How to Watch First-Run Movies at Home and Extend Free Streaming Trials

Streaming is hotter than ever in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown as Hollywood scraps theatrical release schedules and streaming services extend free-trial periods. Let’s take a closer look.

Extended Free-Trial Periods Now Available
A handful of popular streaming services are extending their free trial periods for up to 30 days as millions "shelter-in-place." All you have to do is sign up with a special promo code: "SUNDANCENOW30" for Sundance Now, “ALL” for CBS All Access, and "UMCFREE30" for the Urban Movie Channel. And, if porn is your thing, Pornhub Premium is offering free access to its content through April 23 but you didn’t hear that from us.

You don't have to subscribe to Sling TV to enjoy its free offering of news and movies, but if you do decide to sign up to unlock additional programming, you will save $10 on the Sling Orange or Sling Blue packages, which have been reduced to $20/month (or $35/month for both).

Some Theatrical Releases Delayed, Others Go Direct to Digital
Last week’s movie theater shutdown has severely disrupted the timeline of movie releases and Hollywood is scrambling to adapt. The next James Bond movie, No Time to Die and horror sequel A Quiet Place Part 2 were scheduled to open around Easter but will now be released in the fall to ensure box-office revenue.

At the same time, studios have moved quickly to on-demand viewing and streaming for movies whose theatrical runs were cut short last week. AMC closed its theaters for up to 12 weeks and Regal said its theaters will remain closed until further notice.

The animated Disney/Pixar film Onward was barely in theaters a week when cinema doors closed but Disney transitioned swiftly to video-on-demand, and, in an unprecedented move, announced that the movie will be available to subscribers of its new Disney+ streaming service on April 3. And instead of waiting the usual three to six months between theatrical and digital home release, the studio pushed its 2019 blockbuster hit Frozen II onto the Disney+ platform where you can enjoy it now.

A number of other films were immediately catapulted to video-on-demand status when their theatrical runs were halted: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quin, Bloodshot with Vin Diesel, and The Way Back starring Ben Affleck. All are available to buy for $20 (in HD) on Amazon Prime Video, Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Fandango Now, and Vudu. The The Gentlemen starring Matthew McConaughey is available for $15 (also only in HD).

Several other 2020 theatrical releases are available to rent for $20: Emma, The Invisible Man, and The Hunt. If you’re thinking the price is high for a rental, it is, especially considering none are offered in 4K — only HD. Then again, you are paying to watch a first-run movie in the comfort of your home for the less than the price of two theater tickets, not to mention how much you'll save on popcorn and soda.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the 2020 remake Dolittle, and 2019’s Cats were all originally slated to stream later this year but have since been moved up to entertain a “captive” audience. All can be purchased in digital form for $20 on Prime Video.

Sonic the Hedgehog, originally scheduled for digital release in late May, will now be available for streaming on March 31. In some cases, Hollywood has decided to skip theaters altogether. Trolls World Tour, which had been slated for theatrical release on April 10, will now go straight to digital on that date.

Don’t Expect 4k
As noted above, many of the movies that have been fast-tracked to digital are not being offered in 4K. But even if they were, and in the case of movies and TV shows that are available in 4K, you still may not be able to watch them in the higher resolution format. The demand for streaming is so high right now that Netflix and YouTube have started the practice of "throttling" — that is, downgrading to a lower resolution (usually to 720p) to accommodate the massive number of people who are using their services simultaneously.

In Europe, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are all lowering video quality. And Sony announced that it is slowing its PlayStation game downloads. It’s a pretty safe bet that more U.S. services will follow suit. If you want a shot at better quality, you might try streaming during "off-peak" hours or download the movie and play it from your home library.

We may be stuck at home but at least we don't have to miss out on the theater experience.