The Criterion Channel review

The Criterion Channel highlights

The Criterion Channel review

Unlike the vast majority of services in the online video streaming marketplace, The Criterion Channel focuses on classic movies rather than the latest blockbusters. The independent on-demand service caters to devoted cinephiles, providing a vast library of around 2,100 titles and even more special features.

This is not a streaming service for people wanting mind-blowing special effects or the newest superhero movie. The Criterion Channel’s content library is largely composed of classic and contemporary movies. This includes a wide range of Hollywood hits from times gone by, as well as art-house, independent movies and international offerings from major studios and niche distributors. Many of these films are exclusive to The Criterion Channel, and its library is regularly refreshed, which can be tracked on the service’s content guide.

The streaming service has its roots in the Criterion Collection, which launched in 1984 as a publisher of classic and contemporary films from all over the world. The Criterion Collection is a pioneer of presenting movies in the highest technical quality and specializes in award-winning, original extras and special features. The Criterion Channel launched as a standalone on-demand service in April 2019.

The Criterion Channel plans

 The Criterion Channel
Monthly price$10.99
Annual price$99.99
Free trial length14 days
Number of titles2,100
Number of simultaneous streams3
Cloud DVR storageMobile downloads
Number of special features3,850

In addition to the on-demand streaming service, The Criterion Channel also enables users to buy Blu-rays and DVDs. Blu-rays typically cost $39.95 and DVDs are $29.95.

What to watch on The Criterion Channel

Subscribers are spoiled for choice with the vast number of movies available on The Criterion Channel. These include art-house, classic, independent and mainstream movies from almost any movie genre imaginable. 

It also features films made by directors from 55 countries all over the world. In addition to movies by filmmakers from France, Germany, Japan, the US and the UK, the service also has films from Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Oceania and Western Europe.

Classic movies on The Criterion Channel include the 1957 original of 3:10 to Yuma, 1948 hit Anna Karenina, John Ford’s great Western Stagecoach, and the Alfred Hitchcock wrong-man thriller The 39 Steps. Other nostalgic options include Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Humphry Bogart and Gloria Grahame starring in the old-fashioned thriller In A Lonely Place and Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 hit Paper Moon

Other popular movies on the service are Cold War black comedy Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, Naomi Watts starring in surreal mystery Mulholland Drive, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and Richard E. Grant in the British cult classic Withnail And I

Horror fans are well served by The Criterion Channel with options like George A. Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Other horror hits include Willem Dafoe in Danish film Antichrist, 1962 low-budget classic Carnival of Souls, Roman Polanski’s first English-language film Repulsion and French film The Vanishing.

The channel enables subscribers to watch movies from some of history’s greatest film directors, such as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre. Other films by iconic directors are David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Mike Leigh’s Naked and Orson Welles’ classic films Chimes and The Complete Mr. Arkadin.

The Criterion Channel also offers early, lesser-known movies from some of the modern cinema world’s biggest name directors. These include Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s 2001 film Y Tu Mamá También and Guillermo Del Toro’s Mexican horror Cronos. While Batman fans may enjoy watching Christopher Nolan’s early work in his debut movie Following and one of his short films, Doodlebug.

An interesting feature of The Criterion Channel’s movie collection is its breadth of international titles. These include Australian movie All These Creatures and Danish horror Antichrist. Fans of Asian films can enjoy Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood, a tale about Japanese society in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story and Edward Yang’s modern masterpiece Yi Yi. There is also plenty of European filmmaking, including Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which stars Antonio Banderas, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s science-fiction hits Solaris, which was later remade into a film starring George Clooney.

User experience

The Criterion Channel presents content in a clean interface comprised of black, gray and white features that reflect the classic selection of movies on offer. Users can navigate the service’s collection using the Home, Now Playing, Search, All Films and Criterion.com tabs. Given the vast array of films available through The Criterion Channel, it’s important that when users find a new film they want to watch, they can save it for later viewing. And they can do that by adding content to My List. 

Mobile users get a similar experience with an interface composed of dark and light elements. The Criterion Channel apps are split into four menu icons of Explore, Library, Search and Profile that enable them to navigate the same content as the web version. However, the mobile version does lack the web interface’s useful All Films section. 

When users click on a film they want to watch they are taken to its details page, which provides useful information like a brief synopsis and details about the cast. They are also able to watch the movie’s trailer and see other supporting content, such as interviews with the director and virtual essays.

The Criterion Channel enables users to watch the service via three simultaneous streams and can be watched on desktop, mobile devices and TVs.

Device compatibility

The Criterion Channel can be watched on mobile phones and tablets, streaming boxes and sticks, smart TVs and web browsers. Devices compatible with the service include:

The Criterion Channel features you’ll love

Deep movie insights

The Criterion Channel’s on-demand offering enables viewers to gain further insight into their favorite actors and films with a strong selection of extra content. This is included in a library of around 350 shorts and 3,500 supplementary features, such as behind the scenes documentaries, commentary tracks, directors’ takes, rare archive footage and trailers.

Watch movies as their makers intended them

The Criterion Channel aims to present all of its films in their original aspect ratio, which enables subscribers to watch movies in the same classic style they were created. It carries out state-of-the-art restorations, and each movie has a section dedicated to technical information about how it was prepared for home video. For example, the service will enhance features like aspect ratio, picture quality and sound levels. The channel states that this is aimed at deepening the viewer’s appreciation of the art of film.

Playback options

The Criterion Channel provides playback options that enable users to change the video resolution, manage closed captioning options, add films to My List and share content with their friends. It also provides a minimized player mode, which can prove useful. Playback options include rewind and fast forward controls as well as an option to change the language. Viewers can also choose between low, medium or high-quality streaming.

Strong search capabilities

Subscribers can easily discover their favorite films through The Criterion Channel’s search capabilities. These include sorting films by decade, director, country and genre. The service also provides curated content that helps users find new content in lists like Recent Collections and Newly Added, as well as more niche options such as 21st Century Filmmakers, Art-House America, Criterion Editions, Directed By and Women Filmmakers.

Cinematic spotlights

The Criterion Channel publishes regular spotlight features that help subscribers gain further insight into the art of filmmaking. Tuesdays see a series of short films and features, Wednesdays are dedicated to female filmmakers and Fridays offer a chance to catch a double feature. Saturdays feature a family-friendly matinee, while Sundays offer up spotlight features such as director talks, guest curator selections and long-form cinematic epics.

The takeaway

Movie buffs and people that appreciate the art of filmmaking will enjoy The Criterion Channel’s unique offering. It provides a huge library of independent and international movies, as well as art-house cinema, classic movies and obscure films that are unlikely to be discovered on other streaming services.

 In addition to this wide range of movies, it also hosts a huge selection of exclusive additional content and original movie features. Subscribers who prefer hands-on movie watching can also buy blu-rays and DVDs from the service

The service costs $10.99/mo., which is a little pricier than other on-demand streaming services like Amazon Prime Video ($8.99/mo.), Disney+ ($6.99/mo.), Hulu ($5.99/mo.) and Netflix ($8.99/mo.) New subscribers can try the service out with a 14-day free trial.

Rob Latham

Rob Latham is a writer focused on technology, music, entertainment and sports. He is particularly passionate about the role that technology plays in improving peoples’ lives and helping businesses to work more effectively. He’s written marketing content for global B2B technology brands and start-ups, founded his own music blog and is a regular contributor to soccer publications. His professional background is in content marketing, public relations and journalism, and he has a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism.