- Criterion Collection films are available for on-demand streaming.
- For mobile devices, downloads can be done offline.
- There are no ads.
- There are numerous video extras, such as interviews, features, and other commentaries.
- Not all movies from the Criterion Collection are available to stream.
- There are no parental controls or user profiles.
- There are certain DRM and HDCP restrictions that are very strict.
If you’re not a fan of modern cinema, check out The Criterion Channel, a video streaming service dedicated to film fans. This Criterion Channel provides on-demand access to The Criterion Collection, which was previously only available via Hulu and the now-defunct FilmStruck service. For the most content, the Criterion Channel offers offline downloads as well as absolute HD streaming.
The main flaw is that it does not have any Criterion Collection film. While a monthly selected list of films can cater to the service’s serious film scholars, it also means that certain films may not be available when you choose to watch them. In any case, this service is definitely your best choice for a deep dive into the domestic and international cinema for film buffs.
What Exactly Is the Criterion Collection?
The Criterion Collection is “dedicated to publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world in editions that provide the best technical quality and award-winning, original supplements,” according to their mission statement. The organization hopes that by restoring these works, people will be able to fully appreciate them.
There are two ways to watch films from the Criterion Collection. The first option is to buy a Blu-Ray or DVD copy of the film. A Blu-Ray costs $39.95 and a DVD costs $29.95 for most of the movies I looked at. Despite this, several Blu-Rays and DVDs were on sale at the time of my review. A Criterion Channel subscription, which costs $10.99 per month or $99.99 a year, is the second option. You don’t have to be a subscriber to The Criterion Channel to buy Criterion Collection films, but subscribers can get discounts on occasions.
Some films that are available for purchase on physical discs are not available to stream. When I double-checked a few entries, I discovered that The Breakfast Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Do The Right Thing, Fantastic Mr. Fox, On the Waterfront, The Silence of the Lambs, and Spartacus were all available for purchase, but not for streaming, on The Criterion Channel. According to an official, the ability to stream a title is determined on a case-by-case basis and is contingent on the availability of rights.
The only other video streaming service I’ve tested that provides physical discs is Netflix’s DVD by Netflix. This service has a monthly flat fee, and the amount of movies you can rent per month is determined by how quickly you can watch and return them. You can keep more movies out at a time with higher-priced tiers.
On the Criterion Channel, what can I watch?
It’s important to note right away that The Criterion Channel is not for those who want to watch the most recent mainstream releases or even what the average person considers to be the best movies of all time. For example, The Criterion Channel only has four films in the top 50 of IMDb’s top 100 film list (Seven Samurai, Harakiri, Modern Times, and City Lights).
The Criterion Channel caters to those interested in exploring more about notable domestic and international films from the past and present. I’d like to stress the curatorial element as well. This means that not only is the film archive being actively preserved, but new films are being added to the library on a monthly basis to keep it fresh. The downside to the frequent library updates is that certain titles could be removed from the service before you get a chance to enjoy them. This is a good possibility, given the size of The Criterion Channel’s library. On the Channel Calendar page, you can see what’s coming to the service every month.
The Criterion Channel has approximately 2,000 films in its catalog as of the time of this review. You can filter the results by decade, country, director, and genre. The Criterion Channel has entries dating back to the 1900s, but when I filtered by that year, there were no results. The earliest films I saw came from the 1920s.
The service includes films from 55 countries, including film powerhouses such as France, Germany, India, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Africa (Ethiopia, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa), Asia (China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand), Central and South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, and Mexico), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), and Western and Eastern Europe are also listed on the Criterion Channel (Austria, Belgium, Greece, and Russia).
Maren Ade, Allison Anders, Wes Anderson, Jane Campion, Charlie Chaplin, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Spike Jonze, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Jean-Paul Melville, Kenzo Mizoguchi, Errol Morris, Pier Paolo Passolini, Alice Rohrwacher, Paul Schrader, Guillermo del Toro, Agnès Varda, and William Wyler are among the directors of content on the platform. There are far too many films on The Criterion Channel to list them all, but everything is available on the All Films page.
Extra video features, such as interviews, extra footage, and trailers, are available for most films on The Criterion Channel. You can watch The Missing Pieces (a set of deleted scenes and alternate takes assembled by David Lynch) as well as interviews with Sheryl Lee (who played Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson) and Angelo Badalamenti in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (responsible for the series music). Eleven video extras are included with the original 1954 Godzilla film, such as the 1956 Godzilla: King of Monsters film, cast and crew commentary, and other explorations of the film in Japanese culture.
Netflix and HBO Now are the most popular streaming movie services, but they have more popular and mainstream titles than The Criterion Channel. Shudder is a horror-focused streaming service with a large library of horror movies. Another curated movie streaming service is Fandor.
Platforms and Pricing
The Criterion Channel costs $10.99 a month or $99.99 a year, as previously said. That’s more costly than most on-demand video streaming services, but far from the most expensive. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial, but you must provide payment details to do so.
Apple TV+ is $4.99 per month, Hulu’s ad-supported version is $5.99 per month, and Disney+ is even more expensive at $6.99 per month. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video both start at $8.99 a month, but most people should opt for Netflix’s standard plan, which costs $12.99 a month. HBO Now, at $14.99 a month, is the only on-demand service we’ve tested that begins at a higher price. Most of these services also provide a good selection of popular films.
The Criterion Channel app is available for Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as streaming media platforms such as Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku, as well as the Xbox One. A PlayStation 4 app for the Criterion Channel is not available. When streaming content on Chromebooks, Xbox One, and Linux devices, Criterion warns that DRM protections can cause compatibility issues. Surprisingly, I also encountered an HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) issue.
HDCP technology “helps protect content when it passes over links from a computer or streaming device to a TV or monitor,” according to Criterion. Since my test laptop was connected to an external display with a VGA cord, Criterion prevented playback in my case. If this problem arises, the service advises using an HDMI cable that meets the most latest standards. I still had issues with the new Edge browser when it came to streaming. I’ve never had these problems with any other video streaming service before.
In the United States and Canada, the Criterion Channel is currently available. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, for example, are distributed in a much larger number of countries.
The Web Interface of Criterion Channel
With a blend of black, white, and gray elements, Criterion Channel’s online presence is tidy and stylish. Performance is generally good, but after adding new filters, some pages (such as the All Films page) took a while to load and refresh. Home, Now Playing, Search, All Films, and Criterion.com are all accessible through a menu at the top of the page. An icon in the upper-right corner allows you to change your profile settings. The settings for the profile are standard. You can change your account’s email address and password, unsubscribe from email notifications and manage your subscription billing details.
In a horizontally scrolling carousel, the Now Playing section lists featured movies and collections, while other film sections fill the rest of the page. Some of the subsections are more suited to Criterion’s movie collection, such as Recent Collections, Newly Added, and Leaving in February (or whatever the current month is), while others are more suited to other video streaming services. There are sections dedicated to non-film productions, such as Adventures in Movie Going, Art-House America, and Talking About Movies, as well as sections dedicated to directed by and Criterion Editions.
Women Filmmakers, 21st Century Filmmakers, and Double Features are some of the more film-specific categories (in which Criterion pairs two movies together) The My List section is also visible here, and you can add items to it directly using the icon in the upper-right corner of each movie or collection’s thumbnail.
When you click on a thumbnail, you’ll be taken to the thumbnail’s Details page, where you can read a short overview of the relevant material. To start playback, click on a title once more. You don’t get cast information, running time, or any of the supported tech specs, such as resolution or Dolby audio support, as you do on the main Criterion Collection site. For each of its entries, Apple TV+ does a far better job of listing general and technical information. Below the main player, the Criterion Channel displays suggestions for additional material in a series or other films you might enjoy.
Criterion’s search tool performs admirably and categorizes searches into collections and videos. You can search for films by director and title. The Criterion Channel’s entire catalog can be filtered by genre, decade, country of origin, and director in the All Films section. You can then sort the results in ascending or descending order using the same indicators. This is a great feature for discovering new material, and I wish more services had something similar.
Criterion Channel Mobile App
On a Google Pixel 3 running Android 10, I downloaded The Criterion Channel’s mobile app. The default dark mode of the app uses a mix of black and white elements that resembles the web experience. You can enable this in the settings if you choose to use a lighter interface theme. The app is managed to navigate through four icons in the bottom menu: Explore Search, Library, and Profile. These sections are very different from those on the web interface, but all the same, content is still accessible. The Explore section, for example, is equivalent to the Now Play section of the web.
On the mobile app, though, there is no All Films section where you can sort through The Criterion Channel’s entire collection. The Library section of the mobile app (which includes both the My List and Offline subsections) does not appear on the web. On the web, the My List section should have its own dedicated, always accessible menu.
In the Profile section of the mobile app, you can enable notifications, set download and streaming quality preferences, and enable Picture-in-Picture mode, among other options. The Manage Subscription button in the Google Play Store app took me straight to the My Subscriptions section because I signed up for the service via the Google Play Store.
The Criterion Collection employs a Vimeo player, so it seems clean and sophisticated. The playback control options, on the other hand, are disappointing. You can adjust the playback resolution, toggle (but not customize) closed captions, add the film to your watchlist, and email the link to the show. As opposed to Prime Video’s X-Ray information panel (which will be especially helpful for discovering the actors and actresses in a scene) or Netflix’s episode selector, this feature set is unimpressive. The Criterion Channel, on the other hand, has a minimized player mode.
The playback screen looks good on mobile. In the middle of the screen, you’ll find the usual playback controls, as well as rewind and fast-forward buttons. There’s also a Share button, an Add to Watchlist button, and a button to start an offline download. Unfortunately, the only option for closed captioning is to use a language. There’s also no way to choose or check the streaming resolution here besides going to settings and selecting high, medium, or low quality from the streaming quality menu. The streaming resolution varies based on the source and ranges from 540p to 1080p, according to a representative.
Watership Down streamed flawlessly over my home Ethernet connection (200Mbps download) using the Chrome browser. Similarly, when streaming Taxi Driver on my Android test device over Wi-Fi connection (15Mbps download), there were no stutters. Speeds of at least 10Mbps are suggested by the Criterion Channel (download).
Features and Accessibility
The Criterion Channel’s closed captioning settings are disappointing in that no customization features are available on any of the platforms I reviewed. Other services, such as Acorn TV, let you adjust text size, background color, and font type right from the playback screen. You won’t find any content that incorporates Audio Descriptions, which are audible descriptions of scene changes and character movements that aren’t picked up by dialog alone.
Given that the vast majority of its content predates the existence of that capability, the Criterion Channel’s lack of this feature is more understandable. Audio Descriptions are available for some of Apple TV+, Netflix, and Prime Video’s newer content.
Offline downloads for Android and iOS devices are supported by the Criterion Channel, which is a useful feature for movie lovers who travel frequently. When you begin playback, you have up to 30 days to start watching a downloaded title and up to 48 hours to finish it. It’s worth noting that you can’t change the download file’s storage location, which can be inconvenient given how big movies are. You can save downloaded files to remote storage through Netflix. If you’re a premium subscriber, you can even download titles to watch offline, but only if you’re a premium subscriber.
The absence of parental control tools on Criterion Channel is disappointing. In fact, I didn’t see any content ratings for any of the films on the service, which is inconvenient for parents who want to know which classic films their children can watch. Furthermore, you cannot create individual user profiles for each account user on The Criterion Channel. According to a representative, the service plans to support all of these features in the future.
Three simultaneous streams are supported by the Criterion Channel, which is about average. BritBox can handle up to five streams at once.
VPN and Criterion Channel
A VPN service will keep your ISP and other bad actors from snooping on your network activity, which is a perfect way to protect your privacy online. They will even assist you in feigning your location. Unfortunately, due to geographic-locked content, certain video streaming services prohibit you from streaming content if connecting to one. And if you find a VPN that fits for all of your video streaming services on a given day, it doesn’t mean that it will continue to function the next day. Several video streaming services are constantly working to detect and block VPN traffic on their platforms.
On both my test Windows and Android devices, I tried streaming a movie from The Criterion Channel while connected to a VPN server in the United States. I had no trouble streaming content on my mobile device, but I was unable to view content through a web browser.
Last but not least
The Criterion Channel is a powerful service designed specifically for classic and art-house film lovers. It offers ad-free viewing of Criterion Collection movies, with the majority of them in full HD. The service’s only flaw is that not every film from the Criterion Collection is available to stream. Parental control tools and profiles will also be helpful. Because of its superior capabilities and top-notch original shows, Netflix is our Editors’ Choice for on-demand video streaming. We suggest YouTube TV or Hulu for live TV.