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Streaming services are a mess, but JustWatch keeps me sane
Cord-cutting hasn’t simplified our lives the way some of us were hoping. Initially the promise was that we could subscribe to one or two services and get plenty of movies and TV shows. As the number of services has multiplied, however, content has become ever more fractured, and businesses have embraced the idea of platform exclusives as a hook. You’ll only ever be able to watch Foundation on Apple TV Plus, for example, or The Witcher on Netflix.
When movies and shows aren’t exclusive, they can still be maddeningly hard to track down. During the pandemic I liked to watch movies while weightlifting at home, which meant going through upwards of a dozen movies per month, and finding specific titles that would pump me up — Conan the Barbarian or Rocky IV, for example. But a movie that’s available on one service can move to another without warning, or sometimes disappear entirely in a futile attempt to make me pay for a rental or purchase. JustWatch helped keep my lifting nights on track, and still helps with movie nights with my wife.
See also: The best video streaming services
What is JustWatch, and how do you use it?
JustWatch is available via the web, mobile apps for Android and iOS, and TV apps for Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, Xbox, and select LG and Samsung sets. Every version is free to use, though you can optionally pay $2.49 per month (in the US) to upgrade to JustWatch Pro, which removes ads and allows for more complex search filters. Pro is also available in a handful of other regions like Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand.
At its core, JustWatch is a service that tallies which movies and shows are available where. Once you’ve marked which platforms you use, you can search for a title and it will show all compatible options for streaming, rental, or ownership, sometimes with links to start watching right away. When I first wrote this piece, for example, the service showed I could stream Conan the Barbarian for free on Peacock, or rent it from services like Amazon and YouTube. If I wanted to buy it, the options were plentiful.
JustWatch additionally tells you if a title is ad-supported or requires a subscription, and in the case of rentals and purchases, the exact price from each vendor. While Conan was a $15 purchase from Apple or Amazon for instance, it was $3 less from AMC. Filters let you highlight free options, or 4K resolution if quality is the priority. (There’s no 4K remaster of the original Conan, sadly.)
You can add any of your picks to a personal Watchlist, and help expand it by browsing Netflix-style recommendations based on what’s popular, as well as what you’ve marked Seen and Liked (or Disliked). One minor annoyance is that if something is on your Watchlist, but you mark it Seen, it’s automatically removed from your list as if you’d never want to watch it again — regardless of whether you Liked it.
How does JustWatch make streaming easier?
I’m a busy man with a wife and preschooler. I can’t afford to waste time choosing something for movie nights, not when the rest of my time outside Android Authority is often split between chores and workouts. My pandemic workouts were especially epic in length, since I didn’t have access to barbells.
When I sit down with my wife or friends, it's the ability to shop around that matters most.
JustWatch’s mobile apps mean that by the time my wife and I are sitting down for a movie, I’ve usually narrowed down both what I want to see and how I’m going to see it. New releases or my wife’s picks can flip things on their head, of course, but that’s still better than having to hunt through multiple apps for 30 minutes, or cast my fate to the wind with movies I’m unfamiliar with.
On the rare occasion I get to watch movies with friends, it’s the ability to shop around that matters most. Typically one of us has a clear idea of what we want to watch, it’s just a matter of figuring out where we can watch it while spending the least amount of cash. That’s especially important during parties, since snack expenses can add up, and sometimes we have kids and partners to get back to.
Which streaming services does JustWatch support?
There are too many to list here. I’d say it would be easier to list the exceptions, but any of those are so niche that they won’t matter to the vast majority of people. Here’s a fraction of the services you can track content on:
Are there alternatives to JustWatch?
Sort of, but they’re not one-for-one. Roku is famous for integrating neutral search functions into its smart TV platform, including voice commands. They’re honestly great, but sometimes they’re not as quick and seamless as JustWatch, and there are only two places you can use them: Roku devices or the company’s mobile app. Similar things can be said about Apple TV search, only worse. It tends to show fewer results, and it relies on an “Up Next” queue instead of a watchlist. Listen, Apple — just because I want to watch something eventually doesn’t mean it should be put alongside things I have in progress.
Read more: The best movie apps for Android
Perhaps the most popular alternative to JustWatch is Letterboxd, which is on the web, Android, iOS, and Apple TV, and lets you compile a watchlist while providing similar details on how you can watch something. It’s more of a social network than a streaming tool, however, and that shows in its interface, which is geared towards rating, reviewing, and sharing content. If all you’re trying to do is jump into a movie as fast as possible you could consider Reelgood, which is functionally similar to JustWatch but may have gaps in supported services. For me, JustWatch is an essential timesaver in the streaming universe.