The best free movies on YouTube

Save a few bucks with the best free feature-length movies on YouTube

Google quietly begang 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 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. So, 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.

‘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.

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YouTube

‘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.

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YouTube

‘The General’

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 ChaseThe 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.

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YouTube

‘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 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.

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YouTube

‘Reefer Madness’

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.

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YouTube

‘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.

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YouTube

‘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. Eighteen 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. The predicament places Martha — now the heiress of her aunt’s fortune and power —under the old man’s thumb.

Strange Love (unrelated, as it were, to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) 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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YouTube

‘Metropolis’

Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece,  Metropolis, helped pioneer the sci-fi genre as a whole. The dystopian film revolves around a man of wealth (Gustav Fröhlich), who abandons his privileged life to join a band of oppressed workers in a revolt. The film was initially praised for its technical merits (though not so much for its plot or commentary on society as a whole), and as time has gone on, its legacy has grown, as it’s now considered one of the defining films of the entire 20th century.

If you’ve taken any collegiate film classes, you’ve probably seen this film — or part of it, anyway — and its plot would fit reasonably well into a sociology syllabus, too, considering the similarities between the wealth gap in Metropolis and the widening divide in the American economy today.

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YouTube

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

An esoteric documentary 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 at times, 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. 

The interviews shed some light on misconceptions surrounding the differences between shooting on digital versus 35mm film. One featured cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, was responsible for Slumdog Millionaire (which earned him an Oscar for his cinematography).

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YouTube

‘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.

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YouTube

‘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.

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YouTube

‘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. 

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YouTube

‘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. 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. 

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YouTube

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