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The Best Niche Streaming Services For Every Kind of Viewer

A TV screen filled with streaming service logos

Graphic: Lifehacker (Photos: Shutterstock, apps.apple.com, play.google.com

The pandemic has turned us all into streaming video-addicted shut-ins, but if you’re being honest, weren’t you well on your way already? Now that millions of us have cut cords with cable companies, pretty much everyone subscribes to one streamer or another, and likely more than one. But what if you want to explore the cinematic universe beyond the confines of Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+?

Unsurprisingly—and reflecting the cable TV model of old—there is a niche streaming service out there for basically every kind of viewer. Below, we’ve rounded up many of our favorites. Whether you’re a budding otaku or a hard-core cinema snob, there’s something here worth your monthly subscription fee (and a few free options as well). Let’s explore together.

The Criterion Channel
From the dawn of the Laserdisc era through today, The Criterion Collection has been considered the gold standard of film labels among those who think of themselves as cinema buffs, but its streaming service—launched in the wake of the shutdown of Filmstruck in 2018—might be even better. Offering up a rotating monthly catalogue of classics from around the world, not to mention a healthy smattering of more recent critical darlings, it offers a movie for every mood, and the high level of curation—with movies grouped into monthly themes or paired off in related “double features”—makes exploration a delight (and makes up for the slightly byzantine way its offerings are sorted).
Cost: $10.99/month or $99.99/year, 14-day free trial

The TCM hub on HBO Max
Yeah, you probably know all about HBO. But the ongoing issues with the launch of HBO Max (nope, still not available on Roku or Amazon Fire Stick) are obscuring the fact that it’s one of the best services around for movie-lovers—and for fans of classic cinema in particular. Max’s content is sorted into various subsections, or “hubs,” and one of them collects content from Turner Classic Movies. While not nearly as all-encompassing as The Criterion Channel’s offerings, the TCM hub is more than worth exploring if you dig movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Content is sorted by decade and subject matter, from “‘30s Comedies” to “’70s Blockbusters” to the Big Apple-centric “New York, New York.”
Cost: $14.99/month, 7-day free trial

Illustration for article titled The Best Niche Streaming Services For Every Kind of Viewer

Screenshot: Jordan Calhoun

If you love anime, CrunchyRoll is the place for you. Not only can fans watch a ton of it, they can also keep up with anime news, read manga, and play anime-based games. It can be a lot, which makes CrunchyRoll a luxury best fit for anime enthusiasts who aren’t just casually interested or looking to watch a show or two. (In fact, I imagine it would be pretty overwhelming and intimidating to newer fans, and would recommend starting with basic streaming services if you’re only looking for a popular show or two.) But if you want to catch something like Haikyū!! season 4 as soon as possible, watch popular exclusive originals like The God of High School, or just find a place where your anime-loving heart can feel at home with otaku friends, CrunchyRoll is there for you. The tiered subscription model allows you to choose your level of obsession—if you pay extra you can see new episodes one hour after they air in Japan.
Cost: Free with ads, or starting at $7.99/month without ads, 14-day free trial

Funimation is the second twin tower of anime streaming, and choosing between them and CrunchyRoll can feel like choosing sides in a nerd war. With its slimmer library, Funimation still has more than enough anime to keep you watching while also being less overwhelming and easier to navigate. Don’t expect original programming—there aren’t any Funimation originals—and there’s no manga reader or games vying for your limited time and attention, but you can catch My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, and plenty of other popular series.
Cost: Free with ads, or $5.99/month without ads, 14-day free trial

There’s a lot of anime out there, and where you may look to CrunchyRoll and Funimation for what’s new and trending, you might want to look elsewhere for the rarest titles from the golden age of anime. That’s where RetroCrush comes in, a newer service that launched just this year as a place to find forgotten gems and deep cuts. Given its angle of super niche, vintage anime, it comes with a narrower library but a high volume of movies and series that you just won’t find anywhere else. Paying subscribers get ad-free viewing of their library, plus exclusive (and euphemistically titled) age-gated content. If you’re looking for the marriage of niche and nostalgia, RetroCrush might be just what you need.
Cost: Free with ads, or $4.99/month without ads

A screenshot of the Shudder homepage

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

This Netflix for the horror freak, owned by the AMC Network, is an absolute must if you want the scariest scares and the most blood-curdling shrieks streaming. The content runs the gamut from popular franchises like Friday the 13th to bizarro cult entries to high quality originals like the quarantine-themed Zoom-based chiller Host. If you’re looking for truly classic movies—older than 1960 or so—the pickings are slim, but there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to the dark side of cinema from the ‘70s and ‘80s to today. The material could be better organized, but there are some curated collections as well as TV and podcast offerings.
Cost: $5.99/month or $56.99/year, 7-day free trial

Though not quite as high-profile as Shudder, Screambox—which bills itself as having been “started by fans, for fans”—drips with authenticity. The primary difference is that you aren’t liable to spot nearly as many movies you recognize on Screambox. Aside from a few stone-cold classics like Audition, many of the subgenre-spanning entries are of the B-movie variety—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to horror.
Cost: $4.99/month, 7-day free trial

A screenshot of the MUBI homepage

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

This highly curated streamer is a cineast’s dream, and the answer to the “endless scroll” problem caused by services packed with too much content. MUBI’s “hank-picked” collection is limited to just 30 titles, and it changes every single day, with one title entering and one title leaving. The unpredictable, limited lineup creates an urge to watch, and the offbeat selections, 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.
Cost: $10.99/month or 98.55/year, 7-day free trial

Hey, waitaminute! IndieFlix also proclaims to offer the best hand-picked movie lineup around. Well, it’s certainly a worthy competitor: In addition to a grab bag of classics and Hollywood films, the service offers thousands of far more obscure independent and foreign films, as well as documentaries and TV series. The quirky organizational system sorts them not by genre but by broad categories like “Social Impact” (movies with a message of social justice) and “Snack Watch” (featuring short films under half an hour). The site also partners with film festivals like the 2020 Stony Brook Film Festival, allowing you to take part in exclusive screenings.
Cost: $69/year (nice), 7-day free trial

Music Box Direct
The official streaming service of Chicago’s famed art house theater the Music Box, this platform proclaims to “[bring] the art house to your house.” It’s a great place to unearth obscure domestic and international gems, including documentaries and the occasional TV series. Some titles even include “Deeper Dives,” or DVD-like bonus features.
Cost: $4.99/month or $49.99/year, 7-day free trial

Illustration for article titled The Best Niche Streaming Services For Every Kind of Viewer

Screenshot: Jordan Calhoun

Brown Sugar
Brown Sugar calls itself the “biggest collection of the baddest movies” and comes with a library of Black-led films for the nostalgic viewer. The most fun you’ll have scrolling through Brown Sugar might be finding titles starring household name celebrities from before their careers took off (like the 2011 Kevin Hart vehicle 35 & Ticking), or longtime celebrities like Method Man in films you’ve never heard of, like the 2015 sports comedy #Lucky Numbers. Expect plenty of old movies from Robin Givens and Jeremy Hines, and old Blaxploitation films like Blacula. It’s definitely the best place for older viewers to find celebrities who are “blackfamous”—people who every Black person knows but are unknown to most non-Black people.
Cost: $3.99/month, 7-day free trial

Urban Movie Channel
Started in 2014 by BET founder Robert L. Johnson, Urban Movie Channel features both movies and ongoing TV series that star Black talent. It has its own original programming, like the soap opera A House Divided and the docuseries Behind Her Faith, as well as some external network programs like WE tv’s Growing Up Hip Hop and OWN’s Black Love. New content is added every week.
Cost: $4.99/month, 7-day free trial

Former journalist DeShuna Spencer launched kweliTV as a place to highlight the work of Black thought leaders and filmmakers. Here you can find everything from indie films and web series, to children’s programs and live events. Meaning “truth” in Swahili, kweliTV aims to offer a truer representation of the global Black experience than what’s often most prominent in pop culture. It touts that over 90% of their films have been official selections at film festivals, and more than half of them are award-winning. Expect not only Black American movies, but works from people across the African diaspora.
Cost: $5.99/month (60% of your subscription goes to support the filmmakers featured on the service), 7-day free trial

A screenshot of the Night Flight homepage

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

Night Flight
Sprung from the titular cult late-night TV 1980s series that aired on the then-nascent USA Network, Night Flight is the streaming equivalent of a back-alley curio shop run by an introverted weirdo, and the sort of thing the internet was made for. It houses all sorts of weird video, from cult films, to extremely specific documentaries (The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy and Lou, 1971-1973), to fringe music videos and a hell of a lot more. The highly curated lineup (which The AV Club likened to a pop culture fever dream) offers something for… well, not for everyone, and it’s definitely not all for anyone, but that’s pretty great.
Cost: $4.99/month or $39.99 annually, 7-day free trial

Shout Factory TV
The name says TV, but this streaming offshoot from the beloved boutique DVD label includes lots of movies too. Of course, their crown jewel combines them both: This is where you’ll find streaming episodes of the legendary bad-movie mocking series Mystery Science Theater 3000. But there are also a ton of great movies, most of which the company has also released on DVD, from fantasy schlock like 1982’s Sorceress to my personal favorite animated movie of all time, The Last Unicorn.
Cost: $2.99/month, 7-day free trial

Illustration for article titled The Best Niche Streaming Services For Every Kind of Viewer

Screenshot: Jordan Calhoun

Crackle is a revolving door of TV and movie content that won’t cost you a thing, but of course that means it needs to generate ad-based revenue, and its library is relatively thin compared to what you’ll get from paid services. You might find great episodes of a show you’ve forgotten, but you also run the risk that the availability of said will be limited to a scant number of episodes or seasons. Crackle offers some original programming as well, like the docuseries Going from Broke and the horror-comedy movie Office Uprising. Given its ever-changing lineup, Crackle is best for sampling new shows or poking around for some forgotten entertainment from the past.
Cost: $0

Tubi has a surprisingly large library, considering it is completely free. You’ll run into ads, of course, but you also might find plenty of shows or movies you wont’t find elsewhere. (I, for one, owe an eternal debt of gratitude for allowing me to rewatch Transformer’s Beast Wars not long ago, which I couldn’t find on any of my many paid streaming services at the time.) Don’t expect a ton for new or trending titles, but the free back catalog makes Tubi something that might even be worth paying for. You know, if it wasn’t free. (Its FAQs understandably feature the questions “Is Tubi really free?” and “Is Tubi legal?,” and fortunately, it’s both.)
Cost: $0

Vudu isn’t completely free—there are plenty of titles you can pay for—but it’s worth adding to the list given the amount of free titles available. There are over 10,000 of them, and you can easily filter to find the free stuff, which includes plenty of B-rate movies, old sitcoms, and endless horror movies (if you’re browsing for something random in October). Vudu is great if you have no idea what you want to watch; poke around to discover an obscure old movie or random old series to watch for free—and if you see something newer that you want to buy, it’s just a click away.
Cost: $0 (more or less)


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