In 2020, we spent an incredible amount of time stuck in front of our televisions. Because of a raging pandemic across the globe, we couldn’t be with the ones we loved. So we made new friends with multiple streaming services. If you had access to high-speed internet in 2020, you probably spent some time plopped down on your couch, binging everything. But with so many streaming services out on the market, what were the best ones?
This year saw the launch of three new services: NBCUniversal’s Peacock, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, and the short-lived home for short shows Quibi. With these new additions, the streaming space got a bit more crowded, and Quibi didn’t grab the viewership it needed to survive, and ended up closing its doors. Meanwhile, Peacock and HBO Max both launched without Roku or Amazon Fire TV support, which many streamers use to access these apps.
But what were the best overall streaming services in 2020? What companies changed things up in order to provide a better product to the consumer? In no particular order, here are GameSpot’s eight best streaming services for 2020, all offering up something a little different than the others.
If you want more retrospective reading, check out the worst ranked movies of the year, and the best TV shows and movies you might have missed in 2020. And for a look into the future, check out our lists for the biggest upcoming movies, TV shows, horror movies, and anime to look forward to in 2021.
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
Arrow Video Channel
The Arrow Video Channel is one of the newest niche streaming services on the block, but has quickly become a must-subscribe for fans of cult movies. The UK-based Arrow Films has been restoring and releasing the best in horror, action, exploitation, and arthouse cinema for nearly 30 years, and has built up a formidable catalogue of titles. So a streaming service was the obvious next step. From classics by directors such as Dario Argento, Wes Craven, Takashii Miike, and George Romero to Japanese monster movies, spaghetti westerns, martial arts epics, and Italian slashers, there really is something for (nearly) everyone on here, and the catalogue is growing monthly. Comedian, actor, and cinephile Patton Oswalt accurately the service as “Criterion’s weird cousin who does meth but is somehow a Harvard grad,” and at $5 a month with a month-long free trial it’s ridiculously good value. –Dan Auty
The streaming service market is booming, and while many focus on general content with random TV shows and movies from various genres, no one does a genre-focused streaming service better than Shudder, the king of horror. Its library of original content and exclusive rights to movies and TV shows continued to grow in 2020. Throughout the year, live stream events featuring horror movies gave subscribers the feeling like they were doing something as a group in a time where we couldn’t be around others. Shudder also delivered one of the most-talked about movies–not just horror–of the year, Host–a film about a Zoom call haunted by ghosts. Additionally, Shudder had exclusive rights to two must-see movies: the Indonesian film Impetigore and the “so bad it’s good” Verotika (directed by Glenn Danzig). To top it all off, it’s one of the cheapest services around, costing $6 a month. So if you love horror, there is no reason you shouldn’t subscribe. –Mat Elfring
Of the major 2020 streaming service launches, Peacock had the quietest. Initially, it was going to host events from the 2020 Olympic Games, giving it a marquee event to build its subscriber base around. That, however, never came to pass when the games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Peacock arrived and is, at the very least, attempting to build an identity for itself. Its highest-profile original to date is the Saved By the Bell sequel series (it’s not a reboot) and it’s one that has connected with an audience. Another major stumbling block the service faced was that, much like HBO Max, it launched without support for Amazon Fire and Roku devices. However, that’s something the service remedied relatively early on. But what’s even more noteworthy about Peacock is what’s to come. While there are plenty of films and shows to choose from, the service will soon be the exclusive streaming home to The Office. If you want to binge the adventures of Dunder Mifflin and don’t own the show on DVD, this is the only way to watch commercial free. And it’s not just The Office, Peacock is already the only streaming service with shows like Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. So, really, who wouldn’t want it? — Chris E. Hayner
When you think of Disney+, Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar are the main things that come to mind. And on the streaming service, there is plenty of content around that. This year, Pixar dropped both Onward and Soul on the service, D+ launched its confusing and pointless Premier Access–which lets you pay extra to watch select movies earlier–and Season 2 of The Mandalorian dropped. However, within 2020, Disney+ continued to fill out its catalog, adding original content like a Taylor Swift studio session, classic movies like Big, and some great behind-the-scenes docuseries from Nat Geo, Pixar, and Star Wars. While D+ has been labeled as a streaming service for kiddies, 2020 is when they began to break free from that. And even if it is just “for kiddies,” it’s a pretty excellent kid-friendly service regardless. –Mat Elfring
The Criterion Channel
When the much-loved Filmstruck closed down in 2018 after just two years, there was an outpouring of sorrow from movie fans and filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese and Guillermo Del Toro, who recognised the importance of a more cine-literate alternative to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Video. Filmstruck’s main draw was the Criterion Collection, the long-running and revered distributor of classic and contemporary films from around the world. Thankfully it didn’t take long for Criterion to launch its own service, and the Criterion Channel is every bit the equal of its predecessor. At any given time the platform boasts several thousand movies, with expansive revolving monthly seasons allowing film fans to explore the work of different directors, actors, genres, and countries. The last couple of months alone have included 1970s horror, Black sci-fi, Cary Grant comedies, modern South Korean cinema, Australian new wave, and spotlights on directors such as Terrence Malick, Bill Forsyth, Barbra Streisand, and Claire Denis. There are many great streaming services out there, but if I could only subscribe to one, it would be this. –Dan Auty
Amazon Prime Video
Aside from getting free two-day delivery on stuff you buy through Amazon, being a Prime member is a pretty great thing in 2020, mainly because of Prime Video. The service’s original content continued to grow throughout the year with a new season of The Expanse and a new special from The Grand Tour–the gentlemen formerly of Top Gear. Blumhouse began their partnership with Amazon, launching four new horror movies, with four more coming in 2021. Of course, then there was the surprise release of Borat 2, filmed entirely during the pandemic, and we all could have used a laugh this year. However, Amazon’s biggest original breakout was Season 2 of The Boys, which took the world by storm, and was one of the best superhero TV shows–or movies–that came out this year. Prime Video’s catalog in 2020 has become the gold standard for original streaming content now. While Netflix may put out more original content, Amazon’s TV shows and movies, on average, are a lot higher quality. –Mat Elfring
In the streaming age, there are plenty of choices if you want to ditch cable and watch live TV. However, most of those choices are getting more and more expensive and costing just as much as cable. While Philo is a stripped down version of cable TV, as it doesn’t offer sports or news networks, $20 is a pretty excellent deal for 63 entertainment channels–the vast majority of which you’re probably already familiar with. In 2020, Philo expanded by offering both Epix and Starz at an added price. It may not have the same name recognition as Sling or YouTube’s live TV series, but it offers a lot of what the others offer for a fraction of the price. –Mat Elfring
While most people think of Netflix as the king of general streaming services, Hulu continuously elevates its platform, offering content no one else can. In early 2020, FX and Hulu partnered–which isn’t entirely crazy since Disney owns FX and is a majority shareholder of Hulu. Through this partnership, full seasons of FX originals appeared on the service, Hulu got new episodes of shows the day after they aired, and FX also created original content like Devs exclusively for Hulu. In addition to FX on Hulu, the streaming service continued to pump out quality original content from the recently released revamp of Animaniacs to the Andy Samberg comedy Palm Springs. Combining high-quality original programming along with the ability to watch TV shows the day after they air on for many networks makes Hulu a must-have service. –Mat Elfring