By Maureen Lee Lenker
January 18, 2019 at 10:00 AM EST

Imagine being able to stream thousands of movies at home, no monthly payment required. Now you can with Kanopy, which began streaming in the U.S. in 2012 and is now available to anyone with a participating library card.

The unexpected 2018 demise of the subscription service FilmStruck left a gaping hole in the streaming landscape when it came to classic movies, independent cinema, and original content. FilmStruck fostered film literacy with bonus features offering cultural context and deep dives into film history.

Kanopy CEO Olivia Humphrey acknowledges her platform’s differences, including Kanopy’s lack of contextualizing features. But since the news broke of FilmStruck’s closure in October, Kanopy has seen a 162 percent increase in new users. “We’re all working toward the same goal of getting more people watching these films,” says Humphrey. “We have a huge, huge audience and we’re interested in making these films accessible to a wider market — not necessarily a cinephile market, but talking to anybody who’s interested in film wherever they are around the world.”

Kanopy, which partners with 4,000 public libraries and academic institutions as well as acclaimed independent distributors like Criterion and A24, says its mission is one of “thoughtful entertainment.” Humphrey elaborates, “What that means is stories that spark conversations, that educate or show how other people think or live, or at the very least, leave you [with] a sense of feeling enriched.” This means showcasing underrepresented voices and world cinema that often misses out on wide-scale North American releases.

The most viewed films in 2018 showcase the platform’s breadth with documentaries like Faces Places, new indie releases like Hearts Beat Loud, and classics like Charade making the list. There’s a hardworking curatorial team that assesses every film placed in Kanopy’s library as to whether it meets the criteria to deem it thoughtful and culturally significant.

“We have such a wide audience,” says Humphrey. “We have people who can’t afford an internet connection that go down to the local public library to watch…. That’s a really important demographic for us, [as much as] cinephiles in L.A. and New York.” Part of serving that audience is finding what Humphrey calls “content gaps” in other streaming platforms and trying to fill the void. That means offering up a wide array of classic films that might not available elsewhere or outside of a library setting. 

Kanopy’s roots are in academia, having launched as a partner with Australian universities in 2008, and therefore, they often look to professors to fill gaps. Professors at participating institutions can request films be added to the service that they are looking to screen in class. “Our feeling is generally the films they’re requesting are films a wider audience would be attracted to,” Humphrey notes. “We have someone dedicated to what we call a search-and-find service for professors. [They] help us find these rarer titles that might not be a blockbuster title on Kanopy, but [is] really important to the wider story of the thoughtful entertainment brand.”

Humphrey says Kanopy sees preservation, in a loose sense of the word, is part of the service’s job, as they partner with libraries and academic institutions doing the actual work of preservation to increase accessibility to the materials. They also hope to be promoting users to connect with and engage with their local libraries. Humphrey proudly notes that the New York Public Library had its record day of new member sign-ups in its over 100 year history the first-day Kanopy became available, and she hopes that trend can continue. “We want independent films to be available in more and more homes, so we can have more libraries signing up, public and academic,” she says of their goals for 2019. “We want to make sure our content remains as strong as it is and keep bringing new titles to our audience.”

While media conglomerates develop rival services, Kanopy is the only free platform with a catalog of culturally significant offerings. We may never fill the FilmStruck-size hole in our hearts, but Kanopy can help you dull the pain.

See the full list of Kanopy’s top viewed films of 2018 below.

Top Films of 2018 in Public Library Accounts

  • Loving Vincent
  • Kedi
  • Moonlight
  • First Reformed
  • Hearts Beat Loud
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • Lady Bird
  • The Phone Call
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • My Friend Dahmer
  • Boy
  • Faces Places
  • Seven Samurai
  • Ex Libris
  • Harold and Maude
  • Dogtooth

Top 5 Classic Films of 2018

  1. Seven Samurai
  2. Charade
  3. 8 ½
  4. Indiscreet
  5. Breathless

For more on Kanopy, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy one — or three — of our collector’s covers featuring Jensen AcklesMisha Collins, and Jared Padalecki now. A very special cover featuring the Winchester family is also available for purchase exclusively at Barnes & Noble. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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