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.
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Spain | United States | France | Italy, 2001, 104 min, Dir. Alejandro Amenábar
“In this house, no door must be opened without the previous one being locked,” says Nicole Kidman’s character, Grace, near the opening of the blockbuster psychological thriller The Others. These instructions—which Grace gives to the spooky-ass new housekeepers tasked with maintaining her big-ass mansion for her and her white-ass kids—become the first red flag of many red flags. Some others: The previous housekeepers fled with no notice. There’s no electricity. Music and loud noises are outlawed. It’s a high security nightmare (there are ~15 keys to this place). And every room has to be kept very, very dark. “The light must be contained as if it were water,” demands Grace.
The alleged reasoning behind the total darkness is that Grace’s lily-white kids have a rare illness that requires them to hide from natural light for, like, ever. As if they’re little ghosts. Or demons in Demon Slayer. This is why the doors are always locked, so they can’t accidentally wander into a day-lit room. And yes, these kids are fucking creepy. Straight-from-the-udder white. But I won’t spoil the secrets behind their whiteness… Like The Sixth Sense, the twist is the point. What’s done in the dark will come to light.
Find it in the Directors section, under Amenábar, Alejandro.
USA, 1979, 150 min, Dir. John Carpenter
There’s a whole lot of Elvis going on right now. Baz Luhrmann’s electric and totally chaotic recently released biopic of the American icon has prompted a reassessment of previous incarnations of The King. And many film nerds are singing the praises of John Carpenter’s unstreamable 1979 Elvis. The nearly 3-hour made-for-TV movie stars Kurt Russell in the main role, who—like Luhrmann’s Elvis, Austin Butler—was in the midst of a career transition from child to adult star. Made two years after Elvis himself died on a reported $2.1 million budget, the movie covers the musician’s early years all the way up to 1970, largely leaving his massive drug problem and declining health untouched. Which is kind of a bummer! But rather than making Elvis’ exploitative manager the locus of conflict like Luhrmann did, Carpenter instead focused on the detrimental effects of fame on Elvis’ personal life. And Russell deftly plays The King with both a fragile vulnerability and devil-may-care attitude. (Vulture ranked him the best of all onscreen Elvii with a “palpable soulfulness that puts him on top.” Love that palpable soulfulness.) Plus, his hips get appropriately unhinged in all the musical numbers in the film. The first in a five movie collaboration between Carpenter and Russell, Elvis is a thoroughly human portrait of The King–and it’ll make you want to grow out your sideburns! JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Directors section, under Carpenter, John.
USA, 1976-1983, half-hour sitcom, Created by Lowell Ganz, Garry Marshall, and Mark Rothman
How bizarre is it that you can’t legally stream Laverne & Shirley, the wildly successful spinoff of the even more wildly successful Happy Days? Surviving eight particularly tumultuous years at ABC from 1976 to 1983, it was at one point the most watched television show in the country – so it’s a real head-scratcher that it’s not on any streaming service. (It was briefly available on Hulu in 2020, but it’s since been removed. Huh???) The show capitalized on the usual two-decade cycle that feeds many nostalgia hits (M*A*S*H, That ‘70s Show, etc): Produced in the late 70s, it was set in the late 50s, and starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as two spunky “making our dreams come true” gals and their wacky friends. As sitcoms go, it’s reliable comfort food and pairs well with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which benefited from wider availability after its original run. The show’s great magic is the excellent chemistry shared by the cast, especially in the earlier seasons – Penny and Cindy in particular are perfect heirs to Lucy & Ethyl as a troublemaking pair of broads, empowered by a 70s feminism that is perhaps just a tad a-historical for the 50s setting. Penny Marshall went on to direct A League of their Own, Big, and several other well-regarded films; she and her brother Garry also play the bickering couple in Hocus Pocus. One of my favorite bits of L&S trivia is that the character Squiggy makes a brief cameo on The Nanny in the ‘90s, and we learn that in the intervening 17 years he and his best friend Lenny have fallen in love. I’d like to think that a modern-day reboot of Laverne & Shirley would give all of the characters similar arcs. MATT BAUME
Find it in the Comedy section, under Comedy TV.
Every week, we feature one formerly unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week it’s….
Japan, 2008, 101 min, Dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese animation studio co-founded by animator and director Hayao Miyazaki, broke through the American market with Spirited Away (2001), a film that remains the only non-English-language feature to win Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. It made $360 million worldwide—Ghibli’s highest-grossing film ever. The studio followed it with other hits like Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. Considering this success, it was miraculous that all of Studio Ghibli’s films remained unstreamable for years… until HBO Max entered the game.
When asked about its unstreamability, a Ghibli representative told Polygon in 2019: “Studio Ghibli does not make their films available digitally, whether for download or streaming, anywhere in the world… They continue to believe that presentation is vital and particularly appreciate opportunities for audiences to experience the films together in a theatrical setting.”
But that position changed, and Polygon took down the article.
Shortly after that statement, Ghibli announced its unstreamable streak would end in 2020, with HBO’s streaming platform HBO Max acquiring 21 Ghibli films for streaming. It was a power move intended to strike back at Disney+, which many people assumed would carry the Miyazaki films since Disney has been Ghibli’s longtime distributor in the U.S.
Ponyo is the Ghibli film I think about the most. Created for a younger audience, Ponyo focuses on a half-human, half-fish daughter of the sea, Ponyo, who longs to live on land. (So, The Little Mermaid.) While befriending a 5-year-old land-child named Sosuke, Ponyo spills some magic elixirs, and bloodless danger engulfs the world around them. The movie is bright and cute, but it’s Ponyo‘s magically-hued landscapes that stick with me. When Seattle’s rains feel oppressive and gray, I sometimes trick myself into thinking I’m living on Ponyo‘s vivid coast, slipping on the edge between land and sea. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Animation Room, under Miyazaki, Hayao. Now available to stream on HBO Max.
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.