Plex has a free movie streaming service — here's how to get in on it
The popular media server software now offers totally free streaming films and shows.
We’ve written before about Plex, the media server software that lets you stream your movies, music, and TV shows from your own computer to anywhere with Wi-Fi. But thanks to a deal with various movie studios and production companies, Plex now offers a catalog of streaming movies and TV shows on-demand, for free. For the most part, you get what you pay for — but you’ll also find a few diamonds in the rough.
How much does Plex’s streaming service cost?
As we noted above, it’s free — mostly. You don’t need a paid Plex Pass subscription, which some of the program’s other features require. And the Plex account and software you’ll need to watch the service cost nothing, either. Since nothing’s ever truly free, you will have to sit through occasional ad breaks while you watch.
Who’s providing Plex’s streaming movies and shows?
The big names involved include Legendary Entertainment (producers of films like Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Pacific Rim, and the recent Godzilla and Kong reboots, none of which you’ll find on this service), MGM, Lionsgate, and Warner Bros. Don’t expect any of them to offer the prize jewels of their film catalogs. Indie names like Participant Media and Gravitas Ventures have also signed up.
Is Plex’s streaming content any good?
Eh, not really. A rotating selection of higher-quality films, from ’80s stalwarts like WarGames, Teen Wolf, and Raging Bull to more recent offerings like Shane Black’s terrific Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, come and go from the service for a limited time. And if you like Warren Miller’s snowboarding and skiing videos, boy, are you in luck. But the majority of the promised thousands of titles are cheap oddball flicks you’ve never heard of, and Alf and Bonanza seem to be the highlights of the TV offerings. If you dig deep enough, though, you’ll find a relative handful of legitimately great films hiding in the collection — more about a few of those later.
Is the content in HD?
Most recent or well-known films, and even a few classics, are available at 720p or 1080p. But a lot of the others stream at DVD quality, and there’s no way to adjust that resolution.
How can I watch Plex’s streaming service?
As of this writing, Plex offers streaming movies and TV shows through its web app, its iOS and Android apps, and its AppleTV app. Its native Mac app doesn’t yet support that feature, though I’d expect it’ll show up eventually.
In the sidebar where Plex lists your various libraries (Movies, TV, Playlists, etc.), look for “Movies & TV On Plex” at the bottom. You can always edit that sidebar to move it up to a more prominent position or banish it altogether.
Can I watch Plex’s streaming video on a TV hooked up to my Mac?
Not universally. In most cases, you can play Plex’s on-demand video just fine in Safari. But when I tried doing so on the Mac mini hooked up to my 10-year-old TV via HDMI, I got an error message saying that my browser needed to support DRM content. The error may have something to do with Safari’s support for FairPlay DRM; when I tried Firefox, which uses the rival Wideview DRM system (as does Chrome), movies played back on my TV without a problem.
Hidden gems on Plex’s streaming service
As we said, the majority of Plex’s content isn’t too impressive. But a trawl through the depths of its offerings turns up a few movies — mostly old, but some more recent – that you won’t regret watching. Here are just a handful of the best.
It’s 1960, and a legendary British director has decided to ditch his previous prestige pictures for a sordid, transgressive horror film about a voyeuristic killer. Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho? Nope. Michael Powell, half of a storied team that made classics like The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, keeps his lush Technicolor palette but dives right into the gutter for this unsettling story of a shy film-studio flunky with a camera to die for. It lacks Psycho‘s big shocks, but it’s every bit as skin-crawling, darkly witty, and well-made.
Henri-Georges Clouzot gained a reputation as France’s answer to Hitchcock, and he snaked the film rights to this classic chiller out from under the Master of Suspense. (Far from being bitter, Hitchcock reportedly loved the final product.) The wife and mistress of an abusive dirtbag team up to do him in — but then his body inexplicably vanishes, and strange things begin to happen, building to an ending that’s still hair-raising to this day.
Fritz Lang’s 1931 pulpy thriller brings an incongruous sense of fun to some seriously grisly subject matter: a serial child killer, played by a particularly sweaty and bug-eyed Peter Lorre. As Lorre’s character commits ever-worsening outrages (thankfully offscreen), the police and the underworld race against each other to capture him first. The cops want to bring him to justice; the crooks want to get the cops off their backs. If you’ve never been introduced to Lang’s sharp, playful filmmaking, which influenced everyone from Orson Welles to Tim Burton, this makes a good starting point.
Speaking of Orson Welles, the actor and director is best remembered for Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil, and The Third Man, but don’t sleep on this lesser-known entry in his filmography. Welles directs, co-writes (with a crew of scriptwriters including fellow filmmaking icon John Huston) and co-stars in this tense, exciting tale of a dogged Fed (Edward G. Robinson) who suspects that Welles’s small-town charmer might be a Nazi war criminal in disguise.
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS
A smug businessman plans the perfect murder of his boss — the better to continue his affair with the boss’s wife. (Hey, it’s France in the ’50s.) But once the deed is done, things immediately start going wrong, with twists and complications piling up right until the film’s nail-biting final seconds. An improvised score by the legendary Miles Davis adds a dreamy, haunted air to this underrated noir classic.
For something a little more recent, director Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong) crafts a fresh take on classic slasher films. A dysfunctional family gathers for a reunion at a mansion in the woods, only to find themselves inexplicably under siege from a team of ruthless killers in animal masks. While there’s plenty of ghastly violence, this film also features a delightful vein of pitch-black humor — and an unlikely but awesome hero who proves so good at fighting back, you might almost start to feel sorry for the bad guys.
In a world where individuals’ luck can be traded or stolen, a fortunate few compete in underground games of chance — like running through a forest at top speed, blindfolded, to see who doesn’t smack headfirst into a tree — for quick but risky money. The first film from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), available on Plex under the title Intact, is cool, stylish, and mordantly funny — even in a low-quality transfer.
Found any other favorite titles in the depths of Plex’s streaming offerings? Share them in the comments below.