Originally published Sept. 17, 2020—updated Dec. 1, 2020
It’s really nothing to be ashamed of if, after eight months and counting of various stages of lockdown, you’ve explored every nook and cranny of Netflix. And Amazon Prime. And Hulu and Disney+ and HBO Max and AppleTV+. It’s happened to the best of us.
We’re happy to report that—in addition to upcoming new releases on those major platforms—there are many, more niche streaming services bursting with content worth watching. So, if you have a spare $15 (and spare batteries for your soon-to-die TV remote), try out a few of these less-frequented streamers below. And not to worry ... almost all offer free trials!
Teamwork makes the dream work. At doc-centric streaming service DAFilms, that much is clear. The platform is powered by Doc Alliance, a remarkable and clearly fruitful creative partnership between seven European documentary festivals. Since launching in 2009, programmers from those orgs have pumped nearly 2,000 titles—often fresh off festival debuts—onto the platform. The resulting catalog and accompanying essays are rich, expert and global.
GET STARTED WITH: Mur Murs (Agnès Varda, 1981)
Giving DAFilms a run for that precious $6.99 is brand-new, UK-based streamer True Story. Aptly named, this platform too has gathered up (largely unseen) documentaries. Even just one month in, it has already acquired a globally minded collection of 100+ slice-of-life films and made space for some enticing festival partnerships—select titles from Tehran’s Cinema Verite Festival and London’s Open City Festival await subscribers.
GET STARTED WITH: Purge This Land (Lee Anne Schmitt, 2017)
If you’re a movie buff, it’s likely you’ve already heard of (and subscribe to) MUBI. But we’ll never miss a chance to sing its praises, just in case anyone isn’t yet privy. A fantastic remedy to the all-too-common content overload, MUBI supplies a rotating library of only 30 titles: a new, first-rate film is added each day, but is cycled out a month later. We kind of love the disciplined approach—the threat of a worthy title expiring helps us avoid procrastination. For cinephiles, the service is as quintessential as they come. A subscription here feels a bit like life-long enrollment in film school, in a good way.
GET STARTED WITH: In My Room (Mati Diop, 2020)
Some streamers highlight diverse titles in their catalog with Pride or Black History month collections. But Fearless, built on “unapologetic inclusivity,” puts content for (and from) underrepresented groups front-and-center all year long. Dive into all types of diverse titles, but most notable is the platform’s deep reserve of LGBTQ+ indies and shorts.
GET STARTED WITH: From Jappan (Raj Trivedi, 2016)
Another streaming service built on principles is newcomer Means TV. Launched only at the beginning of 2020, the streaming service declares a radical mission in a Netflix- and Amazon-dominated industry: it is anti-capitalist, and exists to empower the working class. So … what does this look like? Practically speaking, “no advertisements or product placements … no corporate backers or VC cash.” And creatively speaking, an impressively stacked catalog with themes relevant to everyday people.
GET STARTED WITH: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (Brett Story, 2016)
“Kweli” means “truth” in Swahali, and it’s something that founder DeShuna Spencer felt was missing in mainstream Black entertainment. Too often, the content found on cable and major streamers was U.S.-centric and full of negative stereotypes. So instead, refreshingly, kweliTV aims to reflect the honest, global Black experience. And that it does: shorts and features on kweli (98% of which were screened as official selections at film fests) are from Ghana, Brazil, the UK, Portugal, Mozambique and Cuba, among others.
GET STARTED WITH: La Playa D.C. (Juan Andrés Arango Garcia, 2012)
What do you do after you’ve blown through all of Bong Joon-ho’s films? Get a Viki subscription. Waiting there is not only a mound of classic and indie Korean films, but also high-quality hidden gems from China, Japan and Taiwan.
GET STARTED WITH: A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon, 2017)
Shout! Factory TV
Shout! Factory TV’s catalog might be scrappy and unpredictable, but that’s what we love about it. Without a doubt the go-to for cult classics, it’s filling the hole in our hearts from months of missed midnight movies at the New Beverly.
GET STARTED WITH: The Wasp Woman (Roger Corman, Jack Hill, 1959)
COST: Free with ads, or $2.99/month ad-free
Boasting 300+ Spanish-language movies (and many more scripted series, if you’re into that sort of thing), Pantaya seems to be dominating the Latinx corner of the streaming market. Given that we’re always looking for new content from Latinx creators, we’re not complaining. An added bonus: theatrical titles from Pantelion Films, a partner of the company, sometimes release day-and-date on the platform.
GET STARTED WITH: No Manches Frida (Nacho G. Velilla, 2016)
Founded by First Look Media, Topic has roots in independent journalism and, in fact, used to be a website devoted exclusively to short-form videos, photo essays and illustrations. So it makes sense that the year-old streaming service has become our go-to for provocative doc shorts, as well as generous helpings of gritty, topical indie darlings.
GET STARTED WITH: Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)