Unstreamable is a column that recommends movies and TV shows you can’t watch on major streaming services in the United States. We publish every Wednesday.
Got a recommendation? Give us the scoop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
USA, 1986, 107 min, Dir. Harry Winer
SpaceCamp is a rare example of a decades-old movie that’s best viewed today. Not in 1986, when it came out.
The family sci-fi movie—starring Kate Capshaw, Tom Skerritt, Kelly Preston, Tate Donovan, an itty bitty Joaquin Phoenix, and a robot—is about a bunch of kids who go to space camp and accidentally get launched into IRL space. That’s all fine and good, except that SpaceCamp debuted the same year as the cursed Challenger explosion that killed all seven of its crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher who flew as part of a Teacher in Space program. Because of McAuliffe’s involvement, kids around the country watched the explosion live, which, you know, yikes. The youths were traumatized, and then this movie came out and was like, Hey babies, what if we accidentally launched YOU into space?!?! The movie flopped.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the film’s main baby, and he’s very endearing. We see him floating in space, pooping in space, and saving everyone’s asses in space. It’s not a bad movie—although its plotting could use some work—and it’s about to get a redemption: Disney announced in 2020 that it’s working on a SpaceCamp remake. Astronauts, consider this a warning. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Kid’s Section section under Children’s Live Action.
U.S., 1996, 135 min, Dir. Billy Bob Thornton
God—What WAS it with dramatic performances of neurodivergent men in the late ‘80s and ‘90s that people loved so much? You’ve got your Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, your Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, your Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? All chewing the fuck out the scenery in each of their respectful films. Also on that list is Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade, a movie he wrote, directed, starred in, and eventually won an Oscar for. Thornton plays the quiet Karl, a man imprisoned for over two decades for killing his mother and her lover with a sling blade when he was 12. Deemed not a threat, the prison releases him and he heads back to his hometown where he befriends a young boy named Frank (Lucas Black) who endures abuse from his mom’s asshole boyfriend. You can probably surmise where this movie about a gentle-yet-strange outsider pushed to the limit goes from here. But what really stood out about Sling Blade to me was its Southern setting. Filmed in Benton, Arkansas, there’s a slowness to the characters, plot, and atmosphere that feels as thick and sweet as molasses. And the 135 minutes-film really takes its time getting where it’s going. Still, Sling Blade is worth the watch.
P.S. Shout out to Unstreamable reader RyGuy for suggesting this pick! JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Drama section.
US, 1964-1969, half-hour sitcom, created by Aaron Ruben
Perhaps no show so utterly failed to capture its time more than Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., a lighthearted goof-em-up about zany, low-stakes military misadventures … made at the height of the Vietnam War.
Gomer was a spinoff from The Andy Griffith Show, a midcentury black-and-white sitcom about the pure, simple lives of rural folk; at the time, it seemed unthinkable that any comedy would acknowledge the real-life horrors of war. As a result, Gomer’s antics tended to involve silly all-ages mayhem like “Gomer’s love for Welsh rarebit causes him to sleepwalk.” Each episode was a brief escape from reality, though one might argue that ignoring real-life atrocities permits them to continue.
Another disconnect from reality was in the public persona of the closeted lead actor, Jim Nabors. American audiences would have responded to the existence of homosexuality with almost as much horror as they did to body bags, so Nabors steadfastly maintained the pretense of heterosexuality for nearly his entire life, going so far as to plant gossip-magazine stories about his insatiable love for women (and his conveniently unattainable standards for relationships with them).
Though Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was a ratings hit, Nabors eventually tired of playing the goofy hayseed and petitioned CBS to end the sitcom and give him a variety show. The network reluctantly acquiesced, and it was on The Jim Nabors Hour that the nation was treated to Nabors performing showtunes and welcoming up-and-comers like The Jackson Five.
In sunsetting his old-fashioned sitcom when he did, Nabors’ timing was excellent. Shows like M*A*S*H and the Norman Lear television universe were just around the corner (in fact, a teenaged Rob Reiner makes a brief appearance alongside Gomer as a singing hippie), and while Nabors’ character might’ve survived the war by ignoring it, there was no chance of surviving CBS’ rural purge of shows like Hee-Haw, Lassie, and Green Acres in 1971. MATT BAUME
Find it in the Comedy section, under Comedy Television.
Every week, we feature one formerly unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week it’s….
USA, 1996, 108 minutes, Dir. Spike Lee
Girl 6 is the first movie Spike Lee directed but did not write—the script was written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks. It’s a horny and stylish study of a young Black actress (Theresa Randle) who becomes a phone sex operator to help support her acting career. Quickly, Girl 6, as she’s called at work, gets pulled into the fantasy world she creates for her callers, finding more validation from the white men whacking it to her voice than the white men in charge of hiring her for acting roles.
Though featuring classic Lee-missteps—a bloated third act, heavy moralizing around Black women’s sexualities—the real lynchpin in Girl 6 is Randle. As Girl 6, she’s alluring yet innocent; in control, but a little tumultuous; dreamy and clever. She can convincingly slip into any character at work: the girl next door, the dominatrix, the housewife. In daydream sequences, Randle also embodies other iconic Black roles, from Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones to Pam Grier in Foxy Brown. Girl 6 was Randle’s major vehicle, and, in a just world, she’d be booked and busy after it. It’s more than a little ironic that a movie about the misogyny Black women face in the film industry wasn’t enough to launch Randle. It breaks my heart.
Also of note: major cameos by Naomi Campbell as phone sex operator Girl 75, Madonna as a strip club manager, and Lee’s mortal enemy Quentin Tarantino as a pervy white director casting Black actresses for “the greatest romantic African American film ever made—directed by me of course!” (Lee and Tarantino would have a falling out a year later with the release of Jackie Brown.) The movie’s soundtrack is wall-to-wall Prince songs, which adds a huge dollop of sex to the scenes and bolsters the film’s perspective. Prince is also the likely reason why Girl 6 was so damn hard to find online. JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Director’s section, located under Lee, Spike. Now available to stream on lots of different platforms.
Looking for more? Browse our big list of 350+ hard-to-find movies over on The Stranger.
The fine print: Unstreamable means we couldn’t find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other hundreds of streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn’t find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don’t consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.