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25 Great Independent Films You Can Stream Free on Tubi Now

A mother in a color apron and her young son in a suburban kitchen.Life During Wartime

With many viewers struggling with subscription-itis — a costly overload of SVOD memberships that inflate credit card bills at the end of each month — it’s no wonder that the so-called FAST (free ad-supported streaming television) channels are taking off in popularity. For filmmakers, these channels offer a new revenue stream, and for viewers not only no-cost entertainment but the chance to discover many titles that for whatever market-based reasons aren’t streamable on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Criterion. Filmmaker‘s Web Editor, Natalia Keogan, and I took a look through the current offerings of the most well-recognized FAST channel, Tubi, to identify 25 favorites, deep cuts and discoveries, many of which you can read further about in these pages. There’s a lot of genre on the list, but also the first feature of Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, a Sundance doc on death with dignity, and the fascinating horror film by the director of The Worst Person in the World. But if any of these titles sounds compelling, move quickly — titles can move on and off the Tubi platform quickly. — Scott Macaulay

Living in Oblivion. Before DITs, intimacy coordinators and crowdfunding campaigns there was Tom DiCillo’s indelible ode to l0w-budget filmmaking, Living in Oblivion, which is something of a comedic Day for Night for the indie scene. “When you’re in the middle of making a movie and that stuff goes wrong, it’s not funny,” DiCillo told Matt Mulcahey on the occasion of the 1995 movie’s 20th anniversary, but funny Living in Oblivion is, even if the humor is, for filmmakers, of the cringe sort. And while many aspects of independent film in 2023 are necessarily missing from DiCillo’s film, the mishaps, ego collisions and misfires of ambition are timeless. Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener and Peter Dinklages are among the stars. — Scott Macaulay

Teeth. Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 horror camp classic is predicated on an age-old folktale: teenage virgin and staunch Evangelical Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) discovers that she possesses a vagina dentata, latin for “toothed vagina.” As she increasingly encounters men who wish to take advantage of her—from dreamy new boys at school to corrupt gynecologists—she is forced to use this strange new facet of her anatomy to defend herself. Weixler’s performance earned her a spot on our 25 New Faces of Film list back in ‘07, and word on the street is that a theatrical adaptation penned by Strange Loop playwright Michael R. Jackson is currently in the works. — Natalia Keogan 

Take Me to the River. Filmmaker selected Matt Sobel for our 2014 25 New Faces list on the basis of this quease-inducing debut feature, which, if anything, hits its hot buttons even harder today. A gay California teen’s plans to come out at a big family reunion are upended when he’s suspected of abusing his nine-year-old cousin. Sobel followed up this film with the bigger-budget Amazon Studios remake of Goodnight, Mommy, a more explicitly genre film, but this debut disturbs by virtue of its original mixture of sensitivity and shock. — SM

American Mary. Taking notes from the storied sub-genre of rape revenge horror films while displaying their original brand of body horror (which commingles with the unexpectedly erotic underbelly of body modification culture), Jen and Sylvia Soska’s American Mary is filled with brutal beauty. When promising (but dirt-broke) med student Mary (Katherine Isabelle at the height of her scream queen cred) inquires about a gig at a local strip club, she inadvertently becomes the club’s personal medic, largely patching up patrons who find themselves on the wrong end of shady drug deals. Soon enough, dancers begin approaching her to perform their own body mod surgeries, many of which are too radical for licensed plastic surgeons. When she’s raped by someone she’s supposed to trust within her medical residency, she decides to enact vengeance by using him as a human canvas to bolster her reputation in the underground body mod community. — NK

Frances Ha. A decade before the partnered filmmakers’s collaboration on the mega-IP tentpole Barbie, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach worked together on Frances Ha, one of the best ever movies about female friendship. Baumbach was coming off of his Focus Features picture Greenberg, on which he worked for the first time with Gerwig. For this co-scripted bildungsroman of sorts, he made Gerwig a full collaborator and shot below-the-radar with a six-figure budget in New York, Sacramento and Paris. Among other things, the picture is a snapshot of that late-aughts, early 2010s moment when shooting with the lightweight Canon 5D, which Baumbach used here to generate the film’s lovely black-and-white images, promised a new sort of freewheeling independent production. The film was Filmmaker‘s Spring 2013 cover, with Nick Dawson interviewing Baumbach and Gerwig. — SM

Person to Person. With Dustin Guy Defa’s The Adults hitting theaters soon (and already in the pages of Filmmaker‘s Summer 2023 issue), now is the perfect time to catch the 25 New Face director‘s sophomore picture, Person to Person, which is based on a terrific short built around actor and real-life vinyl record store proprietor Bene Coopersmith, Defa’s former roommate. The episode that anchors the short expands outward in the feature, with an excellent ensemble (among them, Philip Baker Hall, Tavi Gevinson, Isiah Whitlock and Abbi Jacobson) joining Coopersmith in this depiction of the small-scale yet memorable dramas occurring quietly and near invisibly across New York every day. (Read Peter Rinaldi’s interview with Defa about the film here.) — SM

Buffalo ‘66. The arguable height of Vincent Gallo’s career, Buffalo ‘66 features the controversial artist as director, editor, music supervisor and star, culminating in a touching (but no less provocative) portrait of Billy (Gallo), a man recently released from prison who abducts Layla (Christina Ricci) from a tap dance class and forces her to pose as his new bride for the benefit of his folks (Angelica Huston and Ben Gazzara, phenomenal). With a script co-written by Gallo and Alison Bagnall, Buffalo ‘66 is perhaps most recognizable for its dreamy visuals, employing a washed-out palette and unorthodox transitions that offer flashbacks to Billy’s troubled childhood. Musical and dance numbers aid in entrenching the film in a surreal landscape, while the chilly bite of winter envelopes this budding Stockholm Syndrome romance in an air of dread that miraculously dissipates into something unexpectedly tender. Gallo may have burned some bridges during production, but the final product remains mesmerizing and vital in its artistry. — NK

Medicine for Melancholy. Smart and sensuous, Barry Jenkins’s microbudget debut feature weaves an intimate, time-compressed relationship drama with perceptive commentary on gentrification and the changing urban landscape. As I wrote after attending the film’s SXSW premiere, “Medicine for Melancholy is an appealingly modest film with two strong lead performances and a beautiful sense of balance; it never presupposes that the romantic possibilities of its two illicit lovers are more important than the social reality Jenkins quite deftly embeds them in.” My interview with Jenkins was Filmmaker‘s Winter 2008 cover story. — SM

The Reflecting Skin. A work of lush visual splendor married to eerily nightmarish subject matter, the 1990 debut film of British novelist and filmmaker Philip Ridley is one of Tubi’s current deep cuts. In 2014, critic Dave Alexander wrote about the film for the anthology Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks, dubbing the film “prairie gothic.” From his essay, about the tie between the film’s Alberta, Canada locations and its themes, he wrote, “Other filmmakers have used this setting to explore their own brand of prairie gothic; Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978, also shot in Alberta) romanticizes it, while Terry Gilliam’s Tideland (2005, shot in neighboring Saskatchewan) gave it a magical realism makeover. But The Reflecting Skin is the only work that explores the horrific implications of prairie gothic horror with such depth and flair for the surreal. Beyond monsters real and imagined, beyond childhood trauma, and beyond the pale is a prairie that lives in the dark imagination. It’s alive in the frames of The Reflecting Skin, where sometimes bad things happen quite naturally.” — SM

The Day of the Beast. Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia’s 1995 black horror-comedy revolves around the exploits of an unconventional Galician priest to thwart the birth of the Antichrist on Christmas Eve. His plan? To commit as many sins as possible throughout Madrid—petty theft, assault, drug use, etc.—so that he may prove his commitment to Satan and sell his soul, thus allowing him into the birthing ceremony where he’ll be able to kill the devil spawn as quickly as possible. Witnessing a priest trip on acid and push over unwitting street performers is an entertaining enough conceit on its face, but de la Iglesia’s film (co-written by him and Jorge Guerricaechevarría) is most engrossing when showcasing its use of practical effects, which are incredibly startling in their uncanny stop-motion aesthetic. Previously unavailable to stream, it’s a must-watch for lapsed Catholics, avid occultists and horror hounds alike. — NK

Inside. Ignore the obscure 2016 English-language remake, also available on Tubi, and go straight to the 2007 original, a foundational text from the group of films that was, in the mid-aughts, dubbed the New French Extremity. One of the most brutal and bloody horror films ever made, Inside goes as far in its first act as most films build up to in 90 minutes. Beatrice Dalle stars as “La Femme,” a home-invading psychopath intent on cutting the fetus out of a nine-months-pregnant single mother (Alysson Paradis) scheduled to have her Caesarean the next day. (Christmas Day, no less!) But the extremely well-directed picture (directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury went on to direct the 2017 Texas Chainsaw Massacre picture Leatherface and the 2021 Blumhouse title The Deep House) is not just a gorefest. Perhaps its biggest special effect is how, against all odds, it manages to produce audience empathy for Dalle’s character in its final minutes. — SM

Thelma. Though Joachim Trier is now best known for his Oscar-nominated sensation The Worst Person in the World, his previous effort as writer-director, the supernatural sapphic drama Thelma, is just as worth watching. The plot concerns the titular character (played by Eili Harboe) as she begins experiencing seizures and accompanying visions after moving to Oslo for college. Raised in a super-devout Christian household, she begins to suspect that a crucial component of her past has been kept secret from her. With her increasingly bizarre behavior threatening her blossoming romance with classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins), Thelma embarks on a mission to discover the truth about what she suspects are her growing telekinetic powers. — NK 

Bad Lieutenant. The cover story of Filmmaker‘s second issue, Bad Lieutenant remains, arguably, the iconoclastic New York (and now Rome)-based director’s best feature, the story of a drug and gambling-addicted New York cop’s wayward investigation into the rape of a nun. Harvey Keitel’s performance is one for the ages, and the film’s guerrilla production led to many astonishing moments, not least of which is one of the best final shots in all of film, shot clandestinely from across the street at Penn Station, and with Trump Plaza signage offering now-meta commentary. — SM

Smiley Face. Gregg Araki’s take on the stoner comedy tends to take a backseat to his radically queer Teen Apocalypse trilogy—Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere—but it’s still riddled with the wit, chaos and ennui indicative of his films. Penned by Dylan Haggerty in his only screenwriting credit, Smiley Face follows mega-stoner and aspiring actress Jane (Anna Farris, queen of ‘00s comedy) on what’s supposed to be a perfectly ordinary day. When she stumbles upon a plate of cupcakes in her shared LA apartment’s kitchen, she impulsively gobbles them up. Soon after, she realizes her roommate baked these “special” cupcakes for a sci-fi movie marathon, meaning she’ll have to navigate the rest of her day catatonically high. Paying an electricity bill and going to an audition have never been harder or more hilarious. — NK

Night of the Comet.  Speaking of teen apocalypses, director Thom Eberhardt’s 1984 gem takes that prompt literally. Likely inspired by anxieties relating to the approaching apparition of Halley’s Comet in ‘86, the film involves a hotly-anticipated astrological event that sends global citizens out into the street in droves—only for them to be turned to dust while gazing at the phenomenon. 18-year-old movie theater employee Reggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) manages to avoid extinction by spending the night in a steel-lined projection booth, while her younger sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) evades death by holing up in her family’s bunker-like backyard shed after a nasty fight with their stepmother. What do the last two teens on Earth do in the face of humanity’s downfall? Make the mall their personal playground, duh. But it’s not long until their unlimited shopping spree is thwarted by rogue gangs of fellow survivors, crazed zombies and, most dangerously, the last remaining government scientists. — NK

Miracle Mile. Also dealing with impending apocalyptic doom is Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile, easily one of the most anxiety-inducing films about the frenzied final moments before an approaching nuclear missile touches down on its target. After immediately falling for each other after meeting at LA’s La Brea Tar Pits, Harry (Anthony Edwards) and Julie (Mare Winningham) spend the afternoon together and agree to meet again after Julie clocks out from her waitressing gig at midnight. When Harry’s alarm fails to wake him up for their rendez-vous, he rushes out of his house desperate to find her. He calls her number from a pay phone and leaves a message. Immediately after hanging up, the phone rings again, but it’s not Julie: a frantic man claiming to be a soldier warns that a nuclear holocaust will occur in the next 70 minutes. Realizing he dialed the wrong area code, a gunshot is heard in the background before another man tells Harry to “forget everything he heard and go back to sleep.” Wondering if what he heard was true, he’s more desperate to get to Julie than ever—a task that proves increasingly difficult as Los Angeles descends into violent hysteria. — NK

Yelling to the Sky. Although, as this list indicates, genre films are most prevalent on Tubi, the channel, along with its AVOD siblings, is also a place where overlooked independent features not found on Criterion, MUBI or Kanopy can be freshly discovered. One case in point is 25 New Face Victoria Mahoney’s excellent debut, Yelling to the Sky, a 2011 NYC drama that uses Chekov’s Three Sisters as inspiration for a story about relationships among a group of mixed-race girls. The film stars Zoë Kravitz, Gabourney Sidibe and Tim Blake Nelson and was an auspicious debut for Mahoney, currently in post on the sequel to the Charlize Theron action hit The Old Guard. — SM

How To Die in Oregon. Tubi isn’t as strong in documentary as it is in genre horror and action films. Indeed, predominant among its non-fiction categories are SEO-friendly films about sex work, UFOs and the paranormal. But one Sundance title found within its library is Peter D. Richardson’s 2011 How To Die in Oregon, about a group of terminally ill patients deciding whether to end their lives under the state’s recently passed Death with Dignity Act. “I think physician aid-in-dying is likely to be the next major medical/ethical issue we confront as a nation,” wrote Richardson at Filmmaker — a prediction that is proving correct as more and more states grapple with the issues depicted with compassion in this non-fiction title. — SM

Room 237. Rodney Ascher’s 2012 Sundance selection was prescient in its depiction of the ways in which the Internet has turbocharged new forms of film criticism that owe as much to conspiracy theory as artistic consideration. Titled after the “redrum” Overlook Hotel suite in Stanley Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation, The Shining, Room 237 is full of alternative speculations on the film’s meanings, a compilation that, despite — or perhaps because of — the outsider provenance of its critics speaks to the most basic needs we look to cinema to satisfy. Wrote Nicholas Rombes in the introduction to his interview with Ascher, “Room 237 is such an affecting and strangely moving film, in large part because it speaks to our inexplicable need for mystery, our desire to be trapped in the labyrinth only so that we can puzzle our way out, picking out bits and pieces of evidence — even if from just a movie — in order to create some coherence and meaning against the chaos of this world.” — SM

Life During Wartime. Todd Solondz’s spiritual sequel to his 1995 breakthrough Welcome to the Dollhouse and 1998 masterpiece Happiness is completely re-cast, but picks up and intertwines narrative threads from both films (he does something similar in his most recent effort, 2016’s Wiener-Dog). Specifically, the father-son Wieners from Dollhouse and the Jordan sisters (alongside other characters) from Happiness are revisited as they navigate familial tumult—suicide, pedophilia, bar mitzvahs—fueled by lies, misunderstandings and bad-faith rash judgements. Solondz has been unjustly characterized as a filmmaker who relishes in cruelty and crassness, yet Life During Wartime only furthers his true filmic thesis: suburbia is teeming with clandestine sickos, and it’d do us all a great deal of good to confront just how pervasive abuse and ignorance are in these supposedly “safe,” idyllic American enclaves. — NK

Suburbia. Made in-between her seminal documentaries The Decline of Western Civilization and The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, Suburbia is Penelope Spheeris’s rare turn as a writer-director that is nonetheless steeped in her non-fiction roots. Appropriately produced by Roger Corman, the film features a slew of young non-actors (including the first on-screen appearance of future Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea) who play a group of homeless punk kids that live in a squalid squat on the outskirts of their suburban town. Running away from various troubled homes, the teens form a crew (branded T.R. for “The Rejected”) that must protect each other from myriad threats: cops, packs of wild dogs, NIMBY vigilantes and, above all,  their own internal demons. Featuring live performances from punk bands T.S.O.L. and Vandals, Suburbia is essentially Spheeris mining from and moving past the punk community she immersed herself in for the first Decline film, a love letter to a subculture already in the throes of commodification. — NK

A Teacher. Given today’s online “groomer” discourse, Hannah Fidell’s debut feature, the 2013 A Teacher, adapted into a 2020 HBO limited series of the same name, has lost none of its provocative power. Lindsay Burdge is riveting as Diana, a high school teacher whose crush on one of her students spirals into obsession. Wrote Brandon Harris in the introduction to his interview with Fidell, “That we’re at turns sympathetic to, fascinated and repulsed by Diana is a testament to Burdge’s fearlessness and the penetrating curiosity at the heart of Fidell’s screenplay, which takes this admittedly prurient fodder and invests it with a memorably frosty aesthetic and utter intellectual seriousness, presenting a winter-time Austin, TX that mirrors the loneliness in the title character’s heart.” — SM

Romance. While Vincent Gallo received intense backlash for the use of un-simulated fellatio in The Brown Bunny, his 2003 follow-up to Buffalo ‘66, French provocateur Catherine Breillat had already tackled depicting full-on intercourse in her 1999 film Romance. The film centers on a school teacher named Marie (Caroline Ducey), who’s grown despondent in the sexless relationship she maintains with her boyfriend. As a result, she embarks on sexual promiscuity with strangers—some consensual, others not—hoping to either rekindle her own feelings for her boyfriend or find the courage to leave him altogether. In the end, loss and liberation go hand in hand. — NK

Party Monster. Bad kids abound in Party Monster, co-directors Fenton Fox Bailey and Randy Barbato’s 2003 take on the bloody end of Michael Alig’s (AKA “King of the Club Kids”) reign as one of NYC’s most eminent party promoters. Alig is portrayed by Macaulay Culkin, his first starring role in nine years after 1994’s Richie Rich, and follows his immersion into the club scene, spiral into drug addiction and eventual participation in the murder of Robert “Freez” Riggs. Co-starring Seth Green, Chloë Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne and more, the film is adapted from James St. James’s (portrayed by Green in the film) memoir Disco Bloodbath and is also influenced by the co-directors 1998 doc Party Monster: The Shockumentary. — NK

The Slumber Party Massacre. An ‘80s slasher with a refreshing feminist slant, Amy Holden Jones’s The Slumber Party Massacre is both exactly what it sounds like and an intentional critique of the subgenre. In fact, it was originally written as a pointed parody by screenwriter Rita Mae Brown, but was instead shot as a straightforward horror flick. Yet one doesn’t need to to read too deeply to find the film’s anti-patriarchal position: a group of young, beautiful high school girls plan a sleepover when one of their parents leave town, which just happens to coincide with the night a maniac murderer armed with a overtly phallic power drill escapes from a maximum security facility. Predictably, the girls drop dead one by one, but the final girl’s showdown with the killer promises ample symbolism that’ll likely provoke male viewers to cross their legs in response. — NK  

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