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The Criterion Channel: The Streaming Service Classic Movie Lovers Need to Know About

It's like having your very own classic film festival at home!

Popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video may be household names, but in recent years, a new streamer has emerged: the Criterion Channel. If you haven’t heard of the Criterion Channel, it’s worth looking into, especially if you’re a fan of classic cinema.

While most of the best known streaming services highlight original movies and TV shows, and offer few movies made before the ’80s, the Criterion Channel features a stunning array of older films, from iconic screwball comedies to gritty film noir thrillers to artsy European dramas. Here’s what you should know about the service.

What is the Criterion Channel?

The Criterion Channel is an offshoot of the Criterion Collection, a boutique home video line established in 1984. The Criterion Collection is known for issuing beautifully packaged, high quality Blu-ray and DVD editions of classic and contemporary films loaded with special features. For years, cinephiles have held up Criterion as the gold standard for home viewing.

Of course, the movie world has become increasingly digital, as more people now stream films than buy them in a physical format. Criterion knew they had to keep up with the times, and in 2019, they launched the Criterion Channel, a streaming service bringing the best of their physical collection to the computers and TVs of viewers everywhere.

What sets the Criterion Channel apart from other streaming services?

The Criterion Channel stands apart from more mainstream services like Netflix due to its curation and its prioritization of classic films over original content. While Netflix is committed to churning out original movies and shows (and don’t get us wrong, we love a Bridgerton binge as much as the next person!) the Criterion Channel is all about highlighting gems from the past.

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The Criterion Channel offers over 2,000 movies and each month, they release a new slate of hand-picked collections organized around a star, a director or a theme (like method acting, cats and art-house horror to name just a few fun examples). They also offer Criterion Editions — movies that they’ve physically released and have made available to stream, special features and all.

While Criterion doesn’t create their own shows or movies, they do have many original featurettes supporting their huge selection of films, like Adventures in Moviegoing, a series wherein celebrities like Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader and more choose a selection of movies to stream on the service and discuss why they love them.

Greta Gerwig 'Adventures in Moviegoing' on the Criterion Channel
Barbie director Greta Gerwig tells us all about her favorite films on the Criterion Channel@criterioncollection/Instagram

How much does the Criterion Channel cost?

A monthly subscription to the Criterion Channel costs $10.99, while an annual subscription costs $99.99. The service is ad-free, and all subscriptions include a free 7-day trial period. For the month of April, they’re offering 15% off in celebration of their fifth anniversary.

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When you consider the fact that a typical Criterion Collection Blu-Ray costs around $40, the Channel is a great value. While it may be more expensive than some other streamers (but cheaper than a monthly ad-free Netflix subscription!), the selection of movies can’t be beat, and the care the Criterion Channel puts into presenting classic films is well worth paying for. Think of it as a never-ending film festival put together by the smartest, most interesting person you know, for a monthly cost that’s about the same as a nice sandwich!

What’s on the Criterion Channel?

The Criterion Channel truly has something for every kind of film lover, and getting lost in the sheer vastness of their catalog is part of the fun. Here are just a few of our favorite movie collections they currently have available to stream.

British Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Before directing ’50s classics like Rear Window and Vertigo, the Master of Suspense made a number of films in his native Britain in the ’20s and ’30s, including thrillers like Blackmail, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes — all included here.

Click through to check out British Hitchcock.

Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in 'The 39 Steps', directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1935
Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat in The 39 Steps (1935)Silver Screen Collection/Getty

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All You Need Is Love

Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned romance? This collection features all kinds of swoon-worthy love stories, including Charlie Chaplin‘s masterpiece, City Lights; the bittersweet Summertime, starring the great Katharine Hepburn; and the Oscar-winning literary adaptation A Room With a View, among many others.

Click through to check out All You Need Is Love.

Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in 'City Lights' 1931
Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in City Lights (1931)Donaldson Collection/Getty

French New Wave

In the ’50s and ’60s, young French filmmakers began shooting movies with a fresh, modern feel. This movement, known as the French New Wave, became incredibly influential on mainstream American film, and the New Wave titles in this collection, including The 400 Blows, Breathless and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg still feel fresh today.

Click through to check out French New Wave.

Jean-Pierre Léaud in 'The 400 Blows' 1959
Jean-Pierre Léaud in The 400 Blows (1959)John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

One Night

Movies that take place all in one night make for captivating viewing, and run the gamut from gorgeous romances to tense thrillers. This series brings together a wide selection of these films, including the thrilling Assault on Precinct 13, the lovely Before Sunrise and the dramatic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Click through to check out One Night.

Elizabeth Taylor in 'Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf', 1966
Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

And the Razzie Goes To…

The Criterion Channel has a lot of great movies, but they’re also not afraid to embrace the campy side of things! The movies in this series have all received Razzie Awards (think the Oscars for bad movies) and they range from so-bad-it’s-good to secretly great, with ’80s, ’90s and ’00s titles including Cocktail, Showgirls and Swept Away.

Click through to check out And the Razzie Goes To

Tom Cruise showing his tricks as a bartender in a scene from 'Cocktail', 1988
Tom Cruise in Cocktail (1988)Touchstone Pictures/Getty

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Criterion Channel. We think it’s the most underrated streaming service around, and once you have a subscription, the only difficulty is choosing what to watch next!

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