With over 100 million subscribers each, Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney Plus have established themselves as the world’s biggest movie and television streaming services. And though each platform hosts countless hours of quality content, their libraries are built around crowd-pleasing fare.
In fairness, those subscription video-on-demand services (SVODs) are smart to focus on mainstream films and shows. We like offbeat material, but we love rewatching classic sitcoms and dramas and indulging in low-calorie sequels, remakes, and blockbusters.
However, a few SVODs exist to highlight idiosyncratic and challenging movies and TV series.
As suggested by its foreboding name, Shudder is dedicated to horror, thriller, and supernatural media. That includes landmark films like John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and shows like AMC’s Joe Hill adaptation, “NOS4A2.” But its catalog includes more obscure, subversive, and bizarre content not available anywhere else.
For instance, Shudder features “Tigers Are Not Afraid,” a film that infuses fantasy elements into a bleak crime drama. It also hosts “One Cut of the Dead,” a comedy about making a zombie film amid the onset of a zombie apocalypse. And “Mandy,” a Nicholas Cage-led psychedelic revenge thriller that has to be seen to be believed.
The SVOD also has a range of compelling TV and podcast content.
“Channel Zero” is an anthology series that turns Internet urban legends into spellbinding explorations of modern anxieties. “Cursed Films” is a captivating documentary show that details the tragic circumstances behind the making of five Hollywood hits. In addition, “Darkest Night,” an audio drama narrated by “Guardian of the Galaxy’s” Lee Pace, highlights the medium’s versatility.
Shudder is available for $5.99 a month or $54.99 for a one-year subscription.
Shout! Factory TV
Shout! Factory TV is an SVOD that features movies and shows that could best be described as classic, cult, or campy.
As a free, ad-supported service, the platform hosts an amble amount of low-rent schlock, such as the seven-part “Bloodfist” saga. However, it contains hidden gems like “The Stunt Man,” an Academy Award-nominated black comedy about a fugitive who makes the mistake of hiding out on a movie set. The SVOD also presents George Romero’s motorcycle jousting allegory “Knightriders,” the genre-bending thriller “The Prisoner,” and the hugely influential police drama “Dragnet.”
It is also home to several episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and the nearly forgotten ’90s teen opera, “Swan Crossing.”
Shout! Factory TV’s offerings are not for everybody, but its content is rarely boring and occasionally transcendent.
A niche streaming service among niche streaming services, VRV showcases animated content produced or distributed by WarnerMedia.
The SVOD’s main attraction is that it gives users access to Crunchyroll’s library, including anime megahits like “One Piece” and “Attack on Titan.” It also hosts HIDIVE, another anime-centric channel; Mondo Media, an adult animation hub; Cartoon Hangover, the online home of “Bravest Warriors;” and Rooster Teeth, the studio behind “RWBY” and “Red vs. Blue.”
VRV’s greatest strength is its value proposition. For $9.99 a month, subscribers can check out ad-free material from five SVODs that would cost $25.95 individually. To sweeten the pot, it also features an assortment of other non-animated media, such as installments of RiffTrax and the entirety of the science-fiction drama, “Killjoys.”
Given its area of focus, VRV is unlikely ever to join the 100 million subscriber club. However, its vast reservoir of content, well-indexed search function, and 30-day free trial make it worth recommending. For the uninitiated, starting with something that sounds familiar and figuring your preferences from there is a good strategy.
The Criterion Channel
The Criterion Channel, operated by the Criterion Collection home video company, features over 1,000 movies.
The service describes its library as “important classic and contemporary films,” but that description is somewhat lacking. Its offerings are not the cinematic equivalent of unseasoned chicken breasts or steel-cut oats. The platform hosts art-house mainstays like “8 ½” and “The 400 Blows,” but it also presents more accessible fare like “Rock ‘n Roll High School,” “Frances Ha,” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”
The Criterion Channel provides users with access to more than just theatrical releases. Its library contains works that initially premiered on television, such as period drama “Fanny and Alexander,” political mockumentary “Tanner ’88,” and “Fishing with John,” a gorgeous and hilarious travelogue.
The SVOD is filled with original programs, behind-the-scenes featurettes, director’s commentaries, and cast and crew interviews. That material provides invaluable context as to what makes Criterion’s films and series so special.
At $10.99 per month or $99 a year, the Criterion Channel is the most expensive subscription streaming service on this list. But it is also the only one to let users watch David Lynch and Jackie Chan’s best films back-to-back.