Whether you’re looking for documentary highlights from the major streaming services or an outlet exclusively specializing in nonfiction content, there are so many options available for doc fans online. And many of them are offering deals for Nonfics readers (there are also general deals for first-time subscribers, particularly in a time of an emergency lockdown). Below is our guide to the best places to legally watch documentaries on the web or through their respective apps.
Cost: $12.99/month (or $6.49/month for students) or $119/year (or $59/year for students)
Amazon’s Prime membership includes a library of movies and television series that changes monthly but always includes a mix of recent doc favorites (including Citizenfour) and doc classics going back more than 100 years (including Louisiana Story). Amazon Studios also occasionally has its own nonfiction content exclusive to the service (such as One Child Nation). Prime members also get free two-day shipping (for when you buy physical media…) and free streaming music.
Cost: $10.99/month or $99.99/year
Special deal: 14-day free trial due to the coronavirus crisis
The streaming arm of the Criterion Collection focuses on essential foreign cinema and American classics, and there are plenty of documentaries among those (Sans Soleil, Grey Gardens). Criterion also features many films each by Agnes Varda, Errol Morris, Les Blank, and other legends.
Cost: $2.99/month or $19.99/year
This streaming service was started by the founder of the Discovery Channel and offers more educational content, including a new series on the coronavirus pandemic.
Cost: €6/month (about $6.50/month) or €60/year (about $66/year) or a la carte pricing
Special deal: 40% off a yearly subscription
This Czech Republic-based platform from Doc Alliance calls itself “your online documentary cinema.” They collect films from festivals around the European continent and offer features and shorts from all over the world.
Cost: $2.99/month or $29.99/year
Special deal: 50% off a yearly subscription (for new subscribers through March 31st)
The documentary arm of Magnolia Selects, which is the streaming service for distributor Magnolia Pictures. Their titles include such masterpieces as Man on Wire, Crazy Love, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Special deal: Free month subscription for Nonfics readers with code “nonfics2020”
GuideDoc adds a doc a day to their curated library of hundreds, and none of these titles ever expire. We’ve recommended 31 of our favorites, including Enemies of the People, Elena, and three works by Peter Metter.
The streaming service that combines parts of HBO, TCM, and Warner Bros. selections is a boon for classic nonfiction films, in addition to all the HBO Documentary Films staples. There are plenty of essentials by the Maysles, Spike Lee, Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Kirby Dick, and more. See our list of 50 favorites.
Cost: $5.99/month for basic and $11.99/month for a premium version without ads
Mostly thanks to Hulu’s partnerships with Neon, Magnolia, and National Geographic, plus their own notable acquisitions, the popular streaming service has a lot of must-see docs from the last few years, including recent Oscar winners and nominees. See our latest list of recommendations, including Apollo 11, Honeyland, The Biggest Little Farm, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
If you’ve got a library card from a participating public or school library, you can watch a limited number of films on Kanopy. Most notably, the service is the one place to stream most of Frederick Wiseman‘s documentaries.
Cost: $9-16/month depending on the quality level and the number of screens
It’s Netflix. They have a lot of great originals, including recent Oscar winner American Factory and the upcoming Crip Camp, plus a lot of docuseries. And they’ve still got Paris is Burning. But their non-original library is ever-shrinking. See our latest list of recommendations.
Documentaries are unofficially the national pastime of Canada, and they’ve got a long history through the National Film Board. On their website, you can stream recent releases and classic features and shorts such as Lonely Boy and the Oscar winner Churchill’s Island.
Special deal: 25% off for Nonfics readers for the first four months with code “NONFICS”
As we noted a year ago when this service debuted, OVID.tv is the best new streaming haven for nonfiction film fans. They offer library titles from Icarus, First Run Features, Women Make Movies, dGenerate Films, and other great distributors of new and classic docs, including recent favorites like Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? and Dawson City: Frozen Time, the oldie but goodie A Man Vanishes (one of the best crime documentaries ever) and many works by Ross McElwee, Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker, Patricio Guzman, and other masters of the form. They also have narrative films.
Home of POV, Independent Lens, American Masters, American Experience, Frontline, and more anthology series, PBS always has something available on their website, whether it’s one of the features or series that recently debuted on PBS on television or older titles making their way back into the rotation. For instance, Ken Burns has put his 1994 docuseries history Baseball on the site for streaming while the 2020 MLB season is postponed.
Cost: $6.99/month or $59.88/year
Special deal: First month free with code SUNDANCENOW30
Sundance Now’s documentary section is worth the price alone given their array of titles, including such modern masterpieces as The Act of Killing and Exit Through the Gift Shop, new delights like The Competition, and classics like Marjoe.
Tubi, which just made the news this week for being bought by Fox, offers tons of content for “free,” with ads. Current documentary titles include 12 O’Clock Boys, Citizenfour, The Imposter, Stories We Tell, and Style Wars.
While most films available from Vudu cost a variable amount as an a la carte purchase or rental, the service also offers many movies on a rotating basis that are free with ads. Current titles with this option include Grizzly Man, Stop Making Sense, Citizenfour, The Cruise, and The Red Chapel.