In the realm of streaming content, services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ reign supreme, their libraries filled with prestige titles — and more importantly, original prestige titles — meant for hundreds of millions of subscribers. But in recent years, the streaming market has become increasingly balkanized, with dozens of smaller, more niche-driven streaming services offering up lesser-known titles that Netflix et al. don’t care about.
Enter Tubi. Owned by FOX Entertainment, Tubi offers over 40,000 movies and TV shows, original content, and live TV for free. In other words, if you’re willing to sit through the occasional string of commercials, then you can find some real gems that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Make no mistake, Tubi’s library contains a lot of… not great titles (e.g., direct-to-video schlock, “Z”-grade movies, lower-than-low budget documentaries), but if you know where to look, you can definitely find some good stuff.
I’ve combed through Tubi’s archives to find 30 such gems. Not all of them are Tubi exclusives, but regardless, they were all delightful finds. They highlight the diversity in Tubi’s catalog, which includes everything from classic Hollywood blockbusters and vintage horror to martial arts classics and acclaimed anime.
The 13th Warrior
Although it was widely panned by critics, and even drove legendary actor Omar Sharif into temporary retirement, The 13th Warrior is a lot more fun than most people probably realize. Based on Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead, itself a retelling of Beowulf, the film follows the exploits of a Muslim man who falls in with a bunch of Vikings who have been tasked with defeating an ancient evil.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
The inestimable Bruce Campbell stars in this Western-themed comedy about a Harvard-educated bounty hunter who’s hired to bring his father’s killer to justice. But when his paths cross with a mysterious orb capable of granting superhuman powers, the series begins blending in aspects of sci-fi and steampunk. The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. only ran for one season back in the early ’90s, but it’s since become a cult classic thanks to Campbell’s performance and its mishmash of genres.
Scott Adkins — one of modern cinema’s best onscreen fighters — stars in this brutal gangster movie. After his mother dies, a disfigured thug who’s spent the last several years in one of London’s harshest prisons escapes, intent on getting revenge on those who betrayed him — regardless of who they are. Most of the film’s action takes place inside a single pub, where Adkins spins his sordid tale while taking on an army of faceless goons, snapping limbs and breaking faces with aplomb.
The Bride with White Hair
Before there was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there was The Bride with White Hair. Directed by Ronny Yu and starring Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung, this movie about star-crossed lovers from rival clans is martial arts fantasy writ large (read my review). The Bride with White Hair is filled with dazzling visuals and fantastical action sequences, as well as amazing performances from its two leads.
Budo: The Art of Killing
This 1978 documentary about Japan’s various martial arts (e.g., aikido, judo, karate) offers a fascinating look at the intense training and discipline that they all require. But it’s not shot or edited like your typical documentary. Rather, Budo: The Art of Killing often feels more like an abstract arthouse film thanks to its surreal visuals and ominous voiceovers. In any case, it’s a fascinating watch and a must-see for martial arts cinema fans.
Carnival of Souls
After she survives a terrible car accident, Mary Henry moves to Salt Lake City to work as a church organist. But upon arriving at her new home, she’s beset by strange and terrifying visions. Is she losing her mind, or is something more sinister going on? Although it was largely overlooked when it was originally released in 1962, Carnival of Souls has since come to be regarded as a horror classic.
Arguably one of the greatest war movies of all time, Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot stars Jürgen Prochnow as the captain of a German submarine (or U-boat) as it undergoes missions against the Allies. As much a character study as an action movie, Das Boot is a thrilling and moving film about the pressures and horrors of war (read my review). Originally released in 1981, it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Director.
A decade has passed since brothers Justin and Aaron escaped the cult in which they grew up, but life on the outside hasn’t been easy for them. After returning for a brief visit, the brothers begin experiencing bizarre phenomena that hint at a malevolent entity’s presence — an experience that could end up driving the brothers apart. With its ominous atmosphere and bizarre visuals, The Endless is a fantastic indie sci-fi/horror film (read my review).
The Final Alliance
It’s a well-known fact that David Hasselhoff’s most iconic role is Knight Rider’s Michael Knight. But I’d argue that The Final Alliance’s Will Colton is a close second. When Colton returns to his hometown, he discovers that it’s now terrorized by a biker gang. Unfortunately for them, Colton is an ex-Marine with commando training and a ninja outfit. Aaaaand a pet cougar. (Did my 11-year-old self write this movie?) The Final Alliance is prime, grade “A” direct-to-video nonsense.
In this David Fincher noir/thriller, Michael Douglas plays a wealthy-yet-miserable man who finds himself caught up in a sinister conspiracy after he consents to play a mysterious game. Stripped of his wealth and identity, he must crawl back from the abyss to figure out the truth behind the game.
Hackers is completely unrealistic in its depiction of computers and technology. And yet, it’s one of the best computer movies ever made because of its over-the-top sense of style and joyful, anarchistic idealism. (I highly recommend reading this oral history of the film’s genesis and production.) Yeah, I can nitpick and mock its depiction of hacking and how computer networks and interfaces work. But secretly, I totally wish all of that stuff really did work (and look) like it does in Hackers.
There can be only one… Connor MacLeod may seem like your normal antiques dealer, but he’s actually an immortal swordsman fighting other immortals for the ultimate prize. Starring Christopher Lambert as the titular immortal, Sean Connery as his flamboyant mentor, and Clancy Brown as the monstrous Kurgan, Highlander is a cult classic from the ’80s that inspired numerous sequels (of which, we shall never speak).
Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 film certainly works as a monster movie replete with scenes of widespread chaos and destruction — and an appropriately horrifying monster design. But as is the case with all of Bong’s films, there’s more going on beneath the surface. In The Host’s case, it also works as a brilliant black comedy and scathing satire of South Korean society and government as well as America’s influence in South Korea.
Hundreds of guerillas led by a dangerous Soviet operative are preparing to attack the United States, and there’s only one man who can stop them: Chuck Norris. (Who else could it be?) Invasion U.S.A. might be a bit hard to watch given our current political climate and the rhetoric surrounding illegal immigrants and border concerns, but this Cannon Films production is Norris in his ’80s prime, taking down bad guys with machine guns and roundhouse kicks aplenty.
Iria: Zeiram the Bounty Hunter
In this, one of my favorite anime OVAs from the ’90s, a headstrong young bounty hunter is determined to capture and destroy the alien monster that killed her brother. With its exotic-looking artwork and design, sci-fi action, funky music, and solid hand-drawn animation, Iria is a true gem that deserves a much wider audience (read my review).
In an alternate version of Japan, a member of the country’s elite police force is traumatized after he witnesses a suicide bomber. But when he befriends the bomber’s sister, he sets in motion a series of events that will test his humanity. Jin-Roh is a perfect example of mature anime for adults; while it’s filled with intense action sequences, its melancholy pace and solemn tone will haunt you long after the credits stop rolling. Jin-Roh was written by Mamoru Oshii, based on his own Kerberos Panzer Cop manga.
Kung Fu Hustle
Sing (Stephen Chow) has one dream in life: to become a member of the feared Axe Gang. But when he encounters a group of reclusive and unlikely martial artists, he slowly begins to realize that he could be something more. But not without plenty of hijinks — this is a Stephen Chow movie, after all. Coming on the heels of Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle went even further into CGI-fueled leaps of martial arts slapstick. While Shaolin Soccer is the better film overall, Kung Fu Hustle still has plenty of hilarious delights all its own.
The Last Boy Scout
On the one hand, The Last Boy Scout is a nihilistic, misanthrophic, and violent film with almost no redeeming qualities. On the other hand, it’s an awful lot of fun to watch, as Bruce Willis’ jaded private eye and Damon Wayans’ disgraced football player make for an interesting dynamic while taking on corrupt politicians. There’s something almost gleeful about the film’s cynicism, which is elevated by the atmospheric, noir-ish direction and cinematography.
The Man From Nowhere
I never saw the appeal of the Taken movies starring Liam Neeson, especially considering The Man From Nowhere is such a better former-special-agent-out-for-revenge kind of movie. The Man From Nowhere slow burns for the first 30 minutes or so, and then bang! — all hell breaks loose as the hero takes on an organ-trafficking gang to save a young girl. Won Bin is excellent as the emotionally damaged yet extremely lethal agent (he won “Best Actor” at the 2010 Korea Film Awards for this role), the villains are appropriately slimy and despicable, and the action is fast and brutal. Being a South Korean film, there’s plenty of melodrama but that only enhances the film’s intensity and poignancy.
This triptych of anime shorts features the writing and directing talents of some of anime’s biggest names, including Satoshi Kon, Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, and Katsuhiro Otomo. Of the three shorts, Magnetic Rose is my favorite, thanks to its spellbinding visuals and haunting storyline about the power of memory, but all three are worth watching.
When a photojournalist is hired to find his boss’ daughter in Mexico and return her to the U.S., it seems like a pretty straightforward job. Except for the fact that Mexico is ground zero for a spreading alien infestation, and they’ll have to travel through the heart of it to get home. Short for only $500,000, Monsters is proof that you don’t need a massive budget to make an effective monster movie. Not surprisingly, director Gareth Edwards was subsequently hired to direct the 2014 Godzilla movie.
Champion City’s most famous superhero is Captain Amazing, but when the good Captain is captured by the devious Casanova Frankenstein, it’s up to a band of lesser heroes like Mr. Furious and the Shoveler to save the day. Released decades before the current superhero craze, Mystery Men is an artifact from a different era, its quirkiness fully a product of the ’90s.
Night of the Living Dead
Directed by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead might not have been the first zombie movie, but it’s arguably the first movie that comes to mind when somebody mentions the undead. Blending genuine scares with social commentary, Romero’s movie serves as a template for all modern zombie flicks.
The Pit and the Pendulum
Roger Corman’s name is usually associated with cheesy “B” movies like Attack of the Crab Monsters and She Gods of Shark Reef. But in the early ’60s, Corman directed a series of lavish horror films based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Released in 1961, The Pit and the Pendulum was the second of these movies, and stars the great Vincent Price as a man who believes that he’s haunted by his wife’s ghost.
Project Blue Earth SOS
With its retro-futuristic sci-fi trappings inspired by classic “B” movies, Project Blue Earth SOS is an anime series that deserves a broader audience. When mysterious disappearances begin occurring around the planet, it’s up to a pair of rival boy geniuses to figure out what’s going on — and hopefully prevent an impending apocalypse. Although Project Blue Earth SOS can get surprisingly dark at times, it’s primarily characterized by a sense of optimism and derring-do that fans of vintage sci-fi ought to appreciate (read my review).
After an unnamed secret agent resigns from his position, he’s kidnapped and finds himself held captive in a bizarre-yet-idyllic village. There, he must do everything he can to maintain his individuality while matching wits with the village’s authoritarian leaders. With its surreal aesthetics and countercultural themes of rebellion, The Prisoner is one of the greatest cult classic TV shows of all time, and its influence can be seen throughout popular culture.
RiffTrax Live: Miami Connection
Over here, you’ve got RiffTrax, the movie-riffing commentary service featuring a post-MST3K Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. And over there, you’ve got Miami Connection, a so-bad-it’s-awesome film about a taekwondo rock band battling a drug-dealing ninja motorcycle gang. It’s a match made in pop culture heaven.
In this classic film noir directed by Fritz Lang, Edward G. Robinson plays a hapless painter who becomes the target of two crooks hoping to steal his art. But this being a film noir, you know that things will go horribly, horribly wrong for everyone involved. Fun bit of trivia: Scarlet Street was banned in several cities including New York and Atlanta because of its dark plot.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
In Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s awesome comic, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) falls hard for Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). There’s just one catch: Before they can start dating, he needs to defeat all of her evil exes, which include a super-powered vegan and a lesbian ninja. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is filled with hyper-stylized visuals, as you might expect from Wright, and the cast is absolutely packed with coolness (read my review).
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
The first film in Park Chan-wook’s famous “Vengeance” trilogy, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is a brutal, no holds barred piece of filmmaking. After a man kidnaps a wealthy executive’s daughter in order to get money to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant, things quickly spiral out of control — with disastrous and bloody consequences for everyone. Directed with style and intensity by Park, the film stars some of South Korea’s best actors: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, and Bae Doona.