How To Watch Movies For Free Thanks To Your Local Library

Including a few viewing picks to get you started.
By Dede Akolo
A woman lying down and watching a movie on her laptop (Photo: iStock)

If you’re a film fanatic like me, I would guess that you’re paying for at least two different video streaming services. I won’t go into the boring, complicated world of licensing and copyright that allows certain platforms in certain countries to have certain movies. I will offer a solution: your public library. Here, the most popular film and video streaming sites—all free with your library card.

Founded in 2008 in San Francisco, Kanopy is the leading partner to libraries in the “free-to-stream” world. When creating an account, you will be directed to your home library’s sign-in page to verify your credentials. From there, your account will be linked to either your email, Facebook, or Google account.

Kanopy offers users a plethora of selections: from the arthouse and classics selections of the Criterion Collection to documentaries and recent festival releases. Users are given eight “credits” per month, good for eight films. These credits replenish every month as the catalogue changes, too.

What to watch now:

  • Dial M for Murder (1954) This 1954 Hitchcock classic details the attempted murder arranged by a husband of his unfaithful wife that goes awry; it’s filled with the director’s trademark twists, turns, and masterful cinematic flairs of this director.
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) Released in 2019 to critical acclaim, this French romantic period piece had me inconsolable for the last twenty minutes.
  • Muriel’s Wedding (1994) In this 1994 comedy-drama, Toni Collette stars as Muriel, a socially awkward young woman who steals her parents’ money to finance a vacation filled with antics, hiccups, Abba—and perhaps love.

Hoopla may be less familiar to readers than Kanopy. This shows in its selection as well. While Kanopy touts itself for having a distinguished and curated collection, Hoopla remains a little more muted and humble. Users can sign in directly with their library card and can “borrow” up to 8 films per month for up to 3 days each; if you're willing to do a bit of searching, worthy titles can be found.

What to watch now:

  • Halloween (1978) The horror genre looked very different before the 1980s and the inception of a lot of tropes seen today can be traced to John Carpenter’s masterpiece. While Carpenter did not intend to inspire a generation of schlocky, misogynistic, and downright gross copycats, his original piece still holds up.
  • Zola (2021) If you are an avid Twitter user like myself then you must have heard about the Homeric thread that began with “Ya’ll wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense”. Zola, real woman, meets Stephanie while waitressing at Hooters in Atlanta. What proceeds is a sordid tale of drinking, drugs, friends, and enemies.
  • Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) Finishing on a true crime note, Dear Zachary caught the world by storm when it was first released in 2008. No spoilers! All I want to say is, tell your friends you love them.

Typically, libraries offer OverDrive as a service providing ebooks and audiobooks, all through a mobile app. They even have a handy getting started tutorial as different institutions use different apps to access their catalogue. OverDrive, being primarily for digital books, functions a lot more like a physical library as once a user has borrowed a movie, there begins a waitlist for other users. The selection of feature films is not as extensive as other services, but there are some contemporary hits from Japanese directors like Takeshi Kitano and Koji Fukada, which other services lacked.

Go watch some movies!

Most major library systems across Canada offer access to these services and, thankfully, many have helpful guides. This isn’t just limited to Toronto or Calgary, but can be found throughout Newfoundland & Labrador public libraries and in other cities like London, Ontario. Reach out to your local library to find out more about how to navigate their website and partnering services.


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