Kanopy Is the Best Free Streaming Service You’ve Never Heard Of

Netflix has tons of original movies and shows, and Hulu is the place to go to stream the latest episodes of your favorite network shows right after they air. Amazon Prime Video subscribers can watch acclaimed shows like Emmy-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and older shows from HBO, like The Sopranos and The Wire. But all of the big three streaming subscriptions services are lacking when it come to classic cinema and art house favorites.

Enter Kanopy, a streaming platform that’s filling the void left by the abrupt shuttering of FilmStruck last fall. This lesser-known service has a deep library of Criterion Collection films, newer indie releases, documentaries, foreign films, and more. What’s more, you don’t need to pay a cent to watch any of them.

Kanopy is free through your public library

A scene from the 1919 film Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, one of many movies streaming on Kanopy. | John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Kanopy, which has been around since 2012, partners with more than 4,000 libraries and academic institutions around the U.S. Once users register with their library card, they can stream more than 30,000 movies via any device. To find out if your library offers Kanopy, go to the website and search for your library system by name. (If your library or school isn’t listed, you can fill out a form to request it add the service.)

While Kanopy is free, there are some restrictions on how you can use it. Most notably, you can’t watch as many movies as you want. Instead, you’ll be limited to a certain number of films per month. For example, the Los Angeles Public Library limits users to 10 videos per month. You also need an internet connection to watch movies – they can’t be downloaded to your device.

What kind of movies can you watch on Kanopy?

Kanopy says its mission is to deliver “thoughtful entertainment” for everyone from “film scholars to casual viewers.”

“How we define if a film is a Kanopy film is when the user goes away do they feel challenged, do they think about the world differently, will it spark a conversation, are they enriched,” CEO Olivia Humphrey told Indiewire. “We know from our patrons a lot of our users are not cinephiles, they never studied film, some have said they never watched a film with subtitles before, so being able to extend their range and offer these films is really exciting.”

Kanopy’s philosophy means you can use the service to revisit everything from French New Wave films like Breathless and Jules and Jim, older Hollywood favorites like Saturday Night Fever, early film classics like Metropolis, and newer movies like Moonlight, First Reformed, and The Florida Project. And if you want to delve into documentaries, foreign films, or even take a video course on robotics, you can do that too.

The most popular movies on Kanopy

Lady Bird

As of February 21, the 10 most popular movies on Kanopy were:

  • First Reformed
  • Lady Bird
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post
  • Columbus
  • Moonlight
  • The Squid and the Whale
  • Loving Vincent
  • Seven Samurai
  • Hearts Beat Loud
  • Bicycle Thieves  

The most-watched documentaries on Kanopy included Race: The Power of an Illusion, I Am Not Your Negro, The Mask You Live In, Los Angeles Plays Itself, and the Oscar-nominated Of Fathers and Sons.

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