FilmStruck Fans Shouldn’t Expect the New Criterion Channel to Replace It

You could find the films of late director Bernardo Bertolucci on FilmStruck, but those without the Criterion treatment won’t make the cut on the new channel. | Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a streaming service, the recently departed FilmStruck had problems. For starters, its layout differed in strange ways on a computer versus devices like Roku. Meanwhile, tech glitches and outages were common. Also, its customer service bordered on horrendous.

But none of that really mattered. For film lovers, no other content provider could come close to FilmStruck. You could get a full education in Italian cinema over the course of a month of viewings. In between those Pasolini, De Sica, and Bertolucci screenings, you could take in Withnail and I or a Takeshi Kitano gem from the ’80s. There were always more great films than you had time to watch.

In brief, FilmStruck was what every classic film fan always wanted at a reasonable price. So, naturally, Warner Bros. killed it without a second thought in late 2018. That was the bad news.

But wasn’t there good news, too? Wouldn’t an upcoming Criterion Channel be replacing FilmStruck in spring 2019? Conventional wisdom said so, at least. There was just one problem: The Criterion Channel doesn’t seem to have the FilmStruck library, and so it would be impossible for the service to replace it.

FilmStruck had the TCM library. Criterion won’t.

One of the odd/confusing things about FilmStruck was the options the service gave you once you decided to subscribe. You could get a) FilmStruck only or b) a package that included a Criterion Channel as well. Each option had a different price. After inspecting the library of both, you’d see that FilmStruck alone would be fine, and that Criterion would add on enough that you’d be happy paying the extra $3-$4 every month.

This inelegant packaging hints at the limitations a Criterion Channel will have. FilmStruck had access to the estimable Turner Classic Movie vaults, which is owned by Warner Bros. Without that collection, FilmStruck would not have been a viable streaming service.

Certainly, Criterion’s strong library of offerings served as an excellent complement, but it was never something you’d pay $12 a month for on its own. Moving forward, it appears Warner will remain in control the TCM collection while the Criterion Channel will make do with its own library.

Contacted by The Cheat Sheet, Criterion did not respond to inquiries about how it would replace the TCM archive. All things considered, it doesn’t bode well for the upcoming Criterion Channel, which we’ve already seen a few times.

They already tried a Criterion Channel — twice.

Film director Federico Fellini (left) with actors Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni at the premiere of the film ‘La Dolce Vita’ in Rome, February 8th 1960. | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While FilmStruck subscribers likely realized the limitations of The Criterion Channel on the service, it wasn’t the first people saw of it. An earlier incarnation rolled out on Hulu circa 2011. Hulu subscribers may (or may not) recall the limited number of titles and somewhat haphazard presentation of the great Criterion films back then.

The second time around, Criterion wanted you to know it was a worthy addition to a FilmStruck-only subscription. However, it was never a standalone option. That tells us nearly everything we need to know.

But what about the third incarnation coming to internet-enabled screens in the first half of 2019? According to the channel announcement:

The Criterion Channel will be picking up where the old service left off, programming director spotlights and actor retrospectives featuring major Hollywood and international classics and hard-to-find discoveries from around the world, complete with special features like commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and original documentaries.

We will continue with our guest programmer series, Adventures in Moviegoing. Our regular series like Art-House America, Split Screen, and Meet the Filmmakers, and our Ten Minutes or Less section will all live on, along with Tuesday’s Short + Feature and the Friday Night Double Feature, and of course our monthly fifteen-minute film school, Observations on Film Art.

All that sounds fine, but we’d guess most FilmStruck users didn’t subscribe for the DVD extras. Most came for the feature films. Still, there was a hint that the TCM/Warner library might open up and/or come along with Criterion’s offerings at a later date.

Our library will also be available through WarnerMedia’s new consumer platform when it launches late next year, so once both services are live, Criterion fans will have even more ways to find the films they love.

So all hope isn’t lost for FilmStruck lovers. The thing is — and we hope we’re wrong — it doesn’t appear The Criterion Channel will be that solution in the coming months.

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!