The Criterion Channel: Zig when Netflix zags

With the announcement of streaming services coming from media giants Apple (Apple TV+) and Disney (Disney+), the battle against Netflix is officially taking shape. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

With the announcement of streaming services coming from media giants Apple (Apple TV+) and Disney (Disney+), the battle against Netflix is officially taking shape. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

With the announcement of streaming services coming from media giants Apple (Apple TV+) and Disney (Disney+), the battle against Netflix is officially taking shape. As a consumer of all things TV and film, my head is now spinning. Where will my favorite titles be? Will streamers keep focusing on TV over film? Will films be released directly to streaming sites or receive a standard theatrical window?

The latest streaming service to hit the scene, The Criterion Channel cuts through the clutter and delivers a shot of something entirely different from the malaise of standard streaming content. This niche service offers 1,600 films, largely made up of titles from the Criterion Collection, which is the nation’s leading distribution company for classic, independent and foreign cinema. In a content landscape expanding exponentially every month, The Criterion Channel offers a refreshing selection of important films hand-picked over the last half-century.

How is the service different?

The films on the Criterion Channel are not aimed for the casual viewing experience. This is not a replacement for flipping on “The Office” while doing some homework. The price tag of $100 per year or $11 per month is likely not worth it if one is not a film lover or serious cinephile. That niche market is what separates The Criterion Channel from its competitors and is the reason that this service is likely to fare better than its predecessor FilmStruck.

FilmStruck was the last location of the Criterion Collection online. The fallen streaming service was a casualty of the AT&T and Warner Bros. merger, with the conglomerate not valuing the small benefits of a niche service. The Criterion Channel, however, requires very low overhead with only a handful of employees focused on curation, with the backend technical requirements being handled by Vimeo. Low exposure provides hope that The Criterion Channel will be able to survive for years to come.

The Criterion Channel further separates itself with its sleek design and curatorial prowess. Professor Gregory Semenza from UConn’s English department particularly enjoys the site’s beautiful interface.

“The streaming site is gorgeous, dominated by an abundance of black and white and every shade of grey, as if in tribute to film’s classical era,” Semenza said.

Collections like “Columbia Noir” and “Directed by Agnès Varda” offer subscribers an easy way to break into the dense library. Here are five titles to check out on the service for those still on the fence about The Criterion Channel:

“The Seventh Seal” (1957) Dir. Ingmar Bergman

The essential art-house film, Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 masterpiece was one of the first foreign films to draw an audience in the United States. The Criterion Channel owes a great deal to the success of this existentialist film.

“Gimme Shelter” (1970) Dir. Albert & David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

What could be better than a fascinating piece of cinema verite featuring Mick Jagger? This 1970 documentary depicts the infamous Altamont free concert. The idealism of 1960s hippie culture, drugs and Hells Angels collide in a tragic cocktail in this must-see documentary.

“Y Tu Mama También” (2001) Dir. Alphonso Cuarón

Director Alphonso Cuarón is a living master, and his films are necessary viewing. “Y Tu Mama También” is a coming-of-age road story that pairs perfectly with the director’s Oscar-winning spectacle “Roma” from 2018.

“In the Mood for Love” (2001) Dir. Wong Kar-Wai

Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 masterpiece feels like curling up with a warm blanket when it's raining outside. This tale of fleeting love and disconnection is a lush piece of filmmaking that Professor Semenza calls, “one of the greatest works of our century.”

“The Fabulous Baron Munchausen” (1962) Dir. Karel Zeman

This 1962 fantasy animated comedy is one of the most original films I have seen. Surreal imagery and slapstick comedy combine to create a dizzyingly hilarious story. This film was a large influence on Terry Gilliam and his “Monty Python” animations.


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.