This post is from staff writer April Dykman.

Hollywood Delivered by Michael C. Rael, courtesy Flickr CCSometimes I think that Netflix was the best thing to ever happen to me (er, besides my wonderful husband, of course). You see, when I was a Blockbuster customer, I was notoriously bad about racking up late fees. I would flat-out forget I even had a movie to return. There’s no telling how much money I wasted in late fees.

So when Netflix came on the scene, I was elated. Sure, it was another monthly bill, but I didn’t have to leave the house to rent movies — or return them. And these days I can watch every single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer through the “watch instantly” queue, along with all of the foreign and indie films my heart desires. I’m not big on regular TV and don’t have cable, so the service allows us to watch the stuff we like, commercial-free.

But now there are even more options out there. Redbox, different offerings from Blockbuster, and iTunes all offer slightly different ways of renting the newest release and snuggling up on the couch with some reasonably priced popcorn. Happy with Netflix, I haven’t really looked into the others, but I thought it was about time that I did.

Redbox
RedboxRedbox offers almost 25,000 kiosks for customers to rent and pickup movies. You can order and pay for your movie online and pick it up at a specified location, or you can show up to the Redbox and rent a movie directly at the kiosk, though your options will be limited. Swipe your credit card, and you’re done. To return the movie, bring it to any Redbox kiosk by 9 p.m. the day after you rent it. If you keep it longer, you’ll be charged the nightly fee plus applicable tax. After 25 days you’ll be charged for the price of the DVD, and it’s yours to keep.

Cost: $1–$1.50 per nightly rental

Is it right for you? Redbox is cheap and there are probably kiosks near you. I see the kiosks at supermarkets and drugstores even in small towns. Also, you’re not on the hook for a monthly bill, so if there are months when you’re so busy that you don’t have time to rent a movie, you’re not out any cash for an unused subscription. The downsides are that you don’t have the option to watch movies instantly online, and if you’re bad about remembering to return movies, it won’t be so cheap anymore.

iTunes
iTunes StoreYou can rent movies from the iTunes Store to watch on your Mac or Windows computer, iPhone, iPad, or iPod, as well as on a TV with Apple TV. When you select a movie to rent, it will begin to download and you’ll have 30 days to watch it. Once you start watching it, you’ll have 24 hours (in the US) before it will disappear from your library. If you don’t start watching it within 30 days, it will disappear from your library and you’ll have to rent it again to view it.

Cost: $0.99–$4.99 per rental

Is it right for you? Like Redbox, a major advantage is that you don’t have to be a member and sign on for a monthly subscription fee. iTunes is pricier, but if playing rentals on your mobile devices without a wi-fi requirement is a selling point, it might be worthwhile. I could see myself renting a movie from the iTunes Store to watch on an iPod or iPhone during a long trip.

Netflix
NetflixAhhh, Netflix. Most people are familiar with how it works. For a monthly fee, you get unlimited rentals sent to your mailbox. Keep them as long as you like, and then mail them back. There’s also a wide selection of “watch instantly” shows that you can stream to your computer, iPad, iPhone, or internet-ready TV. There are no contracts.

Cost: For online-only viewing (no mailed DVDs), the membership is $7.99 per month. One mailed DVD at a time plus unlimited instant watching is $9.99. Two DVDs plus instant watching is $14.99, and plan pricing increases from there.

Is it right for you? Netflix is great if you use it enough to make the monthly fee a good deal. I view the watch instantly shows and movies quite a bit, so it’s worthwhile. Plus, we live out in the country — we usually don’t want to leave the house just to rent a movie. Downsides? Sometimes new releases have a very long wait, and if you’re busy or go out of town, you probably aren’t going to be renting as many movies. (Edit: Readers have pointed out in the comments that you can put your account on hold when you’re on vacation or too busy to view movies. I think I just fell in love with Netflix all over again.)

Blockbuster
BlockbusterBlockbuster seems a bit like a dinosaur in the world of movie rentals, but the giant actually has the most options for customers. You can rent movies in the store, have them mailed to you, and return them at the store or through the mail, regardless of which method you used to rent them, minus due dates and late fees. You also can rent games and Blu-ray movies for no extra fees, and certain new releases are guaranteed to be in stock.

Blockbuster also offers On Demand rentals that you can stream to your TV, Blu-ray player, TiVo DVR, or mobile device. Similar to iTunes rentals, On Demand rentals come with a 24-hour viewing period and up to a 30-day storage period.

Cost: For $11.99 you get one disc at a time, plus unlimited movie, TV, and game rentals and five in-store exchanges. Two discs is $16.99, and three is $19.99. On Demand is a separate service that offers rentals and purchases starting at $1.99. Payment is on a per transaction basis.

Is it right for you? Blockbuster seems to offer everything that the first three services offer, all in one membership (plus extra for online viewing). Still, if you use online viewing a lot, you might be better off with Netflix.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a responsible GRS post without pointing out the cheapest solution of all: your public library. Titles might not be new releases, but you can’t beat the price. For us, however, Netflix still seems to be the best option.

How do you rent movies? Are there any other pros and cons to consider for the various rental options?

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