Is a Criterion Channel Subscription Worth It for Movie Lovers?

From left: Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls (1955). Photo Courtesy: Herbert Dorfman/Corbis/Getty Images

If you’re a movie lover, you may already be familiar with the Criterion Collection, a video distribution company dedicated to preserving “important classic and contemporary films”. But did you know that Criterion has its own streaming service, too?

Called the Criterion Channel, the platform is yet another to add to your long list of streaming subscriptions. But, before you do, we’ll give you an everything-you-need-to-know rundown of what the Criterion Channel offers, so that you can decide if it’ll satisfy the cinephile in you. 

Is the Criterion Channel Subscription Really a Must-Have For Cinephiles?

While almost everyone enjoys movies, there are those among us cinephiles who just love everything about the art of film. Sure, you’ll find the odd classic film on Amazon Prime or Netflix every now and then, but, if you’re really looking to up your film history viewing, the Criterion Channel offers access to the Criterion Collection’s entire streaming library of over 1,000 of the best films in movie history. And that’s just a starting point. 

A scene from Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai (1954). Photo Courtesy: Toho/IMDb

The streaming service also constantly updates its selection of classic and contemporary films from all over the world. From the latest Hollywood Oscar nominees to independent, foreign, and art-house movies you won’t find anywhere else, Criterion has something for every type of movie lover. Looking to change up your viewing experience? You’ll also find a line-up of special features, short films, and film discussions. 

One of the Criterion Channel’s many strengths is that it’s constantlyrefreshed with themed line-ups each month, which means titles you might not otherwise know can find their way into your line of sight. For instance, one month, the streamer featured a line-up of Pre-Code Paramount films, which were made back in the days before Hollywood buttoned down on censorship with the introduction of the restrictive Hays Code. The offerings that month included all the fun of boozy movies like 1932’s Merrily We Go To Hell and Mae West’s 1933 film I’m No Angel

The Wealth of Offerings Is a Criterion Channel Subscription’s Biggest Pro

One of the challenges of having a Criterion Channel subscription is also the service’s biggest strength: there’s so much content. The wealth of options means you won’t run out of movies any time soon, but it can also make it hard to know where to start. 


To that end, the service allows you to navigate its offerings in a few different ways. You can scroll through its entire collection manually; check out its revolving “now playing” selections; or search for movies by name, genre, decade and so on, making it easy to find everything from your favorite Revisionist Western to that one Hitchcock film you never got around to watching.

From left: Guinevere Turner and director Cheryl Dunye in The Watermelon Woman (1996). Photo Courtesy: First Run Features/IMDb

The Criterion Channel also features a handy list of preset categories and collections — they get as broad as American indie films and as specific as Oscar-nominated foreign-language short films — which makes it a lot easier to narrow things down. 

Other collections are arranged around a particular theme, such as women directors and cinematographers, or niche genres and movements, like French New Wave movies or Italian Neorealism films. The Criterion Channel also offers groupings based on the work of specific actors or directors, so whether you want to watch all things Sidney Poitier or David Lynch, Criterion makes it easy. 

Some of Criterion Channel Subscription’s Best Movies

Much like other streaming services, Criterion Channel’s selection is constantly revolving and evolving. But you can certainly expect certain kinds of movies. That is, you won’t find the latest Marvel movie here, even if it was directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, but you will find more than just old black-and-white films. 


First off, there are plenty of great classics to explore if you’re in the mood for something from Hollywood’s so-called “golden era”. It’s likely you’d immediately associate these movies with a Criterion Channel subscription — but there’s a reason they’re classics. Check out iconic films like Bette Davis’ All About Eve (1950); Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954); the Marlon Brando- and Frank Sinatra-helmed Guys and Dolls (1955); and A Raisin in the Sun (1961), which stars Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. 

Ruby Dee (foreground) and Claudia McNeil in A Raisin in the Sun (1961). Photo Courtesy: Bettman/Getty Images

On the other end of the decade spectrum, you’ll find more contemporary hits like Desert Hearts (1985), Do the Right Thing (1989), The Watermelon Woman (1996), Mulholland Drive (2001) and Frances Ha (2013). And, if it’s art-house films you’re after, you’ll find an entire collection dedicated to the genre, which includes film history essentials, like Federico Fellini’s (1963). 

Of course, it should also be noted that the Criterion Collection has quite a few gaps to fill; perhaps unsurprisingly (but nonetheless unfortunately), the 1,000-plus films in Criterion’s library are largely directed by white men. While that does seem to be slowly shifting given the recent (and ongoing) inclusion of more films by queer filmmakers, Black filmmakers and filmmakers of color, calling it out is important.

After all, director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel) has aptly called Criterion “the Louvre of movies,” which means its curation matters; unlike other popular streamers, what the Criterion Channel offers shapes, or gatekeeps, cinema’s canon

How Much Is a Criterion Channel Subscription — and How Do You Access It?

Like all the best streaming services today, Criterion Channel doesn’t slack in the app department. You can download the app on your smart TV or streaming device (think Roku, Apple TV and so on), or enjoy streaming right from your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. In a pinch, you can also stream the Criterion Channel on your computer. 

From left: Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive (2001). Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures/IMDb

As far as how much a Criterion Channel subscription will run you, it varies a bit. You can choose from either a monthly option, which costs $10.99 per month, or you can pay for a year-long subscription upfront for just $99. Still on the fence? The good news is that the Criterion Channel offers a generous 14-day free trial, allowing you to see if it really is worth the investment. 

Criterion Channel’s set-up may take a little getting used to simply because there’s so much content to explore. Again, that’s it’s biggest pro, but also the source of a learning curve and maybe some “what-do-I-watch” indecision. That said, getting familiar with the search features, which allow you to select multiple filters at a time, can go a long way toward pointing you in the right direction — or finding you a movie you didn’t expect to love. 

So, Is a Criterion Channel Subscription Right for You? 

Whether or not the Criterion Channel is your kind of streaming service will largely depend on what types of movies you enjoy. If you’re into classics, foreign films, shorts, or the type of movies that are likely to have premiered at film festival, then the odds are high that Criterion is right up your alley. When it comes to films that are more highly regarded among the cinephiles, the Criterion Channel’s massive collection is hard to beat. 

From left: Patricia Charbonneau and Helen Shaver in Desert Hearts (1985). Photo Courtesy: Desert Hearts Productions/The Samuel Goldwyn Company

A Criterion Channel subscription is also a must-have for film students and filmmakers — not just due to its extensive library, but because of special features like 15-minute-a-month film school; the series Observations on Film Art; and exclusive talks featuring prominent industry insiders. Whether you work in the film industry yourself or are just a huge fan of great cinema, the Criterion Channel may turn out to be your new go-to app. 

On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a place to stream the latest Disney movies or Hollywood’s biggest summer blockbusters, the Criterion Channel probably isn’t for you. While you’ll certainly find films on Criterion that are known and loved by wide audiences, the focus is more on film as fine art. And while what constitutes “fine art” is debatable, let’s just say the Criterion Channel is the closest you’ll get to having the local indie theater in your living room.