November 26, 2016 at 3:22 p.m. PST
iTunes provides convenient access to movie rentals. This article explains how to rent iTunes movies for 99 cents or less.
Remember when renting a movie required going to the neighborhood video store? Remember video stores? The times have changed, and your local video store probably doesn’t even exist anymore. It was destined to happen. After all, videos are just digital data. The notion of burning data onto optical discs and putting them on shelves in a store is almost obsolete. People still rent DVDs from Netflix. I have a neighbor who buys DVDs at Amoeba Records in San Francisco.
For most people, it simply isn’t cost-effective or time efficient to rent or buy DVDs. Consumers have turned to digital options, be it a subscription service like Netflix or an a la carte virtual video store, such as the iTunes Store.
The problem with the iTunes Store is that it’s expensive. Renting a typical movie costs $5.99, which seems as expensive as Blockbuster, assuming you were renting a Blu-Ray. This price is unreasonable, as Apple doesn’t have the costs associated with running a brick & mortar operation. It’s not just Apple. All online video rentals tend to be expensive. The savings haven’t been passed on to the consumer. Fortunately, iTunes offers a loss-leader — the Movie of the Week.
iTunes Movie of the Week
The iTunes Movie of the Week is a loss leader. It’s a low-priced item designed to get people into the store, hoping they will buy more. It works. I regularly launch the Movies app on my Apple TV specifically to check out the Movie of the Week. They actually offer some great movies.
I only rent movies that have a 70% or greater Rotten Tomatoes score, with few exceptions. In fact, I rarely watch a movie on Netflix or HBO NOW if it is below 70%, because life’s too short to watch bad movies. Most of the movies featured as a Movie of the Week are critically acclaimed. Some of the 99 cent movies I have rented include Whisky Tango Foxtrot, The Witch, Eye in the Sky and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Apple isn’t sticking you with Pluto Nash, Ishtar or Gigli for 99 cents.
You can check the iTunes Movie of the Week by launching the iTunes Store on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac or Windows computer. Go to the Movies screen and scroll down until you see the Movie of the Week. If you are using an Apple TV, launch the Movies app and scroll down on the Top Movies screen, which is usually the default screen.
The Movie of the Week is updated every Monday night, at around 9PM PST. You may want to create a calendar event or reminder so you don’t miss out.
Check Netflix and Other Subscriptions First
Before you spend 99 cents on the Movie of the Week, make sure to check your subscription services first. They may offer the movie, and if so, there’s no sense in renting it. I do find that, for most movies, iTunes offers better video quality. Netflix and others resort to some aggressive compression algorithms to effectively stream content. iTunes usually offers a higher frame rate and seems to have fewer visual artifacts. That said, I will generally just watch the movie on Netflix or HBO NOW if it is available, and save my 99 cents for something else.
Movies You May Have Missed
The iTunes Store recently added a new movie category with discounted rentals. The “Movies You May Have Missed” section offers numerous 99 cent rentals. Although they typically aren’t as fresh as the Movie of the Week, there are some compelling options. The Featured Movies subcategory offers about 30 movies to rent for only 99 cents. “Movies You May Have Missed” also offers subcategories such as documentaries, stand-up comedy and movies created by a featured director or staring a featured actor.
Make sure to check Netflix and any other service you subscribe to before renting from the “Movies You May Have Missed” section. There’s a lot of overlap between this section and Netflix, particularly with documentaries. There is also overlap with featured movies. I almost rented the Ip Man movies, but they’re all on Netflix.
Buy iTunes Gift Cards at a Discount for Even Cheaper Movie Rentals
While 99 cents may seem inexpensive for a movie rental, you can do even better. If you buy lots of apps, iTunes content, subscriptions (through the iTunes store) and other Apple products, I highly recommend buying discounted iTunes gift cards. You can sometimes save as much as 20% on a gift card, which makes the Movie of the Week only 79 cents. There’s not a lot you can get for that price, making a highly rated, almost Blu-Ray quality video rental even more compelling.
Rent the Video on Your iOS Device
I own an Apple TV and I almost always rent and watch the Movie of the Week on this device. Unfortunately, if you rent an iTunes movie on your Apple TV, you can only watch it on that device. Renting a movie on your iPhone or iPad provides more flexibility. You can watch it on your iPhone or beam it to your Apple TV using AirPlay. Furthermore, you can pre-download iTunes movies on iOS and watch them offline. iTunes movies and TV shows are streamed on tvOS. They cannot be downloaded on Apple TV. You simply have more flexibility if you rent movies on your iOS device.
Purchases are completely different. Any movie, TV show, song or album you buy from the iTunes Store can be downloaded on any device using the same Apple ID. If you are enrolled in Family Sharing, these devices can access any content purchased within the family unit. Rentals are different, because the iTunes Store tracks the rental period on the device, due to the possibility of offline playback.
UPDATE: iOS 10.3, tvOS 10.2 and iTunes 12.6 all offer the ability to share rentals between devices. It’s completely seamless and hassle-free. Your rentals simply show up on any device that uses your Apple ID. Make sure to upgrade your devices to take advantage of this new feature.
Other iTunes Store Deals
There are other great iTunes Store deals beyond the movie of the week. When a movie is on sale for purchase, its rental price is often reduced to $3.99 or less. There are excellent deals on movie bundles. I bought the entire Godfather trilogy for only $9.99. That’s a purchase, not a rental. I purchased the entire Star Wars collection for $89.99 — all six movies, with the exception of The Force Awakens. Just keep an eye on the Movies screen in the iTunes Store. There’s always something on sale.
Google and Amazon Also Have Great Deals on Videos
People who own Apple devices often happily lock themselves in to the Apple Ecosystem. They will even use something as awful as Apple Music, because Apple pushes it so aggressively and it’s tightly integrated into the operating system. Let’s face it, Apple makes excellent devices, but their apps and services are often horrible. Safari on my iPad crashes more than a demolition derby car. In writing this article, it took me an unusually long time to find my past iTunes Stores purchases. Many readers of this site have thanked me for demystifying the process of canceling an iTunes subscription. Does Apple obscure this on purpose, or is it just bad product design?
Fortunately, you are not forced to use Apple’s apps or services. I use Chrome on my Mac and iPad, because Safari is one of the worst web browsers I have ever used. I use Google Play Music, as Apple Music was hopelessly defective and frustrating. Similarly, one can rent movies from Google Play and Amazon. Although Amazon’s service isn’t native to Apple TV, one can use AirPlay to beam third-party content onto Apple TV. Apple TV owners can access Google Play purchases and rentals directly using the YouTube app for tvOS. You just need to make the purchase outside of Apple TV.
Stepping outside of the Apple ecosystem has its advantages. For one, some of the third-party services offer a better user experience. iTunes has garnered the ire of many a tech writer and consumer alike. No matter how much I like my iPhone and Mac, these products don’t produce enough of a halo effect for me to love iTunes or other Apple apps and services. I’m simply not an Apple fan boy. I only buy content from iTunes if the price is right. I suggest shopping around on Google Play and Amazon. You can probably find similar loss leader deals on movie rentals and content purchases. It doesn’t matter if you rent a movie from Google Play or iTunes. Just find the least expensive option and save your money for the next iPhone!