Google quietly began rolling out the youtube.com/movies section in 2011. Since then, its library of titles for rent, purchase, or 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 tough to find stuff that isn’t illegally uploaded or in poor quality.
Many of the movies that are available are documentaries, campy horror or action flicks, and older titles from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and it’s not easy to make an educated choice when you’re faced with choosing something you’ve probably never heard of. In most cases, the highest-quality films are also supported by ads, so you’ll need to deal with a few commercials for the best video experience.
In order to help save you some time in your search, we’ve sifted through the site to bring you this list of the best full-length — and, of course, free — movies on YouTube.
‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’
This 2011 documentary won worldwide acclaim for its dive into the world of Jiro Ono, the aging sushi master whose restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station received the exceptionally rare, three-star Michelin rating and is widely considered one of the greatest sushi restaurants in the world. The film follows not only Jiro’s work but also that of his sons, who live in the shadow of their father’s reputation and are faced with the prospect of one day taking over his work and establishing their own legacies. The film is one of the highest-grossing documentaries of all time and inspired countless cooking-related documentaries and docuseries in the years that followed its release.
The feature debut of Godzilla and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards, this 2010 film is a mix between a captivating travelogue and a terrifying creature feature as it follows two strangers on a journey through a Central American landscape populated by all manner of strange, alien entities. Monsters unfolds years after a NASA probe crash-landed in Mexico, bringing with it a host of alien creatures that now fill the region and give the two main characters — a cynical journalist and his employer’s daughter — a haunting environment for their quest to reach the U.S. border. Edwards wrote and directed the film along with producing its visual effects, and the finished product offers a great indication of why he soon became a rising star in Hollywood.
‘With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story’
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.
‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’
Steve Martin and Michael Caine play two very different types of con men locked in a competition to swindle an heiress out of $50,000 in this 1988 comedy directed by Frank Oz. While the premise of the film certainly isn’t groundbreaking, the performances of Martin and Caine in their roles as competing tricksters has made this film a comedy classic, with Martin at his silly best in the role of a conniving goofball, while Caine’s character employs more refined, cultured means to separate his marks from their money.
Set amid the beauty of the French Riviera, the film earned Caine a Golden Globe Award nomination, and later inspired a successful Broadway musical of the same name starring John Lithgow and Norbert Leo Butz.
‘Better Off Dead’
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 suicidal teenager Lane Myer, 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’ (aka ‘The Big Boss’)
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.
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.
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.
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 really it’s 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’
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’
More than a year after the Overwatch League was founded, esports 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 esports athletes to those of traditional athletes.
‘His Girl Friday’
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.
‘Battle in Seattle’
In 1999, the World Trade Organization (WTO) held its Ministerial Conference in Seattle. The WTO was ostensibly meeting to shrink the world’s wealth gap and reduce hunger and disease across the globe, but a group of protesters — if you can call 40,000 people “a group” — didn’t buy their agenda and planned a peaceful protest. Of course, some protesters took the opportunity to riot, loot, and fight, painting an uneven picture of the situation to outside eyes.
Battle in Seattle follows several fictional characters who occupy different roles within the conference and the protest, and features a who’s who of Hollywood hotshots, including Woody Harrelson, Channing Tatum, Michelle Rodriguez, Ray Liotta, and André Benjamin. It’s an interesting blend of documentary and drama, and it’s well worth seeing if you’re unfamiliar with the protests.
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.