When discussing streaming services, it’s easy to focus on the big players like Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video. Or even some of the more niche-oriented services out there. But it’s also worth considering your local public library as a streaming service in its own right thanks to Hoopla. If your library partners with Hoopla, then you can check out movies, TV shows, CDs, audiobooks, and even comic books for free sans commercials. All you need is a valid library card.
Here are some of the best movies that are currently streaming on Hoopla, listed alphabetically by title. Note: Like most streaming services, Hoopla’s catalog changes as titles are added and removed. This list is current as of February 21, 2023.
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 an exiled Muslim man who falls in with a bunch of Vikings tasked with defeating an ancient evil.
In this Korean fantasy epic (which got its start as a webtoon for smartphones), a firefighter dies in the line of duty and is assigned three guardians on his way through the afterlife. But in order to achieve recincarnation, he must confront the sordid mistakes and lies of his past, including some terrible revelations about his own family. Along With the Gods was a massive critical and commercial hit in South Korea and spawned a sequel title Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days.
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.
Based on Koushun Takami’s controversial novel, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is set in a dystopic Japan where juvenile delinquency is out of control. In an attempt to instill some order, the government picks random classes of delinquents and sends them to an island where they’re forced to kill each other until one remains. A searing film that’s as cynical as it is moving — read my review — Battle Royale achieved immediate cult status upon its release, as well as no small amount of controversy. The film was banned in several countries even as Japanese officials claimed that it was harmful to teenagers.
Panos Cosmatos’ first feature film is an absolute fever dream, blending striking visuals, glacial pacing, and an ominous soundtrack as it follows a young woman trying to escape from a seemingly innocent New Age institute. Drawing inspiration from classic horror and sci-fi, as well as a unique ’80s-inspired aesthetic, Beyond the Black Rainbow is bizarre and trippy, and a must-see for cult film fans.
Arguably the best example of German Expressionist cinema, and one of the very first horror films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari tells the story of an insane hypnotist who commits murders with the help of a sleepwalking man under his control. Caligari has inspired all manner of debate since its release in 1920 concerning its themes of sanity, insanity, violence, and conformity. Its shocking and vivid design and unconventional storytelling has also influenced countless other films, including Nosferatu, Metropolis, and Dracula.
A group of strangers awakens in a series of cube-shaped rooms, but as they try to escape, they discover that the rooms are filled with devious and deadly traps. Proving that you don’t need a big budget, or even a big set, Cube packs a visceral punch with its simple-yet-twisted scenario. The two sequels — Cube 2: Hypercube, Cube Zero — are terrible so avoid them at all costs and stick to the original film.
Before he directed such beloved cult hits as Halloween, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter wrote and directed this sci-fi comedy about the crew of a scout ship on a mission to destroy unstable planets. But after twenty years in space, the crew has started to go a little loopy. And their precarious situation isn’t helped when one of their ship’s smart bombs begins questioning its own existence.
One of the great classic sci-fi films, The Day the Earth Stood Still was a modest success upon its release in 1951. But its story about an alien who comes to Earth on a mission to persuade humanity to stop its destructive ways has resonated over the years. The film has appeared on numerous critics’ lists as one of the best sci-fi films of all time and allegedly, it inspired Ronald Reagan to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss alien invasions. The Day the Earth Stood Still was added to the National Film Registry in 1995.
This direct-to-video martial arts comedy is an absolute thrill ride due in large part to Mark Dacascos, who stars as Toby Wong, a Hong Kong special agent who’s trying to sell some advanced bio-technology to an American company. But when he’s nearly captured by rival agents, Wong finds himself teaming up with a failing songwriter (Kadeem Hardison), and together, the unlikely pair must survive hillbilly assassins, countless thugs, and an even more advanced agent. Drive is a prime slice of mid ’90s action cinema that deserves more recognition, especially for the delightfully Jackie Chan-esque fight choreography (read my review).
Years after they escaped from a suicide cult, two brothers receive a videotape that the cult is still alive and well. Returning to visit the cult’s compound, the brothers begin experiencing bizarre phenomena that suggest that the cult’s beliefs may have been true after all. Or, that an even greater horror awaits them. Making great use of its low budget, The Endless is an excellent Lovecraftian horror film filled with atmosphere to spare (read my review).
Boasting a cast of Hong Kong all-stars including Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, and Simon Yam, Johnnie To’s Exiled is an excellent modern “heroic bloodshed” flick. A group of hitmen are hired by a vengeful mob boss to kill a man who once tried to kill him. But this seemingly simply job is complicated when their target turns out to be an old friend. As with any good “heroic bloodshed” film, Exiled features the requisite melodrama and themes of honor, loyalty, and brotherhood alongside bloody, over-the-top action sequences.
I could tell you about Flash Point’s plot and that it involves gangs and cops and drug deals gone bad. But really, all you need to know is that stars Donnie Yen. And if a film stars Donnie Yen, then you know it’s going to be filled to the brim with martial arts action gold. Indeed, Flash Point features some of the most impressive action sequences in Yen’s career, which is really saying something. Not surprisingly, the film won “Best Action Choreography” at the 27th annual Hong Kong Film Awards.
How’s this for a premise? Two strangers find themselves caught up in a metaphysical adventure after discovering that they each star in the other’s favorite TV show. As was the case with his previous film, 2009’s Ink — which also appears on this list — Jamin Winans’ The Frame is an ambitious and high-minded film, wrestling with such heady concepts as free will, destiny, and nothing less than the existence of God. The movie’s philosophizing gets a bit heavy-handed at times, but its weirdness and heartfelt nature ultimately prove winsome.
Long before they starred in Hollywood blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Dark Knight Rises), Simon and Phillip Rhee starred in this truly bizarre martial arts fantasy film involving aliens from the astral plane. Or at least, I think that’s what this film was about. Much like Fantasy Mission Force, Furious is one of those cult films so strange, it’s almost otherworldly. You just need to see and experience it for yourself.
Yôji Yamada’s “Samurai Trilogy” from the early ’00s may not be as action-packed as other samurai films, but thanks to their naturalistic aesthetic and deeply human storylines, they’re deeply rewarding in their own way. The Hidden Blade is the trilogy’s second film, and is set during a period of time when the samurai’s way of life is changing due to Westernization. A young samurai faces various challenges to his concepts of honor and loyalty, not the least being when he falls in love with a woman from a lower social station (read my review).
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 (read my review). 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.
This indie sci-fi/fantasy film is the perfect example of a film surmounting whatever budgetary constraints it might’ve had through sheer imagination and cleverness. Filled with evocative, dream-like imagery, Ink chronicles the conflict between the various factions that control humanity’s dreams, and a father and daughter tragically caught up in the middle of it. Ink might be a bit too ambitious at times, but it’s clearly a passion project, and I’d rather see that than a boring, mundane film (read my review).
After watching this charming and elegant documentary, you’ll never look at your job the same way again. You’ll certainly never look at sushi the same way again. Jiro Ono is the world’s most celebrated sushi chef, and his constant drive to hone and perfect his craft is inspiring, just as his joy in producing sushi is infectious. And yet, the documentary doesn’t shy away from the personal cost of such devotion. Read my review over at Christ and Pop Culture.
Made on a dare by a fertilizer salesman, Manos: The Hands of Fate languished in obscurity after its 1966 release until it was featured in Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993. Since then, the film — about a family who gets lost while on vacation and ends up the victims of an evil polygamous cult — has amassed a true following of its own. Indeed, Manos is so awful that must-see material for self-respecting fan of “cult” cinema.
In this deeply melancholy anime, a near-immortal woman is forced to live among the rest of humanity after invaders ransack her distant homeland. She adopts a young child and tries to raise him as her own even as war threatens their fraught existence. Written and directed by Mari Okada, one of the most prominent women working in anime today, Maquia is a poignant and beautifully made film about aging, loss, war, and the passage of time.
Here’s all you need to know about Miami Connection. It was written, directed, and produced by a Korean martial artist as a way to promote taekwondo. It’s about a rock n’ roll band called Dragon Sound that also happens to be a martial arts school led by the aforementioned writer/director/producer. Oh, and when Dragon Sound isn’t rocking Miami’s clubs, they’re battling a gang of drug-dealing, motorcycle-riding ninjas. (If you’re not sold by that last sentence, then maybe you should check to see if you have a pulse.) A box office failure that nearly bankrupted its producer, Miami Connection has since become a true cult classic.
Written and directed by Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a heartfelt love letter to cinema and its power to inspire. Given that this is a Satoshi Kon film, Millennium Actress is both deeply heartfelt and incredibly surreal, as a film crew attempts to unravel the mystery of an aged star and her life. And of course, it’s an absolute feast for the eyes (read my review).
The Paper Tigers fulfills basically every martial arts movie cliché as it follows a ragtag group of martial arts students seeking to avenge their fallen master. But the twist is that these students are now squarely in middle age, and trying to reconcile the idealism and energy of their youth with the sad realities of adulthood. As a result, The Paper Tigers is by turns hilarious and heartfelt (read my review), and of course, boasts some kick-ass action sequences that feature some of the same folks behind the martial arts mayhem in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space has often been called the worst movie of all time. Make no mistake, it’s filled with clunky dialog, awful performances, and laughable special effects. But there’s a certain awkward and amusing charm to the film and its cheesy storyline about alien invaders reanimating the dead to conquer the Earth. Released in 1957, Plan 9 From Outer Space’s legacy as the quintessential “so bad it’s good” film has been solidified during the ensuing years.
Based on Koroku Inumura and Haruyuki Morisawa’s “light novel,” The Princess and the Pilot is a war romance about a mercenary pilot hired for a unique secret mission: flying the princess of a war-torn country halfway around the world to safety. But of course, the mission goes horribly wrong and in the midst of the danger, the two begin falling for each other. But can a mercenary pilot and a princess ever truly be together. It gets a little syrup-y and fan service-y in places, but overall, The Princess and the Pilot is a solid blend of romance, intrigue, and aerial action.
After directing the sprawling masterpiece that was Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson returned with Punch-Drunk Love. Those expecting more of Magnolia’s moral quandaries and gut-wrenching performances were probably thrown for a loop by the presence of Adam Sandler in the lead role. But Punch-Drunk Love is a delightful film about an intensely angry and confused man who has a sudden encounter with grace and love… and a harmonium.
One of the Coen Brothers’ earliest films, Raising Arizona remains one of their best and most beloved films, blending slapstick comedy and madcap filmmaking with a heart of gold. When a down-on-his-luck thief and his police officer wife are unable to have kids, they decide to kidnap one. But in doing so, they set off a wild chain of events involving escaped convicts, a wife-swapping pervert, and a bounty hunter straight from the bowels of Hell.
Featuring a near-complete lack of dialog, The Scent of Green Papaya instead forces the viewer to pay attention to every second of the film to follows its storyline. Which is easy to do because it’s a gorgeous , even sumptuous film (read my review) that gently pulls you into its world, following a young girl as she grows up as a servant in a Saigon household. The film won multiple awards at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a “Best Foreign Language Film” Academy Award.
Directed by the man behind Highlander, Silent Trigger stars Dolph Lundgren as a highly trained assassin who — surprise! — begins to develop a conscience, which jeopardizes his latest job, and his partner. You don’t really watch Silent Trigger for the plot, though. Rather, watch it for director Russell Mulcahy’s sense of style, which gets surprisingly surreal and atmospheric at times. For a direct-to-TV assassin movie from the mid ’90s, anyway.
Another Satoshi Kon film, this time a remake of John Ford’s 3 Godfathers. When three homeless folks — an alcoholic, a crossdresser, and a teenage runaway — discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve, they set out to find its parents. And in doing so, they must confront the various mistakes and regrets of their past. Unlike most of Kon’s films, Tokyo Godfathers doesn’t have any sci-fi or fantasy elements, but instead, tells a deeply human story about those relegated to the fringes of society.
Everyone knows hillbillies are the bad guys in horror films. What Tucker and Dale vs. Evil presupposes is… maybe they aren’t. When the titular rednecks encounter a bunch of hot, young coeds on vacation, confusion ensues — with all sorts of hilarious and bloody ramifications. The film’s ending is a bit of a letdown, but it’s still worth watching for Tucker and Dale’s reactions to people accidentally offing themselves in all sorts of crazy ways.
An alien warrior has devoted his life to traversing the universe in search of the last remnants of an evil cosmic force. Things get complicated, however, when his latest target turns out to be a psychic eight-year-old girl living in Atlanta, Georgia. Giulio Paradisi’s The Visitor isn’t exactly the most coherent of films, but it is a very trippy one thanks to a psychedelic soundtrack and some truly otherworldly visuals.
Shinya Tsukamoto is best known for deeply provocative films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Tokyo Fist, and A Snake of June, and at first blush, Vital looks to be more of the same. After all, its about an amnesiac medical student who starts regaining his memories as he unknowingly dissects the cadaver of his former girlfriend. Which sounds really gross and icky. In fact, however, Vital is a surprisingly haunting and even touching film about the nature of memory, and its relationship to the body (read my review).
Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to his 2016 blockbuster Your Name doesn’t quite match its predecessor’s heights, but then again, how could it? Still, Weathering With You has everything you could possibly want from a Shinkai film, namely lush artwork, gorgeous animation, and lots of heartfelt melodrama as it follows the burgeoning relationship between a troubled young man and a young woman who possesses a mysterious connection to the weather.
Upon its release in 2017, Wolf Warrior 2 dominated the Chinese box office, setting numerous records and becoming the highest grossing non-English film of all time (a record it held until 2021). And it’s easy to see why, thanks to its ultra-patriotic storyline that casts China as the new defender of world freedom, similar to how films like Rambo, Red Dawn, and Top Gun depicted America back in the ’80s. But if you can look past the jingoism, then you’re in for a real action cinema treat. Director Wu Jing, who also stars, crafts one insane over-the-top action sequence after another, making American action movies look staid and trite in comparison.