The Best Apps to Stream Free Movies on Android – January 2018
We all know about the Netflix’s and Hulu’s of the world. Nearly every streaming platform out there requires an $8 to $12 monthly fee for access to their rotating library of films and television shows. And sure, paying for one or two streaming platforms is affordable enough, but to gain the widest variety of access, you’ll need to add in HBO, Showtime, and six or seven other platforms to your collection. Soon enough, you’re paying $80 to $90 a month just to stream movies to your phone—and even then, you still have to deal with their rotating libraries of movies and TV shows, not to mention the cost of your internet access just to load the sites on your smartphone or computer.
Luckily for us, there are a bunch of free-streaming apps on Android that let you watch their collection of films for free, while being supported financially with ad breaks during the film. Sure, advertisement breaks in a film aren’t great, but for some users, it’s a world better than paying $10.99 a month for access to Netflix. We’ve tested a bunch of different streaming applications on Android, to check for quality and performance, as well as legality. Nearly every application on our list is both legal and downloadable from the Play Store—with two notable exceptions we’ll highlight at the bottom of the list.
So, if you’re tired of overpaying for streaming apps, and you don’t mind putting up with a few advertisements during the film, come along and join us for our roundup of the best streaming movie apps available right now on Android.
If you’re looking for the best free streaming app out there for films, with the fewest advertisements and best overall selection of films, you’ll want to check out Tubi TV. It isn’t a perfect application, and its library isn’t nearly as large as Netflix’s, but for the price, you can’t argue with the selection of legally-obtained films available on the platform. It might not be a replacement for the streaming services you do pay for, but it’s a good addition to your collection of streaming apps.
Tubi TV’s setup is easy; creating an account is fast and simple, and the app also supports Facebook login. We would’ve preferred seeing Google login support as well, but we didn’t have any issues quickly signing up for an account with our email. Once you’ve logged in, the app layout is similar to Netflix’s own. At the top of your display, you’ll see a rotating carousel of “featured” films, along with screen caps from those selections. Below this, you’ll see several helpful categories to access: “Most Popular,” which happen to show some of the most notable films on the platform; “Leaving Soon!”, which display movies that will soon leave the service in exchange for new titles; and “Trending,” which show a good selection of films you might not be familiar with, along with some popular cult favorites.
The app also has a slide-out menu to the left of the display, which allows you to browse by category, as well as a “News Feed” feature that, while could be helpful for showing upcoming films in the future, simply displayed a “We have no updates. Please check again later” posting. Tubi has a huge list of categories in this sliding menu. The standard genres are all here: drama, comedy, thrillers, horror, and action. You can sort by “Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes” or “Fan Favorites.” The app also had a Sundance” category, that displayed some of our favorite classic film titles to come out of the festival that may be a bit too niche to end up in the “Popular” category. Included here were films like The Skeleton Twins, starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader; Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, a documentary about the Russian feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot; Like Crazy, a well-received romantic-drama starring the late, great Anton Yelchin; The Imposter, a critically-acclaimed documentary about a man who claims to be the long-missing son of a family in Texas; and Sunshine Cleaning, starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt.
The Sundance category replaced the Cannes film festival that was in the app when we first reviewed it last summer, presumably because Sundance is a winter festival and Cannes is a summer festival. Because of that change, films like Oldboy from Chan-wook Park and Dogville from Lars Von Trier were moved to different categories, so don’t be surprised to see these films changed in due time. Still, it’s great to see some solid films show up for free on Tubi, with only limited commercial interruption standing in the way of you watching the film.
But we here you. Maybe you aren’t looking for this festival fare, no matter how impressed we were with the collection of films. Don’t worry, there’s something for everyone here. Flipping through the “Most Popular” category, we found films like Empire State starring The Rock; Nicholas Cage’s drama Joe, directed by David Gordon-Green; The Wild Thornberrys Movie; the original 1980s Red Dawn, famous for being the first film rated PG-13; Agent Cody Banks starring Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff; Richard Linklater’s crowd-pleasing ode to rock and roll School of Rock; the Coen Brothers’ western-drama True Grit, and so much more. Diving into the genre sections on the side tab gave us even more selections, from Clear and Present Danger in the action category to Suspiria in the horror category. In the “Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes” category, you can find films like The Machinist, Bound, and The Little Shop of Horrors.
While every category had its fair share of dreck and poorly-conceived titles, the weakest genre of all on the platform was “Family,” only offering films like Igor, Imagine That, and the Fred movies, based on the 2000s-era YouTube series. There were a few highlights in the category, but they were few and far between, offering a limited section for users looking for something the whole family can enjoy. That said, if you’re looking for a film to put on just for the kids, there are some decent colorful distractions offered up on the platform.
Like Netflix, the app has the ability to add films to a queue, so you can build a playlist of films to enjoy at a later date; your queue is accessible from the aforementioned slide-out menu to the left of the display. In terms of settings, you aren’t looking at much to write home about: you can enable or disable push notifications, choose to keep the app in landscape mode, and enable captions for films—that’s it.
As far as the actual experience of watching films went, it was solid, if imperfect. For the most part, films start right up as expected. The playback screen is clean and simplified, with a timeline for scrolling through the film, a pause/play button, and the ability to choose the quality of your film based on kilobits per second. A higher bitrate per second (kbps) is better quality; by default, the streaming quality is left on automatic, and seems to be on par or a bit below what you’d expect from something like Netflix—good, not great. On a couple streaming attempts, we experienced the odd error or two before the film actually began playing.
Because Tubi is a free, ad-supported app, we did run into our fair share of advertisements while watching films. The amount of interruptions seemed to be on par with something like Hulu’s free streaming tier: two-to-three 30 second ad placements every twenty minutes or so. Skipping around the movie caused ad breaks to begin immediately, as we expected. Overall, ad breaks weren’t too bad; we found two complaints of note. First, the ad breaks themselves were a bit jarring and unexpected while watching the film. During certain films—specifically horror or thriller-based movies—it had the consequence of basically creating a jump scare of its own. The good news for the ads: clicking on the video during an ad break didn’t cause the advertisement to open inside your device’s web browser, so there was no worry of accidentally leaving the app.
Here’s the bottom line on Tubi: it’s a great alternative and addition to something like Netflix, offering a selection of favorites and cult classics alike. The ads weren’t perfect, but they were some of the more bearable we’ve seen on any free streaming app. And the legality of Tubi TV pleased us as well, with businessmen from companies like Fox and Lionsgate supporting the application and sitting on the board. With new content added every week, there’s no reason not to keep Tubi TV installed on your device.
Of all the apps on this list, you’ve probably heard the most about Crackle, which comes directly from Sony Pictures and offers a large selection of streaming movies, as well as original content in a similar fashion to Netflix or Hulu, albeit at a lesser quality. Crackle’s library isn’t quite up to snuff with the offerings from Tubi TV, but with a large library of television shows added to the collection, as well as some great titles if you’re willing to dig through Crackle’s own categories, you’re bound to find something you like on Sony’s streaming service.
Unlike Tubi, Crackle doesn’t require an account to begin browsing and watching content on the service. You can log into the service with either a standard Crackle account or your Facebook account, though there isn’t any support for Google login. You don’t need the account to use the service, but it is required to watch movies restricted beyond an age gate, and to make watchlists within the service. Once you launch the app for the first time, you’ll find a similar, cleaner layout for finding content. At the top of the display is an auto-rotating carousel of highlighted content, though I found most of the space to be a waste—unless you’re a big fan of all four (yes, there are four) Scorpion King movies, you won’t find much here.
Below the carousel is a much longer list of Crackle’s best content, according to their own popularity ratings. There are some hits here—Annabelle and The Shining are both excellent films in their own right, and Army of Darkness is boatloads of campy fun from director Sam Raimi. Since originally publishing this article, shows like Seinfeld have been pulled from the online network altogether, though you’ll still be able to find a solid amount of television series here as well. Shows like Happy Endings offer full seasons, while Heroes and its spinoff Heroes Reborn are able to be viewed in their entire run (four seasons and one season, respectively). That said, it does seem like Crackle has built out their library a bit more since we originally reviewed the app over the summer. Thanks to a full revised listing of their app, it’s far easier to find new content in the Movies and TV show tabs respectively, than it is on the front page.
That said, once you’re inside each tab on your device, you can use the drop-down menus on each category to look for more specific types of shows and movies. Changing the Movies tab to display “New to Old,” for example, gave some new results for us to view, including Dead Rising Endgame and Joe Dirt 2, both of which are Crackle originals. But unlike with Tubi TV, it was difficult to immediately find movies worth watching, both for general audiences and film buffs alike. The Karate Kid, Can’t Hardly Wait, and Wes Anderson’s directorial debut Bottle Rocket were some select standouts among the popular titles, as was hit Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption, though at the time of writing, all of these were just under a week away from expiring. The more you explore through Crackle’s line up and genre list, the more titles you find worth watching: Stand By Me, Last Action Hero, and Insidious all were found in separate categories, but overall, the amount of films actually worth watching was far lower than Tubi TV’s own lineup, especially if you’re looking to catch up on classics you might’ve missed.
The television section was a bit of a similar bag, though there were some fine selections in here. Much like with the previously-mentioned Happy Endings, most of Crackle’s television shows only have select episodes or seasons available for streaming, though there are some shows that can be tough to find on other platforms at all. We were delighted to see the woefully-underrated NewsRadio had season two available for streaming, and cult classics like Patrick Warburton’s before-its-time The Tick and endlessly-quotable The Critic were here as well. Unfortunately, Crackle’s fondness of only highlighting certain seasons of shows meant that it could be difficult to watch or start shows you hadn’t seen before. Norman Lear’s groundbreaking All in the Family is here, but only offers late-in-the-game season eight for streaming. Likewise, The Shield is oft-considered one of the most groundbreaking and important television shows of the 2000s, but you won’t want to start watching the show on Crackle: the streaming service only offers seasons three and four.
We also found disappointment with the lineup of family-friendly movies. Looking through the entire Crackle catalog for May, only films like The Karate Kid and, in a stretch, Look Who’s Talking could be considered appropriate for a family movie night. Sony Pictures has an independent animation division, with hit films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania made under the company’s umbrella of corporations; we’re unsure why Sony hasn’t added any of these films to the lineup of streaming films on Crackle, but it’s unfortunate. With the built-in support of an animation house, there’s no reason Sony couldn’t outdo Netflix and Hulu at their own game. The closest Crackle comes to highlighting their animated works is the streaming trailer for the upcoming Emoji Movie.
Playback on Crackle was about as smooth and fluid as it was on Tubi TV. Quality was left in auto mode, without the ability to change the bitrate, making it not a great match for mobile streaming. One benefit to Crackle’s player: the timeline shows when ads will play, which means ad breaks are less surprising than we found on Tubi’s own player. Ads also seemed to be placed in more strategic places than we’d previously seen in Tubi, though it wasn’t perfect: the first ad break on the Karate Kid seemed to be placed between scenes, but the second scene began to play before cutting away to a series of five advertisements, far more than we’d seen in our testing of Tubi. Ads were also nationally-played advertisements for products like McDonalds and Lipton tea, as opposed to the local ads we’d seen in our former tests.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention Crackle’s own original content, created to combat the ongoing assault of great media between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Unfortunately, this just isn’t an arena Crackle is competing in: their biggest original movie to date is Joe Dirt 2, a sequel to the early-2000s David Spade comedy that used to get a lot of play during weekday mornings on Comedy Central. Their original series aren’t much better, with a Charlie Sheen-starring vehicle recently premiering, as well as the aforementioned Snatch adaptation that gained weak reviews when it premiered in March of last year.
Overall, Crackle is a good-not-great addition to your streaming pantheon, and it’s a good app to use if you’re looking to spend as little as possible on streaming services monthly. But it can’t compete with the likes of Tubi TV on its lineup, even if the films have a habit of staying on the project a lot longer than its competitors. The small lineup of films and shows has some gems, but the content just isn’t there, and the ad breaks are nearly twice as long as Tubi. If you use even one paid streaming service—whether it be Netflix, Hulu, or something else entirely—it’s a better idea to use Tubi as your supplemental free service instead of Crackle. But if you’re determined to only use free services, Crackle is a good one to add to your home screen, even if it’s library of content leaves a lot to be desired.
Popcornflix is a streaming service similar to Tubi TV, but both the content library and the layout of the film leave a lot to be desired. There are some films on here worth watching that you won’t find on other services—The Burbs, The Manchurian Candidate, and Clue are some decent standouts—a lot of the library is very similar to what we saw earlier when exploring Tubi TV. The family sections is severely lacking, filled with old and forgotten cartoons like The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and The Legend of Zelda, and both comedy and drama genres alike leave a lot to be desired in their lineups, with no major titles not already available on Crackle or Tubi. Most of the titles here won’t register to most users, with a large portion of the titles available simply not familiar outside of specific genre circles. Playback was smooth enough, with less commercial interruption than Crackle, and the timeline did show when advertisements would appear during the stream of the films. But a streaming app is only as good as its library of available titles, and Popcornflix leaves a lot to be desired there. It’s worth installing to check out forgotten and misbegotten horror and western titles from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but overall, you won’t find much here that can’t be done better elsewhere.
MovieFlix, with its similar name, falls into a similar category of streaming application as Popcornflix: a poor user interface and a lacking lineup. As usual, there are some titles worth highlighting—we were delighted to see Mike Birbiglia’s comedy special What I Should Have Said was Nothing on here, and Hitchcock’s Psycho was one of the older highlight’s we’ve seen while reviewing streaming apps. But MovieFlix has two major problems with the application: first, even more so than Popcornflix, the content lineup here was either made up of forgotten 60’s and 70’s films like Shark! and Constantine and the Cross, or modern, direct-to-DVD titles like Burning Dead and Exorcist Chronicles. Second, the app only managed to play back a film for us once—nearly every time we hit the Watch Movie button on a title, regardless of which title, the app would crash and return us to the home screen. When we did finally manage to get Psycho playing, the video player was buggy and nigh-impossible to use or control. MovieFlix is still updated relatively regularly, but overall, we’d caution against using this one—it was unstable and particularly not enjoyable to use.
Viewster’s a bit of an outlier when it comes to free movie streaming apps, because its collection of streaming films and TV shows really only fits one niche audience: fans of obscure anime and Korean dramas. While other apps we tested typically list at least a few blockbuster-level productions, Viewster is exclusively focused on highlighting anime, as well as web content fans of anime might enjoy. Browsing through the selections of streaming content, there were a few titles recognizable to anyone who’s even flirted with the anime fandom, including Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Kill la Kill. But beyond a couple recognizable titles, Viewster is a whole lot of nothing. Outside of their animated efforts, they have a selection of unknown Korean dramas (or K-dramas) and some D-grade horror titles including, in all seriousness, Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned and Redneck County Fever. Yikes. Outside of these “films,” you’ll find some curated content pulled from YouTube channels like “The Escapist,” “SMOSH games,” and “Tekking101.” Even if you’re a fan of any of these contributors, there’s no reason to watch their videos on Viewster as opposed to YouTube, which offers a better video experience. Viewster isn’t a bad app, but unless you fit into one of the small groups of people interested in some unknown selections of anime and bad mid-2000’s digital films, you’re better off elsewhere.
This one’s a bit of a cheat, since technically speaking, Amazon Instant Video is not free—it requires a $99/year Amazon Prime membership. It squeaks into the list though, because depending on how much you use Amazon to order assorted goods, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that it’s an included benefit with your two-day shipping, instead of a platform by itself. If you’re looking to spend absolutely nothing on streaming, regardless of what comes with the purchase, you’ll want to look elsewhere on our list. But for your $99, Amazon Instant Video is a great way to gain access to a good streaming service while also being able to use two-day free shipping, Amazon Music, and a bunch of other Prime-exclusive features. Instant Video has a ton of great films and shows up for streaming currently, including Manchester by the Sea, The Big Sick, Iron Man, and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since the service is bundled in your Prime membership, there aren’t any advertisements to speak of here. And Amazon has some great exclusive shows like Catastrophe, Transparent, and The Grand Tour. One sour note here: the app doesn’t support Chromecast, though rumors abound that it’s coming to the app sooner than later. More importantly, the app is finally able to be accessed through the Google Play Store. Overall, Instant Video is a great app if you already have Amazon Prime as an annual subscription but haven’t check out their streaming library yet.
This is a tough situation, because not including an app as popular as Showbox would certainly detract from our list, but Showbox also isn’t exactly a legal free streaming application. So, we include Showbox with one major caveat: use this application at your own legal risk. Showbox is an application for Android that hosts streams or downloads of major movies and TV shows, including recent major Hollywood releases. Showbox is and should be treated as a piracy app, often hosting streams with hardcoded Korean subtitles familiar to those who have pirated content in the past decade or so. The streams hosted are not ad-supported, though the app itself does have a banner advertisement at the bottom of the screen, a bit shady considering the legality of the application. The app requires a sideload APK, as Google doesn’t allow apps with pirated material onto the Play Store. The app itself is usable, and certainly a better experience than using something like Movieflix, but overall, we can’t give Showbox a recommendation because of the illegal content hosted on its servers. Use at your own risk.
If Showbox is a shady site to stream movies for free to your smartphone, Popcorn Time takes it to a whole new level. If you’re unfamiliar with Popcorn Time, the original version was popular in the early 2010s, used to stream torrents over the web instead of having to download a copy each time to your computer. Though the original app was shut down in 2014, several different versions of Popcorn Time have sprung up in their place, and perhaps most importantly, an Android version has come with it. Unsurprisingly, Google hasn’t allowed Popcorn Time to list the app in the Play Store, thanks to its ability to pirate content instantly, but the app is available from outside the Play Store using the app’s own website. The app has a modern Android interface that makes it easy to browse new releases for both movies and television shows. In fact, browsing through the app is incredibly similar to navigating Google Play Movies, which makes watching films through the app feel natural. Clicking on a selection for each film shows a gorgeous display of information, including fan reviews, trailers, and more. It’s important to keep remember that, like Showbox, Popcorn Time is incredibly illegal to use, and your ISP could very well land you in hot water for using it. Still, it’s available to those looking for an option to watch content on their phones.