As the streaming business grows like a multi-tentacled beast, it's harder to find what you really want to watch, and for the right price.
Movies and shows seem to constantly switch between streaming services, and now Disney and Apple are in on the game. (Want to rewatch The Little Mermaid or the original Lion King? Time to pony up for the just-launched Disney Plus — or learn how to stream it for free.) And who wants to pay hefty on-demand fees to rent or buy something you might not like, or that simply serves as a nostalgia trip?
I've finally found a solution. The aptly named JustWatch makes this mess more navigable. The free app, along with its desktop site, aggregates data from dozens of streaming services. You type in what you want to watch, and JustWatch provides a breakdown of which streaming outlets currently have the film or series, with a direct link to watch.
The results are sorted by price, and even extend to lesser-known but beloved services such as Tubi, The Criterion Channel, and Shudder, which sometimes have more niche selections. If you're ready to commit, JustWatch also displays where you can digitally rent or buy movies and shows on platforms like Amazon and Apple.
‘Every single way to watch a film’
“There's always been this promise from streaming-box makers like Apple and Amazon [with the Apple TV and Fire TV, respectively] that their movie search functions hunt out the best place to watch a movie no matter the service. But that's never the case,” says Ryan Patrick, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. “They either prioritize their service or they don't have a certain app on their device where the movie might be cheaper. JustWatch cuts all through that. Every single way to watch a film is right there.”
In other words, it’s not about partnerships or sponsorships, but about fulfilling the basic consumer desire for the lowest price.
“Sometimes I don't need to watch the 4K UHD (or even HD) version of a film,” Patrick adds. “JustWatch shows you all the different quality options and their price differences, too.”
And in its “cinema” section, JustWatch displays both new and old movies that are in theaters, from the multiplex to more cinephile-friendly venues.
“If an arthouse is showing an old film, it shows you movie times on the same page,” Patrick notes. “No other service does that.”
The price sorting goes particularly deep on JustWatch. In addition to the side-by-side service comparisons, the app offers a Price Drops section that tells you, for instance, that as of November 14, you can buy an HD digital version of the Oscar-winning space drama Gravity on Amazon for $7.99, a markdown of 47% off the original price of $14.99.
You can add movies and shows to your WatchList to get alerts about availability and pricing. And the New and Popular section highlights titles that are trending at the moment.
What to do if you're seeking the classics
When I started digging through JustWatch, I was surprised to find that some of my favorite, inarguably great movies are completely unavailable in the digital ether: the original Dawn of the Dead, David Lynch’s Nicolas Cage-starring Wild at Heart, Kevin Smith’s cult comedy Dogma. (OK, maybe Dogma isn’t a great movie, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.)
While JustWatch has no remedy for unavailable titles, it's somewhat comforting to know that I could call off my scroll search and move onto something else (like, say, the underrated Dead sequel Day of the Dead, or the comedic delights of the UK series Peep Show on Hulu).
JustWatch has a few shortcomings: The app tends to lag even on my new iPhone XR, and sometimes a results page will freeze, showing a loading sign, which requires closing and reopening the app. And while I was checking showtimes and prices for tickets to the new Stephen King movie adaptation Doctor Sleep, the JustWatch site seemed to think I live in Berlin. (I’m in Los Angeles.) The theater results, provided through Fandango, need the most fixing.
These bugs get frustrating, but they’re a minor annoyance compared to the convenience of figuring out the best and cheapest way to watch exactly what you want right now. The days of hunting down your favorite movie or show from 1976 or 2002 or last month are finally over.