands. That includes TV shows from NBC, Syfy, and USA as well as movies from Universal, Focus Features and DreamWorks Animation.
Our second pick is Crackle, which has on-demand movies, TV shows and originals. Its movie selection is particularly good, with several recognizable titles from recent years. IMDBtv and Tubi are also great on-demand services with extensive lineups of movies and TV shows, plus easy-to-use interfaces that allow you to browse genres and curated collections. Vudu features many newer movies, since it’s got the might of Walmart behind it. Plus, it’s also a digital marketplace, so you can rent or purchase the latest hits.
For live channels, Pluto TV and Sling Free are the top options (as is the Roku Channel’s new live guide, though it’s still rolling out to users). You can channel surf just like you do on cable — scroll through the lineup to see what’s airing. And if there’s nothing airing live that you want to watch, both have on-demand sections to browse available movies and shows.
The best free streaming services right now
There's a new power player on the streaming circuit — NBC's Peacock TV. It's already a behemoth, with over 13,000 hours of content for its Peacock Free tier. That content is top-notch, too. You'll find titles like 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, Cheers, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood and Parks and Recreation. Later, the entire series of The Office will be available. And there are a ton of movies to watch, from the Bourne Identity trilogy to Jurassic Park to Shrek.
Peacock Free doesn't require you to enter your credit card info, but you will have to watch ads — including commercials for Peacock Premium, a tier with even more programming and originals. Speaking of that, as a Peacock Free viewer, you can sample the service's originals like Brave New World and Intelligence. There are also "live" channels, based on brands like Saturday Night Live and the Today Show. If you don't know what to watch, channel surf and check out what's playing at the moment. All in all, we'd call Peacock Free a steal — but it doesn't cost anything!
Crackle is a pioneer in the free streaming space, launching in 2004 — back when Netflix was still shipping DVDs. Now co-owned by Sony and Chicken Soup for the Soul, Crackle houses free movies and TV shows and even original programming, which sets it apart from most of the other free streaming services on this list. Crackle doesn’t require registration, though an account lets you add favorites and save progress while watching a movie.
The movies library is much bigger than the TV one and much more interesting. The available TV shows are the ones you’ll also find on other services, like Roseanne and Hell’s Kitchen. In the movies section, you can watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, The Cable Guy, Train to Busan and Star Trek: Generations. Crackle is one of the best free streaming services because it goes further than most, with originals featuring top actors including Martin Freeman, Bryan Cranston and Rupert Grint.
IMDB (aka Internet Movie Database) has been a wonderful resource for filmographies. Now owned by Amazon, it’s expanded into streaming. The IMDBtv channel comes automatically on Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks. If you have a different device, you can access IMDBtv through the Amazon Prime Video app.
With the weight of Amazon behind it, IMDBtv has an impressive library of free on-demand content. Zero Dark Thirty, Rain Man, Gattaca, The Amityville Horror and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are among the recently added movies, giving IMDBtv credibility as one of the best free streaming services. You can also watch Roadhouse, Eat Pray Love, Donnie Darko and Hitch. The TV selection consists of the typical free shows like The First 48 and I Dream of Jeannie but also many episodes of past hits like Lost, Schitt’s Creek, Desperate Housewives and Heroes. And IMDBtv also makes originals, like Jay Pharaoh’s Special Skills and the animated You’re Not a Monster featuring guests like Eric Stonestreet, Patton Oswalt and Amy Sedaris.
Think of Tubi as a free version of Netflix, with an on-demand library of over 20,000 movies and TV shows. Of course, the Tubi doesn’t have the newer, high-profile titles that Netflix or Hulu boast, nor originals. But their catalog is still impressive for a free streaming service. Tubi (now owned by Fox Corporation) was able to build it by partnering with over 250 providers, including Hollywood heavyweights Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM. Recent available titles include The Terminator, Foxcatcher, Kill Bill, The Craft and Fruitvale Station.
Tubi has a clean, streamlined experience. The home page is organized into sections like Recently Added, Family Movies, Action and Black Cinema. Click the menu for even more genres and curated collections, including the clever and cheeky Not on Netflix area. While you don’t have to sign up to use Tubi, registering for an account gives you access to parental controls, a queue and viewing history.
The Walmart-owned Vudu is a digital marketplace where you can purchase the latest movies and TV shows but also stream free content. To use Vudu, you will have to sign up for an account (or use your Walmart account). Once you do that, you can access over 10,000 free movies and TV episodes. None of them are new blockbusters but the selection is superior among free streaming services. The movies area is better than TV, with recent titles including Troy, The Prestige, All Is Lost, Hoosiers, Four Weddings and a Funeral. And unlike other free services, Vudu is planning to produce original shows, like the sci-fi series Albedo with Evangeline Lilly.
The Vudu interface is easy to use. Free content is clearly marked and you can filter for just free titles. The ads are about as frequent as other free services, but they tend to be more repetitive (and sometimes annoyingly interactive, requiring you to choose an option).
The Roku Channel app comes automatically with any Roku TV or device, but it’s also available for download on mobile phones and tablets. You can also access it on the web. The Roku Channel doesn’t force you to register for an account (you can watch as a guest) but signing up allows you to continue watching content on another device.
Like the other services, it offers on-demand movies and TV shows. The Roku Channel is also rolling out the new Roku Live TV Guide, so viewers can channel surf. The live lineup doesn’t feature top name-brand networks, though. The on-demand offerings are much more robust, with recognizable TV titles, like Hell’s Kitchen, Without a Trace, Growing Pains and Bewitched. Recently available movies include Fruitvale Station, Contact, Rumor Has It and The Shining. The best part of Roku Channel is that it streams the first episodes of premium cable shows, like Game of Thrones, Billions, Outlander and Watchmen.
The Viacom-owned Pluto TV has a decent selection of on-demand movies and shows but where it really shines is in live TV streaming. Viewers can browse live channels in a grid, similar to the cable TV guide experience. The lineup draws heavily from Viacom’s other properties, so you can tune into TV Land Drama, BET Her, MTV Teen and VH1 Reality. They also offer other recognizable brands, like CNN and Fox Sports — though those run curated clips, not the actual live broadcast you’d see if you watched them on cable.
Pluto’s interface is clean and simple; just toggle between live and on-demand. Both are organized into categories, making it easy to find the kind of content you want to watch. Yes, there are ads, but no more than what you’d get watching cable. And Pluto TV doesn’t even require registration, though users can special features if they do sign up for an account, such as the ability to designate favorite channels and resume watching a program on a different device.
Sling is one of the best live TV streaming services in the market at $30 per month for 50-plus channels. Recently, they rolled out a free area with live and on-demand content. There aren’t a ton of free live channels and aside from ABC News, most of them aren’t recognizable names.
The on-demand area has more content, though you’ll find a lot of the same TV titles that are found on other free services, like Forensic Files, Hell’s Kitchen, Unsolved Mysteries, Roseanne and 3rd Rock From the Sun. The movies section is even less exciting; recent titles include Crocodile, Howl, The Illusionist and Double Identity. Sling Free seems like more of a way to get people interested in the paid subscription plans.
Xumo is another free streaming service with live and on-demand content. The app comes on several major smart TV brands and can also be downloaded on Roku, iOS and Android. No registration is required. Xumo offers more than 190 channels, including top brands like NBC News, Fox Sports, Funny or Die and TMZ.
Xumo’s main experience is a grid-type guide, just like you’d get with cable TV. You can watch live as you channel surf. The on-demand area lists all the channels, broken down by genre. The interface doesn’t make it that easy to see what TV shows are available, though. It looks like Xumo has the usual free fare: 21 Jump Street, Forensic Files, Family Feud and Unsolved Mysteries. The mobile app at least has a movies tab that you can browse.
How to choose the best free streaming service for you
Luckily, since they are all free, you don’t need to choose just one of the best free streaming services. However, you may find it difficult to balance a bunch of different apps and want to focus on just one or two.
The first consideration should be whether you want to be able to watch live channels. If that’s the case, you should use Pluto TV, Sling Free, Xumo, Peacock or check to see if the Roku Channel’s new live TV guide is available for you. If you only care about finding movies and TV shows on-demand, then try Peacock, Crackle, IMDBtv, Tubi or Vudu.
Content selection is the other major thing that distinguishes the free streaming services from each other. Aside from Peacock, with its library of name-brand content, almost all of them have the same core of free TV shows, like Hell’s Kitchen and Roseanne. But some, like Crackle and Vudu, have more robust movie libraries. Others provide access to top past shows, like IMDBtv and Roku Channel. So, peruse the available titles and see if the streamer has options that appeal to you. After all, even if these services are free, doesn’t mean they have stuff you want to watch.