Two weeks ago, we took a look at the invite-only beta of Redbox Instant. In that article, we gave a brief glimpse into what the fledgling service's library had to offer. Of course, the inevitable question had to be asked: how does it stack up against Netflix? Or Amazon Instant Video for that matter? While we're at it, how does Google's Play Store compare? Those are pretty big questions! So, they deserve pretty big answers. Today, we have them.

With Oscar season upon us, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings laying down some serious smack talk recently, and the public release of Redbox Instant right around the corner, the time feels right to give the various services a close examination. For this rundown, we'll be looking at Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Redbox Instant, and Google Play. We're also breaking availability down into three categories:

  • Subscription: Services that, for a monthly fee, give you unlimited access to a selection of movies.
  • Pay-Per-Rental: Typically a $2-5 one-time charge that allows streaming access for a short (usually 24 hour) time period.
  • Pay-Per-Purchase: For a more generous fee, ($5-19), unlimited access to a title forever.

A Note On Movie Selection

To get any kind of useful metric for comparing multiple huge libraries, it's necessary to establish some sort of baseline. Put simply, how many movies are there? Thankfully I'm not the first person to attempt to answer this question. I won't rehash other people's articles, but the short version is, it's difficult to say. Depending on how you define "movie," how far back into history you're looking, and whether you count things like commentary as distinct titles (which is more relevant than you'd think, as you'll see), the total number of flicks in existence is somewhere between 268,000 and infinity. Unfortunately, searching for an unending amount of films is impractical.

So, to narrow it down, I chose a sample set that should represent at least a decent portion of movies the average user is likely to search for. Here are the lists that were included:

Finally, some titles on the Bottom 100 list appeared on a given service due to a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Where a given company offered both the original and riffed version, both films were counted as separate entries.

The result is a list of 554 movies that sample most major areas people care bout: popular movies from any time period, successful recent releases, and god awful flicks that you love to hate.

Note: All whole numbers referenced in this article and infographic are out of the 554 title sample set. These services each have considerably more movies available that were not counted.

So, without further ado, here is what we learned, compiled into one ginormous infographic:


Further Analysis

In an effort to not overload your eyes or our servers, I didn't include every bit of data in this chart (and, truthfully, there are about a thousand different ways to interpret all the information), but here are some other factoids gleaned from this examination:

On Subscriptions

  • Netflix wins pretty soundly on its own. However, Amazon is a close second. Moreover, each has a significant number of titles the other doesn't. Of the sampled movies, they only share 35. Account for the overlap and collectively they have 117 unique films from this list. Given that an Amazon Prime subscription nets you more than just streaming, it may be worth it to some cinema buffs to have both.

On Rentals

  • While Google's rental prices are, on a weighted average, lower than Amazon, it comes at the cost of selection. Google has 175 titles available for either $2 or $3. Amazon has 176 titles at $3 alone.
  • Google and Amazon share 215 rental titles. Of those, 169 have the same price on both services. 42 are cheaper on Google, while only 4 are cheaper on Amazon.
  • Since you don't need to commit to a one-off rental service, it seems best to check the Play Store for a movie you'd like to rent before going to Amazon.

On Purchases

  • Amazon seems to be the safest bet for purchasing titles at the moment if you want to avoid a fragmented library. However, if you're going to go that route, it may be worth it to consider a Prime subscription. 57 of the 66 sampled Prime movies are also available for purchase. You don't get to keep them, of course, but given that buying all those movies could cost hundreds of dollars, it may help limit impulse buys.

On Overall Libraries

  • Both Amazon and Google have more rental titles and more purchase titles separately than Netflix has in its entire streaming catalog. Unsurprisingly, studios are more willing to give people the option to pay à la carte than to add more titles to a subscription service.
  • It's obviously unfair to judge Redbox Instant before it's out, but if the current state is any indication, it's worth it to wait a while after launch before jumping on board. Nearly half of all purchases cost $17 (which is crazy), more than half of all rentals are $5, and the streaming library is miniscule at best.

Other Notes

  • This comparison only takes into account movies that you can watch immediately and without leaving your house. Redbox Instant provides four monthly rental credits to use at kiosks, Netflix, Amazon, and the Play Store also include TV shows (under various pricing models), and a Prime subscription nets you far more than just media. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing who you want to give money to and a lot of those are simply outside the scope of this analysis.
  • Dear Amazon: please release an Instant Video app for Android. The Play Store's biggest advantage right now aside from rental price is that users on its platform can't go to your much bigger library. It's money on the table. Not to mention keeping semi-exclusivity (an app is available on iOS) on content just to sell loss-leading hardware makes no sense.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, this is just a fleeting glimpse into the libraries of these movie companies. A complete and exhaustive comparison of all available titles is a monumental task and probably unfeasible for one person or even a team of people. Not only are there a near-incalculable number of films, but even if you could get a single list of all titles and check every service out there for all of them, the library would almost certainly change before you finished searching. In fact, this chart will probably be slightly inaccurate by the time it's published. However, hopefully it can at least give us a snapshot of how the various streaming services stack up.