If you hadn’t heard of Fandor until you clicked this link, you’re not alone. Up until recently, I hadn’t heard of it either. But after taking a deep dive to explore the service’s ins and outs, I’ve come out fairly impressed, and I’m here to talk about why. As weary, desensitized-by-media American, I expected Fandor to be just another streaming service a-la Netflix, Hulu, and all the rest. But I was surprised to learn that it’s a totally different type of streaming service, one focused on independent, classic, and foreign films of the arthouse variety.
In the wake of Filmstruck shutting down, cinephiles everywhere have realized just what a gem they have lost. Filmstruck offered an enormous collection of some of the best films ever created. I’m not talking about Hollywood blockbusters, either. I’m talking about high-brow, artistically-pointed cinema.
Since then, a few niche streaming services have surfaced, each vying for their chance to take Filmstruck’s place. Enter Fandor. Upon discovering it, I decided to prod around and see what I liked most and what stunk about Fandor’s platform. Is it worth subscribing to? Who’s it for? Let’s find out.
How it Started
Unlike other players on the scene, Fandor is a spring chicken. Based out of San Fran, the service was launched in the spring of 2011 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Things were pretty shaky in the years that followed. Leadership changed hands multiple times during this period. A big-name hotshot would take the helm as CEO for about a year or two, and then jump ship for something more lucrative.
When a company’s leader leaves after such a short time, it may not necessarily be a red flag. But when it becomes a pattern, this usually spells trouble. And trouble there was. In December of 2018, the company suddenly laid off its entire staff and announced that it had transferred its assets to a new management firm. In a statement, CEO Chris Kelly said, “We have completed a transaction that allows a new entity to seek to continue the service under different management . . . This is, of course, a disappointing outcome for all who have contributed to and embraced our mission to date.”
Since then, the company has been enveloped in a shroud of uncertainty. This has confused potential customers, and nobody seems to understand whether Fandor is still operating. Short answer: it is. But will it continue to operate? Obviously, if you’re thinking about committing to a service, you don’t want to sign up if the service might vanish within a few months. Rest assured though, that for the time being, Fandor is here to stay. Kelly’s statement clarifies the matter: “The Fandor.com site will continue streaming movies without interruptions. It is not out of business or going out of business.”
How it Works
So now that you know that Fandor is still operating and will continue to do so, let’s talk about how the service works. Basically, it functions like most other premium streaming networks. You sign up for a monthly membership, and this grants you access to the entire catalog. You can sign up directly through Fandor’s website for $5.99/month. But if you have an Amazon Prime account, you can save a few bucks by paying for Fandor as an add-on channel through the Prime Video portal for just $3.99/month.
Once you make your account, you’ll be able to access the library through the web client or the mobile app, and also through intermediaries like Roku or Prime Video. We’ll discuss each of these separately in a little while. For now, though, let’s take a look at Fandor’s catalog.
Since we’re talking about a streaming service geared towards cinephiles here, we can’t point to certain platform-defining films or series like we can with mainstream services. HBO, for example, has Game of Thrones. Disney Plus has The Mandalorian. But Fandor’s titles are eclectic by the very nature of the platform. After all, the website itself states: “The Fandor community is full of movie freaks, genre geeks and tastemakers.” So finding common ground to begin with can be difficult.
Still, if Fandor has piqued your interest, it’s probably because you’re interested in foreign, indie, and arthouse cinema. If that’s the case, chances are that you’re at least familiar with some of the classics of film history. Fandor, as it stands today, hosts some of those relics, including the following:
– The Exorcist
– The General
– The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
– The Phantom of the Opera
Then there’s Fandor’s more contemporary catalog. Titles here are strong and diverse. Here are some of the better-known ones:
– The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
– Requiem for a Dream
The library’s genres include avant-garde, film noir, LGBTQ, horror, cult, silent film, and an array of others that offer something for everyone. This wide variety isn’t just meant to appeal to the established cinephile, though. If you’re interested in expanding your cultural vocabulary, Fandor’s catalog offers the perfect opportunity to explore some of the world’s most creative motion pictures. And to emphasize, when I say the world’s most creative motion pictures, I do mean the world – the international catalog touts flicks from Mexico, France, Egypt, India, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Japan, and many more.
Design of the Website
Once you’re signed in, a trip to fandor.com will bring you to the homepage’s landing portal. Here, you’ll see Fandor’s Spotlight banner. What is Spotlight? Well, click on the banner and you’ll learn that it showcases “thematically grouped, must-see films, hand-picked by Fandor’s curators.” At the moment, the Spotlight shines on family-related films, just in time for you to brace yourself for the holiday season.
Beneath the homepage’s Spotlight banner, you’ll find that the rest of the page is occupied by “Selected Films.” At the top of the website, a minimalist banner offers just two drop-down menus: Movies and Editorial. The former is pretty self-explanatory – hover over Movies and you’ll see further sub-menus, like New Arrivals and Genres. But the latter, Editorial, is a nifty part of Fandor’s website that’s worth discussing.
Editorial gives the platform an element of personality. Whereas mainstream media content providers like Netflix and Hulu shy away from any sort of self-involvement on the part of the editorial staff, Fandor takes a different approach. Being that the platform operates more in the realm of art than entertainment, having a team of editors who write op-eds and discuss film makes sense. These articles offer customers a chance to see what the staff thinks of the movies hosted on their platform. Often entertaining and always educational, these pieces help you tap into a larger conversation about films in a historical and cultural context.
To be frank, Fandor’s mobile app is the absolute worst part of the entire platform. Don’t just take my word for it. As of this morning, I saw the Fandor app holding an abysmal 2.4-star rating on the Google Play Store. Users agree that the app is plagued by clunky navigation, a poorly conceived UI, and bizarre failings like the fact that you can’t turn on subtitles. Perhaps most importantly, the in-app video quality is awful, and that’s inexcusable when we’re talking about a paid streaming service in today’s day and age.
Prime Video’s Strengths
So with all that taken into account, let’s reflect a bit. If you’re interested in indie, foreign, and arthouse film, Fandor is quite attractive in most regards. It boasts a robust selection of classics, a good amount of high-quality contemporary flicks, and an eclectic collection of international films. Editorial articles are well-written and thought-provoking. And, to the relief of everybody, the service is very, very cheap – especially if you tack it to your Prime Video membership as an add-on channel for only $3.99/month.
Prime Video’s Weaknesses
Still, there’s a reason Fandor hasn’t gained as much traction as Filmstruck did. First of all, the company has changed hands many times and suffered from general internal schizophrenia. Understandably, it’s hard to deliver an A+ service when leadership and management roles are ever-changing like a game of musical chairs.
Still, it appears that things are calm for the time being. Maybe this period of stability will allow the team to focus on fixing the mobile app. It’s a pretty big deal. Aside from this, I noticed that lots of folks were having trouble unsubscribing to the service, which is not only irritating but also a little seedy. If you don’t like it, it should be quite simple to unsubscribe, rather than being made to feel like this obstruction was designed intentionally.