While many people have been quickly abandoning physical media in favor of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, classic cinema enthusiasts have largely been left out. With a few exceptions, most mainstream streaming services typically favor more modern movies, meaning fans of classic film have mostly been forced to stick to their DVDs, blu-rays, and even VHS tapes if they want to watch something made prior to the 1970s. But FilmStruck fills a major gap that had existed in the world of movie streaming services.
FilmStruck is a streaming service curated by Turner Classic Movies that launched in November 2016. Targeting fans of classic cinema, foreign films, and cult movies, FilmStruck features a wide range of movies from the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, Kino Lorber, Milestone, and more. I signed up for the service the day it became available for Roku players, so by now, I’ve been using it for several months and have had plenty of time to get familiar with all that it has to offer. And I can safely say that it is, by far, my favorite movie streaming service.
As a FilmStruck subscriber, you have your choice of two subscription tiers: the basic tier which gives you access to the main FilmStruck service and a more expensive one that gives you access to the Criterion Channel in addition to the main FilmStruck section. The whole idea of being able to stream movies from the Criterion Collection was one of the things that interested me most about FilmStruck, so naturally, I went with the option to get the Criterion Channel.
Regardless of which subscription service you choose, you’ll have a huge variety of movies and extra features to enjoy. While you can always just search for a specific movie, actor, director, or genre, one of the things I love most about FilmStruck is the fact that movies are also grouped together based on a common theme. This is such a great way to discover new movies. In the time that I’ve been using it, I’ve seen FilmStruck do spotlights with themes like punk films, films by Powell & Pressburger, Howard Hawks screwball comedies, movies made by Vivien Leigh before Gone With the Wind, LGBTQ movies, British noir, and directorial debuts, just to name a few. There’s also a Cinema Passport series which highlights movies made in different countries around the world. It’s worth noting that all the spotlights I just mentioned were/are available on the basic FilmStruck service, so even if you don’t go for the Criterion-level subscription, you’re still getting a lot of amazing programming. In addition to the movies, some titles have extra features such as introductions, scene commentaries, trailers, and featurettes.
With the Criterion Channel, you’re able to stream a selection of movies released by the Criterion Collection, complete with all the bonus features included on the DVD/blu-ray release. If you’re a big fan of Criterion Collection discs like I am and often find yourself wishing you could check a disc out before buying it, this lets you have a chance to do just that.
The Criterion Channel also features a lot of original content and special features not available on the basic FilmStruck service. My personal favorite is the weekly Friday Double Feature, which suggests a pairing of movies that share a common theme. This is something I never even knew I wanted in a streaming service until FilmStruck came along. But now every Friday when I get home from work, one of the first things I do is check to see what the new double feature is because there’s a very good chance it could be what I’ll end up watching that night. They also do something similar on Tuesdays where they pair a short film and a feature-length movie.
Like most other streaming services, movies are only available on FilmStruck for a limited amount of time. But I’ve consistently been impressed by how frequently new movies are added to the service. I also greatly appreciate the fact that both basic FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel have a list of the movies that will leaving soon. I’m sure many of you have experienced the disappointment of adding a movie or show to your watchlist on other services, only to have it disappear from the service without warning, so this is a big help. There’s also a list of movies that have recently been added, which is great. On the main FilmStruck section, there’s even a list of movies that are recommended for you.
On the whole, I really don’t have any complaints about FilmStruck. I’m extremely happy with the variety of movies it offers, I love the original features, and the themed collections are very interesting. Perhaps the only criticism I have of it is that I find it easier to browse its contents by either going to the website or by using the mobile app, but I can also say the same thing about Netflix. All in all, this is the streaming service I’d been waiting for. I’m still a huge fan of physical media, but FilmStruck is an excellent way to discover movies, whether you’re just starting to explore these sorts of movies or you’ve been a fan of these sorts of movies for years.
Update: Very shortly after publishing this review, it was announced that FilmStruck was partnering with Warner Brothers and that all content from the Warner Archive Instant streaming platform would be moving over to FilmStruck. They also launched the new TCM Select collection, which features a rotating selection of major golden age classics like Casablanca, Now Voyager, and And American in Paris. Like watching on TCM, movies in this collection feature an introduction from Ben Mankiewicz, as well as other related video clips from the TCM archives.
These new features and partnerships have already brought a lot of valuable content to the service. Today, I came home from work to see a great collection of Bette Davis movies had been added, as well as all the Astaire/Rogers movies. These are all available on the main FilmStruck platform, so this is another great example of how much amazing stuff you get access to even with the basic subscription option.