In my family, it’s a tradition to watch movies together during every part of the holidays. If the TV’s not on and something we’ve seen a million times isn’t playing, we’re not really even celebrating. Whether that means opening presents to A Christmas Story or chowing down on turkey during Planes, Trains and Automobiles, films are part of the proceedings. But it’s not always possible to get together—and over 2020’s holidays in particular, there was an excellent reason to stay apart. But that doesn’t mean those traditions have to die. Even now, as people have started traveling again, there will still be times when not everyone can get together. Basically every streaming service and plenty of online apps have ways to watch movies with friends and family, even when social distancing and staying safe.
Here are eight ways to watch movies together while staying apart:
Previously known as Netflix Party, the Teleparty Chrome extension (which requires everyone viewing to be on their own Netflix account) is pretty straightforward. You install it to your browser, go to Netflix, decide on a movie (perhaps the hardest part of the process), and hit the “NP” button on the extension. You get a link, which brings up the movie and a sidebar group chat a la YouTube livestreams. And now it’s not just limited to Netflix, with the site claiming functionality with HBO, Hulu, and Disney+.
However, Hulu offers up its own in-house way to watch together from a distance. It’s called, of course, Hulu Watch Party and is available to up to 8 simultaneous users of Hulu (No Ads) and Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV accounts. As in, everyone that wants to watch has to have their own profile (not account) on one of those higher-tier subscriptions. Subscribers that share an account can share with everyone using it as long as everyone’s got a unique profile created on there. If that’s a reality for your group, all you have to do is hit the Party icon on the movie’s detail page and share the link. Then you get the synced movie and the text chat.
If Teleparty isn’t working for your Disney+, there’s an option specifically offered by the House of Mouse’s streamer: GroupWatch. The downside here is that, unlike Teleparty, there’s no text chat…just emoji reactions. You can invite your friends and family from the GroupWatch icon located in the Details page of your favorite Disney+ movie. It’s got a maximum size of seven viewers, with four streams allowed per account.
Fittingly, Amazon has its own built-in Watch Party feature as well. Limited to select films, you can click on the Watch Party icon (next to the Watchlist button), pick a username for the text chat, and get started. You can grab an invite link to share to up to 100 friends—as long as they’ve got Prime subscriptions. This works on most browsers except Safari.
Now we get into the less streamer-specific apps, which offer a few more robust features for a little more effort. Scener, another free Chrome extension, requires participants to either have accounts with their streamer of choice or use a free website. There’s a lot of supported sites here (including Netflix, Shudder, HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Funimation, Disney+, and Vimeo) and video chat with up to 10 “hosts.” Just make sure everyone’s got headphones. The other strength of Scener is its unlimited ability to have people watch—even if they’re relegated to the text chat—making it a favorite of streamers and those with larger groups.
A Firefox/Chrome extension that boasts a similar level of support to Scener but with text chat only, Metastream is for the more tech-minded out there. If you’re the one always fixing your parents’ computers/internet connection, for example, this might be for you. One host basically runs the show, handling invites, allowing people into the room, and adding media to stream via URL. A fun feature here is the queue, which can allow you to build a long playlist for background viewing.
Another third-party app with video chat, TwoSeven has two tiers of support: a free tier with YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Vimeo, and personal videos (i.e. anything you’ve got downloaded), and a paid tier that adds Hulu, Disney+, and Screenshare. That paid tier has a discount right now for social distancers, making it $3 a month. You have to jump through a link-sharing hoop to get people on board, but then can add them as a friend for future ease—and then you can video and text chat to your heart’s content.
You’ve gone through the rest and now it’s time for the quick and dirty solution. Facebook will now let you Watch Together as long as the videos in question are available, all hosted through the Messenger app. Sometimes movies find their way onto Facebook and this is a no-frills video chat way to experience those slight offerings—though its TV catalog is more promising.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.
For all the latest movie news, reviews, lists and features, follow @PasteMovies.