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 poor in 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 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 right now.
You may have seen enough found-footage horror movies to last you a lifetime, but you’ve still never seen anything like Trollhunter. The film begins when a group of students decide to make a documentary about a gruff, taciturn poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen). By the end of the first act, the young filmmakers find themselves embroiled in a fantasy-adventure featuring giant monsters ripped straight from Norwegian folklore.
Trollhunter introduces itself as a horror-comedy, but don’t be fooled: These trolls mean business. As Trollhunter rolls on, director André Øvredal (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) slowly ramps up the tension, and by the end, it’s full on human-versus-troll warfare. Don’t let the subtle Blair Witch overtones turn you off. Jespersen’s performance alone makes Trollhunter worth your time.
In 2029, as human forces battle for survival against an army of evil machines, the malevolent A.I. known as Skynet decides to stop the fight before it even begins. Skynet sends an assassin robot back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, mother of the human savior John Connor, before John is born. Unfortunately, Skynet didn’t plan on Kyle Reese, a freedom fighter who’s more than able to handle anything that the Terminator throws at him, or Sarah, who’s a lot tougher than she seems.
Before you see Terminator: Dark Fate this November, catch up on the film that transformed Arnold Schwarzenegger from a buff camp icon into a legitimate action star, established James Cameron as one of the best sci-fi filmmakers on the planet, and spawned countless catchphrases. Trust us: It still holds up.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Buckaroo Banzai isn’t your typical action hero. He’s a world-class neurosurgeon. He’s a daring test pilot. He’s a respected physicist. He’s the star of a series of comic books. Most importantly, he’s the lead singer in the Hong Kong Cavaliers, a rock band that ends up being humanity’s last hope when the villainous Red Lectroids invade from Planet 10.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is wild, zany fun, anchored by future Robocop star Peter Weller, and featuring John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, and Jeff Goldblum at their over-the-top best. It’s the kind of film that throws new ideas at the audience at a breakneck pace, that’s crammed full of odd non-sequiturs and inside jokes, and that screams “cult classic.” No, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai doesn’t make much sense — but when a film is this much fun, who cares?
Dances with Wolves
Almost 30 years after its release, Dances with Wolves remains the highest-grossing Western of all time. Thanks to YouTube, you can see why. In Kevin Costner’s 1990 epic, the combination star/director plays John J. Dunbar, a Union soldier who becomes an honorary member of the Lakota tribe. He helps his newfound family fight off rival tribes, strikes up a relationship with the medicine man’s adopted daughter, and ultimately fights his fellow Union soldiers to help the Sioux escape persecution.
Dances with Wolves is credited with revitalizing the Western genre, which Costner would return to with Wyatt Earp, and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Its “white savior” narrative and historical inaccuracies may not have aged well, but Dances with Wolves is still a masterful piece of filmmaking. Yes, it’s long. Make the time. You’ll be glad you did.
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.
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 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 (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.
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.