Netflix and Amazon Prime Video may be the couch potato community's favourite all-round video streaming subscription services (and for good reason). But while they’ve firmly cemented themselves into TV binging culture – and inevitably offer something for everyone with their thousands of titles – TV and film buffs with specific tastes could be better served by more niche alternatives. Especially now that Apple and Disney are now significant players in the game.
So, if you're a self-proclaimed cinephile, horror connoisseur or Disney fanatic, or dream of a more studiously curated catalogue, perhaps one of these rival services better deserve your direct debit...
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Hands up if you’ve ever spent half an evening trawling through Netflix trying to decide what to watch, only to then not bother watching anything out of time-wasting frustration. OK, hands down. There’s a slimmer chance of that happening with MUBI, the cinephile's choice of streaming service.
The catalogue used to only ever be 30 films strong at any time – every day a film dropped off and a new one was added, with each film having a 30-day lifespan. That concept still applies to 'Film of the Day', but the curation has now expanded to include many (although not too many) more titles – not least as MUBI has growin into a film production company too.
The catalogue itself won’t likely feature Zac Efron-starring rom-coms or the latest Marvel movie. With the service priding itself on showing – in their words – ‘forgotten gems’, ‘festival-fresh cinema’, ‘cult classics’ and ‘award-winning masterpieces’, the titles are somewhat obscure. And all the better for it.
Pay 50 per cent more per month (£5) and you also get a cinema ticket every single week for a release of MUBI's choice at a supporting cinema.
- Who is it for? The more discerning film watcher who knows (or wants to know) their Jean-Luc Godard from their Gaspar Noe.
- What can you play it on? Android, iOS, Web, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Samsung, LG and Sony TVs, PS4
Essentially a Netflix for horror aficionados, Shudder is the ‘home of the best horror films from around the world and beyond the grave’. With a vast catalogue of, ahem, killer content, this screaming – sorry, streaming – service is the best place on the internet to binge the unhinged, and especially great for keeping up with the latest genre releases fresh from the festival circuit.
There are thematic collections (because of course you want a ‘Comedy of Terrors’ section to point you to nazi zombies and thousand-year-olds imps) as well as guest curations from horror film icons. There’s even a seven-day free trial for new subscribers who want to test their nerves first.
- Who is it for? Horror hounds, scream queens… anyone who likes their chills as much as their thrills.
- What can you play it on? Android, iOS, Web, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Xbox One
The British Film Institute takes its classic and cult films conveyance seriously, offering a library of free clips, pay-for film rentals and a monthly subscription service. The latter benefits from a catalogue that’s not only distinguished and expansive but also spans decades, so you’re as likely to see a contemporary Korean psycho-sexual thriller as you are a classic 1950s Ingmar Bergman drama.
Your guide-ian angels lie in the form of ‘Mark Kermode introduces’, ‘what we’re watching’, ‘popular’, ‘recently added’ and featured collections such as BFI London Film Festival (films from festivals past), Italian Classics (hello Roberto Rossellini) and Academy Award winners. You’ll only be able to make the most minor of dents in what the service has to offer within the 14-day free trial.
- Who is it for? Cinephiles wanting to dive headfirst into global cinematic history.
- What can you play it on? Web, iOS, select TVs
Disney Plus (Disney+) offers a rich catalogue of films and TV shows from Disney and its subsidiaries – Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and National Geographic, as well as a slate of new Disney+ Originals. The arrival of Star in February 2021 brought a more mature, adult-friendly 270-film and 75-show (and counting) angle to the service too.
Many titles are presented in the best video and audio technologies available today – 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. And the fact you can download these titles in their full resolution onto a compatible tablet or smartphone is arguably one of the best-value features of Disney+, considering the cost of individual 4K movies to rent or buy.
With quality Disney Originals and plenty of exclusive theatrical releases incoming, Disney Plus is so far living a happily ever after in the competitive streaming world.
- Who is it for? Disney lovers, of course! Of all ages.
- How much? £7.99/month or £79.90/year through Disney+
- What can you play it on? Web, iOS, Android, Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, PS4/PS5, TV (Samsung 2016 and later, LG (2016 and later, Android-based Sony and Sharp), Roku, Android TV, Amazon Fire and Fire TV, Sky Q, Xbox One/Series X
Self-labelled ‘the best of independent film’ with a 'passion for indie gems and undiscovered filmmakers', Flix Premiere brings films fresh from festivals to your front room. It’s another service that opts for quality over quantity – there are only 150-odd films in the catalogue compared to Netflix UK’s 5000+, but most have been released within the last few years and every week there’s an exclusive ‘premiere’ of a brand-new title.
With its recent expansion into distribution, the service shortens the bridge between the video streaming service and cinema experience more than most. It has claimed the theatrical and online exclusive rights to Milcho Manchevski’s Bikini Moon, and allows users to register for priority access to upcoming theatrical ‘red carpet’ premieres in London, Los Angeles and New York.
It lets you gift movies to friends, too. Aww.
- Who is it for? Indie folk looking for fresh flicks.
- How much? £5.99/month or £17.99/six months through Flix Premiere; 30-day free trial
- What can you play it on? iOS, Android, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Sony, Samsung and LG TVs
Apple TV+ is still probably a second subscription service as opposed to a primary one considering its appeal lies mostly in its modest (in number), high-quality Apple Originals. The catalogue has grown considerably from the 17 titles it launched with late in 2019 due to an increase in Apple productions as well as licensed content from third parties.
Apple Originals are certainly gaining traction in the TV and film industry, with its Ted Lasso drama picking up multiple trophies including four Primetime Emmy Awards. For All Mankind and Little American are also particularly strong in our opinion.
With anyone who has bought an Apple device since September 2019 being given a free 12-month subscription and everyone else being offered a seven-day trial, there is ample opportunity for people to check out Apple’s offering for free.
- Who is it for? Apple fans who are curious to get in on the company's handful of lavishly produced, big-budget exclusives
- How much? £4.99/month on Apple+;7-day free trial
- What can you play it on? iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, TV (Samsung, LG, Sony)
Nerd alert! Documentary-dedicated subscription video service Docsville – the brainchild of former editor of the BBC’s Storyville, Nick Fraser, and producer Lawrence Elman – is a godsend for anyone whose TV watching is fuelled by an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
Mostly comprising documentary films with the odd docuseries, short, and bitesized anecdotal ‘pop up’ clip, the catalogue is a fountain of knowledge that serves anyone wanting a mere trickle from it while they wait for the kettle to boil, or those with 90 minutes to sink their teeth into something meatier. The interface is pretty basic, but the ‘what’s new’ and ‘most popular’ sections are good places to start to prevent browsing boredom.
- Who is it for? Non-fiction nerds interested in learning about everything from history to politics, music to art.
- How much? £3.99/month or £39.99/year through Docsville; 7-day free trial
- What can you play it on? iOS, Android, Google Chromecast, Web. Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Android TV coming
The home of cult classics and a B-movie lover's wet dream, Arrow Player is an impressive digital showcase of World Cinema, with a back-catalogue of independent, classic, art and horror film ready and waiting to be tucked into. The ever-expanding British label and distributor is notably an advocator of the physical world, with its impressively steady release of cult cinema – the new, the old and the remastered – on Blu-ray and DVD, and while you don't get the same striking graphic artwork and audiovisual technology comptability in the digital format, you do get the curation quality. And, let's face it, the value and convenience.
- Who is it for? Fans of cult cinema, including B-movies and video nasties.
- What can you play it on? Web, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, iOS and Android
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Apple is terrible - I have a free trial right now and it has good things (The Problem with Jon Stewart, Mythic Quest, The Morning Show) but most of the content costs extra. And most of the stories in Little America are boring!