How to watch
Joshua Oppenheimer’s daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer’s efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer’s favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they’re doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.
Peacock is a streaming service owned by NBC, with options for paid subscriptions as well as a free plan. The free plan offers about 13,000 hours of ad-supported content, with the option to upgrade to premium for more access to content. The premium options include two plans: $4.99 a month or $50 a year for ad-supported; $9.99 a month or $100 a year for ad-free. With both premium plans, you’ll get access to the full catalog of 2,000 movies and shows, including every episode of the original NBC series. You’ll also get next-day access to all the new episodes of ongoing NBC shows, and early access to talk shows such as Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on the air night. You can stream Peacock on Apple devices like the iPhone and Apple TV, Google devices like Android phones and Chromecast, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. But there is still no app available for Roku or Amazon platforms.
You can buy nearly everything on Amazon, including movies and TV shows. Amazon’s video storefront (not to be confused with its on-demand streaming service Amazon Prime) allows you to either rent or buy thousands of titles, including new releases, blockbuster hits, niche indies, and international gems.
You’ll have to sign in using your Amazon account to start renting or purchasing, and Amazon allows you to redeem gift cards, promo codes, and points if you have them upon checkout. Like most video stores, Amazon gives you 30 days to start watching a rental and 48 hours to finish it, while unlimited access is granted to purchased titles. Lastly, you should know that a rented title is only viewable on one device, so sharing options will be limited.
Founded by the Texas-based cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse, Alamo on Demand is a streaming service that lets you rent or purchase a good mix of mainstream and obscure films. Here, you’ll find blockbusters and indies, new releases and cult classics, grindhouse as well as arthouse. In Alamo’s own words, it’s the “Staff Picks section of a video store,” a curated set of films carefully handpicked by the people behind it. And this is apparent in how the streaming service is organized. You can sort the movies by directors, genres, and categories like “Weird Wednesday” and “Ozploitation.” If you feel like exploring even more, they have movie playlists made in collaboration with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Edgar Wright, which follow different themes and moods. As of this writing, the platform doesn’t recognize credits and passes you may have collected with your Alamo Drafthouse membership, but it’s working on it. In the meantime, film lovers and patrons will find much to like in Alamo’s on-demand counterpart.
Fandor is a paid subscription streaming service that curates independent, foreign, award-winning, and classic films, as well as documentaries from all over the world, making it a standout option for cinephiles. Depending on your location, it also offers a number of free movie titles. But Fandor doesn’t only cater to fans; rookie directors also get some love as the service allows them to debut their work on the platform. It’s a great option for film lovers and makers alike.
Hoopla is a digital library that partners with public libraries across the US to grant their patrons free access to the wealth of media they have online and on the go. This includes movies and television shows, but Hoopla also has a vast collection of ebooks, audiobooks, podcasts, and albums it offers members. You can check their website to see if your library card is valid, and if it is, you can continue on to registration (with no extra fees) and start viewing their available titles. Hoopla rotates its selection every week or so, but generally, it has a good mix of old films, cult classics, past hits, and foreign movies. Occasionally, it will also have the latest blockbusters. For television, it’s recently partnered with the BBC and a couple of manga publishers to deliver content from around the world.
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.
Microsoft is most known for its computer and gaming services, but the tech corporation also has a streaming service under its belt. Microsoft’s media store allows you to rent or purchase a host of films and TV shows, many of which are still up in theaters or being broadcast on network TV. The good news is that Microsoft often puts up sales and specials that slash prices up to half, and the even better news is that Xbox Game Pass holders are entitled to many of these discounts. So for instance, a Game Pass holder can pay just $7 for a film that costs $20 to rent. Now, the not-so-good news is that Microsoft’s rental store is only available for Xbox and PCs and mobile devices that run on Windows. Anything outside of these devices, unfortunately, won’t be able to access the store.
Despite its wobbly start in the streaming sphere, Peacock now has a growing and respectable catalog of titles to its name. It’s home to critically acclaimed shows like Poker Face and movies like Tar, not to mention a whole host of reality shows and sports events. But perhaps the greatest edge Peacock has over its competitors is that along with its on-demand content, it also features a solid lineup of live TV channels, many of them for free.
Peacock’s premium tier, often referred to as Peacock Premium, has channels like Hallmark, Fallon Tonight, SNL Vault, NBC News, Premier League TV, WWE, Dateline 24/7, and Below Deck.
Plex is a media management software that doubles as a free streaming service. Its main function is to organize your own library of content—that is, your own video, photo, or sound files—and make it streamable alongside Plex’s offerings of 200+ live TV channels and 50,000+ on-demand movies and shows. Plex’s basic package comes at no cost, but it also has a premium package starting at $4.99/month that boasts additional features, such as the ability to download content and watch them offline, among other things.
No longer just a physical DVD kiosk, Redbox has expanded to become an online space where you can rent and purchase films and TV shows as well as watch live channels for free. Like Vudu and Amazon Prime, Redbox gives you access to a plethora of movies, including fan favorites and indie gems (these can cost anywhere from $2 to $5) and movies currently screening in cinemas (these usually cost more, around $20). Redbox also has a live TV streaming feature that you can access even without a registered account. Although most of the channels are not that notable, they cover the essential categories: news, sports, and entertainment.
Topic is an online streaming service operating in the US and Canada.
In the US, a monthly subscription currently runs at $5.99 per month or $56.99 per year.
Topic can be accessed via Apple iOS, and AppleTV, Android, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku, in addition to Amazon Prime Video Channels, Apple TV Channels, Roku Premium Channels, and Bell Fibe.
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.