Screengrab via Amazon

With this free service, you have nothing to lose.

Before cable, TV was free. You had to buy a television, of course, but the actual programming was paid for via advertisements during shows. In the era of streaming, that option is increasingly rare, with services like Netflix charging a monthly subscription and, in the case of Hulu, some still show ads on top of that. There’s only one streaming service that brings back the spirit of ad-supported entertainment, and that’s Crackle.

What is Crackle?

Crackle is a movie and TV streaming service that lets viewers watch uncut content in exchange for viewing a couple of ads. When it initially launched Crackle faced some difficulties with its player, but in the years since, the service has become a viable competitor to the big names in the industry. Curious whether you should give Crackle a shot? Here’s everything you need to know.

Is Crackle free?

Yes. Crackle costs nothing but your time during ads. How many ads you’re going to have to sit through depends wildly on the content at hand, but when they come, they come in blocks: 10 minutes of a show, then a block of three or four ads, rinse and repeat. It can feel like a lot, especially when the volume of a commercial is dramatically louder than the show you’re watching. But that’s also an excuse to go to the bathroom or get a drink. 

I’ve found ads much more manageable during Crackle’s in-house original content than in its syndicated movies and TV shows. But when you consider that Hulu and Netflix cost roughly $100 a year, as does Amazon Prime membership, suddenly those Crackle ads don’t seem like such a bad deal. And Crackle does an excellent job of providing incredible content to its freeloading audience.

is crackle free Photo via Crackle

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How does Crackle work?

Setting up Crackle is as easy as creating a basic account or using your Facebook to log in. Once you have an account, you’re ready to start watching. Crackle is available on every major mobile device and game console, as well as on Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, select smart TVs.

The Crackle app has had a frustrating history. If you tried it in the past few years and were put off by the experience, give Crackle another try. The app has dramatically improved, with fewer crashes than before and better picture quality. Your image clarity is largely dependent on your internet speed, but Crackle usually looks as good as a basic HD broadcast picture. Some older TV shows look like standard 720p definition broadcasts, but that’s the compromise for free entertainment. You get exactly what you pay for, but it’s higher quality than you might anticipate these days.

Don’t want to pick anything? Crackle’s Always On feature will stream movies and shows from your tagged favorites. It’s like having a live TV network based on your desires.

what is Crackle Photo via Crackle

Crackle movies

Crackle’s movie list often feels like an uncensored version of TNT or TBS. You’ll find the occasional big name title from a few years ago, but most of the movies are second-tier flicks from the ’70s through the ’00s. There are some notable exceptions, like Oscar-winner Whiplash, so don’t write off the service immediately.

However, when it comes to older movies, Crackle has an impressive array of classics worth revisiting. Training Day, Talladega Nights, Midnight Run, and The Quick and The Dead, are just a few of the hits waiting for you on the service. The offerings can be confusing, putting indie classics like Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket alongside ’90s screwball oddities like High School High. Crackle shines brightest when it comes to comedies and action films, but digging through its menus will reveal all sorts of hidden treats.

You’ll also find copious amounts of weird B-movies, from giant monster flicks to Steven Seagal’s latest direct-to-video creation. Occasionally they’ll throw you a curveball. At the moment the service only has two anime films to offer, but they’re the well-known films, Appleseed Alpha and Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Crackle’s movie section has an air of mystery around it. You never know what you find but shoved in between the cushions, but there are a surprising number of movies you’d want to see.

Each month we update our recommendations for the best free movies on Crackle, you can find it here.   

crackle movies Photo via Crackle

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Crackle TV shows

While Crackle’s movie options often feel strange, its TV section can be an occasionally frustrating place to play. For example, at the moment Crackle is the only place you can stream full episodes of Mad About You, Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser’s ’90s sitcom smash, but because of streaming rights, Crackle can only show it one season at a time. So you can watch all 25 episodes of one season, but you better watch them before Crackle switches out which episodes are available. While this does add some excitement to binge-watching, it gets annoying over time.

Other shows like The Shield offer multiple seasons (at the moment seasons 5 and 6), but still, you’ll have to find the other episodes somewhere else or wait for them to appear on Crackle. It’s frustrating with dramas, but for sitcoms, which many of us great up watching in syndication out of order anyway, it’s not that big deal. Crackle also acts as sort of a catch-all for every great show that only got a few seasons before being killed by a major network. The original live-action Tick show? Fox’s classic ’90s cartoon The Critic? Patrick Swayze’s farewell spy series The Beast? It’s all here.

From episodes of Walker Texas Ranger to Seinfeld, Crackle offers you the same joys as an afternoon of syndicated television without ever needing to adjust your bunny ears. You might not get all the episodes you want, but at least it’s all on demand.

crackle tv shows Photo via Crackle

Crackle original content

In 2017, if you want your streaming service to be a success, you need original content—even if your service is free. Crackle has risen to the challenge, slowly rolling out a new movie and an original series each year. Its original movies have been mostly hit or miss, with Extraction and The Throwaways being passable action thrillers, while its horror films based on the hit Dead Rising video game series provide gruesome slabs of zombie fun for the whole family.

crackle original movie joe dirt 2 Screengrab via YouTube

‘Joe Dirt 2’

Crackle’s biggest project to date has been Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, starring David Spade, Brittany Daniel, Dennis Miller, Christopher Walken, and a host of other names you’d be surprised to see in a direct-to-Crackle original film. The biggest surprise is that Joe Dirt 2 is great, capturing the weird joy of the original film while (god help us for saying this) moving the story of Joe Dirt forward. What could easily have been a cash grab has instead become an unexpected gem for Crackle.

Producing original movie content may be slow going, Crackle has invested heavily in original series as well. Its big series for 2017 is an adaptation of Guy Richie’s groundbreaking heist movie Snatch, starring Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint. Full of sharp gangster film dialogue and the original film’s taste for blood, Snatch is a welcome treat to discover.

crackle tv show 'snatch' Photo via YouTube

‘Snatch,’ a Crackle original series

If they have one show that’s worth signing up for the service by itself, it’s StartUp, a gritty crime drama about an upstart company that gets in over its head when it takes dirty money. Its cast list reads like something you’d expect out of Netflix, with Ron Perlman (Hand of God) joining Adam Brody (The O.C.), Edi Gathegi (The Blacklist), Otmara Marrero (Graceland) and Martin Freeman (Sherlock). It’s dark, thrilling, and brilliantly acted.

Viewers looking for lighter fare will enjoy Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, a talk show where the legendary standup takes a famous comedy friend out for some coffee and conversation in a fancy car. Combining Seinfeld’s gearhead obsession with legitimately thoughtful insights into the some of the biggest names in comedy, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has built a loyal following. In fact, it’s so good Netflix poached the series, but you can still stream the first nine seasons on Crackle, featuring interviews with comedians like John Oliver and Steve Harvey right now. President Obama even drops in for an episode.

Should you try Crackle?

crackle app Photo via Crackle

There’s no reason you shouldn’t at least give Crackle a shot. Yes, the app is a little buggy still. Sure, there are often a lot of ads. But within its budget confines, Crackle is an incredible product, offering far more value than its free foundation would imply. You get access to good Hollywood movies, a massive collection of new and classic TV, and a growing library of original content. Crackle may not be the coolest kid on the block, but it still has plenty to offer. 

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.