How to watch
The Automat is a charming documentary about the historic place it names—a spacious self-service cafeteria that fed thousands of people during a good part of the 20th century. Through nostalgic footage and delightful interviews with the likes of Mel Brooks, Howard Schultz, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Automat successfully convinces you that more than just some gimmick, it was a cultural landmark, a piece of Americana whose existence alone taught an entire generation integral values like democracy, diversity, and hard work. It’s also straight-up hilarious, especially when Brooks attempts to direct the film himself, or other subjects salivate as they recall the Automat’s unbeatable menu. It’s more anecdotal than academic, so if you’re looking for a sweet, sentimental, and simple watch, this is it.
Formerly HBO Max, Max is a subscription-based on-demand platform that is only available in the US. New subscribers can choose from three monthly tiers ranging from $10 (with ads) to $15 (no ads) to $20 (no ads, plus more concurrent streams, downloads, and 4K streaming). An annual subscription option is also available.
When you subscribe, you’ll get HBO’s world-class exclusives, such as The Wire and Game of Thrones but Max also functions as a bundle: you’ll get content from Discovery, DC, Criterion Collection, Looney Tunes, Studio Ghibli, Turner Classic Movies, and Crunchyroll. And as of September 2023, you will also get a live stream of CNN.
Most mobile devices that can stream video support Max, although there is yet no app for Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices.
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.
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.
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.
Suppose you’re subscribed to one of Spectrum’s many TV plans. In that case, you’re automatically eligible for Spectrum on Demand, the platform’s streaming service that gives you access to thousands of on-demand movies and TV shows. Now, in case you can’t find your favorite title on the free service, you’ll likely find it on Spectrume’s pay-per-view store. Here you’ll find the latest movie releases and network TV shows available to rent or buy. Like most TVOD platforms, Spectrum charges around $1 to $20 for each title (the price usually depends on their popularity and recency), and you can watch it as many times as you watch within a 24-hour period.
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.