Roku and Roku TVs have thousands of free channels, but it’s not always obvious where to find the good stuff.
You could spend hours scrolling through dozens of free Roku channels searching for a movie or TV show to watch.
So I have put together a list of the best free Roku channels, so you can quickly start watching a free movie or TV show, and not stress about burning too much time hopping from channel to channel.
Plex might not seem like an obvious choice for your lineup of Roku channels, and that’s why I put this really high up on my list.
It’s a free app that you can find within the Roku Channel store, and it used to be just a software hub for people who wanted to watch their movies that they burned onto a hard drive or a computer.
You can still do that, but now, Plex has a huge on-demand TV & movie section.
Not only have they partnered with some major movie studios such as Warner Brothers, Lionsgate and MGM. They’ve teamed up with Crackle.
Plex also just kicked off its own lineup of more than 80 live TV channels, including fubo sports network, the Reuters channel for news, and Law & Crime for true crime fans. You can listen to podcasts, and watch local news segments.
Plex is free, but I do suggest setting up an account so you can take advantage of personalizing your menus.
I also have a separate guide on how to use Plex to watch and record free local channels that you get with a TV antenna such as ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have recommended Hoopla because the selection didn’t seem that great.
Now, Hoopla is one of the better free TV and movie portals for a Roku. You need a public library card to start an account.
Recently, I discovered the first two seasons of Mr. Mercedes on Hoopla, There’s the first season of The Alienist — which debuted on TNT. And if you have a toddler or two at home, you can even score a free season of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. There is a kid’s mode too if you want to filter out adult-themed shows and movies.
The movie selection definitely leans more toward smaller, independent films, but I spotted a number of blockbusters that were recently on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Be aware that since the public library is paying for this subscription, you are limited to how many movies or shows you can watch each month.
Pluto TV has been around for a while now, but I still need to rank this fairly high as a must-have channel because the company keeps pumping in a lot of new channels, movies and TV shows.
With Pluto TV, you can add about 250 channels to your Roku for free.
The live TV section is neatly organized into a sidebar on the left side of the screen. So you can see what movies are playing live. Movie channels are often broken down by genre such as action, comedy and horror. I like the Pluto Thrillers myself.
There’s plenty of news channels and even some sports coverage so you can keep up with your favorite teams — when they’re actually playing.
There’s also these neat pop-up channels. For a while, you could watch just about every James Bond movie. Now there’s a Star Trek channel that may or may not be temporary.
Pluto has achieved a sweet spot that fills the need of people who like to channel surf and find something to watch.
But here’s the hidden perk that I think is often overlooked: the on-demand section is an awesome, massive library that keeps getting better over time.
I usually check out the “Last Chance to Watch” section because I’m one of those guys who live in fear of what I missed in life or what I’m about to miss.
It’s fair to say that Pluto TV does not carry a bunch of new titles that you’ll find on Netflix or Amazon Prime. But you will find high quality movies that stretch back from the 70s to the last few years. And these are movies that you actually want to watch. I wish I had something this cool when I cut the cord years ago. Pluto TV is definitely a must-have for your Roku.
If you want to spend an afternoon with a legit B-level action flick or horror movie, tubi will definitely have something for you. But don’t make the mistake of thinking everything on the tubi is on the B-side of things.
There are compelling documentaries. And I like the section titled: “Award Winners & Nominees” because sometimes being a nominee is good enough. You don’t always need to win.
Sometimes the nominees are actually better than the winners.
Here’s another neat hidden feature with tubi. It recently added a “channels” section. It’s pretty bare bones right now, but if you’re a fan of older shows from A&E or Lifetime then you should check it out.
There’s no point in going all-in binge-watching Hoarders and subscribing to a streaming service when you can get it for free. Keep in mind that tubi was purchased by Fox Corporation months ago for $440 million. So that means the company will be improving and upgrading tubi to drive profits.
Red Bull TV
Red Bull TV has a horrible name. And I say that as someone who never drank a sip of Red Bull in his life.
But I really love Red Bull TV because it has some of the most unique lifestyle and off-the-rails sports programming than anywhere else on TV or the net.
Even if you’re really not into surfing or cliff diving, the cinematography is amazing. And frankly, I get pretty envious when I watch some of these people who are doing extreme sports professionally. There’s just something really electric about the live sporting events on here, and whenever I’m feeling a little disconnected from the world, I jump into one of the live channels. A surfing event in the background keeps me aware that there’s a larger world out there that’s very different from my own.
If you think you have some tension in your life, head over to the climbing channel and watch people cling to a one-inch piece of rock 5,000 feet above ground with no ropes. You might re-examine your life or even some of your life choices you’ve made after spending an hour or two watching Red Bull TV.
Or you might feel extremely grounded. Either way, add the Red Bull TV channel to your Roku right now. It’s free.
And don’t forget to check out their music section. That’s the real hidden feature on Red Bull TV. The live concerts on Red Bull TV are exceptional. They may be from bands you’ve heard of or ones you haven’t, but that’s the point. If you’re still subscribing to cable, you’re a sucker because you’re not getting anything nearly as good for live music.
Is it pronounced Zoo-mo? Am I saying it right? It’s always so confusing to me when you start a word with an X.
So for a while, I considered XUMO to be a poorer version of Pluto TV, and I would have told you to steer clear of this free streaming service.
There’s a lot to watch elsewhere, and we are only going to be walking the Earth for so long.
But now I think XUMO is worth keeping in your streaming wheelhouse. And it’s going to be one to watch in the months ahead.
There’s currently two sections that I pay attention to on XUMO.
You can get plenty of comprehensive news coverage from NBC News Now (which is on Peacock), ABC News Live (which is on Hulu) and CBSN (which is all over the place).
These are all digital-first networks put out by the top three major broadcasters ABC, NBC and CBS.
Some of these channels have original reporting and anchors. NBC News Now is doing something really interesting; it’s a combination of original reporting and aggregating highlights from MSNBC or NBC Nightly News. It begs the question: Why do you need cable if someone is already curating the best stuff for you.
(Answer: You don’t!)
Live music on Xumo
Even if you’re a deadbeat, and don’t watch the news, XUMO still has some killer music channels. My two favorites are the Stingray Quello channel, which has lots of great concerts that you would actually pay for if you got to see them in person.
My only gripe with this channel is that you get zero information on the band or artist you’re actually watching. So if you have some high hope of discovering the name of a band or artist you never heard before, dream on! It’s not happening.
Another channel called, Austin Music Live, is the virtual equivalent of stepping into a small club. It has a bunch of acts you’ve never heard of, but the level of talent is exceptionally high. I’ve never been to Austin. I’d love to go. And Austin Music Live has only built up my expectations.
So pay attention to XUMO because Comcast bought the service about six months ago for $100 million so there’s obviously going to be a desire to add more quality programs that can drive up advertising revenue for these guys.
What’s great about Kanopy is that you’re going to see the caliber of films that are premiered at film festivals.
Most of us aren’t dropping six grand every year at the Tribeca Film Festival for a Z Pass.
Kanopy is one of your best alternatives.
The two categories I appreciate most with Kanopy is the Criterion Collection. You’re getting some of the same movies that are now housed within the The Criterion Channelstreaming service (which I do subscribe to), but you’re getting some of these films for free thanks to Kanopy.
I also really like the World Cinema category because as the name suggests you’re getting access to films that won critical acclaim overseas but probably didn’t get much attention in the U.S.
Kanopy also has a “kids section” that’s worth using if you have toddlers at home.
Kanopy is kind of exclusive because you can’t get it everywhere. Check the web site of your local public library. If your library subscribes, you just need a library card to start an account.
You will be limited to five or 10 rentals a month, depending on the subscription the library has. Kanopy, Don’t sleep on this one.
If you want to get your local newscasts without paying for cable, NewsOn is the way to do it.
The NewsOn app has access to 275 local TV stations in more than 165 markets. NewsOn formed in 2015 and it’s made up of The ABC Owned Television Station Group, Cox Media Group, Hearst Television, Media General and Raycom Media.
It’s all the companies that own the TV stations. NewsOn is a great resource; if you want to check on what’s happening in Grandma’s hometown miles away, then get over to NewsOn and get the latest 6 o’clock newscast from a whole bunch of cities and towns.
If NewsOn doesn’t have the local news coverage you’re looking for, then Haystack News is another option to check out.
Haystack adds more than 300 local, national and international news channels to your Roku, and it’s all free.
To get the most out of Haystack, you should sign-in either with a Facebook or Google profile. Make sure you pick your local town or city you live in, and what local stations you want to see in your live stream.
Overlooked & Hidden Perks on Roku
Here’s a few hidden perks that are easy to overlook when you’re using a Roku.
Have you ever tried to watch something for free on the Discovery Go app, only to find out that you need a cable TV subscription to sign in?
There’s a real quick solution to avoid this aggravation.
Head over to the “Featured Free” section on Roku’s menu. It’s the second section on the left sidebar, and you can skip signing in or activating the app.
Featured Free aggregates all the movies and TV shows from standalone Roku channels whether its Discovery, National Geographic or a free service such as Pluto TV.
The real perk with Featured Free is that you don’t even need to have those individual Roku Channels downloaded in your lineup to start watching a show or movie.
You can just pick a show or movie and start watching. The only thing you have to do after that is put up with the commercials.
The “My Feed” section looks like just another tool for Roku to upsell you into renting or buying a movie, and it is pretty effective for doing that.
But here’s how I use it for watching free movies that I wouldn’t know about unless somebody told me.
Instead of adding the title of a movie, I add in an actor’s or director’s name instead. Pretty soon I will start seeing results from free apps such as tubi or Pluto TV.
Using this method turns My Feed into your personal media butler. It will cut down on drifting between Roku channels in search of something to watch.
I should warn you that I have experimented with My Feed, and I have found instances where it was recommending an option to rent a movie that I could actually get for free through a streaming service that I already subscribed to.
One example: My feed shows “No Direction Home” — a film about Bob Dylan — with a number of rental options.
But the movie is actually available on Netflix, which I subscribe to. That’s a My-Feed fail in my book. Anyway, the My Feed option is a great tool, and I recommend that you set yours up right away.
Live TV on The Roku Channel
The Roku Channel also just got revamped in a pretty big way.
Roku now has 100+ live TV channels along with the list of blockbuster movies and TV shows. You may recognize some of the same live TV channels already carried by Pluto TV or Xumo.
It’s a quick way to catch up on the nightly news, weather reports or just channel surf like you used to when you had cable.
The difference is now you can burn your time by scrolling through the channel guide and pay a lot less.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble