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RIP FilmStruck, one of classic cinema’s last refuges in the streaming era

The beloved destination for foreign films, art-house discoveries, and movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age is shutting down next month.

FilmStruck’s logo
The streaming service FilmStruck is being shut down by Turner and Warner Bros. at the end of November.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

These days, it seems like you can find a way to stream most anything: big studio action flicks, recent indie hits, last year’s Oscar nominees. But for lovers of Hollywood Golden Age classics, foreign movie buffs, teachers and students of film studies — and viewers who want to watch movies that expand their mind and worldview — nothing compares to FilmStruck.

Now it’s going away.

In an announcement on Friday, Turner and Warner Bros. Digital Entertainment announced that the company would be shutting down FilmStruck at the end of November, ceasing operations on November 29. Variety reported that sources said the decision was made before AT&T closed its deal with Time Warner, but that “the strategy aligns with the new WarnerMedia blueprint to shift resources to mass-market entertainment services.”

The corporation’s explanation for the shutdown said that it was “incredibly proud” of the FilmStruck team’s “creativity and innovations,” but it is “largely a niche service.”

“We plan to take key learnings from FilmStruck to help shape future business decisions in the direct-to-consumer space and redirect this investment back into our collective portfolios,” the statement said.

Following the announcement, the Criterion Collection, which offered much of its library on FilmStuck, released its own statement about the shutdown that seemed to make it clear the decision was unwelcome. “Like many of you, we are disappointed by this decision,” the announcement reads, adding that the company would “be trying to find ways we can bring our library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible.”

On Twitter, the platform’s large community of cinephiles, critics, and filmmakers almost instantly began mourning the loss of the service and what it represented:

Launched just a little more than two years ago by Turner, the service at first streamed the Turner Classic Movies library to web browsers and eventually to other devices, including tablets, Roku, and Apple TV. FilmStruck soon became the exclusive home of Criterion’s streaming library, which releases high-quality versions of many of the best foreign and arthouse films ever made, and early this year added the Warner Bros.’ library of classic films as well, replacing WB’s Warner Archive service, which was shut down.

For about $20 per month (or less, if you paid annually or qualified for a student membership), FilmStruck subscribers could stream films by masters of world cinema like Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, Chantal Akerman, and Francois Truffaut. Curators at FilmStruck created collections around all kinds of topics — recent collections range from “Written by Robert Louis Stevenson” to “Spotlight on Women Directors” to “Moments of Truth: The Best of Cinéma Vérité.”

A screenshot of FilmStruck
FilmStruck offered access to classic, foreign, independent, and cult cinema for a low subscription price.

Even people who weren’t long-term cinephiles, but interested in becoming more educated on the popular art form, could find helpful, accessible, non-snooty features designed to do just that. The ongoing “Friday Night Double Feature” series, for instance, featured two classic films that complement one another (like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Body Snatcher, for instance) paired for easy viewing, with some text explaining the link.

Filmstruck also did a stellar job of linking contemporary cinema with film history. This fall, for instance, with the release of Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, the service released all three of the previous versions of the film, plus a 19-minute interview with Cooper. Special features created just for FilmStruck, like interviews and collections curated by filmmakers, novelists, and others were invaluable to people seeking to expand their understanding and enjoyment of the films they loved.

FilmStruck’s shutdown isn’t the end of quality streaming cinema, but it’s a crushing blow nonetheless

Certainly, there are other options for established and aspiring cinephiles, even those who don’t live in cities like New York, where art house and repertory cinema is still alive and well. Many classic films are available to digitally rent on services like iTunes and Amazon. Hulu sometimes streams classic films. A handful (but regrettably a rather sad one) of classic films is available on the ubiquitous Netflix.

Lesser-known services like Mubi make some of the kinds of films that you might find on FilmStruck available for a monthly subscription, and many public libraries make the Kanopy library, which includes some classic and Criterion films, available to their cardholders. And of course, there’s always physical media — if you can afford it.

Citizen Kane and his big table
One more media conglomerate takes down the little guy.

But FilmStruck’s commitment to making classic, cult, foreign, and independent film available at a low price and with clever, accessible special features is still unmatched. For teachers and students, it was an invaluable resource. In an age when it’s harder than ever to become a cinephile — when everything seems to be available, but some of the greatest works of cinema are the hardest to find — FilmStruck helped fight the tyranny of the urgent, the feeling that contemporary cinema is all there is, and the loss of a sense of film history.

Hopefully Criterion and Turner Classic Movies will find a platform as welcoming and thoughtful as FilmStruck. In the meantime, it’s another dispiriting example of a media conglomerate shutting down a small but well-loved service — and a blow to cinephiles everywhere.