Since taking over as the head of Warner Bros. Discovery in mid-2022, David Zaslav has done well at tanking his brand’s goodwill with movie-loving audiences as quickly as possible. He started by announcing plans to blow up HBO Max (which I once named among the best streaming services for classic movie lovers) and combine it with the reality TV-heavy Discovery+. Then he canceled the almost completed Batgirl movie to take a tax write off. Then he horrified the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and David Fincher—not to mention practically all of film Twitter—with high-profile layoffs at TCM, cable TV’s last bastion for true cinema buffs. And just this week, Warner Bros. Discovery seemed to pressure GQ Magazine into taking down an opinion piece that called him “the most hated man in Hollywood,” which is definitely not a sign that the headline was 100% accurate (not to mention the alleged conflicts of interest at play).
If all of that sounds like the usual corporate jockeying for power and profits, consider the real effect for consumers who pay $16 a month for
HBO Max: Fewer ambitious original movies and TV shows, a significantly smaller collection of classic movies, and a crappier user experience that makes it harder to find what you want to watch.
For me, this means it’s time to cancel Max and sign up for a streaming service that actually cares about movies and the people who love them. And I think you should, too. Here are four safe bets that are well worth your subscription dollars. (And one of them is even free)
The Criterion Channel
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From its origins in the 1980s, when it was founded as a distribution company for artsy film classics, Criterion has been the gold standard for cinema buffs. Its boutique line of special edition DVDs assembles influential movies from across more than a century of film history—with in-depth documentaries, astute commentary tracks, and more—is so beloved, it has inspired an entire community of cineasts to invest in physical media. (The bi-annual 50% off Barnes & Noble sale is the stuff of legend.)
In 2019, Criterion brought that wealth of expertise to the streaming world in the form of The Criterion Channel, a service wholly dedicated to highlighting the most “important” (in terms of both their quality and cultural significance) classic and contemporary films—some of which include those bells and whistles produced for the DVD editions. With an ever-evolving lineup and themed collections that allow you to explore huge swaths of cinema history, from erotic thrillers, to 1980s Asian-American films, to quirkier classifications like films that explore the gay best friend trope—it’s basically a streaming film school with tuition of $10.99 a month.
Sign up for The Criterion Channel (cost: $10.99/month or $99.99/year)
Horror rarely gets respect from mainstream movie critics, but the folks behind Shudder know it can be bloody fantastic. This low-cost subscription is a must for slasher fans and giallo aficionados alike. Shudder not only premieres new horror films like the pandemic era Zoom-based thriller Host, it has also given spotlight to long-neglected cult hits like 1981’s Possession (never previously available in the U.S. in its original cut) and the Mexican supernatural flick Poison for the Fairies. It’s also the home of horror maestro Joe Bob Briggs, who has a regular berth on the streamer where he presents two horror flicks each week, usually linked by a theme, and dives into the history of how they got made and the careers of their actors and directors.
Sign up for Shudder (cost: $5.99/month, $56.99/year)
Think of it as the other prestige streaming service for cinema buffs. MUBI is both a streaming services and a film distributor. As the latter, it has recently launched arthouse titles like Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave, and it brings that same eye for curation to its ever-evolving catalogue of foreign, arthouse, and non-fiction films. MUBI’s “hand-picked” collection aims to add at least one new movie every day, and the offbeat choices—from recent indies, to deep cuts from celebrated auteurs, to choice imports—mean you’re always going to be able to find something new to you.
Sign up for MUBI (cost: 12.99/month, $107.88/year)
Tubi may rhyme with MUBI, but the two services couldn’t be more different. If MUBI chooses its selections with gimlet-eyed precision, Tubi trowels the bottom of the cinematic seas with a huge fishing net, scooping up anything it can get the rights to stream. Which isn’t to say it’s a lot of garbage—though there is definitely a lot on the free, ad-supported service that would be right at home on the DVD shelf at Dollar Tree. But movie lovers have flocked to Tubi for the sheer variety of oddities on offer—more than 50,000 of them, according to the company—with seemingly no viewer niche deemed too obscure (Vulture recently dubbed it “the weird, free streamer [that] won the internet’s heart.”)
Sign up for Tubi (Cost: $0/month, $0/year)