Streaming services and digital rentals have provided cheaper alternatives for families for nearly two decades. Today’s offerings are a far cry from what was available to movie and TV watchers in the early 2000s, 90s, and earlier. Still, movie theaters found ways to survive.

There’s something special about picking out candy, munching on popcorn, and turning a movie night into a memory. The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the option for these nostalgic family and date nights for a while. And now that movie theaters are coming back, it’s got us all wondering - are movie theaters necessary for families looking for a fun way to pass the time? Or is at-home entertainment here to stay? We’ve got some thoughts on this, and the merit of movie theater alternatives.

How Streaming Services and Digital Rentals Have Changed Entertainment

While it may always be fun and nostalgic to take a trip to the movies, it seems like the days of regularly visiting moving theaters are a thing of the past. Movie theaters are expensive, especially for a family of three or more.

It is often far cheaper to rent a movie at home or stream one through a service you’re already paying for than it is to buy movie theater tickets. Renting or streaming at home saves you money on gas and food, too.

Plus, you can pause the movie and finish it later. And you can get cozy on the couch in your pajamas while you watch. It’s no wonder that 70% of people would still choose to stream a first-run feature movie at home over going to a movie theater, according to a new survey published in Variety.

Worth the Wait

Some films are returning to the theater-only approach now that they’re reopening. But the general access to thousands of movie and TV titles still provides a wide variety of cheap at-home entertainment for families.

And as we’ve seen with heavy-hitting titles in the past, those movies will likely be available through a streaming service or movie rental website within a few months anyway. So, let’s talk about the best streaming services and movie rental websites for your next family movie night.

The Best Streaming Services

For 2021, Netflix remains the number one on-demand streaming service. No surprise there. Up next after Netflix, we have Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max, and Peacock for a well-rounded top six.

Moving from least to most expensive, we have:

Netflix alone has a combined library of over 50,000 movie and TV titles. And each of the other services have different offerings. Love The Office or Parks and Rec? Choose Peacock. Have young kids at home? Disney+ is for you.

Want the widest range of movies and TV shows to choose from? Subscribe to Netflix or Hulu. HBO Max has a variety of old and new TV shows and movies.

And if you’re already an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Prime video is free. They have tons of popular TV series and movies, plus Amazon originals. Mix and match the services based on your individual needs and budget.

The Best Movie Rental Websites

Not finding what you’re looking for on a streaming service? Maybe renting something for your next movie night will be better, because we know how important it is to keep kids busy without breaking the bank. There are several online services that let you rent movies to stream at home.

The top four? Amazon Prime Video (again), Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and FandangoNow. Their offerings change based on what’s popular, so you’ll have to do a quick search when you’re ready to rent.

All five will let you rent movies for a day or two starting as low as $0.99 each for older ones and inching toward $8 for newer releases. Occasionally, you might find a movie that’s still in theaters, and that will cost closer to $20 to rent.

But considering that this is less than two movie tickets now and far less than three or four plus gas and snacks, it is still a bargain. And there are plenty of budget-friendly options to choose from first.