The Best Streaming Services to Subscribe to on a Budget

These are the streamers giving you the most bang for your buck right now.

Ayo Edebiri Abby Elliot and Jeremy Allen White in The Bear streaming on Hulu.

Ayo Edebiri, Abby Elliot and Jeremy Allen White in The Bear, streaming on Hulu.Courtesy of Chuck Hodes for FX.

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, five new streaming services will have emerged, while several others will have probably formed a content Chimera as networks and tech companies continue to shift in this turbulent era of TV and movies. The good news? You don’t need to keep spending a large chunk of your nest egg on subscriptions to every streamer under the sun, as only a handful are really nailing it.

Picking the best streaming services is an inexact science, but we chose to focus on the three with the most enjoyable original shows and the strongest selection of films. We’ve also listed a handful of projects that are leaving the streamers in July, so you can seize the moment and sink into your couch.

Hulu

Noteworthy Original Series

The Bear: The second season of Hulu’s Chicago restaurant show features more slow broiled drama and high-anxiety kitchen calamities, while fleshing out the characters played by Abby Elliott and Lionel Boyce in particularly captivating episodes. Killer work from the trio of leads (Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Ayo Edebiri) continues, and Season 2 features a murderer’s row of guest stars including Will Poulter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gillian Jacobs, and Mitra Jouhari.

The Act: At a time when there is more discussion about the ethics behind true crime, adapting the salacious story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard was a high-risk endeavor. But The Act manages to be both can’t-look-away entertainment and a refined story about disturbing family dynamics thanks to excellent work by Patricia Arquette and Joey King.

Searching for Soul Food: Much like soul food itself, Alisa Reynolds’ excellent new Hulu series was born out of struggle and perseverance. The celebrity chef nearly lost her prized Los Angeles restaurant, and used that adversity as a springboard for a sumptuous show that takes the charming Reynolds both across the United States and around the world. Like the best food and travel shows, Searching for Soul Food is profoundly informative without ever feeling like homework, a testament to Reynolds’ ease in front of the camera and the delectable, history-rich meals she centers.

Noteworthy Movies

The Quiet Girl: One of the best reviewed movies of 2023, Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl is an inspired spin on the coming-of-age formula, thanks to a rich setting (rural Ireland in the early ‘80s) and a star-making turn from lead actor Catherine Clinch. Exploring grief, growth, and the power of family with tenderness and a deft touch, The Quiet Girl is one of those indie movies people will be raving about for years.

Infinity Pool: The “vacation from hell” is a horror movie trope that has been around for decades, but writer-director Brandon Cronenberg (yes, of those Cronenbergs) puts a bizarre and unforgettable spin on the concept with Infinity Pool. Headlined by terrific turns from Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, the movie explores the troubling power dynamics that come from international tourism, creative malaise, and the tolls of hedonism in the context of a sexy, lurid thriller. It doesn’t match the schema-shattering highs of Cronenberg’s Possessor, but Infinity Pool is ambitious, original, and just so goddamn weird.

Chevalier: Joseph Bologne was a true renaissance man, a virtuoso musician and accomplished swordsman, whose stunning musical career in 18th century France is a natural fit for the silver screen. Kelvin Harrison Jr. delivers the best work of his career in the title role, and Stephen Williams’ direction is thrilling even for those who have minimal interest in classical music. Like Miloš Forman’s Amadeus, Chevalier is rich in human drama and stunning musical sequences, making for one of 2023’s best dramatic films.

Titles Leaving In July:

The Night House: A slightly disjointed horror flick by indie director David Bruckner, The Night House works because Rebecca Hall’s performance is undeniable. An isolated widow torn between giving in to her worst impulses and truly moving on, Hall does some of the best work in her storied career, and even as the plot starts to unravel, you simply can’t take your eyes off of her.

Best in Show: The superlative film in Christopher Guest’s impressive CV, Best in Show is a masterpiece of the mockumentary format, featuring memorable turns from Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, and Parker Posey in a droll send-up of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The pups featured in the movie are pretty cute, too. Shoutout Winky the Norwich Terrier.

White Men Can’t Jump: The 2023 remake starring Jack Harlow and Sinqua Walls has its charms, but Ron Shelton’s 1992 original is undeniable, a blast of a sports movie that offers insightful commentary on race relations and economic precarity to boot. Wesley Snipes is like Steph Curry throwing up heat-check three-pointers in every scene, but Rosie Perez is key to the film working, making the stakes feel real and grounded while shining in her Jeopardy!-centric plot.

Paramount+

Noteworthy Original Series

1923: At this point, Paramount+ is pretty much the Taylor Sheridan Network. The writer and director behind Yellowstone has created a slew of successful show’s for the streamer, none better than 1923 which makes excellent use of Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford in the lead roles. 1923 expands the story of the Dutton family into the Prohibition-stricken western U.S., but even those who don’t want to delve into the Yellowstone Cinematic Universe will find plenty to enjoy with this slow-burning drama.

Big Nate: Based on Lincoln Peirce’s long-running comic, Big Nate is one of those charming children’s shows that works as whole family entertainment. The eclectic animation style keeps the tales of the titular sixth-grader and his friends joyous and captivating, while there’s particularly fun voice work from Dove Cameron and Kevin Michael Richardson.

Noteworthy Movies

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves: One of the most enjoyable fantasy films in years, Honor Amongst Thieves seems destined to become a cult favorite in its streaming run. Directed by the tandem behind the side-splitting Game Night, Honor Amongst Thieves offers surprising, subversive humor (the graveyard sequence in particular), and puts Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Justice Smith in positions to succeed. Big budget movies in the 2020s play it frustratingly safe, but the Dungeons & Dragons movie is idiosyncratic and charming enough to make up for a plot that can feel relatively staid.

Scream VI: Transplanting the Scream franchise from Woodsboro to the Big Apple was a risky change to the status quo of a consistently successful horror franchise, particularly after the messiness of the Los Angeles-set Scream 3. But Scream VI soars thanks to a confident ensemble led by Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, just the right amount of meta humor from Jasmin Savoy Brown, and several killer Big Apple setpieces, including a genuinely nerve-wracking sequence on a subway train. The big twist is underwhelming, but Scream VI is so fun that it hardly matters.

Jerry & Marge Go Large: David Frankel’s 2022 feature doesn’t try to do too much, it simply puts Bryan Cranston and Annette Benning, two of the best actors of their generation, in as many scenes together as humanly possible. This charming and distinctly midwestern tale of plucky resourcefulness is a delight because of its leads (and a memorable supporting turn from Rainn Wilson), enough so that overcomes a predictable David-and-Goliath plot and life lessons that are wrapped up just a little too neatly.

Paramount+ doesn’t make its “leaving soon” data easily accessible, so live in the moment and watch as many shows and movies as you can. You never know when they’ll be gone.

Max

Noteworthy Original Series

Full Circle: Beginning July 13, Steven Soderbergh returns to TV in a contemporary New York crime series. Soderbergh worked with showrunner Ed Solomon on the terrific robbery film No Sudden Move, and the pair once again have a killer cast with Zazie Beetz, Timothy Olyphant, Jharrel Jerome, and Claire Danes in tow.

The Righteous Gemstones: Danny McBride’s opus is back for a third season skewering the world of televangelism while continuing to build out the backstory for the craven, and yet strangely endearing titular family. In a show where basically every actor is going for it, The Righteous Gemstones never feels too indulgent, shining thanks to the quartet of leads and iconic supporting turns from Cassidy Freeman, Walton Goggins, and Steve Zahn.

I Hate Suzie Too: A hilarious calling card for star and co-creator Billie Piper, I Hate Suzie Too works brilliantly as a scathing send-up of pop music culture and as a compelling character study with significant wit and bite. Piper and Succession writer Lucy Prebble have crafted a series that is as thought-provoking as any Emmy-winning drama, but also staggeringly funny, thanks to Piper’s complete commitment in the titular role.

Noteworthy Movies

Evil Dead Rise: The era of prestige horror gave us some of the best genre films of the 2010s, but it also inspired a generation of scary movie directors to focus on serious explorations of capital-T trauma instead of making scary movies that are as fun as they are freaky. Thankfully, Lee Cronin seems cut from a different cloth, perfectly stepping into Sam Raimi’s beloved franchise with an Evil Dead film that is gory, garish, and downright gleeful. Rise requires a strong stomach, as it includes some of the nastiest scenes a mainstream horror flick has featured in years, but it’s also a hoot, thanks to committed performances from Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland.

Rock Hudson–All That Heaven Allowed: Rock Hudson is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of Hollywood, a mainstream star and certifiable dreamboat who kept his own homosexuality a close to the vest secret until he eventually died of complications from AIDS. All That Heaven Allowed, Stephen Kijak’s captivating new documentary, focuses on Hudson’s personal life, peeling back the layers on a matinee idol. Critics have pointed out that doc doesn’t delve deeply into Hudson’s actual acting career and filmography, but the film is compelling, and worth watching whether you know the 20th century screen superstar’s work or not.

Reality: Sydney Sweeney has shown primo acting chops before, most notably in Sharp Objects and Clementine, but she’s never had a role as meaty and meaningful as she does in Reality. Playing military veteran and classified information leaker Reality Winner, Sweeney carries Tina Satter’s first feature film, which adapts her own play Is This a Room. As a streaming exclusive released in May, Reality risks being lost in the shuffle when critics put their year-end lists together, but Sweeney’s performance is truly enthralling, and hopefully indicative of the kinds of roles she gets to play in the future.

Titles Leaving In July

Bottle Rocket: With Asteroid City in theaters now, it’s worth revisiting Wes Anderson’s first feature to see an era when the acclaimed director was a little less aesthetic-focused and more committed to story. Owen and Luke Wilson are excellent as the hapless criminal tandem at the center of this crime tale, and Anderson shows some of the painstaking tendencies that would inform the best work of his career here.

Force Majeure: Still the best film in Ruben Östlund’s filmography, Force Majeure is staggering satire, the kind you watch through the gaps in your fingers like the worst torture scene in a Saw movie. A brutal watch, Force Majeure’s exploration of selfishness among the European upper class is hilarious and hairraising, thanks to committed work by Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli.

Old: Given its patently goofy premise and the involvement of M. Night Shyamalan, it’s no surprise that Old is still largely viewed as a meme first, movie second. But the Twitter chatter around the movie ignores the fact that its depiction of rapid aging is really fucking scary, and imaginatively rendered by Shyamalan. Though the dialogue is clunky, performances by Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, and Thomasin McKenzie go a long way to make Old eerie and emotionally resonant.

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