When lockdown first kicked in, we all thought we'd be watching a lot more TV and movies. But if you rely on free-to-air broadcast channels, you may have been disappointed. With many regular shows cancelled or scaled-down due to the pandemic, and most new programming stalled, we’re getting an increasing diet of repeats, and so many are turning to streaming services to plug the gap.
But what if you’re strapped for cash and every penny counts right now? Well the good news is, there are ways to stream TV and movies that are safe, legal and free. In this post, we bring you 10 great options for adding some colour and variety to your televisual diet. Note that whether or not these are free and the content available does vary from country to country (you might also want to consider getting one of the best VPNs).
Totally free services
We'll start with five places you might not know about, where you can find lots of TV shows and films to watch for free, securely and within the law. From ad-funded television to classic movies that are now out of copyright, there’s plenty of great content to discover on these lesser-known platforms.
Based in Japan, Rakuten is a streaming service offering movies and TV series for subscription, rental and purchase, but it also features a good selection of ad-supported free content, including movies, kids TV shows and documentaries. Just click the ‘Free’ tab at the top to see what’s on offer. You just need to provide an email address and password, and then you can start watching on a PC or Mac (not Chromebook), smartphone (iOS or Android) or Xbox One. You can also cast to your TV using Chromecast.
- Watch first: Control
02. Pluto TV
Based in the US and owned by Viacom, Pluto TV is a free, advertiser-supported streaming website that primarily offers a selection of content via ‘channels’ that are designed to replicate the experience of traditional live TV. This means that you can't stop and start a show when you want to; you have to 'tune in' at the right time. However, there’s also a selection of on-demand movies, boxsets and documentaries to enjoy. You can’t watch Pluto TV on a desktop computer, but there’s a free app for your iOS, Android and Amazon devices, and you can cast to your TV via the Amazon Fire Stick.
- Watch first: 21 Jump Street
Launched last December by the software company of the same name, Plex is a US-based, ad-supported streaming service, which distinguishes itself from most of its rivals by operating outside of North America; in over 200 countries worldwide, in fact. It features a wide range of movies, TV shows, podcasts and news shows, which you can watch via the web browser or cast to your TV via Chromecast or Fire Stick. It doesn't always have the best-known TV or movies, to be frank; you'll need to subscribe to the premium version to get that. But have a look around and you'll probably find a few things that pique your interest.
- Watch first: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists
04. BFI Player
The BFI Player, the website of the British Film Institute, contains a wide range of shorts and features that are free to watch, including short films, classic TV dramas, documentaries, musicals, home movies, and even some classic British adverts from times past. Most of the content is vintage, black-and-white fare, but there are also some short films from modern BFI film festivals. Just click the 'Free' tab at the top to see what's available. There’s no signup required, you can watch in the browser, and there’s a Chromecast option to cast to your TV.
- Watch first: Self-Conscious Over You
05. Popcorn Flix
Popcorn Flix is a website offering free ad-supported streaming video of feature-length, mainly independent, movies and webisodes. There’s no need to sign up, and you can just watch in your browser, your Xbox or Playstation, or cast to your TV via the Amazon Fire Stick. However, note that the service is currently unavailable outside of North America.
- Watch first: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
While the first five services on our list are all very easy to access for free, you probably won’t find the latest movies and TV on these platforms. For that, you’ll need to sign up to a paid service… but here’s the good news. Many of them are currently offer free trials, ranging for one week to 90 days.
Think about what that means. If you try them out one-by-one, taking great care to cancel before you get charged, you’ll end up enjoying around six months of the very latest, blockbuster entertainment, without paying a penny! To help you out, here are the best free trials on offer right now, and what you can get from them, in return for just a little administrative effort.
06. Disney Plus
Disney Plus brings together classic animated movies, from Snow White to Frozen, all in one place, not to mention all the Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar movies, content from National Geographic and the Disney Channel, and every season of The Simpsons. So if you’ve got little ones around, you won’t certainly won’t be short of things to watch, while adults will want to check out new Star Wars drama The Mandalorian. You can watch in your web browser, or stream to your TV using Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick. The free trial only lasts seven days, though, so make the most of it!
- Watch first: Coco
Quibi is a new service launched on 6 April, which provides seven- to 10-minute slices of American drama, reality and news entertainment to your mobile device, to fill in short gaps in your day. All the content has been specially filmed so you can watch it in vertical or horizontal mode, whichever way suits you best. Annoyingly, you can't cast to your TV; a tablet is the biggest screen you'll be able to view it on. There’s still lot of loud and colourful shows to be enjoyed, though, and the best thing is that the trial period is a whopping 90 days.
- Watch first: Last Night’s Late Night by EW
Ever feel nostalgic for vintage British shows like Fawlty Towers, The Office or 1960s-1980s Doctor Who? Or fancy catching up with more recent hits such as Downton Abbey, Life on Mars, or Gavin and Stacey? Well, Britbox has all of these boxset classics in one place, and many more, from crime dramas to sitcoms, BBC to ITV. For those outside the UK, it's also a great place to catch up on the latest episodes of British shows like EastEnders.
You can watch all this content on the web, or via the free iOS and Android apps, and you can cast to your TV via Chromecast or Amazon Fire. And the generous 30-day free trial will let you enjoy plenty of your favourites.
- Watch first: Broadchurch
09. Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video has one of the most confusing interfaces of all the streaming platforms, but on the plus side there’s a generous 30-day free trial. There’s also a ton of great content, which is mainly geared towards slickly produced, adult-oriented TV and movies. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime TV app on your television already, you can stream this content via the Amazon Fire Stick, and since last July, you've been able to Chromecast using the Amazon Prime apps for iOS and Android.
- Watch first: The Man in the High Castle
Hayu is a niche streaming service focused on reality TV shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Real Housewives of New Jersey, as well as home and design, cookery and true crime content. It’s currently offering a one-month free trial. There are free iOS and Android apps to let you watch on your mobile or tablet, or you can cast to your TV via Chromecast or Airplay.
- Watch first: Kim Kardashian-West: The Justice Project