If you’re looking for entertainment for the entire family, Kanopy is the video streaming service for you. With big-name content partners, Kanopy is a platform for independent films and documentaries as diverse as they are thought-provoking. Kanopy started in 2008 to provide films to academic institutions and it now has a collection of over 30,000 films that you can stream on tons of platforms. The service helps to fill the void left as independent cinemas close around the world by sharing movies you can’t find anywhere else. The price is unbeatable, too—it’s free.
What Can You Watch on Kanopy?
Kanopy offers a huge array of dramas, comedies, documentaries, biopics, and television series. For example, the service is home to 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, the Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, as well as popular series from major television networks like History, A&E, and PBS. The Criterion Channel also lends some titles.
Like the Criterion Channel’s streaming service, Kanopy offers classic Hollywood films like A Star is Born, His Girl Friday, and Dial M for Murder. There are also some purely educational films and series from The Great Courses, with titles such as Understanding Russia: A Cultural History.
Kanopy’s partnerships with distribution giants such as A24, Bleecker Street, HBO Documentary Films, Paramount, PBS, and Samuel Goldwyn Films bring considerable value to the service, too, even if you won’t find any Kanopy-branded original content. The range of content is comparable to that of PBS Documentaries, which pulls from American Experience, American Masters, Frontline, Independent Lens, Nature, Nova, POV, and other independent producers.
If you want to watch more classic movies, check out our roundup of the best movie streaming services, for top options. CuriosityStream in particular stands out for its excellent collection of documentary and educational films.
A Kanopy membership also includes access to Kanopy Kids, which is appropriate for viewers ages 2 and older. Kanopy Kids allows children and adults to watch an unlimited number of educational and entertaining videos every month, including moves, TV series, animated storybooks, and more. Disney+ is another top option for families.
How Much Does Kanopy Cost?
Kanopy is totally free. All you need is a library card or a university email address to sign up for the service. Major streaming services like Netflix ($8.99 per month), Hulu ($5.99 per month), and Amazon Prime Video ($8.99 per month) have video libraries that can compete with the size of Kanopy’s, but all of those require paid subscriptions.
Other comparable streaming services, such as PBS Documentaries ($3.99 per month) and CuriosityStream ($2.99 per month), are not free but are still affordable. More serious film buffs have to pay more for Mubi and The Criterion Channel, which each cost $10.99 per month.
How is Kanopy free? It starts with the brick-and-mortar libraries that offer a variety of digital resources they’ve bought for their patrons. The public library or university associated with your account taps into those resources and covers the access costs, thus allowing patrons to watch for free with no ads. Kanopy is not the only free video streaming service, however. Editors’ Choice winner Peacock, for instance, offers a large ad-supported library of popular movies and network shows.
There is a limit as to how much content you can watch on Kanopy. You get 10 Play Credits each month and can use those on all the content in the regular Kanopy collection. There are some Credit Free movies you can watch, however, and the entire Kanopy Kids collection is free for unlimited viewing. Other free services do not impose any limits on the amount of content you can watch, but, as mentioned, support their content with ads.
Kanopy is available on the web, mobile platforms (Android, Fire OS, iOS), media streaming devices (Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku), and smart TVs (Samsung and Telestra). It does not offer any apps for game consoles.
As mentioned, Kanopy requires a public library card or university email address for access to its extensive library. I entered my information and email address on the signup page and was granted immediate access.
Kanopy’s web interface is pretty intuitive, with a slider showing featured content on the home page, followed by newly added movies and documentaries underneath. Each row of content is organized by genre or characteristics such as Directed by Women, Oscar Winners and Nominees, Seasonal Favorites, and more.
The search feature on the site is extensive. You can search by subject, filmmakers, features, languages, captions, year of production, and more. The landing page for each feature has buttons for adding movies and shows to your personalized playlists, sharing the content, and even creating shorter clips of movies and shows to embed on websites or share on social media platforms. The landing page also has a wealth of information about each piece of content, plus user ratings and comments. Mubi and Shudder allow subscribers to leave reviews, too.
If you need to finish watching something later or want to see what other people have viewed from your account, the service keeps track of where you (and anyone else) left off in a Viewing History section, much like the one Netflix offers.
To test the mobile experience, I downloaded the Kanopy app on my iPhone; I didn’t have any issues accessing my account. The interface looks much like the website, with a dark background and colored thumbnails. You can hit the Browse button at the bottom of the screen to scroll through the videos that are organized by genre or tap the search button to look for something specific. The My Lists button takes you to your previously viewed videos and videos that you have started but not finished.
One drawback of the service is that you cannot download content to watch later or in a place that doesn’t have Wi-Fi. PBS Documentaries and CuriosityStream both support offline downloads. You can easily link your Kanopy account to a media streaming device from the mobile app, which takes a little bit of the pain out of that task.
Currently, Kanopy’s playback screen just has standard controls, along with a button for changing the playback speed (up to 2X) and a toggle for closed captions. Kanopy does offer a nifty picture-in-picture (PiP) mode, but it doesn’t let you choose the streaming resolution. Naturally, there are a lot of older films on the site that are not available in 4K, but it would be great to have the option to choose a streaming quality for the newer titles.
I would like Kanopy to add something similar to Amazon Prime Video’s IMDb-powered X-Ray overlay, which shows a list of cast members in a scene as well as some fun facts about the production. That said, some mainstream streaming services, including Hulu, don’t offer a comparable PiP mode.
I tested Kanopy’s streaming performance over both gigabit ethernet and Wi-Fi connections (450Mbps download). I watched Oscar- and Golden Globe-winner Moonlight without any issues. I switched from my desktop test device to my mobile phone halfway through the film and was able to pick up right where I’d left off.
Since Kanopy is free, it does not impose any restrictions on sharing your account and you can stream on an unlimited number of devices. However, every viewing will count against your 10 Play Credit limit for the month (except for Kanopy Kids content).
Accessibility and Parental Controls
As with Amazon Prime Video, you can adjust the font size and color of the captions. You can also customize the background and the window for captions, as well as choosing the font family of the text. None of Kanopy’s content supports audio descriptions for the visually impaired, which would be a nice feature to add in the future. Kanopy does, however, provide time-stamped transcriptions for every movie and TV show. You can access these resources by clicking More on a title’s details page.
You can make sure your kids are viewing age-appropriate content with Kanopy’s built-in parental control tools. If you choose to set up this feature, you will need to enter a PIN whenever you want to leave Kanopy Kids content, regardless of the device you use. Parental control settings can only be managed from a browser. If you click on a non-Kids Kanopy title from an email or post on the web, you will have to enter your PIN to view that content, too.
Kanopy and VPN
A VPN can keep your information private while you browse but many video streaming services block VPN traffic to enforce geographic-based streaming rights. Unlike Amazon Prime Video and its associated channels, Kanopy works just fine over a VPN connection. I connected to a US-based ProtonVPN server and a server based in the Netherlands while reviewing Kanopy and did not run into any streaming problems.
An Educational Streaming Library
Kanopy is an invaluable resource for anyone with a current university email address or a library card. It’s perfect for sharing new and old movies with family members, and Kanopy Kids provides hours of free educational entertainment for the little ones. With tens of thousands of videos to choose from, just about everyone should find something of interest on Kanopy. It’s an Editors’ Choice winner for free streaming video services, an honor it shares with Peacock. Kanopy’s limit on streaming content each month is the main drawback, but we like that this restriction does not apply to content in the Kanopy Kids section.
Netflix continues to be our Editors’ Choice winner for on-demand video streaming with its robust library of originals and movies. Hulu is also a great option for its combination of immense on-demand library and live TV offerings. CuriosityStream is our top pick for documentary fans.