If you long for the days when Netflix was more affordable and had more classic films, there is a newer streaming service you might want to check out that has both a quality library of older movies and an unbeatable price tag: free.
Years ago, when Netflix’s streaming service first launched, many cinephiles saw the service as a good source for viewing classic films. Netflix was cheap and its collection was fairly expansive. Of course, one of the reasons it had so many old films is that they were generally less expensive to license.
Twelve years have passed since that launch, and Netflix’s priorities have greatly shifted towards original content and prices have risen exponentially. The streaming service was recently reported to be releasing original content at a faster rate than they’re acquiring externally crafted films and television shows. Even when Netflix does acquire films, the company often chooses recently released blockbusters or straight-to-video movies over quality indie or older content.
Similar criticism could be given about Netflix’s streamiing contemporaries, like Hulu, Starz, HBO, Showtime, and others that have a predilection for recent releases and high grossing films. And with Disney soon to enter the fray with its Disney+ service, that means even these services won’t have as much access to big-ticket fare from studios like Pixar and Marvel.
Classic cinema and indie films are difficult to find on streaming platforms. Yes, there’s the recent Criterion Collection channel, that costs $10 a month or $100 per year, but if you’re more budget-minded and happy with watching some Criterion films along with a whole array of indie cinema, Kanopy — an entirely free service — could be what you need.
Kanopy was originally founded in 2008 by Olivia Humphries as a university education tool. In the last few years, the service has become an incredible streaming platform. Users can watch any film in Kanopy’s selection for free, provided they have a compatible library card. Which isn’t difficult, given that Kanopy is globally connected to over 4000 libraries.
According to a chart comparing the availability of IMDB’s top 250 films across popular streaming platforms published by a Reddit user a few months ago, Kanopy houses 31 of the 250. It’s second only to Netflix, which houses 38 films from IMDB’s Top 250 (some of which it will soon lose when its current deal with Disney expires).
Kanopy grants users access nearly almost all of award-winning studio A24’s library — including Best Picture winner Moonlight, The Lobster from Oscar-nominated director Yorgos Lanthimos, and Lady Bird, which received five Oscar nods — fifty films from the Criterion Collection, Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress, and many more.
For cinephiles and those who want to learn more about classic films, Kanopy could be a great, affordable place to watch underrated pieces of cinema. To get you started, here are a few choice films currently streaming on Kanopy:
Are you ready for your close up… watching of this film? Sunset Boulevard is a classic noir that opens with the death of protagonist and worn-out screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), then spends its remaining time explaining the events that led to his death. Minutes in, we meet Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a crazed former movie star looking for a way back into the limelight appears. She hires Joe to polish her script after he wanders onto her property, but it’s a bit more than he can swallow.
This is the award-winning documentary that spawned the 2018 Steve Carell box office disaster Welcome To Marwen. Don’t let the meme-related infamy of that dramatized dud turn you off from the original, infinitely superior, documentary that explores the life of artist Mark Hogancamp and how he used the fictional world of Marwencol, populated by handmade dolls representing people he knows, to cope with his trauma. Marwencol is currently only available on Kanopy.
A Star Is Born(1937)
Decades before Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga attempted to remake a Star Is Born, there was the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and before that there was Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954. But long before all of these came this 1937 film, starring Janet Gaynor as Vicki Lester, an aspiring actress who “gets discovered” by a famous actress while serving guests at a party. Notably, the original lacks any musical component. Despite the years since initially releasing, it remains very well reviewed. A Star Is Born won the 1937 Academy Award in the now defunct “Best Story” category and holds a 100% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.
This film considered by some film buffs to be Akira Kurosawa’s best work. It’s one of the Criterion Collection pieces that Kanopy was able to get their hands on. Rashomon is a simple story about murder, but it gets complicated when that murder is shown from four different and often contradictory perspectives.
Rashomon won the 1950 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and introduced a new storytelling structure that has been replicated countless times since.
Often considered the best work by the late Japanese director Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress explores the life of fictional actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, who recounts her life story to two documentarians. But as she goes on, the lines between cinema and reality begin to blur.
Kanopy features plenty of both classic and new cinema for users to enjoy absolutely for free. The only ticket you need to enter is a library card.
Kanopy is available on browsers, Roku, the App Store, and the Google Play store.