The 40 Best Movies on YouTube (Free and Paid)

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The 40 Best Movies on YouTube (Free and Paid)

YouTube has as deep a selection of new movies as anyone, as long as you’re willing to pay to stream. But the video streaming service also has a great, if hard-to-find, selection of legal free movies. These are mostly older movies which have entered the public domain or more recent ones who’s copyright was never established. We’ve divided these movies into two sections: the 20 best free movies on YouTube and the 20 best new movies on YouTube you’ll have to pay for. And we should give a shout-out to Bodied, which you can watch on YouTube Premium and which made our 50 Best Movies of 2018.

You can also check out our guides to the best movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Cinemax, on demand, in theaters and at Redbox.

First, here are the 20 Best Free Movies on YouTube:

ronin-movie-poster.jpg 20. Ronin (TV version)
Year: 1998
Director: John Frankenheimer
A bone-dry spy thriller with a loudly beating heart of melodrama—more Hitchcock than Melville, both directors to whom this movie’s deeply indebted—Ronin wraps a marginal plot around endless espionage-etched intrigue between cold-as-ice, badass sociopaths, inhuman car chases and labyrinthine shoot-outs serving as intimacy amongst thieves. Director John Frankenheimer is breathlessly economical, except for when he isn’t: We gather whatever we need to of mercenaries Sam (Robert DeNiro) and Vincent (Jean Reno), two members of a team (counting in their numbers Stellan Skarsgård and Sean Bean) hired by IRA project manager Dierdre (Natascha McElhone) to retrieve a MacGuffin from a heavily armed convoy protecting a bald man—then we also make a too-long sojourn to the manse of mysterious rich model-builder (Michael Lonsdale), who puts way too fine a point on the whole “ronin” metaphor. Whatever Frankenheimer has to say about the lengths to which someone will go for “loyalty” and “honor”—whatever those words mean in the face of love or life in the late ’90s—pales compared to the kinetic language he wields with an Audi on the streets of Nice. —Dom Sinacola


dances-with-wolves.jpg 19. Dances With Wolves
Year: 1990
Director: Kevin Costner 
Overlooking the fact that this is the story of a white male savior, Kevin Costner’s directorial debut was something of a milestone in Hollywood’s historically terrible depiction of “cowboys and Indians.” Kevin Costner plays Lt. John Dunbar, a Civil War hero serving in an isolated outpost in Sioux territory. When he returns a young woman to her tribe—again, an adopted white woman, Stands With Fist—his presence there is finally accepted, and he learns the Lakota language and customs. With the U.S. army pressing upon all Native Americans in the late 1800s, Dunbar’s loyalties become clouded. The film was beautifully shot by Dean Semler and dominated the Oscars with seven awards, including Best Picture. Costner’s passion for the project showed when he put $3 million of his own money towards finishing production when the shoot ran over its $15 million budget. It paid off when the film went on to gross $424 million globally. And while there were plenty of critics about the authenticity of a film starring only one native Lakota speaker, Costner was adopted as an honorary member of the Sioux Nation. —Josh Jackson


last-mohicans-1920.jpg 18. The Last of the Mohicans
Year: 1962
Director: Maurice Tourneur
The Last of the Mohicans signifies a passing of the torch. Director Maurice Tourneur fell ill while filming it, and his longtime assistant and apprentice, Clarence Brown, directed a part of it on his behalf. Tourneur was already a visual master, and Brown would of course go on to a storied career, famously making Greta Garbo a star. (See No. 78.) Here, Tourneur and Brown craft an epic tale of men pitted against each other and nature’s elements, with shots of the intimidating, mountainous nature that would make John Ford jealous. —Jeremy Mathews


carnival-of-souls.jpg 17. Carnival of Souls
Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive tale of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel


lady-vanishes.jpg 16. The Lady Vanishes
Year: 1938
Director: Alfred Hitchcock 
Pretty much predating every trope you’ve ever come to expect out of a genre that gets its name from keeping the audience keyed-up, The Lady Vanishes is both hilariously dated and a by-the-numbers primer on how to make a near-perfect thriller. Far from Hitchcock’s first foray into suspense, the film follows a soon-to-be-married woman, Iris (Margaret Lockwood), who becomes tangled in the mysterious circumstances surrounding the titular lady’s disappearance aboard a packed train. No shot in the film is extraneous, no piece of dialogue pointless—even the ancillary characters, who serve little ostensible part besides lending complexity to Iris’s search for the truth, are crucial to building the tension necessary to making said lady’s vanishing believable. The film is a testament to how, even by 1938, Hitchcock was shaving each of his films down to their most empirical parts, ready to create some of the most vital genre pictures of the 1950s. —Dom Sinacola


the-living-wake.jpg 15. The Living Wake
Year: 2010
Director: Mike O’Connell
It’s difficult to explain why star and co-writer Mike O’Connell is so funny, but his film, a strange cross between a Monty Python sketch and a Christopher Guest mockumentary, entertains nonetheless. Portraying the eccentric K. Roth Binew with an exaggerated Shakespearean delivery, O’Connell sets out to document his character’s last day on earth after being diagnosed with a vague terminal disease. He is also indescribably entertaining in person and in his YouTube hit "What’s It Gonna Be?" Keep an eye out for this guy. —Tim Basham


last-man.jpg 14. The Last Man on Earth
Year: 1964
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend has proven notoriously difficult to adapt while keeping any of its ideas intact, but compared to the later Omega Man or 2007 version of I Am Legend with Will Smith, this is probably the best overall take on the story. Some have called it Vincent Price’s best film, featuring wonderfully gothic settings in Rome where the last human man on Earth wages a nightly war against the “infected,” who have taken on the characteristics of classical vampires. It doesn’t fully commit to the inversion of protagonist/antagonist of the source material, but it makes the use of Price’s magnetic screen presence and ability to monologue. No one ever watches a Vincent Price movie and thinks “I wish there was less Vincent Price in this,” and The Last Man on Earth delivers a showcase for the actor at the height of his powers. Night of the Living Dead director George Romero has stated that without The Last Man on Earth, the modern zombie would never have been conceived. —Jim Vorel


night-of-living-dead.jpg 13. Night of the Living Dead
Year: 1968
Director: George A. Romero
It’s not really necessary to delve into how influential George Romero’s first zombie film has been to the genre and horror itself—it’s one of the most important horror movies ever made, and one of the most important independent films as well. The question is more accurately, "how does it hold up today?", and the answer is "okay." Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead (not on Shudder), Night is pretty placid most of the time. The story conventions are classic and the black-and-white cinematography still looks excellent, but some of the performances are downright irritating, particularly that of Judith O’Dea as Barbara. Duane Jones more than makes up for that as the heroic Ben, however, in a story that is very self-sufficient and provincial—just one small group of people in a house, with no real thought to the wider world. It’s a horror film that is a MUST SEE for every student of the genre, which is easy, considering that the film actually remains in the public domain. But in terms of entertainment value, Romero would perfect the genre in his next few efforts. Also recommended: The 1990 remake of this film by Tom Savini, which is unfairly derided just for being faithful to its source. —Jim Vorel


the-kid.jpg 12. The Kid
Year: 1921
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film and one of his finest achievements, The Kid tells the story of an abandoned child and the life he builds with The Little Tramp. Chaplin went against heavy studio opposition to create a more serious film in contrast to his earlier work. However, The Kid features just as much slapstick humor as his previous shorts, but placed within a broader, more dramatic context. —Wyndham Wyeth


blackmail.jpg 11. Blackmail
Year: 1929
Director: Alfred Hitchcock 
Alfred Hitchcock’s first sound film was also his last silent, as Blackmail was made in both formats. While the sound version is known for Hitchcock’s experiments with the new technology (most famously a scene that emphasizes the word "knife"), the silent version flows much smoother. And Donald Calthrop’s performance of the blackmailer feels even creepier with just his face and body language doing the job. —Jeremy Mathews


nosferatu-murnau-poster.jpg 10. Nosferatu
Year: 1929
Director: F. W. Marnau
F.W. Murnau’s sublimely peculiar riff on Dracula has been a fixture of the genre for so long that to justify its place on this list seems like a waste of time. Magnificent in its freakish, dour mood and visual eccentricities, the movie invented much of modern vampire lore as we know it. It’s once-a-year required viewing of the most rewarding kind. —Sean Gandert


the-navigator.jpg 9. The Navigator
Year: 1924
Directors: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp
The Navigator mines an ocean liner for every gag imaginable. Keaton plays a clueless rich young man who finds himself stranded on a giant, adrift ship with the clueless rich young woman who rejected him serving as his only company. These two spoiled upper-class twerps don’t know how to open canned food, let alone operate a ship, and have to improvise in hilarious ways to get things under control. The scene where the two characters each suspect someone else is on the boat, but can’t find anyone else, plays out in classic Keaton fashion: with perfectly timed wide shots that make it more believable that the two keep missing each other. The best moment may be a spooky night when the characters let the creepiness of the boat get the best of them. —Jeremy Mathews


the-scarecrow.jpg 8. The Scarecrow
Year: 1921
Director: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline
There are Buster Keaton two-reelers with more ambitious special effects, more epic stunts and more elaborate chase scenes, but in my experience, none get more laughs than The Scarecrow. The film never stops to catch a breath as it moves from place to place, always setting up and paying off new laughs. The best moments include an ingeniously designed one-room house, an appearance from the great Luke the Dog, and some truly divine knockabout between Keaton, Joe Roberts and Keaton’s father, Joe. —Jeremy Mathews


his-girl-friday.jpg 7. His Girl Friday
Year: 1940
Director: Howard Hawks
Adapted from the widely acclaimed play The Front Page, His Girl Friday is a classic whose sharp, witty dialogue matches that of old newsrooms. This smooth-talking editor, played by the always-charming Cary Grant, recognizes true journalistic talent and goes to great lengths to get his best reporter to cover a major story. —Bonnie Stiernberg


sita-sings-the-blues.jpg 6. Sita Sings the Blues
Year: 2010
Director: Nina Paley
Sita Sings the Blues is a study in cinematic obsession and a triumph of individual achievement for its creator, artist and animator Nina Paley. This is a feature animated film entirely undertaken by one determined woman, featuring four distinctly different styles of animation and storytelling, to wrap together the narrative of her own life with the millennia-old Hindu myth cycle The Ramayana after she noted the similarities between her own story and that of the myth’s heroine, Sita. A meditation on relationships and duty, it’s also set to the 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Henshaw, whose songs essentially become the soundtrack to animated music videos. It’s a beautiful, incredibly imaginative film that is equal parts funny, sobering and jaw-dropping as a technical achievement. It’s one of the most impressive animated features ever made by a single person. —Jim Vorel


safety-last-poster.jpg 5. Safety Last
Year: 1923
Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
“I shouldn’t have bothered scoring the last 15 minutes,” Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra told me after accompanying Safety Last at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He said he and his ensemble couldn’t even hear themselves over the uproarious laughter in the Castro Theatre during Harold Lloyd’s famous building-scaling sequence. The scene, with its famous clock-hanging finale—is such a perfect mix of suspense and comedy that it doesn’t much matter that the rest of the film seems to exist merely as a lead-up to it. This film just entered the public domain on Jan. 1. —Jeremy Mathews


the-general.jpg 4. The General
Year: 1926
Directors: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckham
When Yankee spies steal his locomotive and kidnap his girlfriend, a Southern railroad engineer ("The Great Stone Face" Buster Keaton) is forced to pursue his two beloveds across enemy lines. While a few Charlie Chaplin pictures give it a run for its money, The General is arguably the finest silent comedy ever made—if not the finest comedy ever made. At the pinnacle of Buster Keaton’s renowned career, the film didn’t receive critical or box-office success when released, but it has aged tremendously. It’s a spectacle of story, mishmashing romance, adventure, action (chases, fires, explosions) and comedy into a seamless silent masterpiece. —David Roark


our-hospitality.jpg 3. Our Hospitality
Year: 1923
Directors: Buster Keaton, Jack Blystone
Buster Keaton was never one for grandiose social commentary, but he loved observing absurd human behavior. So he had no trouble making Our Hospitality, about a generations-long family feud that comes head-to-head with a southern hospitality code. That code says that you can’t kill someone when they’re a guest in your house, so when Keaton’s character unknowingly stumbles into his enemy family’s home, he can’t leave. Keaton has a great time attempting escapes, with the inside of the house serving as his safe zone if things go wrong. The funniest moment is the dinner prayer, during which everyone is watching everyone else rather than actually praying. A river chase sequence, including a killer waterfall stunt, brings things to a perfect climax. And I didn’t even mention the first act’s use of Stephenson’s Rocket—the historically accurate, ridiculously puny train that transports our hero from New York City. This film also just entered the public domain on Jan. 1. —Jeremy Mathews


sunrise.jpg 2. Sunrise
Year: 1927
Director: F.W. Murnau
During the last few years of the 1920s, the excitement was palpable as brilliant filmmakers pushed to unlock the medium’s full potential. Sunrise was born of that ambition, as Fox brought German genius F.W.Murnau to Hollywood, where he and his cameramen used all the resources at their disposal to create some of the most stunning visuals ever put on celluloid. Telling the story of a husband who strays and then tries to redeem himself, Murnau’s camera flies over country fields, gets tangled in the bustle of the city and desperately looms over a lake in a storm, while his actors, George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor, radiate with sincerity. —Jeremy Mathews


steamboat-bill-jr.jpg 1. Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Year: 1928
Director: Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner
Steamboat Bill, Jr.’s climactic cyclone sequence—which is at once great action and great comedy—would on its own earn the film a revered place in the canon of great all time silent film. The iconic shot of a house’s facade falling on Keaton is only one of many great moments in the free-flowing, hard-blowing sequence. But Steamboat Bill, Jr. also showcases some of Keaton’s marvelous intimacy as an actor, such as a scene in which his father tries to find him a more manly hat, or during a painfully hilarious attempt to pantomime a jailbreak plan. —Jeremy Mathews

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