MUBI’s Streaming Deals Make the Movie Site a Thinking Person's Netflix

Deals with major studios could expand the niche streaming service from the arthouse to the cineplex.


Video-on-demand streaming service MUBI has just signed a multi-year deal with movie studio Paramount to bring rad films like No Country For Old Men, Mission: Impossible, and others to their U.K. customers. There’s no word on when the title could possibly be available in the United States as of yet. The deal comes two months after MUBI secured a similar blockbuster deal with Sony Pictures Television to bring its catalog — including movies like Taxi Driver and Dr. Strangelove — to the site as well. But the real question is, what exactly is MUBI?

Turkish entrepreneur Efe Cakarel launched MUBI in 2007 as a kind of cinephile social network called “The Auteurs.” He was put off by the fact that, even on Tokyo’s superfast internet connections, he couldn’t reliably stream a movie. (Not being able to watch Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love may have pushed him over the edge.) The site rebranded as a full-on streaming service called MUBI in 2010.

Now seen by many as an online cinematheque for movie-lovers, the site features 30 movies at a time for subscribers to watch. This means unlike other streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime, which have thousands of titles available at a given time, MUBI cuts it down to a digestible amount with a title added and subtracted each day.

But wait, you say, why would I pay for less? The strength of MUBI lies in the way its selections alleviate a bit of the Netflix-itis, where you have so much variety that you spend all your time browsing instead of actually watching something. The more focused approach gives you less diversity but more opportunities to see particular films.

MUBI’s current collection tilts heavily toward international and independent cinema. But the Paramount and Sony deals indicate the service is breaking into the mainstream in a smart way. People will ostensibly sign up to watch Mission: Impossible, but could also discover a Hitchcock movie or foreign-language thriller similar to it they wouldn’t have even known about. And MUBI’s social network remains intact. Users can discuss and share their thoughts about other movies in MUBI’s database even though they may not be screening on the site.

Still, the selection remains particularly highbrow at the moment, especially for U.S. subscribers. The most popular film in the current lineup is probably German auteur Volker Schlondorff’s 1985 adaptation of Death of a Salesman, while American Director James Gray’s Joaquin Phoenix drama Two Lovers is set to expire by the end of the day. A streaming site founded on curation this fussy may not be built to scale up to the size of Netflix or Amazon Prime, but its fans are certain to be much more dedicated.

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