Google quietly began rolling out the youtube.com/movies section in 2011. Since then, its library of titles for rent, purchase, and free, ad-based streaming has grown considerably, adding up to more movies than you could watch in a lifetime. If you don’t want to pay for a streaming service like Netflix or HBO, you can view some free movies on YouTube, but it’s not easy to make an educated choice when you’re faced with something you’ve probably never heard of.
In most cases, the best, highest-quality films available to watch for free are also supported by ads, so you’ll need to deal with a few commercials for the best video experience.
To help save you some time in your search (and money!) for what to watch next, we’ve sifted through the site to bring you this list of the best full-length — and, of course, free — movies on YouTube right now.
The Graduate (1967)
The film that propelled Dustin Hoffman to stardom and that inspired Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson is available to watch for free on YouTube. What a world we live in! Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a Best Director win for Mike Nichols, The Graduate was truly groundbreaking upon its release and still feels a little risque even today.
During his graduation party, Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) meets and is seduced by the sexy, older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner and closest friend. Despite Benjamin’s naivete, they take up an affair. However, when Benjamin falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), Mrs. Robinson does everything in her power to keep the young couple apart. A true classic, The Graduate took on some challenging, adult themes at a time when prestige cinema wasn’t quite comfortable talking about sex and taboo romance.
Super Size Me (2004)
If it was released five years later, Super Size Me might have been a viral phenomenon that inspired a dietary revolution. Instead, it was simply a documentary that everybody was talking about for a solid year. While Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me hasn’t had quite the impact that the initial societal response might have suggested, it was instrumental in eliminating the “super size” option from McDonald’s menu and forcing fast-food restaurants to be more transparent with their food’s nutritional information.
For an entire month, Spurlock ate only McDonald’s, attempting to see what kind of effect that diet would have on his system. Over the process, his weight balloons, his energy level plummets, and he experiences a wide variety of deleterious side effects. Meanwhile, he examines McDonald’s role in the lives of American consumers and its methods of indoctrination that aimed to make people (especially young ones) entirely dependent on Big Macs and fries. While the fast-food industry has undoubtedly improved since 2004, the message of corporate propaganda and the filthiness of mass-produced food still rings through today.
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (2010)
With the recent passing of comics icon Stan Lee, there is ample reason to get reacquainted with the man who co-created Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Avengers, Hulk, the X-Men, and so many other world-famous superheroes and their supporting cast of colorful characters. This 2010 documentary chronicled the life and career of the man who helped make Marvel Comics a household name and changed the face of the comics world for generations. While the film offers an origin story of sorts for Stan “The Man” Lee, it also provides a touching look at his life away from all of the superheroes and larger-than-life adventures, as both doting husband and father.
Better Off Dead (1985)
Although it was panned when it initially hit theaters, John Cusack’s 1985 teen comedy Better Off Dead went on to become a cult classic due to its famously weird tone, which mixed traditional teen coming-of-age laughs with dark humor (the title comes from the lead character’s desire to kill himself after a breakup) and some bizarre animation sequences created by director Savage Steve Holland. Cusack himself wasn’t a fan of the final cut of the film, but eventually softened his criticism as the years went by and the film became a cult hit.
Along with Cusack in the role of teenager Lane Meyer, the cast of Better Off Dead also includes Curtis Armstrong (“Booger” in Revenge of the Nerds) as Lane’s best friend, Charles De Mar.
Fists of Fury (1972)
Bruce Lee’s first major film, Fists of Fury (titled The Big Boss outside the U.S.) was the movie that first earned him the attention of Hollywood and much of Asia, showcasing his formidable martial arts skills and seemingly boundless charisma. The feature casts Lee as Cheng Chao-an, a young man who travels from China to Thailand to work in an ice factory with his cousins. A vow he made to his mother never to fight again is soon tested, however, when a drug trafficking operation based in the factory puts his cousins in danger.
A surprise hit around the world, Fists of Fury became the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong’s history when it was released (only to be surpassed by Lee’s next film), as well as a bona fide box-office success in U.S. theaters. The initial cut of the film was brutal even by today’s standards, but it’s been cut significantly over time for domestic and international audiences. The version of the film on YouTube is one of the more tame cuts, but it’s still a phenomenal showcase of everything that made Lee a cinematic icon.
The General (1926)
While Charlie Chaplin remains a household name more than 40 years after his death, Buster Keaton is an oft-overlooked film pioneer, and one of the first true silent film stars. The General met mixed reviews and poor box office returns upon release in 1926 but has since become regarded as Keaton’s greatest film and an all-time classic.
Adapted from Union soldier William Pittenger’s memoir, The Great Locomotive Chase, The General follows a Confederate train engineer forced into action after the father of his love interest (Marion Mack) is wounded in battle. The film includes two train chase scenes that proved to be the most expensive stunts ever in a silent movie, and features some impressive historical detail, all things considered.
Kung Fury (2015)
A rare example of a successful Kickstarter film, Kung Fury promised its backers a spectacular homage to ’80s action films, and it delivered. Director David Sandberg also plays the lead, Kung Fury, a detective who gained superhuman fighting abilities after being simultaneously struck by a bolt of lightning and bitten by a cobra. Kung Fury uses his supreme combat skills to clean up the filthy streets of Miami but faces his greatest challenge when no less a villain than Adolf Hitler (Jorma Taccone) arrives, intent on conquering all of time through his own mastery of kung fu.
If it’s not apparent already, Kung Fury is a film that makes no attempts at seriousness. That’s not all, either; a full-length sequel is on its way, with Michael Fassbender, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and David Hasselhoff involved in varying capacities. Yeah.
Reefer Madness (1936)
If you’ve never heard of Reefer Madness, you might be living under a rock. No matter your views on marijuana use, this absurd 1936 movie was made to “educate” young Americans on the dangers of drug abuse, but it’s actually a propaganda film produced by a church group and distributed by notorious exploitation producer Dwain Esper.
In the film, pot abuse drives several young adults to violence, murder, and (of course) madness. At the end, Dr. Alfred Carroll (Josef Forte) breaks the fourth wall (uh, spoilers?) to warn viewers that their children might die after consuming marijuana. After a sort of reappearance in the 1970s, Reefer Madness took on a new life as a parody film for supporters of drug reform and cannabis legalization.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A seminal entry for American horror cinema, George A. Romero’s classic follows seven people who find themselves trapped in Pennsylvania as the terrifying walking dead surround them. They have to try to survive without understanding the terror that lurks outside. The movie has been noted as the first zombie film, and its influences can be seen in everything from 28 Days Later to Shaun of the Dead. Romero’s debut — he wrote, directed, edited, and acted in the film — made him into a superstar, quickly revolutionizing the genre on a budget of a mere $114,000.
Free to Play: The Movie (2014)
More than a year after the Overwatch League was founded, e-sports are still carving out a niche and establishing itself as a legitimate form of entertainment. Those who don’t game on a competitive level might not understand the level of dedication required for such endeavors, not to mention the physical and mental tolls placed on young players who train for hours on end each day.
Free to Play, a documentary from game developer/distributor Valve Entertainment, focuses on two athletes and one coach who are competing in the 2011 International Defense of the Ancients (DotA) tournament. It explores the stresses the players are forced to deal with and deftly compares the struggles of e-sports athletes to those of traditional athletes.
His Girl Friday (1940)
One of the best second-wave feminist films, His Girl Friday is a hilarious farce with electric chemistry between stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Hildy (Russell) may be newspaper editor Burns’ (Grant) protégée (and ex-wife), but when she announces to Burns that she’s leaving the business to get married, he concocts a scheme to delay her departure. Hijinks ensue and Hildy, not quite as unwitting a pawn in Burns’ game as he thinks, shows that the student has surpassed the master — while discovering that the student might also still be in love with the master.
This silent adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is often regarded as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. After failing to acquire the proper rights to Dracula, German film studio Prana Film rebranded the legendary vampire as Count Orlok, and resorted to calling vampires “Nosferatu.” While it won’t scare the pants off you, director F.W. Murnau perfectly tells the story, harnessing the haunting atmosphere associated with German Impressionist cinema to great effect (in Nosferatu, you can see the influences of such seminal works as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Production designer Albin Grau birthed the film’s concept after speaking with a Serbian farmer who believed his father was one of the undead.
The Terminator (1984)
One of the most important science-fiction films of the 20th century, The Terminator was selected by the Library of Congress in 2008 for preservation in the National Film Registry because it’s such a landmark achievement. There’s a reason why James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger are household names now — and a big part of that reason is The Terminator. (We could do without maybe three of the five additional films in the franchise but don’t let that impact the cultural significance of this one.) Today, the concept of a cyborg assassin being sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill the mother of humanity’s savior may not seem so visionary, but in 1984, it was mind-blowing.
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