The unsung glory of iTunes 99c movie rentals


With streaming platforms competing for your attention, Liam Maguren cuts through the war by putting his loving spotlight on iTunes’ discount rental section.

In the year 2019, it only takes six words to kill a film’s cinema box office return: “I’ll wait till it’s on Netflix.”

I’ve heard this time and time again from friends and whānau who assume that whatever film they’re talking about will actually come to Netflix. Chances are, it won’t, but the Netflix catalogue’s so vast right now that it makes those chances seem higher than they really are.

Even if you know those chances are zero, it’s become more tempting to ditch a film you’re genuinely interested in just because it’s not part of your subscribed media library. And when there’s already a money leech suckling on your credit card every month, why pay more?

In this era of online streaming, platforms significantly dictate your film-watching choices—and those choices are shrinking and splitting between competing platforms. With Netflix, NEON, Lightbox, DocPlay, Amazon Prime and the circular-eared shadow of Disney+ looming above them all, the streaming subscription wars are about to have their D-Day.

For those aching to break free from the restrictions without breaking the bank, clasp your hands together and pray at the temple of the iTunes 99c rental section.

Paying any amount of money for one film may seem ridiculous to a Netflix loyalist, but not when you consider it in context. Watching a high-definition blockbuster film like Aquaman, which was in cinemas earlier this year, at home in high definition for the price of a gold coin? It’s incredibly good value.

If big dumb superhero flicks don’t do it for you, there’s true story political drama The Front Runner starring Hugh Jackman. Or trashy Elijah Wood thriller Grand Piano. Or heartfelt Roger Ebert biography Life Itself. Or Oscar-winning Italian classic Life is Beautiful. Or brutal samurai epic 13 Assassins.

These are just six out of 200 films available to rent for a dollar as of writing. The selection constantly refreshes with a massive film headlining every week, providing the volume AND the grunt to make the section worth a weekly revisit.

There’s also the $2.99 rentals for the true high-rollers out there, categorised under themes like ‘Music Movies’ (currently promoting A Star is Born, Sing Street and The Blues Brothers) or the oddly specific ‘Action Dads’ (with the likes of Sleepless, Interstellar and Taken).

The rental time-frame’s also far more generous than it needs to be. From the moment you pay your buck, you’re given 30 days to watch it. The moment you press play, you’re given 48 hours to finish it.

By the numbers, you could watch 17 films from the 99c section a month for the same price it costs for a standard HD Netflix subscription. So if your streaming diet consists of one feature film every two days, you don’t even need Netflix. (Though I’ve probably failed to convince the hermits who binge an entire series every night.)

Then again, why even make this a competition? The iTunes dollar store works perfectly in conjunction with whatever streaming platform you’re dedicated to. If you’re on NEON, you’ll have access to Aquaman this month, but if you absolutely MUST see absurd running doco The Barkley Marathon without a Netflix subscription, iTunes has got your back (as long as you’ve got a dollar).

Beyond the practicalities, it’s just a joy having my interest in forgotten films reignited by seeing them in this section. And yes, 99c is next to nothing, but slapping that change down also lays a commitment to watching the film. None of this wasteful ‘Add to Watchlist’ malarky—may as well throw fresh fruit into my compost bin while I’m at it.

In the near future, when streaming platforms battle for viewers’ loyalties and credit card numbers, just remember that far in the distance, there’s the iTunes 99c rental store, ready to aid you when times get tough.