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The best movies on The Roku Channel

The Roku Channel
(Image credit: WhatToWatch.com)

Roku has become one of the most popular streaming devices in the U.S., available to consumers as a plug-in dongle or integrated directly into a smart TV. But it’s more than just an easy way to access other streamers, it has its own streaming service, The Roku Channel.

An ad-supported streaming service, The Roku Channel offers a slate of classic movies for free ranging across all different genres. Users can also sign-up for premium subscriptions to get access to movies on cable channels like Showtime, Starz, Epix and AMC+, but we’ll stick with free movies here.

Get a look at some of the best movies on The Roku Channel right now.

American Animals (2018)

You have to love a good heist movie, which is why it was a little surprising that American Animals — despite strong reviews — didn’t do better during its initial release. But, that’s one of the benefits of streaming, getting the chance to catch up on something you may have missed the first time around.

American Animals tells the true story of college students who attempt to steal a book from the university library that is supposed to be worth millions. Director Bart Layton was known for documentaries (The Imposter), which likely inspired a unique choice to blend the narrative telling of the story featuring actors (Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner and Jared Abrahamson) with interviews of the real-life people the story is based on.

It’s a fun ride that fits right into the wheelhouse of anyone intrigued by true-crime stories.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) 

Full disclosure, despite a title detailing the murder of one of the American West’s most famous outlaws and a cast that features Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is not a guns-a-blazing western. However, this slow burn is an underrated gem of the late aughts.

With Pitt as the legendary James and Affleck as his jilted assassin, the performances are top notch. The film also features some of the best work in the career of cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Andrew Dominik’s telling of James’ final days paints a beautiful and sad picture of the American West fading away.

Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes Films

Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The actors most associated with Sherlock Holmes today are either Robert Downey Jr., who played him on the big screen for Guy Ritchie, or Benedict Cumberbatch, who did so in the popular BBC series. Still, one of the most iconic portrayals of Sherlock Holmes belongs to Basil Rathbone, who played the master detective in 14 films between 1939 and 1946.

Five of Rathbone’s films are available to watch for free on The Roku Channel — Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, The Woman in Green, Terror by Night and Dressed to Kill.

See how the screen’s original Sherlock Holmes compares to our modern day versions of the sleuth.

The Fugitive (1993) 

Harrison Ford is a wrongly convicted man on the run to clear his name in The Fugitive, a film adaptation of the 1960s TV series of the same name. 

The Fugitive, which was one of the big movies of 1993, is an example of a near perfect thriller. Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, in an Oscar-winning role as the U.S. Marshall hot on his trail, are great at playing the cat-and-mouse game. There are also some iconic set pieces (a train crash, a jump from a dam) and a memorable score from James Newton Howard to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Roku Channel also has its own Roku Original (formerly Quibi) series based on The Fugitive, but it will be hard-pressed to top the movie.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Despite not taking place in the actual Star Trek universe, many Trekkies consider Galaxy Quest to be one of the best examples of what a Star Trek movie can be.

Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, the late, great Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell make up the group of actors from a now cancelled TV show that are mistaken as a real space crew by a group of aliens seeking their help.

Galaxy Quest is an homage to both the series it is spoofing and the fandom that surrounds it, but it also is just a fun space adventure with plenty of laughs that has amassed its own cohort of loving fans over the years.

Halloween (1978)

No matter what time of year it is, horror fans always know it’s a good time to watch Halloween. Spawning a multitude of sequels and reboots, Halloween and its killer Michael Myers are among the most recognizable horror franchises around. Always hard to top the original, though.

John Carpenter’s original tale of teenager Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) first encounter with Michael Myers follows a style that you wish more horror films would adhere to — keep it simple. The scares come from the silent, unrelenting pursuit that Myers has for his victims, always lurking behind them eager to strike.

Plus, that William Shatner mask is just creepy.

Malcolm X (1992) 

Spike Lee’s epic film of the seminal Civil Rights figure Malcolm X earns that descriptor, telling the story of Malcolm X from when he was a small-time thief, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam and fight for equal rights.

Center stage, though, is Denzel Washington, who gives one of the best performances of his career, playing the silver-tongued Malcolm X with all the swagger and passion that he was known for.

Malcolm X is probably one of the best pairings of director, actor and subject ever put together.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Musicals are usually a love them or hate them commodity, and Moulin Rouge! is even occasionally a dividing line for those who do like musicals. Well, count me as a fan on both accounts.

From Australian director Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge! is an exuberant experience even among musicals with its larger than life characters, costumes and covers of many popular songs.

At its heart though — and as the film tells you multiple times — it is a story about love, and the pairing of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as the star-crossed lovers is a great one.

Moulin Rouge! requires viewers to jump in with both feet to the world it has created, but if you can it’s endlessly enjoyable.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Zombies are just about everywhere nowadays, from prestige TV with The Walking Dead to an aspiring Netflix universe that got kick-started with Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. It can all be traced back to a little film made in the woods of Pennsylvania in the late 1960s.

Night of the Living Dead was the creation of George Romero and was the jumping off point for where future filmmakers would take zombies — though Night of the Living Dead never actually calls its mindless ghouls zombies.

Even though it established many of the rules that would be used for most zombie stories going forward — i.e. zombies being slow-moving, people being bitten turning into zombies — Night of the Living Dead is more about the people trapped inside the central house for most of the film and the paranoia they experience while trying to survive.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Coen brothers take on Homer (the Greek writer, not Simpson) in this comedic reworking of The Odyssey set in the 1930s south.

George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson star in O Brother, Where Art Thou? as three hapless criminals who escape from prison to try and dig up some buried treasure. John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King and Charles Durning give memorable turns in supporting roles.

The Coens are able to masterfully bounce back and forth from drama and comedy, sometimes adeptly mixing the two. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of their broad comedies and they knock it out of the park.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

More than 20 years after its release, you’d be hard pressed to not know the twist of The Sixth Sense. But in the event that you have avoided it all these years, I won’t be the one to spoil it for you here.

Besides, M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout film has more to it than just the twist ending that would become his trademark. Top of the list are two fantastic performances from a young Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette. Bruce Willis is also solid.

Catch up with one of cinema’s biggest twists, or rewatch to maybe gain a greater appreciation for the film beyond the twist.

Stagecoach (1939)

When you think of westerns, John Wayne is probably the first person that pops into your head. He starred in countless stories from the back of a horse, many of them with director John Ford. Stagecoach was the first time the two worked together, and it still holds up as one of their best.

Stagecoach tells the story of a group of people forced to travel together via stagecoach through dangerous territory. Wayne gave a star-making turn as the Ringo Kid and Ford’s shooting of one particular action sequence is impressive even by today’s standards.

It may be more than 80 years old, but Stagecoach is just as thrilling today as it was when it was first released.

Team America: World Police (2004)

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, bring their unique brand of humor to the action genre as only they could — with puppets.

Team America: World Police is absolutely ridiculous in the best possible way, following the eponymous elite counter terrorist organization as they try to thwart a plan for global destruction by Kim Jong Il.

Only the minds behind South Park could come up with something like this, but thank goodness they did.

Wind River (2017)

After writing both Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan decided to jump behind the camera of his next script, the neo-western crime thriller Wind River.

Starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, Wind River follows an FBI agent and a local hunter who try and solve the murder of a young girl on a Wyoming Native America reservation.

Sheridan’s films are as tough as the environments that he sets them in, while also detailing the underlying issues that are often present in these less-seen communities. That is certainly the case for Wind River.