Popcorn Time is a TV and movie streaming app that leverages the peer-to-peer BitTorrent protocol. It offers a high-quality streaming experience that’s much more organized and less riddled with advertisements than shifty websites.
Nevertheless, because Popcorn Time streams video straight from torrents, it does constitute copyright piracy. Popcorn Time is not a service we recommend users turn to in most countries, as torrenting pirated streams in most regions is a crime. Any user who intends to take that risk, however, should definitely be paying for a VPN if they want to use it. Otherwise, expect a nasty letter from either your ISP or the Motion Picture Association of America.
Comparitech does not condone or encourage any violation of copyright restrictions, especially through torrents. Please consider the law, victims, and risks of piracy before using an app like Popcorn Time. There are many excellent legal options for those who want movie streaming. We recommend users consider legal options over torrent streaming options like Popcorn Time.
A VPN connection masks the user’s IP address and true location while also encrypting all their internet traffic to and from their computer. That makes it both impossible for an ISP or anyone else to monitor activity and impossible to trace.
You might assume that the best VPNs for Popcorn Time would be the same as the best VPNs for torrenting. In a lot of ways, you would be right. It requires the utmost security, but it must also be consistently fast in order to stream in HD. We narrowed down the list of the best VPNs for Popcorn Time based on these criteria:
- Fast, consistent download speeds
- OpenVPN protocol with at least a 128-bit AES encryption algorithm
- Internet kill switch that halts all traffic should the VPN connection drop
- DNS leak protection to prevent ISPs from tracing activity back to original IP
- Shared IPs to add anonymity
- No usage or traffic logs so law enforcement can’t subpoena the provider for your info
Our top recommendation, ExpressVPN boasts consistently quick download rates across the board and is simple to use. DNS requests are coerced to IPv4 to prevent IPv6 leaks. All connections are 256-bit encrypted over OpenVPN by default. ExpressVPN recently added a “network lock,” its term for a kill switch, to prevent any traffic traveling over unencrypted channels. All IPs are shared IPs, and because it’s one of the most popular VPNs on the planet, you can bet you’ll be mixed in with dozens if not hundreds of other people. ExpressVPN does not record usage logs or monitor traffic.
Read our full review of ExpressVPN here.
Update, September 16, 2016: In addition to their risk free 30 day money back guarantee ExpressVPN have offered our readers 3 months extra free with 12 month plans here.
NordVPN has a huge wealth of servers to choose from, and the app shows which are under the heaviest load. That means finding a fast one is easy. DNS leak protection and a kill switch can both be enabled in the settings. Some servers are specialized for “ultra fast streaming”, so those should also work well for torrenting. NordVPN keeps no logs and is based in Panama. All of the servers use shared IPs unless otherwise noted. Update, December 9, 2016: NordVPN is running a year end deal here with 72% off their 2 year plan.
Read our full review of NordVPN here.
IPVanish, which claims to be the fastest VPN for torrenting, allows P2P activity on all servers and keeps no logs of user activity. The app will automatically connect you to the server with the least latency in the country of your choosing. DNS leak protection is built in, as is a kill switch. No activity logs are stored on the company’s servers. The company is US-based, but that shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for torrenters. All of the servers use shared IPs.
Read our full review of IPVanish here.
About half of StrongVPN’s servers are compatible with OpenVPN, but the L2TP and SSTP options should work as well. Just don’t use PPTP, which is fundamentally not secure. No logs are stored and speeds are decent, though we don’t care much for the user interface. A kill switch can be toggled on in the settings. DNS leak protection works fine when tested, but just to be sure it might be a good idea to disable IPv6. Update, December 6, 2016: StrongVPN has a constant 41% discount on their 12 month plan, you can get an extra 15% here on top of that here, you will also need to add the code ‘SAVE15’ at checkout.
Read our full review of StrongVPN here.
CyberGhost Pro’s apps include an anonymous torrenting mode that’s perfect for Popcorn Time users. It proved to be among the fastest VPNs in our tests, so don’t be shy about hitting the 1080p button. The company has a zero-logs policy, although it was recently acquired so be on the lookout for possible changes. 256-bit AES encryption is used with the OpenVPN protocol to keep your activity safe from prying eyes. Intuitive apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
Read our full review of CyberGhost Pro.
Comparitech readers can save 55% on CyberGhost Pro’s 2-year plan here.
VPNs to avoid
It goes without saying that any VPN which explicitly forbids torrenting should be avoided by Popcorn Time users. That includes most free VPNs and a handful of paid ones. VPNs that retain usage or traffic logs (different from a connection log) should also be kept at arm’s length. We can’t list them all here, but here are a few you should probably steer clear of.
VyprVPN is a solid, if expensive, tier 1 VPN provider on the whole, but it has been known to shut down accounts of users who utilize P2P file sharing and torrents. While VyprVPN states that it does not monitor traffic, it does seem to have mechanisms in place to comply with DMCA notices by locking customer out. Torrenters and Usenet users alike have complained about their accounts being terminated without notice in the past.
Read our full review of VyprVPN.
Based in the UK, HideMyAss is required to keep partial logs on all users. The service gained notoriety on a couple of occasions when users were allegedly arrested due to the contents of these logs. Even if HideMyAss was coerced by authorities, it would be unwise for torrenters and Popcorn Time users to take a chance on it.
Read our HideMyAss review.
VPNGate is a fantastic academic initiative out of Japan that aims to uncensor the web for people living under oppressive anti-free speech regimes. It uses a network of volunteer nodes around the world as relays. It discourages P2P file sharing activities that would hog the network, however, and it keeps logs for up to three months to help weed out abuse and criminal wrongdoing.
Why does Popcorn Time still say I need a VPN?
Popcorn Time now informs users that they need to use a VPN when they use the app:
“You’re being monitored! Streaming without a secure VPN connection will expose your identity and can get you in trouble. Please take 1 minute to activate the built-in unlimited VPN connection before streaming.
The message pops up after clicking “Watch it now” for any video in the app. While this appears to be an error message or security alert, it is merely an advertisement. Clicking “Turn on VPN” will take you to a page where you can purchase a VPN subscription with Anonymous VPN.
We recommend against doing this simply because there are better, cheaper, more reputable VPNs out there than Anonymous VPN.
If you connect to a VPN server from a different provider before watching Popcorn Time, you will still see the ad. So long as you are connected to a reputable provider, you can safely ignore it and click “Continue”.
Popcorn Time not working?
A few months back, Popcorn Time shut down its operations. Instead of the normal catalog of shows, users were greeted with a database error. If you are still using an older version of Popcorn Time, you might still get this error. Download the latest version on the official Popcorn Time website. There’s no way to update the old app, so just uninstall it.
Many VPNs come with NAT Firewalls built in, which block connections from peers on P2P networks, as well as other unsolicited connections. This can prevent torrents, which rely on P2P networks, from functioning properly.
Depending on the VPN, you may be able to disable the NAT firewall somewhere in the settings. If not, you will need to use port forwarding. This is usually a manual procedure where the VPN provider designates a specific port to be used for P2P traffic. Users must configure their bittorrent client to use this port. If the port is not listed on the VPN provider’s website, the user will need to contact customer support and ask for it.
Read more on the best VPNs for torrenting.
Is Popcorn Time a honeypot?
Some rumors suggest that Popcorn Time is actually a honeypot scheme controlled by the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America. The idea is that Popcorn Time lures users into torrenting so that the MIAA and copyright trolls can sue them for money or extort settlements. In all likelihood, this is merely a conspiracy with no credible evidence.
The MIAA has actually filed DMCA takedown requests against Popcorn Time to have content removed or else face litigation. It wouldn’t make much sense for the MIAA to sue itself.
For further proof, Popcorn Time maintains a detailed commit log where anyone can see the community who write the Popcorn Time software.
On the extremely unlikely chance that Popcorn Time is a honeypot, a VPN will maintain your anonymity and prevent copyright trolls from taking any action against you.
Does Popcorn Time seed torrents?
Whenever you watch a movie or TV show on Popcorn Time, you’re downloading it from a torrent. Conversely, Popcorn Time uploads the parts you’ve downloaded to other torrenters and Popcorn Time users. So yes, Popcorn Time seeds torrents.
Legal Popcorn Time alternatives
If Popcorn Time’s use of torrents is illegal where you live, there are several alternative streaming TV show and movie providers out there you can use instead. Or, if you’ve been locked out of your paid streaming service because you left the country, you can still access them with a VPN instead of resorting to piracy. Here are some of our favorites:
Free Popcorn Time alternatives
- Kodi – Kodi’s official add-on library is stocked with free and legal streaming sources
- Plex – Like Kodi, Plex is another home theater software that incorporates third-party channels and streams from your personal library from anywhere in the world
- Legal torrents – Check out our list of websites that offer legal torrents.
- BBC iPlayer – The UK’s biggest broadcaster streams pretty much everything it shows on TV on iPlayer. It’s exclusive to UK residents but is easy to unblock with a VPN.
- Crunchyroll – If you like Popcorn Time’s selection of anime, Crunchyroll lets you watch many of the same shows and movies for free. A paid subscription will remove ads and grant access to more content
Paid Popcorn Time alternatives
- Netflix – We’ve all heard of Netflix, and the streaming giant is now global. With the right VPN, you can unblock other countries Netflix catalogs. Here’s a list of VPNs to unblock US Netflix.
- Hulu – Hulu is available in the US and Japan and offers a large library of content including movies, TV shows, and animation. Read our list of VPNs that unblock Hulu.
- HBO Now and HBO Go – If you love Game of Thrones, Westworld, Last Week Tonight, or any of HBO’s other hit shows, HBO Now (or HBO Go if you have the channel on cable) is the way to go. We’ve got a list of VPNs for HBO Now and HBO Go, too.
- Amazon Prime Video – Included in every Amazone Prime subscription, Prime Video includes tons of TV shows and movies, some of which are exclusive originals. It’s exclusive to a couple countries, but you can unblock Prime Video with these VPNs.
- Vudu – A Netflix-like service exclusive to US users that can be accessed from outside the country with a VPN.