What is MUBI and should you get it? A Streaming’s Hidden Treasures Special

The majority of the articles in the Streaming’s Hidden Treasures series highlight the lesser-known films available to stream on mainstream services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and BBC iPlayer. For some time, though, another streaming service has been on the scene, offering a number of films that would seem to fit into Streaming’s Hidden Treasures very well: MUBI.

With a specially curated mix of independent and arthouse films, MUBI is almost entirely populated by non-mainstream work. There would be little point, therefore, in picking out ‘hidden treasures’ on MUBI; everything on there is a hidden treasure compared to the other streaming platforms. So consider this a special one-off edition of Streaming’s Hidden Treasures, in which we recommend not just a film you might not have seen, but an entire streaming service that would be worth paying attention to.

What is it?

MUBI is first and foremost a streaming service, focussing on acclaimed, classic, arthouse, and international films. It also serves as a database, giving details on cast and crew filmographies, and the chance to rate films. It’s much like IMDb or Letterboxd, with the option to create lists also included. On top of this is MUBI Notebook, full of essays on film from MUBI’s contributors, which usually discuss one or more films available to stream on the site. Imagine an indie film-lover’s version of Netflix combined with their IMDb and you have some idea of what MUBI looks like.

How does it work?

The streaming selection on the site has a heavy focus on being a curated offering. They don’t just chuck any old rubbish on there; MUBI has people making sure there is a varied, exciting collection of films online at all times. On top of this, the way in which films are available has its own little quirk. Much like Curzon 12, MUBI offers a rotating selection of films. There are always 30 hand-picked films on there, one coming off the site each day, and a new one becoming available. For a while, MUBI offered good films, but not many of them at any one time relative to their competitors. 

Now, though, the game has changed. Whilst still keeping their 30-film selection, MUBI have just launched the MUBI Library. This consists of hundreds of films, many of which have been on the 30-film rotation at some point before, which are now available to stream at all times with a subscription. The Library launch has massively increased the amount of content on offer, putting MUBI in a position closer to the streaming giants.

What’s on there?

A whole lot of critical praise, that’s what’s on there. The main selling point with MUBI is that the films you can stream are some of world cinema’s greats. The selection is defiantly non-mainstream for the most part, making very little attempt to really be a competitor to Netflix and the like, but an alternative option for alternative tastes.

Many of the selections are grouped into special collections, focussing on a particular director, trend, or movement. There’s a lot to discover, especially when some of the titles available do not actually fit into any of these categories, so, unless you go digging, could go undiscovered. Among such films are Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, Coen Brothers debut Blood Simple, and the sublime Jim Jarmusch drama Paterson.

There’s a big emphasis on both modern boundary-pushers and classical greats on MUBI. You can stream a lot of films from the French masters, including Robert Bresson and Jean Renoir, plus a good selection of New Wave classics like The 400 Blows, Contempt and Pierrot le Fou. These sit alongside recent releases that have landed on MUBI sooner than they will on most other streaming services, including Pablo Larraín’s bizarre erotic-dance-grief-drama Ema, Joanna Hogg’s critically-adored The Souvenir, the blood-drenched madness of Bacurau, and of course the masterpiece that is Portrait of a Lady On Fire.

Such well-loved picks sit alongside a selection of oddities and outcasts. An exciting season that has currently been feeding into the 30-day rotation is ‘Perfect Failures’, a selection of films that were widely dismissed and lambasted on their release, but have undergone a reappraisal in recent years, either becoming a cult classic or hailed as a before-its-time masterpiece. Selections here include Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko follow-up Southland Tales, and later works from Brian de Palma, Billy Wilder, and Charlie Chaplin. Interesting, thematically driven series like this are something you can expect a lot of with a MUBI subscription.

As well as offering a range of films that are not available on mainstream platforms, a MUBI could also help to broaden your horizon in terms of who is making the films you are watching. With special series focussing on female directors, a big range of international films, films with LGBTQ+ protagonists, and more works from filmmakers of colour than you will likely encounter elsewhere, MUBI gives a platform to independent cinema and therefore independent, often marginalised voices.

How much does it cost?

Short answer: £9.99 a month. More expensive than most of their rivals, MUBI are presumably aiming for a market currently un-catered for. The amount of films on there with critical significance, and unavailable on other streaming sites, makes MUBI an attractive proposition even with the higher price. A better deal can be had, too. If you pay annually instead of monthly, the cost is £95.98 for the year, which works out as £7.99 a month. It’s a much bigger commitment, but could be worth it, and puts MUBI in line with Netflix prices.

There is also a potential bargain to be taken advantage of in the form of MUBI GO. Currently suspended because of Covid-19, this subscription comes in at £14.99 a month but offers one free cinema ticket every week, along with access to the online selection. There is a catch to this, however. In line with MUBI’s general ethos, the film of the week is chosen by them (rights issues mean their own choice is slightly limited) and the free ticket only works at some cinemas. These include independent picture palaces like Genesis, Rio and the Barbican in London, HOME in Manchester, Showroom in Sheffield, and the Edinburgh Filmhouse. The vast majority of Curzon and Vue cinemas are also signed up to MUBI GO, so most people should be fairly close to a participating venue.

It’s not for everyone, but with the arrival of the Library, MUBI now looks like a great option for those looking for something different to watch, and for the devoted film-lover. There’s nothing else quite like it, and that in itself is a selling point.

Andrew Young