Renting a movie online is as simple as a few clicks — here's a full breakdown of all the major streaming rental services

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  • If you're looking for a great movie to watch at home, there are a number of online services you can rent streaming films from.
  • Popular digital movie retailers include Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and FandangoNow.
  • These platforms offer a mix of recent releases and classic films to choose from.
  • Some studios are even releasing brand-new movies for early streaming in the comfort of your home. 
  • You can download many of these apps right now on a variety of devices, and completing a rental is as simple as a few clicks.

Remember when renting a movie meant going to a store? Times have changed awfully quick for the movie industry. With video rental chains a relic of the past, online streaming has become the new standard for renting movies to watch at home. 

With multiple services to choose from — including Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play, and FandangoNow — it's never been easier to find a film worth renting on a smart TV, media player, or mobile device. These platforms all allow you to browse through a large catalog of digital films, enabling you to pay for rentals individually rather than as part of a subscription.

And, since most theaters are now closed as a result of preventive measures being taken to help stop the spread of coronavirus, several studios are even renting brand-new movies to stream from the comfort of your living room. 

Sitting on the couch and picking up your remote control is your trip to the video store today. While I will always hold onto my ever-growing collection of Blu-rays, I have to admit that the convenience of digitally renting a movie for a few bucks instead of blind buying one at full price is handy. I've saved a small fortune through $5.99 rentals with a simple click of my thumb. 

To help make your next movie night at home more enjoyable, we've broken down some of the basics of renting streaming films from a variety of services. So, put a bag of popcorn in your microwave and pick up your controller or tablet — there are a lot of great movies out there waiting to be discovered. 

Updated on 8/28/20 by Steven Cohen: Added new in-theater movie titles that are now available to rent or buy.

What services can I rent streaming movies from?

While popular subscription streaming services, like Netflix, Disney Plus, and Hulu, offer film fans a nice catalog of movies to choose from, not everything is available necessarily when you want to watch it. The titles available on subscription platforms are typically limited to certain studios, and newer movies usually take several months to be added.

This is where a digital movie retailer comes in. Instead of offering a select library of films as part of a subscription, platforms like Vudu, Google Play Movies, Apple TV, and FandangoNow all offer a comprehensive assortment of movies that you can rent individually. Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, actually offers individual rentals in addition to its subscription library for Prime members. 

Once you've created an account with any of the above services and added your payment details, renting a title is as simple as a few clicks. In most cases you can simply browse through the platform's website or download the service's app on a variety of smart TVs, mobile devices, and streaming players. After finding the title you want, you simply click on the movie and complete the instructions to confirm the rental. 

How much do streaming movies cost to rent?

Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV, FandangoNow, and Google Play all let you rent movies for as little as $2.99, though most newer releases top out at $7.99 depending on the resolution you choose. You get 30 days to start watching a title once you rent it, and after you press play you have 48 hours before your rental expires.

If you want to keep a digital movie, you usually also have an option to buy a title so you can stream it whenever you want. Digital movie purchases typically range in price from $4.99 to $24.99 depending on how new a film is. 4K Ultra HD versions of movies are also usually more expensive than HD or SD versions. 

It should be noted, however, that digital purchases aren't quite as permanent as buying a disc copy of a movie. When you make a digital movie purchase, you're essentially buying the license to keep streaming that title from the service you've selected. But, if that service somehow goes out of business or it loses the rights to the title you bought, it's possible that you'll lose access to your digital copy. 

Can I rent brand-new movies still playing in theaters?

When states began issuing stay-at-home orders as a result of the current health crisis, movie theater chains across the country began closing their doors in the interest of public safety. Several studios have now adjusted to the current situation and are allowing people to rent or buy brand-new streaming movies that would otherwise still be playing in theaters.

Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, FandangoNow, and Google Play all offer these "in-theater" titles. Disney Plus is also experimenting with "Premier Access" titles, like "Mulan," that can be added to a subscription for an additional fee. Depending on the studio, however, some titles might only be available to rent, while others are only currently available to buy.

Universal and Lionsgate, for instance, initially only allowed viewers to rent their new movies, with prices as high as $19.99 per title. This may seem pricey if you're planning to watch Universal's "The Invisible Man" on your own, but if you're a parent with a passel of kids who would have otherwise spent a small fortune to see "Trolls: World Tour" in a theater — this is a steal. Rental prices are also reduced over time — "Trolls: World Tour," for instance, is now just $5.99 to rent.

On the other hand, studios like Paramount, Sony, and Warner Brothers, are only allowing people to buy their newest streaming movies, with prices as high as $24.99. In many cases, however, rental options are also being rolled out a few weeks after movies are initially offered for purchase. 

Some notable early-release and "in-theater movies" currently available to rent or own through Vudu include:

  • "Antebellum" – $19.99 to rent on September 18
  • "Bill & Ted Face the Music" – $19.99 to rent, $24.99 to own
  • "The Secret: Dare to Dream" – $19.99 to rent
  • "Tesla" – $6.99 to rent, $19.99 to own
  • "Trolls World Tour" – $5.99 to rent, $19.99 to own
  • "The Invisible Man" – $9.99 to own
  • "The Hunt" – $14.99 to own
  • "Wendy" – $5.99 to rent, $9.99 to own
  • "The Call of the Wild" – $5.99 to rent, $11.99 to own
  • "Downhill" – $5.99 to rent, $9.99 to own
  • "The Way Back" – $19.99 to own
  • "Birds of Prey" – $19.99 to own
  • "Sonic the Hedgehog" – $4.99 to rent, $9.99 to own
  • "Onward" – $3.99 to rent, $12.99 to own

With so many brand-new movies and classic titles available to rent, picking a platform to use really comes down to choosing the service that works best on the devices you own. Below, we've broken down some key details for all of the major digital movie retailers to help you choose which one is right for you.

Apple TV

Apple currently offers a large selection of movies to rent through its Apple TV app on a variety of connected devices. With that said, the Apple TV app lacks the ability to actually complete transactions on many smart TVs. This means that you'll have to complete your rental on an iPhone or web browser before you can watch it through most smart TV apps. The Apple TV app is also not currently supported by Android TV or Chromecast devices. 

On the plus side, the Apple TV app is a strong performer when it comes to general video and audio quality. When Apple upgraded its streaming devices to 4K, it made a big splash by upgrading streaming movie libraries to 4K automatically. This means that any SD or HD digital films you purchase via iTunes get upgraded to 4K at no extra cost (if a 4K version is available). They also wrestled the price point down so competitors like Vudu and FandangoNow have had no choice but to lower their prices as well.

Even now, Apple offers one of the largest 4K rental selections, giving you the best overall AV experience for your dollar. As a bonus, the Apple TV app is also home to Apple's new Apple TV Plus streaming service. You have to pay a subscription fee of $4.99 per month to unlock the Apple TV Plus content, but it's a nice option to have in addition to the service's library of streaming rentals. 

  • Device support: Apple TV, iOS mobile devices, computers, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, as well as smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Vizio, and Sony
  • Video resolution: up to 4K
  • HDR support: HDR10, Dolby Vision
  • Audio format: Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos

Vudu

Vudu maintains a massive inventory of titles to rent at various price points. Unlike Apple, however, Vudu does occasionally charge more for 4K quality versions of its titles. It should also be noted that while Vudu is readily available on many platforms, it's one of the few notable apps missing from Amazon Fire TV devices. 

Where Vudu has a feather in its cap, however, is with its "Free With Ads" selection. This collection of titles rotates practically every week, and though there are ads, breaks are rarely lengthy or too intrusive. So, if you're trying to entertain on a budget and don't feel like paying for a rental — this is one of the best options available.

  • Device support: Chromecast, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Tivo, iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from LG, Samsung, and Vizio
  • Video resolution: up to 4K
  • HDR support: HDR10, Dolby Vision
  • Audio format: Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos

Browse the Vudu rental selection

FandangoNow

Like all of the digital rental stores on our list, FandandgoNow offers a large selection of movies to choose from. The platform is also available on most connected devices, with the only major holdout currently being the Apple TV.

The service has been in the 4K streaming game a long time now and they do an impressive job bringing high quality picture and audio to homes. FandangoNow is also the only streaming service currently offering support for the IMAX Enhanced format. This tech offers specially optimized HDR picture and DTS sound on supported Sony TVs. If you have a Dolby Vision compatible TV or a Dolby Atmos audio setup, however, you'll likely want to opt for Vudu or Apple TV since FandangoNow does not currently support those formats. 

  • Device support: Chromecast, Android TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, Tivo, iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, and Hisense
  • Video resolution: up to 4K
  • HDR support: HDR10 (IMAX Enhanced on Sony TVs)
  • Audio format: Dolby Digital, DTS (IMAX Enhanced on Sony TVs)

Browse the FandangoNow rental selection

 

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video does a lot of things right, and it provides an impressive list of digital rentals. If you're a Prime member you also gain the added benefit of a massive number of movies and shows as part of your subscription. On top of that — similar to Vudu — Amazon Prime offers a small selection of "Free With Ads" titles sponsored by IMDB.

Prime Video is also one of the only digital retailers currently offering support for the HDR10+ format. Similar to Dolby Vision, HDR10+ offers enhanced colors and contrast on compatible TVs. With that said, the platform's Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support is sorely lacking as there are very few titles that offer those features. 

On that note, my main problem with Prime Video is its inconsistent viewing experience. Even with a wired connection, 4K HDR10 or HDR10+ viewing options aren't always available and it's not even always clear whether a title is supposed to include those features or not. You often have to hunt specifically for the 4K UHD version of the movie or show.  

  • Device support: Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Tivo, PlayStation, Xbox, iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, and Hisense
  • Video resolution: up to 4K
  • HDR support: HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
  • Audio format: Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos

Browse the Amazon Prime Video rental selection

Google Play Movies

When it comes to movie selection, Google is basically on par with the other services on our list. The Google Play Movies app is also available on a good number of connected devices, but official app support is missing from the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. You can, however, still watch movies purchased through Google Play via the YouTube app on Fire TV

While I like what Google is trying to do, the app for my Samsung and LG TV is clunky at best. It's not always clear which titles are in 4K and/or what if any HDR support is available. The interface for my phone is terrific, however, easily allowing me to find what titles I have in my digital library and what titles offer 4K, as well as navigate new rentals and purchase options, shop deals, and browse what new "in-theater" titles are available. 

In other words, I want that phone app interface on my big screen. For now, though, Google's smart TV app is a bit lacking compared to the competition. The service also lacks Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, which might be an issue for those who want the best video and audio performance. 

  • Device support: Chromecast, Android TV, Roku, iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as smart TVs from LG, Samsung, and Vizio
  • Video resolution: up to 4K
  • HDR support: HDR10, HDR10+
  • Audio format: Dolby Digital

Browse the Google Play rental selection

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