Google’s YouTube Movies & Shows might not have the name recognition or extensive libraries of Netflix or Disney+, but it does have a respectable list of titles it offers for rent, purchase, or via free, ad-based streaming.
Not only does it offer a free alternative to subscription-based streaming services, but YouTube Movies & Shows also changes up its library fairly often, giving you plenty of options, as long as you don’t mind a few commercials while viewing them. To help you decide what’s worth watching, we’ve sifted through YouTube’s free movie library to bring you a list of the best full-length films available right now.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
This groundbreaking animated feature inspired The Wachowskis and James Cameron, among other noteworthy sci-fi filmmakers, with its tale of a cyborg operative in the year 2029 who’s tasked with hunting down a mysterious hacker known as The Puppet Master. Directed by Mamoru Oshii and based on Masamune Shirow’s iconic manga of the same name, Ghost in the Shell explores the nature of humanity and self-determination as the story’s protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, finds herself increasingly drawn into the criminal’s world of complicated cyber-crime. The film went on to spawn multiple series and several sequels, as well as a forgettable 2017 live-action film.
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.
The Terminator (1984)
James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi action film The Terminator not only launched its director and co-writer’s careers, but also turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a bona fide leading man with his performance as the titular, near-unstoppable android assassin. The film follows a young woman, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who finds herself pursued by a cyborg killer sent from the future in order to prevent her from giving birth to the man who will lead the human rebellion against the machines in the decades to come. Michael Biehn plays a supporting role as Kyle Reese, a human soldier sent from the future to protect Connor from the terrifying T-800 assassin.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
One of the only films to win the Academy Award in each of of the top five categories, this 1991 psychological thriller cast Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling, whose investigation of a brutal serial killer leads her to seek information from another, equally terrifying killer: The imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist with an affinity for killing and eating people. The Silence of the Lambs was directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Ted Tally, and is based on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same name. Widely regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made and often ranking among the best films of all time, it is as terrifying as it is captivating in its story of Starling’s cat-and-mouse game with both Lecter and the vicious killer “Buffalo Bill” who she’s pursuing.
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.
The Escort (2016)
Mitch (Michael Doneger) is a sex-addicted journalist desperate for a good story. When he meets Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca), a high-class, Stanford-educated escort, he convinces her to let him write an exposé on the industry for a magazine. Without his knowledge, Natalie begins to use Mitch as a bodyguard, leveraging his interest in her into protection. What starts as a business proposition soon evolves into something more.
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.
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.
Absolutely Anything (2017)
With a Monty Python-studded cast, Absolutely Anything is an appropriately silly film. When a group of aliens decides to test the fate of Earth by bestowing extraordinary powers on an ordinary schoolteacher (Simon Pegg), only the man’s talking dog seems to understand the value and importance of the powers. The teacher really just wants to flex a lot and lift things up. Robin Williams voices the canine companion in his final role while Kate Beckinsale also co-stars.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
From acclaimed director Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby), The Ghost Writer follows a gifted ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). However, the writer soon finds himself caught in a web of political and sexual intrigue as Lang is implicated in a scandal over his administration’s harsh tactics. As the ghostwriter digs deeper into the politician’s past, he discovers secrets that threaten to jeopardize Britain’s international relations forever.
Europa Report (2013)
This fictional found footage film directed by Sebastián Cordero follows the crew of the first manned mission to Europa as they attempt to investigate evidence of life on the far-off moon of Jupiter. Although the movie flew under the radar when it was released, it received critical praise for its realism and scientific accuracy as the team struggles to overcome one crisis after another during their journey. The film’s international ensemble cast includes Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, and Sharlto Copley.
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 food 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.
Uptown Girls (2003)
One of the late Brittany Murphy’s most charming movies, Uptown Girls is a beloved fish-out-of-water tale about a nanny who has very little idea of what she is doing. Molly Gunn (Murphy) is rich, conceited, and happily complacent in her life, living off her inheritance from her deceased rock legend father. But when her manager steals her money, her life is turned upside down, and she’s forced to get a job as a nanny for the precocious, neglected child (Dakota Fanning) of a music executive. While Molly learns what it means to be an adult, she has to simultaneously teach her young charge what it means to be a kid.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
A seminal entry for American horror cinema, George A. Romero’s classic horror movie 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.
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