If there’s one thing we have all become painfully aware of over the last few weeks, it’s how dependent we are on streamed entertainment. The other thing that’s also pretty clear: It’s not always possible to keep paying for these services when you’re at home because there’s no work.
But here’s a small ray of hope: There’s a vast library of movies and shows available online for free, no subscription required. Most require that you watch a few ads here and there, but in general, it’s still far fewer than traditional broadcast TV. Best of all, you can find some real gems: Old Hollywood classics, or maybe a B-movie that has reached cult status over the years. If you’ve got some extra time on your hands, it might be the perfect opportunity to indulge your inner film nerd.
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Looking for something to stream for the kids? Amazon Prime Video recently opened up a selection of its kids’ content for free, for a limited time.
Here’s our list of the best places to go for a free streaming fix.
- 1 The big players
- 2 Independent and documentary films
- 3 Sources for classic films
- Best free movies on YouTube
- Best on-demand streaming services
- Best streaming devices
The big players
Sony Crackle, Crackle, or Crackle Plus
Once known simply as “Crackle,” this free streaming site has been through almost as many name changes as P. Diddy. Initially controlled by Sony, it’s now a joint-venture between Sony and Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (CSS). That partnership created a new entity called Crackle Plus, and it was believed that this would also become the name of the streaming service too. However, one look at the site and it’s clear that simplicity has won: It’s just called Crackle.
Whatever you call it, the service includes content from six ad-supported CSS streaming services (Popcornflix, Popcornflix Kids, Popcornflix Comedy, Frightpix, Españolflix, and Truli), as well as some Sony movies and television shows.
You’ll find a good number of blockbuster hits like Speed, The Transporter, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a generous smattering of obscure-but-interesting B-movies. Crackle is a great resource, though the constant interruptions from advertisers can get old pretty quickly. The service is offered in 21 countries but has shut down its Canadian, Latin American, and Australian offerings.
Newer to this roundup is the Amazon-owned IMDb TV (formerly known as Freedive). It has free, ad-supported TV shows and movies. In February 2020, the service acquired the rights to over 20 Disney-owned series, including Lost, Desperate Housewives, Malcolm in the Middle and My So-Called Life. It’s also the only site that lets your stream Lost and Malcolm in the Middle for free.
Other TV shows in its relatively small library include Fringe, Heroes, Quantum Leap, and Forensic Files. Movies include Memento, La La Land, Drive, Monster, Donnie Darko, Dune, The Illusionist, Zodiac, Clue and more. You can watch IMDb TV on the web, Amazon Fire devices, and Apple TV, and through the Amazon Prime app that you can find on many smart TVs, tablets, and phones. IMDb TV is U.S.-only for now, although a European expansion is in the works.
Walmart-owned Vudu might be better known for its subscription streaming service, but the platform also has an impressive and free ad-supported content section. Titles such as Gravity, The Iron Giant, and Bad Santa are good examples of what you’ll find.
If you take a cruise through the site’s selection of 4K/HDR titles, there are even one or two free-to-watch options, such as Apocalypse Now and Shutter Island. You’ll still need a Vudu account, but you can create one for free. The Vudu app is already supported by plenty of platforms including Roku, Apple TV, game consoles, and more. Plus there’s an app for most mobile devices. Vudu is only available in the U.S.
How’s this for a good deal: Sign up for a library card and get free downloads or streams of movies, with no ads at all. That’s the deal when you use Hoopla, a digital media streaming platform that has partnered with local libraries to let members access borrowable content online. It’s similar to Overdrive, but with more than just ebooks and audiobooks.
The availability of any given title will depend on your location and the number of copies available for download, but we found some surprisingly decent flicks when we checked in February 2020. Streaming will work on any device with a browser, while downloads require the Hoopla app on a mobile device. Not every library currently supports Hoopla, so make sure you ask. So far, libraries in the U.S. and Canada have access to Hoopla.
This one is a no-brainer. Everyone knows YouTube is the biggest video-hosting service online, and you probably already use the site for silly cat videos and footage of people getting hit with exercise balls. But YouTube has a sizable collection of feature-length movies on its free tier as well. Granted, the majority of these are B-list novelties, but there are a few quality flicks hiding in there.
In addition to the free, Google-curated movies, there are thousands of films on the site that won’t show up unless you search directly for them. If you’re looking for a particular title, especially an older one, it’s worth performing a quick search on YouTube to see if someone has posted it. These aren’t always uploaded by the film’s rights holders, and many of them are divided into episodes and playlists, but as they say, beggars can’t be choosers.
Finding free movies on YouTube has gotten more difficult lately, as more rights holders are opting to offer their films for rent via the service, and YouTube also has subscription tiers like YouTube Premium and its live TV streaming service, YouTube TV. Still, you’ll find plenty to watch, especially if your standards aren’t too high regarding the quality of the stream.
YouTube might be the biggest video-hosting site, but Vimeo is probably the best. Yeah, them’s fighting words, but Vimeo has the muscle to back them up. The site has a clean layout that’s devoid of ads and benefits from an active user community that’s widely considered more professional and constructive than YouTube’s.
From this community emerges a lot of great original short and feature-length films. Vimeo also has an On-Demand section where users can purchase full-length movies and television shows. The majority of these are independently produced by Vimeo users, but some offerings are produced by major studios as well. Either way, Vimeo is a great place to find free, high-quality movies.
The Roku Channel
When Roku initially launched its free, ad-supported Roku Channel, it wasn’t technically eligible for this roundup, because you had to have one of the company’s streaming media devices to see it. Roku devices certainly won’t break the bank, but they aren’t free. Now, however, the Roku Channel is available to anyone, via the web, as well as through the company’s free apps for iOS and Android.
The service boasts more than 10,000 titles to choose from, including old favorites such as Training Day, It Follows, Starship Troopers, Donnie Darko, and Police Academy. You’ll need to create a free Roku account before you can watch, but that’s a quick and painless process. If you ever decide to expand your choices, the Roku Channel is now home to several premium subscription options including Showtime, Epix, and Starz. The Roku Channel is available in the U.S. and Canada.
Plex Free Movies and TV Shows
Plex is best known as a versatile and easy way to manage and watch your private collection of movies, music, photos, and other media. However, in 2019 the company launched its own ad-supported free streaming service with a collection of movies and TV shows from studios like MGM, Warner, Lionsgate, and Legendary.
It’s available globally, though title selection will vary heavily by region. You can access the collection of movies and shows from a browser, or on any of the huge number of devices that support the Plex client software, like Apple TV, Roku, smart TVs, etc. All you need is a free Plex account and you’re good to go.
For those who already use Plex as their media server, the free ad-supported options can be added to existing server categories, making the experience completely seamless.
Though it may not be as well-known as the above services, Pluto TV is still worthy of your attention. Not only does it host free films on-demand, but it’s also a free live-TV streaming service, hosting content curated from across the web. While the channels vary wildly, we’re focused here on the movies. Pluto TV currently features multiple live movie channels, perfect if you want to watch something but don’t know what.
There are two general-purpose movie channels, with the rest being focused on specific genres or categories, including Action movies, Flicks of Fury, Horror 24/7, Classic Movies, Black Cinema, Gravitas Movies, and The Asylum. The service works in the U.S., as well as many international locations.
Pluto TV’s on-demand movie library is relatively small and rotates frequently, but offers just as much variety as its live movie channels. At the moment, it’s featuring a big chunk of the James Bond franchise as well as the Jack Ryan movies. It is also available on a ton of devices in addition to your computer, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku devices, and more. To find out more about Pluto TV, see our full guide to the service.
Another up-and-comer, Tubi is very similar to Sony Crackle, in that it offers both free movies and TV episodes. No matter which device you use, chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to watch Tubi, as it’s available on Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TVs, Sony Smart TVs, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the web. As with the vast majority of services on this list, you’ll need to watch a few commercials, but that’s what keeps the service free.
Tubi has content from over 200 partners, including NBCUniversal, which brings with it nearly 400 classic titles such as Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, The A-Team, Punky Brewster, and the original versions of Magnum, P.I., The Bionic Woman, and Transformers. Cult classics such as Assault on Precinct 13, Sleepaway Camp, and C.H.U.D., along with soon-to-be cult classics such as 10 Cloverfield Lane and No Country for Old Men, can also be found in the growing catalog. If you’re using this service to supplement Netflix rather than replace it, the “Not on Netflix” section will help you find new and interesting films to watch.
Independent and documentary films
Snagfilms is a video-on-demand site that sports a selection of films you can’t find anywhere else on the web. Founded in 2008, it’s amassed around 10,000 independent documentaries and narrative films. There are plenty of rare gems to watch here, and since the founders have worked to establish dozens of partnerships, there are also plenty of different streaming devices that support free SnagFilms. The service is currently available as a free app for iOS and Android, but it’s also compatible with various Roku devices, Kindles, and a host of other streaming devices. The main website is also a breeze to navigate. Snagfilms is available internationally, but some titles are only available in the U.S. and Canada.
Just like Hoopla, Kanopy is not only free to use, it’s commercial-free if you have a library card. Originally founded in 2008 in Australia as an educational tool, Kanopy now offers a library of over 30,000 films through its partnerships with more than 200 libraries. There is a heavy focus on independent movies and documentaries (the company even has access to many recent films from the A24 catalog), but you’ll find all sorts of films available, and even more are on the way thanks to a deal that will see the entire catalog of filmmaker Fred Wiseman coming to the service. Kanopy is available internationally, but the content may vary by location.
Top Documentary Films
Love documentaries? So do we. You know what they say, truth is stranger than fiction. The aptly titled Top Documentary Films is, hands down, the best site for documentaries. Not every selection is movie-length, but a good documentary doesn’t have to be long — some of the best are under the 60-minute mark. Boasting a library of more than 3,000 films, the site also has a simple and straightforward layout and categorizes all of its films based on the subject matter, making it easy to find something you’re interested in right away. The content isn’t hosted by the site, but rather curated and embedded from other sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion, etc. It’s available internationally, but not all content will work in all locations.
Sources for classic films
Chances are, you’re reading this article because you’re looking for a place to watch newly released movies online. While there’s nothing wrong with that, you definitely shouldn’t ignore all of the fantastic older films the internet has to offer. Archive.org offers a veritable treasure trove of old movies you’ve probably never heard of, as well as a handful that you’ll recognize.
The Archive — which is also the home of the famous Wayback Machine that shows you how the internet used to be — has silent films, black-and-white horror flicks, obscure sci-fi movies, and an assortment of other movies. They may not have all the fancy CGI we’ve all grown so accustomed to, but the occasional throwback is a great way to mix things up.
Open Culture is designed to be your one-stop-shop for all things free and cultured. The site offers hundreds of free online classes to enroll in, thousands of free ebooks to read, and hours upon hours of lectures from prominent figures such as Carl Sagan and Leonard Bernstein. It also offers a ton of free movies. Here, you’ll find everything from silent films and Hitchcock-helmed projects to Westerns and film noir. The site even houses some early shorts by legends like Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick. Open Culture may be difficult to navigate, but with more than 1,000 free movies available, it’s definitely worth the slog.
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Big Five Glories
If the name seems kind of corny, that’s b
ecause the folks behind the project spent their time compiling hundreds of free movies from the 1920s to the ’50s — aka the “Golden Age” of Hollywood — instead of coming up with hip and edgy names. (If you’re curious, it’s a reference to the former big five movie houses: 20th Century Fox, RKO Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.) If your idea of a fun weekend is kicking back and watching Turner Classic Movies, you’ll dig Big Five Glories. All of the movies are considered public domain, so there’s no restriction on availability.
Retrovision is another public domain site that features hundreds of classic movies from several different eras. The word “classic” might be up for interpretation — there are some films here that were made as recently as last year, and not all of Retrovision’s movies are high-quality — but there’s still plenty of good stuff here. Retrovision is also a well-designed site that allows users to filter based on genre. It’s not limited to feature-length movies, either, as there’s a robust collection of classic TV shows to choose from.
Shocker Internet Drive-In
Shocker Internet Drive-In is a bit niche, and its website looks like it was made in the ’90s, but it’s a great resource. The site is updated weekly with “featured” horror classics, which are then made available for free download as WMV files at the website’s “Snack Bar.” The site is a fun little blast from the past, with weekly showings framed in a digital drive-in. Users can also purchase DVD copies of any film on the website for a mere $3. If you miss the old days of the internet when it was more like the Wild West and everything was less polished, this might be for you.