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The best feature-length movies on YouTube, free or otherwise

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Free Movies (questionably uploaded)

At any given moment, there are hundreds of full-length movies uploaded onto YouTube by people who most likely don’t own the proper rights to distribute them. Most are taken down within a matter of days or weeks, but some survive unnoticed for years at a time. If you keep a close watch on forums (like this one) you can sometimes get lucky enough to see a new release before it’s taken down. Be warned though – many of these uploads are extremely low quality, and lots come with foreign language subtitles you can’t get rid of. Here’s ten of our favorites that have been up for a while.

Rashomon

Set in 12th century Japan, the plot of Rashomon centers around three men discussing a mystery: a samurai and his wife are set upon by a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) in the woods; the samurai ends up dead, the wife raped, and the bandit in custody. It seems like an open-and-shut case, but each of the three parties involved — including the dead man’s ghost — tell a different story, each claiming responsibility for the samurai’s death. Told through a series of unreliable flashbacks, Rashomon is an examination of memory and human wickedness. Rashomon isn’t about answers, though, despite the mystery angle. Instead, director Akira Kurosawa prefers to question the slippery nature of man.

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Youtube

Primer

Filmed on a minuscule budget of $7,000, Primer is a small film that deals in some very big ideas. The movie follows two engineers, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan), who accidentally build a time machine in Aaron’s garage. The two decide to use the machine to play the stock market, establishing a set of rules to follow so that they do not create some sort of time paradox. As is typical of even the best laid plans, things soon go awry. The film is notable for keeping its time travel plot as grounded as possible. Carruth, who also wrote and directed the film, was a math major in college, and is interested in the progression of cause and effect that a stable time loop could create. Primer is an astounding work of sci-fi, though viewers may want to keep a flowchart handy as they watch.

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Youtube

Putney Swope

Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 satire, Putney Swope, may look dated, but the writing is as sharp and insightful today as it was back then. The film opens with the executives of an advertising company voting on a new chairman. Not wanting to cast a vote for a rival, everyone votes for the one black member of the board, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson), whom nobody expected to win. Swope promptly replaces nearly all the white employees, changing the name of the company to “Truth and Soul, Inc.” and pledging not to work on campaigns for products such as alcohol, tobacco, or firearms. The film offers sharp criticism of the advertising industry, corporate culture, and racism, and it’s easy to see how the absurdest aspects would influence later filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Louis C.K.

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Youtube

Angels in the Outfield

Angels in the Outfield is a baseball movie about how anything can happen, even if your team is awful and your best player is Tony Danza. A foster-kid (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is told by his widowed dad that they can be a family again when the Angels win the pennant. After talking to his dad, Gordon-Levitt prays to God to help the Angels win. The next day a group of angels, led by Christopher Lloyd, begins helping them make a second-half surge to the top of its division.

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Youtube

Shanghai Noon

Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson team up in this adventure-comedy. When a Chinese princess is abducted and taken to America Imperial guard (Jackie Chan) must work with a little-known outlaw (Owen Wilson) to rescue her and stop an evil plot. The film has a little something for everyone, from over-the-top action and romance to comedy and bathtub scenes, with plenty of blatant homages to classic westerns and kung fu films. Wyatt Earp, for instance.

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Youtube

Drift

This Aussie surf flick dives deep into the 1970s surf culture of Australia, a scrum of mom ‘n’ pop surf stores that revolutionized the industry and grew into some of the largest surf brands known today. Starting out in monochrome, the film shows two brothers and their mother escaping their abusive father/husband and resettling in a small Western Australian town with huge waves. Skip ahead 10 years or so (and into technicolor) and the boys and their mum are selling neoprene suits and shorter boards out of their garage, trying to get by and build a real business. Even if you’re not a surfer, the film has impressive surf cinematography and there’s just something so endearing about kids surfing in rugby shirts and woolen sweaters.

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Youtube

Dogma

A religious satire from Kevin Smith starring seriously almost every famous person in the ’90s, ever, Dogma tells the tale to two fallen angels and their devious plot to get back into Heaven. If they succeed, the world would cease to exist. Luckily the world’s savior, a divorced, infertile, abortion clinic worker, has the help of Jay and Silent Bob, Chris Rock, and Selma Hayek. Not to mention, Alanis Morissette, as God herself.

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Youtube

Ivan’s Childhood

Influential Russian film auteur, Andrei Tarkovsky, made his feature film directorial debut with this poetic but unromantic reflection on war and lost youth. 12-year-old Ivan scouts behind German lines for Russian troops during WWII after enemy soldiers kill his entire family, leaving him an orphan. The films tells his story through dream-like flashbacks and features Tarkovsky’s signature cinematic style. While many of his films are available to stream on YouTube, this one launched with acclaimed career and has been oft-refrenced as an influence by filmmakers from Bergman to Kieślowski.

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Youtube

Man With a Movie Camera

Considered to be one of the most influential films ever made, any cinephile who hasn’t seen Man With a Movie Camera should correct the oversight immediately. The experimental documentary was filmed in 1929 by Soviet filmmaker Vertov and edited by his wife, Svivlova. In it, he either invents or develops many film techniques that are now standard practice, including fast- and slow-motion, double exposures, freeze frames, tracking shots, and stop motion animations, as he depicts a day in urban Soviet Russia.

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Youtube

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