2020’s international outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus is set to disrupt life across the world for what looks like the rest of the year. Beyond washing your hands regularly the best thing the average person can do to combat it is just staying home. Not all heroes wear capes, some of us just sit around. That means finding new ways to pass the time and kill boredom while you’re saving lives, which means a lot of streaming. But not everyone has the money to pay for a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video, especially with workers impacted by social distancing.
Don’t fret. We’ve poured the library of our friends over at Tubi to find the best free movies and series to stream during your social distancing. If you find yourself still searching after all that, we’ve got some options for other free streaming services. Social-distance yourself in style—here are the best things to stream while you’re home waiting out the virus.
The best movies and shows to watch for free when you’re social distancing
When the world is at its most stressful, horror can offer catharsis and escapism unlike any other genre. Provided, that is, it isn’t too dark. Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow is a crowd-pleasing horror comedy that takes the classic American folktale and gives it a Law & Order like spin. Constable Ichabod Crane sets out for the town of Sleepy Hollow to solve a series of gruesome beheadings haunting the villagers. Utilizing a host of modern 1799-era crime-fighting tools, our hero soon learns there’s a supernatural force at work, and his head maybe next. Johnny Depp thrills in this funny yet often spooky horror treat.
Tom Hanks has appeared in exactly one comic book movie; people just forget because he doesn’t play a superhero. 2002s Road to Perdition is an unsung gem in Hanks’ filmography as well as one of his only anti-hero roles. He plays Mike Sullivan, an enforcer for the Illinois mob who goes on the run after his son witnesses a hit. Seeing Hanks murder gangs of mobsters never stops being entertaining, but the film isn’t dumb action. This is a moody noir about a father and song, punctuated by Tommy Gun blasts.
Tintin is an international pop culture icon with an oddly small cultural footprint in America, where stories about the teenage adventurer never took off. We had Jonny Quest. Tintin’s journey with American audiences has been so difficult Steven Speilberg made an incredible movie about him that no one went to see. Overseas The Adventures of Tintin made $296 million. Featuring stunning 3D animation that brings the art of the original French comics to life and thrilling action, this is a family-friendly film that’ll please snobs as well. Use this time to give Tintin a chance.
Streaming services have tons of great TV programming for kids, but finding PG movies everyone can enjoy is another story. Ella Enchanted is a delightful exception, an all-ages fairy tale comedy full of action and adventure. Anna Hathaway stars as Ella; a young maiden cursed at birth with the gift of obedience. After a life of subjugation, Ella sets off to break the curse and find her freedom, even if it means surviving a storm of monsters and magic. Cleverly turning fairy tale rules on their head by keeping their exaggerated whimsy, Ella Enchanted is so good you’ll ignore its handful of dated jokes.
The dirtbag geniuses known as the Farrelly Brothers ruled the world of comedy in the ’90s with hits like Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. Then there’s Kingpin, their one oddball theatrical flop. Kingpin tells the bonkers tale of a disgraced professional bowler (Woodie Harrelson) who goes on one last run with the aid of Amish bowling savant (Randy Quaid). The cast is rounded out by Bill Murray as Harrelson’s bowling arch-nemesis, and the man responsible for the loss of his hand. When it was released, audiences didn’t get its blend of pitch-black comedy and goofball jokes, but audiences raised on Adult Swim owe it to themselves to rediscover this film.
When Stanley Kubrick passed away, he left a number of projects in limbo, including AI. Artificial Intelligence. Eager to help bring his friend’s vision to life, Steven Spielberg stepped in to bring this story of a young boy named David who discovers he’s actually a robot. Leaving his family behind, he tries to discover his true nature, beginning a journey spanning longer than he could ever compute. The special effects have held up beautifully, bringing an equal sense of danger and magic to David’s travels. In uncertain times, AI is a blissful escape.
His entire selfish life, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) thought he was an only child. But when his father dies, leaving him some roses and a car, Charlie discovers an older brother (Dustin Hoffman) he’d never known about. An older brother with autism who just inherited the rest of their father’s $3 million estates. Barry Levinson’s 1988 classic takes the tropes of a buddy comedy and inserts them into a family drama with ease. Cruise and Hoffman have familial chemistry even while looking nothing alike, resulting in a moving yet deeply funny film that’s easy to get lost in.
Great big action movies aren’t always easy to find on the free streaming services, but Minority Report fills the void perfectly. Tom Cruise stars as Detective Anderton of the D.C. “precrime” division, where psychics predict crimes before they ever happen. When his name is pulled for the murder of someone he’s never met, Anderton is forced to fight a futuristic police force to clear his name of a murder that hasn’t happened. The action sequences here rank among Spielberg’s best, but the world-building is just as thrilling. Pop some corn and enjoy.
Feel-good vibes are important when you have to stay six feet away from people. Let Ice Cube and company soothe your troubled mind with the great ensemble comedy BarberShop 2. Starring Cedric the Entertainer, Eve, Sean Patrick Thomas, Queen Latifah, and Kenan Thompson, BarberShop is a perfect lazy Sunday movie. There’s warm laughs, a story about local business overcoming a corporate chain, and plenty of soapy drama to go with it. In a time when we’re apart, sometimes a nice movie about community can lift your spirits.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Mouse Hunt is one of the funniest physical comedies ever made. Although it was a modest hit in the mid-’90s, it hasn’t really found a second life on TV and video. Maybe its name is too silly, and its box art too cartoonish, which is funny given how vicious the slapstick found here is. Two brothers, a perfectly cast Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, inherit their father’s failing string factory and collapsing mansion. Having promised not to sell the factory, they try to rehab the house, only to discover a brilliant mouse that keeps messing with their plan. Essentially a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon, Mouse Hunt, is a treasure waiting just for you.
Even fans of horror would be forgiven for not wanting to think about anything too sad right now. Thank God you can stream Return of the Living Dead, a gore-soaked horror comedy that serves up hilarious humor along with the flesh-eating zombies. Two idiots accidentally release a top-secret gas that brings the dead back to life, spelling doom for a group of punk kids drinking in the local cemetery, and maybe the entire world.
Funerals are never fun, but for Aaron, his father’s is a nightmare. His brother keeps picking fights, manipulative aunts and uncles abound, and that’s before the mysterious stranger shows up with threats of blackmail. It’s up to Aaron to keep the service from going off the rails in this bizarrely whimsical British cult hit. If you’re going to have dark thoughts, you might as well have them with a laugh.
We’re all going to be eating a lot of home cooking for a while, but that doesn’t mean forgetting about the foods we love. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a heartwarming documentary about the life of beloved sushi chef Jiro Ono as he seeks to pass on his profession to his son. Jiro exudes a passion for his craft that’s impossible to turn away from. It will make you think about the care you put into cutting a piece of meat or preparing your own meals. Plus, the stunning footage of sushi preparation is oddly hypnotic, making for a soothing film viewing experience.
The baseball season is canceled, but the game lives on in the movies. Bull Durham isn’t just a baseball movie; it’s also a world-class date movie. Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins star in this romantic sports favorite about a washed-up major league player who goes to the minors to train a young hotshot. When they both fall in love with the same woman, a baseball fanatic who brings luck to players, it starts a madcap battle of the wits for her heart. Laugh-out-loud funny, romantic, and brimming with baseball action, Bull Durham isn’t the same as nine innings but at least gets the feel.
Director Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense captures the Talking Heads at the height of their career, delivering an epic sold-out show in Hollywood. Opening with David Byrne standing alone onstage, with more members added every song, Stop Making Sense is intimate and explosive all at once. Of course, even if Stop Making Sense was just a good concert, we’d recommend it today for the song “Once in a Lifetime.” In these trying, frankly scary times, it represents an embrace of the unknown that provides a much-needed salve to sore hearts everywhere. Get up and dance while you’re watching.
For a generation of tweens and stoned 20-year-olds, Degrassi: The Next Generation is the premiere teen soap opera of a generation. Picking up where the original Canadian melodrama left off, Degrassi: TNG brings the same blend of teen angst and social commentary to the modern era. Episode one deals with online predators, and that’s years before a teenage Drake arrives and gets caught in a school shooting. Now you can catch up with each trashy moment over 12 seasons while you wait out COVID-19.
USA may be the reigning king of basic cable drama thanks to shows like Suits and Monk, but TNT’s Leverage is a classic worth rediscovering. Working with a “heist of the week” format, Leverage finds a group of former crooks pulling elaborate cons against evildoers. Think Mission Impossible meets Robin Hood, with a healthy dash of smarmy humor to wash it down.
When you’re trying to escape from your problems, it’s sometimes best to focus on other peoples’. Each episode of Unsolved Mysteries delivers a thrilling set of extraordinary, sometimes terrifying, problems that plagued Americans through the years. We’ve got fugitives, ghosts, murders, kidnappings, heists, possible curses, and more all sitting there waiting to haunt you in this beloved anthology series. Using recreations and interviews, Unsolved Mysteries set the template for future shows exploring the unknown like Ancient Aliens.
MCX is a truly bizarre show that’s best held for the times you need to cheer yourself up quickly. Taking footage from the Japanese obstacle course game show Takeshi’s Castle and redubbing it with American jokes, MCX is best described as wacky. Watching people fall down on slippery slides, get hit with giant bats, and get thrown into pools of water is always a good time. Such a good time that ABC stole the entire concept for its show Wipeout. For a good time, watch the original.
Watching a bunch of TV can feel like you’re wasting time or melting your brain. That’s why it’s smart to occasionally educate yourself while you’re binging. May we suggest the thrilling adventures of The FBI Files as your daily dose of American history. Drawing from cases across the FBI’s history, from the investigations as big as John Gotti to mad bombers, the show tells the often untold stories of officers in the field. The recreations are sometimes a little cheesy, but that’s part of the charm.
Viewers who’ve never given anime a chance should give the aptly named JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure a spin. Jojo follows the Joestar family through history, as various members find themselves trapped in an increasingly chaotic series of blood feuds. Bursting with explosive action, JoJo’s real charms lies between the fight scenes in the often insane setups for each battle. Flamboyant, violent, yet full of laughs, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a wild ride for anime fans and newbies alike.
In times of incredible stress, it’s essential to make space for silliness. May we humbly suggest turning to Mr. Bean when you need a silly laugh. Rowan Atkinson’s well-meaning mute screwball has been delighting audiences for three decades and counting with his award-winning comedy series. Whether he’s screwing up a math event, going to the dentist, or using his car to jump-start a dying man’s heart, Bean’s every action ends in reliably sidesplitting chaos.
Before YouTube made tutorials a part of everyday life, home painters had one icon to worship: Bob Ross. The afro-sporting painter brought an infectious joy to each lesson, turning blobs of paint into happy trees and clouds while sharing life lessons. Even if you don’t have the supplies to do Bob’s paintings, these episodes are oddly soothing. But if you’ve got any art supplies around the house, do your best to follow along. Who’s going to judge your work?
For decades Mystery Science Theater 3000 has brought joy to audiences around the world with its razor-sharp mockery of bad old movies. Viewers join a group of robots and their human companion as they rip apart the world’s worst films and make inventions. If you want to see the reboot, you’ll need to pay for Netflix, but plenty of old episodes are streaming for free online. Don’t miss out on this beloved comedy institution.
Unless you’re used to making your own food and deep-cleaning every night after dinner, you may find dishes a daunting part of isolation. Feel better about how you run your personal kitchen with Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Each week the world’s meanest chef helps a restaurant on the verge of self-destruction, rebuilding its menu and fixing any death traps. On top of that, you might just learn a few new cooking techniques. At the bare minimum, Kitchen Nightmares will do wonders for your culinary self-esteem.
Best free services
Our list is far from comprehensive. If you’re the sort of person who likes looking for content on their own, here are the best free streaming services you can use. Roku users looking for even more content should check out our list of the best free Roku channels.
You may notice that all the entries on this list were drawn from Tubi. That’s because Tubi is the best free streaming service in the world right now. It’s so good Fox just bought it up, so make sure to enjoy it while you can. There’s no telling what comes next for the service, so make sure to get the most out of it in the coming year.
Sony’s Crackle is almost as good as Tubi when it comes to finding movies to stream and TV to binge. It’s the biggest problem that comes in its interface and brutal amount of ads. That being said, the ads are only annoying if you’re not used to broadcasting TV. Crackle’s massive library of classic TV and odd b-movies makes a handy tool when there’s nothing else to watch.
While YouTube isn’t the same thing as Tubi or Crackle, it may have more shows to watch than both. The only catch is you’ll need to know what you’re looking for to find them. Where YouTube really shines as a streaming service is its millions of original videos uploaded by users. There’s everything from talk shows to documentaries to scripted series waiting just for you. Plus, all the unofficial content you could ever ask for. Not that you’d be looking for stuff like that.
For anime fans, Crunchyroll is a deal, unlike any other. While the service offers a paid subscription service that offers HD video and no ads, a standard-def ad-supported version is also available. This means anime fans can catch up on hundreds of full series without ever dropping a time. In these budget-strapped times, that’s priceless.