3 hidden gems to stream that won't cost you a penny

There are 1,000s of movies and TV shows to watch for free online, here are three you might not have seen before

Donnie Darko on comic book background
(Image credit: Flower Films)

There's no doubt about it, streaming services have changed the way we watch movies and TV shows, whether that be at home or on our travels. However, they can also be pretty pricey, especially if you like to take membership to two or more.

Add a paid TV package and you can find money leaving your bank account faster than a critic from an Adam Sandler all-nighter.

Thankfully though, as well as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+ and the like, there is also a growing number of free streaming platforms that are funded through advertising rather than subscription fees. And, while they are often home to a, shall we say, mediocre fare, there are also some rare gems if you dig deep enough.

Here are three favourites you can stream for free right now.


  • Where: Rakuten TV
  • Stars: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan

It's rare in movie making that a film becomes overshadowed and forgotten about simply due to the success of the director's next project. However, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy all but doomed his 2002 thriller Insomnia to be resigned to the bargain bin of history.

Thankfully, thanks to free streaming services like Rakuten TV, it can have a new lease of life.

A dark and thoughtful thriller with a stellar cast, Insomnia follows two detectives investigating a possible serial killer in Nightmute, Alaska. It's a town where the sun never sets and therefore insomnia and sleep disorders are commonplace. And so, as the case drags on, delusions become regular and our detectives simply cannot trust their own eyes or each other.

With Nolan at the helm Insomnia should have been the next Seven except it was almost instantly ignored, did very little business, and was brushed aside very quickly in favour of other thrillers of the year, such as Red Dragon and Panic Room.

But, if you like intelligent and slow-paced drama, love a serial killer thriller and enjoy seeing Pacino eating up the scenery then give this one a go... especially as it's free.

Donnie Darko

  • Where: Freevee
  • Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze
  • Directed by: Richard Kelly

I originally watched Donnie Darko at an after-club party with a load of ultra pretentious wannabe cinephiles. They all sat around boasting about their understanding of the time and space theory, the futility of the central character's mission and the juxtaposition of fate versus responsibility.

I, on the other hand, had a beer and laughed my head off at possibly the best line in any movie ever, a line that even 23 years later I use as a daily mantra: "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion."

Donnie Darko is a very well written, well devised and intelligent film that looks at the nature of time as a fluid construct and the element of fate as being simply part of that construct when viewed as a whole. More than that, it is a funny movie with some genuinely great script work. Gyllenhaal is great in what turned out to be his emerging role and the movie served as a stepping stone for Richard Kelly who, among other things, went on to co-writer Tony Scott's Domino.

It's hugely stylised, interesting, and has a superb soundtrack. There are also some stand-out performances and imagery that have helped Donnie Darko stay in the public consciousness since the early 2000s – the stark image of Frank the Rabbit is still well remembered, for example.

I was delighted to find this available now, for free on Amazon's Freevee service.

Take Shelter

  • Where: Plex
  • Stars: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Tova Stewart
  • Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Before 2023’s Knock At The Cabin brought claustrophobic and suspenseful end of the world paranoia to our screens there was Take Shelter.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, this tale of an ordinary man who receives visions of a possible approaching disaster is a masterclass in character building. Is he insane? Are his visions real? Will anyone believe him and will his efforts to survive drive away those he is looking to protect?

It capably deals with themes such as paranoia, stress, depression, anxiety and abandonment, and the film is dark, chilling, and glacially paced. It is also tense and unrelenting throughout. 

Shannon, as always, delivers a masterclass as a dad and father whose only aim is to protect those around him at all costs, seemingly oblivious to the gathering emotional storm that is not the physical one he expects. 

Criminally overlooked as a movie and now overshadowed by the better-known but inferior Knock At The Cabin, Take Shelter is now finding a home on numerous streaming platforms, including the free arm of Plex.

This is a film well worth a watch, just don't expect any kind of light humour or happy endings.

Brian Comber

Liverpool lad, mid-life crisis survivor, writer of short fiction, screenplays, articles, reviews and opinion pieces. Brian is totally in love with cinema in all its many forms. He writes for websites, blogs and published magazines, including Screen Rant, IGN and Purple Revolver in the constant hope it will help him avoid getting a real grown-up job. In his free time, he's a gym obsessive and previously good guitarist.