How to watch
There’s a natural competitive thrill to this chronicle of the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee and eight of its bright young participants, but Spellbound has more than an edge-of-your-seat pull going for it. For one, there’s its holistic approach to profiling the competitors: director Jeffrey Blitz makes this as much a portrait of the village that raises these kids by interviewing their proud families and supportive communities. We get intimate snapshots of each of their disparate young lives, which together represent a cross-section of American society: from Angela — the self-taught daughter of Mexican ranchers who don’t speak English — to Neil, whose parents employ an army of tutors to prepare him for the oncoming “war.”
Spellbound ultimately sees the good in everyone — even the pushiest parents — and charitably foregrounds the obvious love and pride they all have for their kid geniuses, no matter what happens. What’s even more impressive, though, is the inspiring resilience and emotional intelligence of the young competitors themselves, some of whom have transcended deeply entrenched social inequalities to earn their place in the contest. Even those who don’t have a stirring backstory are nonetheless compelling characters (see: the delightful Harry), making Spellbound an alternately emotional, funny, and always gripping watch.
Kanopy is an on-demand streaming service that schools and public libraries all around the US offer students and members for free. All you have to do is enter the details of your participating institution and you can start watching as you please. Because of the academic nature of the platform, Kanopy makes sure it streams only the most essential and important content available, which could mean hard-hitting films like Moonlight, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Lady Bird, Dogtooh, Memento, and Howard’s End for certain viewers, or The Adventures of Paddington, Richard Scarry, and The Monster Math Squad for even other, younger viewers. There are also storybooks, documentaries, and educational programs available to watch as Kanopy makes sure to cater to every learner regardless of leaning or age.
iTunes is one of the oldest media apps currently in use. While many people know it as a music player, iTunes has since evolved to offer digital movies and TV shows for rent or sale. The bigger and newer releases can cost up to $20 to purchase, but iTunes also has past hits, modern classics, award-winning pictures, and even local films you can rent for as low as $2. Purchased films and TV shows are available for as long as the studio allows them to be, but rentals are a different story. Once you’ve rented a particular title, you have up to 30 days to start watching it. And after you start watching it, you’ll then have 48 hours before it expires. iTunes comes pre-installed on Apple devices, but it’s also available on Windows PCs and Android Smart TVs.
Google Play Movies & TV, or simply Play, is a video-on-demand store that allows you to rent or purchase various films and TV shows online. A rental can cost as low as $1 (these are usually TV movies and old films) while purchases can cost up to $20 (these are often blockbusters that are fresh from theaters). Play lets you watch on most major streaming devices, but you have to remember to log in with the same account you used to purchase the titles. On your smartphone, you can access the titles via the Google TV or YouTube app, while on your smart TV, you can use access them via the Play, YouTube, or Movies Anywhere apps. You can also watch them via the Play website but do take note that Play doesn’t offer HD and 4k viewing on PCs.
Vudu is an on-demand streaming service that allows users to rent or purchase more than 200,000 new releases. Founded in 2007, it’s one of the first companies to offer digital films in HD. Vudu’s main strength is its ease of access and jam-packed catalog of movies and TV shows, but it also boasts free content, which they run on ads. In 2020, media and ticketing firm Fandango acquired Vudu and merged both companies’ streamers into one. They decided to keep the Vudu name because of its large and loyal customer base.
YouTube’s Movies & TV storefront (not to be mistaken with YouTube TV) allows you to rent and purchase thousands of films and TV shows. You can pick from the latest blockbuster releases, foreign films, award-winning staples, beloved classics, and even pre-order titles that have yet to be available elsewhere. A big draw here is that YouTube is already everywhere—it’s a tab on your browser, an app on your phone, a channel on your smart TV—so renting, purchasing, and later on accessing a title is as easy as entering your credit card or PayPal details. And as a bonus, YouTube also has a lineup of free movies it lets you watch with ads. Granted, they’re not as big or new as their rentable titles, but there are gems like Moonstruck and Cooley High hidden in there somewhere.
Now, some things to note before heading to the storefront: you must be 18 years or older to watch these titles, and while buying a movie or TV episode allows you to access them indefinitely, you have only 30 days to start viewing a rental. Once you’ve started watching it, you usually have about 48 hours until it expires, but this can vary per title. YouTube also allows playback in HD and 4k, but these features are currently unavailable on web browsers.