What to stream for free over the holidays in Canada

What to stream for free over the holidays in Canada

If this was the year you decided to cut back on cable or one of your many streaming platforms, you may be looking for content to watch this holiday season for free.

The CBC News Entertainment team has put together a short watchlist of free shows and films streaming in Canada — including our favourite holiday-themed picks.

While the content listed below is free, some services such as Kanopy require you to sign-in through a library card or university ID, while others are ad-supported with premium options.

Holiday viewing

Rare Exports (Tubi, Kanopy)

A Santa with a glowing eye is shown behind bars.
A scene from the 2010 Finnish horror-fantasy-thriller film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, which is about a group of people who discover the secret behind Santa Claus. (YouTube)

The blackest comedy from Finland, Rare Exports has been my go-to Christmas recommendation since it was first unleashed on the world in 2010. You know you’re in for a good time when the father contacts the authorities and says, “We have Santa Claus, and we’re holding him ransom.” Young Pietari has been waiting to see Santa, counting down the days before Christmas. But when an American mining company excavates a long-frozen Yuletide monster, Pietari and his father are too busy fighting to survive to worry about milk and cookies  Scary and sweet all at the same time, Rare Exports could be your new favourite Christmas cult classic. — Eli Glasner

Christmas Cartoon Extravaganza (Tubi)

A quick search on Tubi finds a wealth of animated archives, including versions of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and others from the '40s.
A quick search on Tubi finds a wealth of animated archives, including versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and others from the ’40s. (Tubi)

With so many Canadians cutting cable, you might miss your favourite Christmas cartoon classic as you lay on the couch in an eggnog-induced stupor. But a quick search on Tubi finds a wealth of animated archives, including a compilation titled Christmas Cartoon Extravaganza that features versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and others from decades past. They might not be the versions you remember, but there’s a certain beauty to the hand-drawn animation and playful characters. — Eli Glasner

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Kanopy)

It may seem like typical cinematic shlock, but in the hands of Shane Black, the writer of The Nice Guys and Lethal Weapon, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang is a pitch-perfect buddy-cop comedy.
It may seem like typical cinematic shlock, but in the hands of writer-director Shane Black, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a pitch-perfect buddy-cop comedy. (Warner Bros. )

What says Christmas more than Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer joining forces as a thief and a private eye trying to solve a murder mystery? It may seem like typical cinematic shlock, but in the hands of writer-director Shane Black (the writer behind The Nice Guys and Lethal Weapon), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a pitch-perfect buddy-cop comedy. Besides killer punchlines and whip-smart dialogue, Black has a recurring motif in his work where he sets the story during Christmas, making Kiss Kiss Bang Bang the perfect holiday romp. — Eli Glasner

Holiday odds and ends (Pluto.tv, Kanopy, CBC Gem, CTV)

A woman reading a book sits on a beige armchair next to a fireplace with a fire in it. A Christmas tree is in the corner behind the chair and a small dog is sitting in a basket next to her.
The Holiday is a 2006 Nancy Meyers film starring Cameron Diaz, pictured, and Kate Winslet. (Dean Cundey/Columbia Pictures)

Pluto.tv has two full-time Christmas channels (plus two fireplace channels and a holiday lights channel), if you cut cable and are looking to fill a Hallmark-style Christmas movie gap. 

Meanwhile, Kanopy — which also offers a fireplace channel — has the Canadian Christmas horror classic Black Christmas from the ’70s. It also has hundreds of much less dark holiday fare, including the Jamie Lee Curtis-led Christmas with the Kranks and the Kate Beckinsale vehicle Serendipity (which is more of a romance than a Christmas movie, but it still counts!).

This one on the CTV website is probably the highest on my list of free-to-stream holiday movies: the Nancy Meyers classic The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. CBC Gem also has one I watch every single year: Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean. For something newer, Gem has the Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza holiday comedy Happiest Season.

And if Christmas episodes are your thing: Schitt’s Creek streams on Gem, while Friends and Community stream on CTV. — Teghan Beaudette

Non-holiday viewing

Sort Of (CBC Gem) 

Performers Amanda Cordner and Bilal Baig in a scene from the TV series Sort Of.
Amanda Cordner, left, and Bilal Baig star in Sort Of, which streams on Gem. (Jasper Savage)

Our country produced stellar originals this year, and Sort Of continues to be one of the best. In its three seasons, all available for free on CBC Gem, we see our protagonist Sabi Mehboob navigate their South Asian queer identity, all while dealing with the very real struggles of a young person adapting to city life, multiple gigs and finding meaning in community. When co-creator and lead Bilal Baig announced the end of the series this fall, they told CBC News they are looking forward to the next slate of Canadian content that follows. “Part of what I’m curious about is: what happens after?” Baig said. “What are the shows that get made? Who gets to be heard?”  — Arti Patel

Children Ruin Everything (CTV) 

If you’re looking for a binge-worthy light comedy that even non-parents can be on board with, look no further than Children Ruin Everything, a CTV original available on demand. The series, currently in Season 3, follows the story of a couple grappling with the realities of raising children and all the intricacies that come with it. Whether that means parenting in a cluttered home, adjusting to hangovers or just the idea of two little humans eating up your time, the show is a lighthearted treat. The best part, however, has to be the two young kids on the show — Logan Nicholson (Felix) and Mikayla SwamiNathan (Viv) are two up-and-coming Canadians to keep an eye on. — Arti Patel

LISTEN | Children Ruin Everything creator on being inspired by real life: 

Q13:11Children Ruin Everything creator Kurt Smeaton on how being a father informs his funniest work

As a writer on shows like Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience, Kurt Smeaton is used to making comedy gold out of family dysfunction. Now, he’s created a new sitcom called Children Ruin Everything. Smeaton joined Tom Power to tell us more about the comedy series, which premieres tonight on CTV.

Multiple channels  (PlutoTV)
Re-runs during the holidays are a given, but the idea of watching your old favourite television shows the rest of the year sounds ideal. PlutoTV, a free live FAST streaming service that launched in Canada earlier this year, has more than 160 channels dedicated to playing rerun after rerun of classic hits like Beverly Hills, 90210, Star Trek: The Next Generation and almost every popular MTV reality series you can think of, including Catfish and The Hills. You will quickly learn it’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia and time will become a blur, but if your holiday season plans include lounging around at home, 24 hours of CSI sounds perfect. — Arti Patel

Blood Quantum (CBC Gem)

Blood Quantum
Blood Quantam, released in 2019 and available to stream for free on CBC Gem, is a gory and fast-paced movie. (CBC)

Sometimes you need a good scare during the holidays. Blood Quantum, released in 2019 and available to stream for free on CBC Gem, is a gory and fast-paced movie that features a nearly all-Indigenous cast. It follows members of a fictional Mi’kmaq reserve as they deal with a zombie outbreak. The film’s director, writer and editor, Jeff Barnaby, who is Mi’kmaw from Listuguj, Que., told CBC News, “In qualified and political terms, it’s 100 per cent a Native zombie exploitation film.” He said the film also doubles as a metaphor for environmental catastrophe.  Brock Wilson

Blue Valentine (CTV)

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost, told in past and present moments. Flooded with romantic memories of their courtship, a couple use one night to try to save their failing marriage.
Director-writer Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a sombre, non-linear portrait of a marriage starring Michelle Williams, left, and Ryan Gosling. (TIFF)

Featuring Canadian actor Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine is free to stream on CTV. Released in 2010, the film follows Dean and Cindy, played by Gosling and Michelle Williams. It’s a sombre, non-linear portrait of the pair’s marriage, filled with both tender moments of romance and raw instances of pain. Beautifully shot, Blue Valentine‘s colour palette seems to change along with the characters: bright during the early instances of courtship, more gritty and muted during the heavier portions.  Brock Wilson

Various Oscar winners and nominees (Kanopy)

It’s an annual challenge to cram in as many Oscar buzzworthy films as possible in advance of the actual awards, and all you need is a library card for a chance to catch up on Kanopy. Lots of titles from Oscars of years past — winners and nominees — are there for free, such as I, Tonya, Barney’s Version, Moonrise Kingdom, Good Will Hunting and many, many more. Enjoy with popcorn. — Laura Thompson

Stories We Tell (NFB.ca, CBC Gem)

Sarah Polley  holds a video-camera up whilea man eats soup at the same table as her.
In Stories We Tell, filmmaker Sarah Polley turned the lens on herself and her family to uncover a complex trove of memories and secrets. (CBC)

It’s been just over a decade since filmmaker Sarah Polley turned the lens on herself and her family to uncover a complex trove of memories and secrets that she pieced together for a critically acclaimed documentary, Stories We Tell (2012).

As we have become even more invested in Polley’s life and work over time, it’s a fascinating rewatch to dive into this offering of her personal history, with a revelation that lands just as exceptionally now as it did then. — Laura Thompson

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