Guide to finding the best free TV and movies

There’s no denying the market is saturated with paid streaming services offering thousands of your favorite movies and TV shows. Premium streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix have become wildly popular among viewers — however, they are paid services, and not everyone cares to spend that much money.

Thankfully, there are strategies the savvy streamer can use that offer access to many of your favorite movies and TV shows for free. Whether you’re watching your budget or simply holding out for free entertainment on principle, you’re in the right place. Read on to see how to get your TV and movie fix online for free.

Take advantage of free trials

Pros
  • Huge selection of content
  • Access to premium networks (ESPN, HBO, Showtime, Starz)
Cons
  • Trial time is limited
  • If you forget to cancel you may get charged
Best for
  • People who want to test the waters of streaming services before committing
  • People who want to binge premium series
  • People who want to catch a major sports event

In a world dominated by subscription streaming services, it’s not hard to find your favorite movies and TV shows. The best part? Just about every major streaming service offers a free trial. So whether you want to power through Game of Thrones in 30 days with HBO NOW’s free trial, or catch this week’s big game on ESPN with Sling TV’s free seven-day trial, you can. For free.

The obvious downside? Once you burn through free trials on the major platforms out there, you’re done. You’ll have to cough up the cash if you want more.

Classic Cinema Online

From Reefer Madness to Stagecoach, this platform is perfect for vintage cinema fans. While its content library is limited, you can easily search the selection of films by title, genre or actor.

Crackle

Sony-owned Crackle gives you access to Sony’s back catalog of movies and TV shows.

Pluto TV

This is a great option when you want to watch live TV, sports or want access to a quality collection of kids’ content.

Snag Films

Cult junkies and indie movie-lovers need not look further than Snag Films, which offers a decent selection of both, for free.

Tubi TV

While Tubi TV users are required to register to stream content, this service has a wide range of content, with titles as little as two years old with good-quality playback.

Vudu Movies on Us

This service features hundreds of free movies and TV shows in every genre with 1080p high-definition picture quality.

Catch recent episodes on TV networks’ websites

Pros
  • Access to popular TV shows
  • Recent episodes available
Cons
  • Access is very limited
  • Only select networks offer this capability
Best for
  • People who want to keep up with specific shows
  • People who are okay with a limited content selection

Some networks like Comedy Central, MTV, the Oprah Winfrey Network, TBS and TNT allow you to watch recent episodes of select shows without entering your network provider credentials. While the free content on these cable networks is extremely limited, this strategy works well if you want to keep up with a specific show like South Park, or need a quick fix of Impractical Jokers or Iyanla, Fix My Life. 

If you’re a fan of shows on one of the four major broadcast networks, you’ll fare better with their free online options. CW Seed has hundreds of episodes of its popular shows, and networks like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC all offer recent episodes of popular shows for free and do not require a sign-in.

Stream content through your local library

Pros
  • Provides access to indie movies and TV shows
  • No ads
  • Hosted on secure servers
Cons
  • Limited selection
  • Monthly cap on TV shows/movies users can watch
Best for
  • People who aren’t bingers
  • People who don’t need access to premium channels
  • People who enjoy documentaries or indie content

If you have a current library card, the Hoopla and Kanopy platforms are great resources for free, streamable content.

Kanopy’s streaming service has partnered with more than 200 public library systems and universities in the US to provide 30,000 free movies to cardholders, including popular films like Lady Bird and Leave No Trace. Hoopla features a slightly larger library of free films and TV shows than Kanopy, as well as a collection of music and comics.

Keep in mind that there’s a cap on the number of movies and TV shows you can watch every month with these services. Kanopy’s limit could be as few as three movies or as many as 20 depending on your library’s policies. Hoopla has a five-movie limit per month.

Pros and cons of looking for free TV and movies online

In a world where we’ve become accustomed to on-demand everything, the limitations of free streaming services can feel like a shock to the system. However, if you’re an intrepid, or budget-conscious entertainment consumer, the world of free streaming offers plenty of unique content for your viewing pleasure.

The most obvious downside to free streaming services is the limited selection of content. Additionally, many free services are not hosted on secure websites, leaving you vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Plus, most free streaming sites include ads and feature interfaces that aren’t as sophisticated as paid services.

If you’re a religious viewer of premium network content or enjoy having access to an expansive and current selection of movies, shows and live TV choices, then it’s worth investing a few extra dollars a month in a paid streaming service.

Suzanna Colberg

Contributing Writer

Suzanna Colberg specializes in both print articles and search engine optimized web content. Her stories have been published in Massage Magazine, Grand Rapids Magazine, AAA Magazine, and SwitchedOn Leadership magazine. As a senior copywriter and content strategist in Chicago, Suzanna has worked with clients that run the gamut from healthcare to agriculture to hearing aids, human resources software, finance and more.