How many times has this happened to you? You have a specific movie you want to watch, Maybe it’s for inspiration, or research, or just for fun, and you have no idea where you can find it. Figuring out what’s the best way to watch a movie online is one of life’s great lessons.

I wish it was as simple as logging onto Netflix, Amazon, Apple, or Huluand searching. But you’d waste half the runtime referencing their catalogues to figure out what to watch. Now that FilmStruck is dead, it’s even harder to find the classics.

And what if you genuinely have no idea what you should watch? What apps give you the best recommendations for "what should I watch tonight?" And what do those recommendations really say about you? 

While this all seems overwhelming, I took time out of my busy week to really analyze these questions and break down what you should watch tonight, if you can stream it, and where to watch your favorite TV shows and movies. 

Today we’re going to learn the best ways to find movies online. From hidden gems from the 1920s, to current masterpieces, we’ll track down the best legal options to stream your favorites, and even movies you’re about to discover.

Can I Stream It?  

Our collective futures as filmmakers rely on the ability to watch movies on digital platforms becoming more frictionless, more legal, and with more revenue attached. Currently, there are a number of walled gardens, each of which has its limited catalog; the fact that most movie websites aren’t helpful in this regard only makes it worse.

I frequently lie on my couch and lament "what should I watch tonight?" 

But the real deal is, I'm on the apps, scrolling through titles, and the only thing I truly care about is "Can I stream it?"

Lucky for me, and us, there are many new "stream movies online" services that contribute to making it easier to watch movies (legally) as a consumer -- something we as creators depend on to have a sustainable career.

Many streaming services are not known to pay a lot for content, but something is better than nothing, and the more people get used to renting, buying, or just streaming (as opposed to pirating) film content online, the better chance we have of piecing together the necessary revenue to sustain a career (and make our next movie).

Let's be real, the first question we all ask is..."Is it on Netflix?" But what if it's not?!  That’s why I like sites like the conveniently named, Can I Stream It.

It’s a search engine for movie titles. You type in the name of the film, whether it’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, and this site will check all of the available ways to watch it.

Can I Stream It succeeds at aggregating the available options for most titles. It's the first place I start when I know the title I want to watch at that moment.

It’s really the best way to find where you can watch classic movies since their availability can be up in the air. That, or just pay for TCM. They have some streaming available online too.

The titles you find on Can I Stream It may not all be free, but this is a helluva lot faster than individually checking each of your streaming services to see what’s available.

Can I Stream It also has mobile apps, so you can plan out your Netflix and chill on the Uber ride, or even plan a family movie night from your office.

But what if you’re not sure what to watch?

What’s the Best Way To Figure Out what I Want To Watch Tonight?    

When I'm trying to figure out what I want to watch tonight, I like to look at the "recommended titles" page in all the apps. But my recommendations come at a price. Here's the thing...don't tell anyone....but I share a lot of my passwords with friends and family members. Thanks to my generous network, I have subscriptions to almost everything.

While that's great in theory, it sort of eliminates the recommended option when I'm looking for what I should watch tonight. I have like a dozen other people's tastes to compete with. I may not be into Korean horror, but my buddy who shares my Starz account is always clicking on them. And while I'm more of a Game of Thrones dude, I can't stop my younger cousin from obsessively watching Entourage

With all that noise, I need a better way to figure out what I want to watch tonight.   

This should be easy, we can stream movies online with the click of a button. But it's so hard. 

If I’m not sure what I want to watch online, I like a little help. Netflix, Hulu, Apple, and Amazon have okay recommended features, but I like to know if there’s a deadline.

If I’m in the mood for a romantic comedy,  do I need to catch Away We Go right now, and save Mickey Blue Eyes for later? Will Sleepless in Seattle expire before You’ve Got Mail?

Or maybe I just need someone to aggregate the options in front of me?

When I have these struggles with what’s the best way to watch a movie online, I turn to Instant Watcher.  

Not only will Instant Watcher give you recommendations by genre, but it also will tell you which titles are expiring soon, so you can prioritize your binging. That leaves less time to debate "What should I watch tonight" and more time to actually watch a few things. 

I also like MUBI. MUBI is a site that offers hand-selected movies for your tastes. From their site, "Every day our experts introduce you to a film they love and you have a whole month to watch it, so there will always be 30 extraordinary films for you to enjoy."

That means less for you to scroll through, and individual picks catered to your needs. 

Okay, this is great for finding older movies, but where should I look for new titles?

What’s the Best Way To Stream A Recent Movie?

I find that the best way to watch a movie released recently is to pay the extra money to stream it off Amazon or even iTunes. The death of the standalone movie rental house has pushed all the new releases online. 

When you stream movies online, you probably go back to the original notion of "Is it on Netflix," but I want to push you a few other directions. 

But lucky for us, the HBO app has most new releases covered. And you can subscribe to HBO via Amazon, so you can go there for your one-stop shop needs.

If you just want something free to watch, Crackle is a great spot. Some of the releases are lesser known, but Crackle lets you stream TV shows and movies for free. So you’ll have some extra money to spend on snacks and popcorn. And extra time to decide what you should watch tonight. 

Sometimes I forget when certain movies and TV shows are coming out, or hitting home video.     

An app that was released recently that lets you add reminders for TV shows and movies coming out is the Airtime app. That way you know when to look on your streaming service for your faves.

Airtime lets you track when you can login and stream movies and tv for free, or with one of your paid services. 

What if you really want a classic. Like Best Years Of Our Lives classic...?

What’s the Best Way To Stream A Classic Movie?

As we covered on the blog, FilmStruck is dead. Finding a classic film without cable can be especially hard. You can try Can I Stream It, but their service is best used for newer films and television. The fact is, the idea to stream movies online doesn't help much with the golden and silver eras of filmmaking. 

Most streaming channels focus on new and exciting things. That means the classics that inspired this generation of filmmakers have been left by the wayside.

Enter PopcornFlix, Pureflix, and YouTube.

YouTube may be your preferred place to watch hilarious shorts, but it’s also a wonderful place to find foreign films and some classics. A lot of them even stream tv shows for free. And they stream some movies for free too. 

Pureflix focuses on all kinds of cinema, but they have an extensive classic catalogue. It’s sortable, searchable, and the heir apparent for Filmstruck. You can stream movies online and really boost your classical film knowledge. 

Popcornflix is more about hidden gems. While it’s not purely looking for classic titles, it does service lesser-known classics that you may have missed during their theatrical run. 

We can always hope the Criterion Collection launches their own streaming service as well. And we’ll keep an eye out for wherever they go next.

Summing Up Can I Stream It? And What Movie Should I Watch Tonight?

As I mentioned in the opener, the industry is changing. Streaming is now the choice of lots of new releases, but it can be hard to find older titles and to search which sites house which titles. We all live and die by "Is it on Netflix," but the way we move forward is communicating with each other and the apps about what we want and need. And finding those awesome sites and browser extensions that optimize our streaming experiences. 

Whether it’s movies, TV shows, or even short films, you should be able to find your entertainment easily. I frequently find myself googling, “what’s the best way to stream a movie,” so I hope this article aggregates everything you’re looking for when it comes to streaming sites.

If you have suggestions or comments, leave them below. No Film School is a worldwide community dedicated to helping fellow filmmakers find their voices, and the movies they want to see. I’m excited to hear your feedback and to get some hot tips on where else I can stream my favorite titles. Especially the free sites!