David Johnstone

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu compared for streaming movies

July 23, 2013

Paying a small price each month to get unlimited access to watch as many movies as you want sounds like a good deal for those who watch lots of movies. Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus all have libraries of thousands of movies and TV shows that customers can stream. Here I look at how good the selection they offer actually is.

First up, the IMDB top 250. These aren’t necessarily the greatest movies ever made, but it is a good selection of the most loved and most important films of all time.

The following table shows the availability of each movie through Netflix (streaming), Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Crackle, YouTube and Epix according to Can I Stream It?. The final column shows the availability on any of the streaming services. All data was collected in July 2013.


Note: There seem to be more movies on YouTube than this indicates. Other old movies that are in the public domain like Nosferatu can be found, and even more recent movies like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are there. I’m not sure what copyright law thinks about this though.

We have slightly more than a quarter of these movies available through these streaming services. Netflix comes out the best, with 15% of the titles available. But, to be fair, a lot of these movies are old or obscure or foreign and don’t appeal to most people.

Let’s look at some more recent movies that received critical acclaim. Namely, let’s look at the 58 films that were nominated for Oscars in 2010. These movies aren’t brand new now, and there’s a lot of big movies like Avatar and Up in this selection.


If you want to watch foreign films or documentaries you might be in luck, but other than that, they’re all pretty useless. None of the movies nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role or Best Achievement in Directing are available for streaming. There are a handful of unavailable obscure short films and documentaries that might make these numbers look worse than they are, but on the other hand, none of the household names like The Hurt Locker and Star Trek (which were also nominated for multiple Oscars) are available.

Sight & Sound, a magazine published by the British Film Institute, has produced a list of the greatest movies of all time based on top ten lists provided to it by film professionals every decade from 1952. Here is the top 250 from the 2012 poll. (Note that there are actually 282 films listed, as there are 47 films tied at the bottom, since the list is based on top ten lists provided by about 1000 critics, which means those near the bottom have only a handful of votes each).


Hulu puts in a relatively strong performance with 15% of all movies available, and twice as many as the closest competitor, Netflix. This is because Hulu offers a selection of The Criterion Collection films, which is an organsiation dedicated to making high quality releases of important films from the history of cinema. That said, only about a quarter of all the films and four of the top ten are available through any service, so budding movie critics will need to search elsewhere to watch most of these.

Finally, let’s look at the least obscure movies of all, the 250 biggest movies in the box office from 2000 to 2012.


Netflix comes out ahead of the competition, but given that only 10% of all of these movies are available through streaming services, it’s a bit of a hollow victory.

In conclusion, the obvious winner is The Pirate Bay Netflix comes out slightly ahead of its competition, with Amazon Prime being the next best, although Hulu is worth a look if access to old and important movies is important to you. But really, no matter which way you look at it, none of these streaming services currently provide an impressive selection of movies. They might be useful if you just want to watch a movie, but if you know what movies you want to watch, they’re not even close to sufficient.

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