With Netflix prices rising (again) and Spotify coming under all sorts of fire of late, will we soon see a changing of the guard on both sides of the streaming sphere? Perhaps not – after all, these remain hugely popular services that, consequently, will be hard to outmuscle. But many people are searching for alternatives that offer something different or something cheaper. Or both.
Big hitters like Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and Hulu are of course determinedly tugging at Netflix’s overwhelming subscriber figures harder than anything else. But we have a rather more niche proposition we believe deserves your monthly tenner: MUBI. And if you’re a die-hard movie fan who hasn’t heard of it, this article is my gift to you.
In my opinion, MUBI is the best thing to happen to movie nights at home since microwaveable popcorn. Like Netflix, it’s a video streaming service, accessible through a web browser or widely accessible app – but it specialises in world cinema, cult gems and classics and festival-fresh picks, both brand-new and vintage old.
It's Netflix for cinephiles – think Jean-Luc Godard over Jean-Luc Picard, more Pedro Almodóvar than Peter Jackson. You might think this all sounds rather exclusive or, worse, artsy-fartsy – but I can assure you it’s accessible if you have an interest in film. You should know, though, that the content is more suited to 'proper' viewing than bingeing or background viewing, which is, of course, a big pull of some of the material offered on Netflix.
Last year was, understandably, a bad year for those of us who like going to the cinema, so many of the best films I saw during 2021 were on MUBI – First Cow (2021, a MUBI release), Tripping With Nils Frahm (2020), On Body and Soul (2017), Deerskin (2019), So Long, My Son (2019) and Bacurau (2019), to name a handful. And I also have access to Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ – so it's not like I didn't have choice.
Originally, MUBI’s catalogue was only ever 30 films strong – every day, one movie dropped off and a new one came on, with every film given a 30-day lifespan. That daily freshen-up is still the case – the ‘Film of the Day’ proudly sits front and centre of the interface – but the library available has expanded multi-fold, not least as MUBI has now grown into a film production company too.
This has made picking a film slightly more difficult – one thing I loved about MUBI from the off was that it was impossible to waste 30 minutes in an evening browsing the service for something to watch, as I’d often do with Netflix – although the curation is still manageable, relevant and easily digestible. Essentially couch potatoes who might want to watch more than one film per day are getting more for their £9.99 ($10.99) monthly fee, too.
You can spend more and, for keen cinemagoers, get a better value service. Pay 50 per cent extra per month and you also get a cinema ticket every single week for a film of MUBI's choice at a supporting cinema (or an alternative film if your local doesn’t support the first choice that week – you’ll always get four tickets per month). That’s four trips to the cinema for a fiver – and in February, you’d have got a corker, with Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir: Part Two and The Duke, starring Helen Mirren.
That said, I do have one issue – the poor AV support. After all, we champion the best possible picture and audio quality, and the formats that deliver it: it’s something we strongly consider when deciding our favourite video streaming service each year during What Hi-Fi? Awards season.
And while the likes of Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ are suitably committed to supporting 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos audio, MUBI is comparatively behind the times, maxing out at high-definition video (even if it is a very decent HD image, in my experience) and stereo audio. To those used to 4K and/or surround sound, we understand it might feel like a step back too far (and a waste of their kit).
Of course, we're talking about a (much) smaller company with more limited resources than its peers. And inherently, the kind of curation that includes many classic and international films won’t always have better-than-HD streams anyway. But there's no denying it's occasionally a shame to think you could be watching in 4K – not least on a service associated so closely with the cinema. Here's to hoping it's on MUBI's horizon to round out what I believe is, from a content point of view, the best alternative to Netflix for movie fans. (We asked MUBI for comment but had not received a reply at the time of publication.)
Of course, video streaming services don't lock you into contracts, so abandoning a service (temporarily or otherwise) and trying out a new one doesn't feel like too much of an upheaval these days. And it helps that MUBI has a seven-day free trial too.
If you love films and want to support independent cinema (and cinemas), give MUBI a go; it deserves some of the streaming spotlight.
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