The best, free feature-length movies on YouTube

Back in 2011, Google quietly rolled out the YouTube.com/movies section. Since then, it has amassed a library of titles you can rent, purchase, or stream for free, adding up to more movies than you could watch in a lifetime. Still, despite the breadth of Youtube’s library, it can be difficult to find free movies that haven’t been illegally uploaded in potato quality.

Many of the movies that are available are documentaries, campy horror flicks, and older titles from Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and it’s tough to make an educated choice when you’re faced with numerous selections you’ve never heard of. So, to help save you some time in your search for something to watch, we’ve sifted through the site to bring you this list of the best full — and, of course, free — movies on YouTube.

Millennium Actress

Directed by the late Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a visually inventive, animated journey through the history of Japanese cinema. This history is told through the lens of Chiyoko Fujiwara, a woman who stars in a variety of films throughout her storied career. When the studio where she made her name is torn down, filmmaker Genya Tachibana contacts Chiyoko, hoping to make a documentary about her career. Chiyoko relates her experiences, starting with her birth in Imperial Japan and following through the post-war period. Chiyoko’s reveries are conveyed through dreamlike imagery, and as Genya and his cameraman listen, the lines between past and present seem to blur.

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Kung Fury

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 when, in pursuit of a ninja, he was simultaneously struck by a bolt of lightning and bitten by a cobra. Kung Fury uses his supreme kung fu skills to clean up the violent, 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. The constant escalation of ridiculous gags would probably become tiring in a full-length film, but at 30-ish minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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The End of Poverty?

As the name denotes, this documentary looks at factors that led to world poverty and the forces that are pushing the wage gap further and further apart. Martin Sheen lends his voice to narrate the movie, examining the barrios of Latin America and slums of Africa, while showcasing interviews with historians, economists, and sociologists. It isn’t a particularly happy film, but it will change the way you look at people in poverty and might motivate you to examine your lifestyle.

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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 a barn 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.

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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

This film noir follows Martha Ivers, a defiant orphaned teenager who ends up accidentally-but-kind-of-on-purpose killing her authoritarian aunt, her guardian and the town matriarch. 18 years later, Martha is married to Walter, the only witness to her crime, whom she does not love but agreed to marry after his ambitious father helped her avoid the consequences, placing Martha — now the heiress of her aunt’s fortune and power —under his thumb. The movie is worth watching alone for Kirk Douglas, who delivers a brilliant on-screen debut performance as Martha’s weak alcoholic husband that’s far different from his later tough guy roles.

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Monster

For her turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster, Charlize Theron earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe award, and a Screen Actors Guild award to boot. The dramatization follows Wuornos’ relationship with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) and her progression from prostitution into violent crime. When Wuornos is assaulted by a client, she murders him, beginning a spree of grisly killings. Theron’s portrayal is haunting and dedicated; the actress reportedly gained significant weight for the role, and wore facial prostheses to more accurately depict the subject.

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Don’t Try This at Home: From Dogma to Dogville

An esoteric doumentary for cinephiles and filmmakers, From Dogma to Dogville explores the miniDV revolution of the late ’90s that influenced the independent cinema scene. Though a bit dry, the film’s interviews with three renowned cameramen who were particularly significant during that period provide insight into the process behind such films as My Brother TomA Map of the Heart, and The Feast.

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Snow on Tha Bluff

This controversial docudrama opens with some college kids visiting Atlanta’s Bluff neighborhood, hoping to buy ecstasy. Immediately, dealer Curtis Snow robs them of their valuables and their camera. Curtis’ friends then use the camera to document day-to-day life in the hood, including Curtis’ exploits as a crack dealer, his gang’s involvement in violent encounters and shakedowns, and dealings with the police. The film is extremely realistic — in fact, a fight broke out in the audience at the Atlanta Film Festival during one scene where a child puts his hands in a pile of crack cocaine with a razor blade. Later, acclaimed actor Michael K. Williams (The WireThe Night Of) revealed himself as an executive producer on the project, saying it depicts “everything that is wrong with the hood.”

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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’s (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.

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The Lady Vanishes

Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate British film, The Lady Vanishes, was also his first to receive wide box-office success, and helped propel his career across the Atlantic to Hollywood. The classic film which has seen multiple iterations since is a comic mystery, filled with cartoonish supporting characters and unlikely but entertaining capers. When a woman goes missing on a train, only a beautiful young dilettante seems able to recall that she was ever there to begin with and begins a search, aided by a handsome young musicologist.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

This Banksy-directed docu-comedy tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a street art-obsessed Frenchman who runs a vintage clothing store in Los Angeles, California. The film charts Guetta’s immense infatuation with recording everything he does on film, including his quest to find the mysteriously unknown graffiti artist, Banksy. Once Guetta comes in contact with him, though, it’s Banksy who turns the camera on the incredibly interesting Frenchman, documenting his rise as the street artist known as Mr. Brainwash. Many have debated the authenticity of this documentary — with some positing it’s actually a mockumentary — but to this day, Banksy stands by his simple answer of “yes” anytime the legitimacy of Exit Through the Gift Shop comes up. Either way, its inventiveness, comedy, and pure inspiration make it well worth a viewing.

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Charade

Charade is often referred to as the best movie that Hitchcock never made. This is in part because it helped lay the groundwork for many spy thrillers to come, following the charming Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn as they embark on a mission to recover a hidden fortune. The repartee between Grant and Hepburn is some of the finest in classic cinema, and the film teems with sudden twists and screwball interactions that belie more gruesome elements and sardonic commentary. Designer Marice Binder’s animated titles imbue it with a sense of romance and class, much like Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Deygas did years later with Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Still, the beauty lies in just how nonchalant Grant makes the whole ordeal.

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Nosferatu (1922)

This silent adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is often regarded as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. While 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. Production designer Albin Grau birthed the film’s concept after speaking with a Serbian farmer who believed his father was one of the undead. 

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Updated on May 10, 2017 by Nick Hastings: Added new films including Snow on Tha Bluff, Nosferatu, and more.