How to watch
The Reader is a German-American drama from 2008, based on the best-selling novel by author Bernhard Schlink. The storyline begins with adult Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reminiscing about his adolescence in post-World War II Berlin and his fateful relationship with an older woman named Hannah (Kate Winslet). 15-year old Michael is beset by Scarlet Fever and helped off the street one day by Hannah. Taken into her care, they soon begin a passionate affair, quickly forsaking family and friends for every opportunity to ensconce themselves in a world of lust and desire. As their time together progresses, Hannah begins urging Michael to read to her daily—to which he draws from many classic novels and delights in their rich interchange.
Hannah suddenly disappears from Michael’s life, however, only reappearing several years later when young law student Michael is stunned to find her facing a World War II war-crimes tribunal. Tied to a real-life series of trials against former Auschwitz employees, The Reader is a strikingly original and exceptionally well-made film that is recommended to those who appreciate sophisticated, emotionally mannered cinema.
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.
AMC Theatres On Demand is a streaming platform that lets you rent and buy all of the films that AMC—the world’s largest movie theater chain—has in its roster. Mostly, these are current releases that have yet to stream elsewhere. But AMC also has an extensive catalog of films from past decades that it’s made available in different formats, including 4K UHD and Dolby Atmos, so you can be sure to enjoy movie-theater quality in your home. In 2023, the platform actually merged with former competitor Vudu; you can still access your AMC Theatres On Demand purchases but it will be moved to the Vudu platform.
If you’re subscribed to DirecTV’s satellite or internet plans, you can choose to rent and buy from the platform’s wide library of titles. Here, you’ll find the latest blockbusters, indies, cult favorites, and even beloved TV shows and previous hits that might be difficult to view elsewhere. Prices can range from $3 to $20 per title, but that will depend on its popularity and how recently it was released. You’re free to watch them on the go via the DirecTV app, but do note that you can’t transact on the app itself. And while concurrent streams for purchases (which are yours for as long as you remain a DirecTV customer) are limited to three devices, the limit for rented titles is two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vudu Free is a section of the on-demand streaming service Vudu that lets you watch thousands of movies and TV shows for free. The ad-supported tier has a couple of new releases and a-lister hits, but mostly, it carries classics, genre favorites, indies, and critically-acclaimed films. The screening quality is standard and the commercials can be a lot, so if you want to upgrade your viewing experience, Vudu lets you rent or buy the same titles in HD, ad-free, for a fee. Vudu Free also has filters you can toggle, as well as a parental guide and ratings board, to make it easier to pick a film. You’ll have to sign up for a Vudu account to access all this content, but after registration, you should be able to start your free viewing.
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.