The 20 Best Free Movies on YouTube (2015)

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The 20 Best Free Movies on YouTube (2015)

Full movies get uploaded to YouTube all the time. At the moment, you can see everything from Toy Story to Monty Python’s The Holy Grail for free—if you don’t mind occasional crappy audio and the fact that some Russian YouTuber is totally ignoring copyright law.

But there are also hundreds of movies legitimately hosted on the streaming video site, and these are the ones we’ve focused on here. Some of these, like Buster Keaton’s The General and Night of the Living Dead are in the public domain. The latter famously was never copyrighted thanks to an error on the part of the distributor. Several are silent film classics, but don’t let that scare you away. There’s also some indie comedy, a recent animated film and lots of good ol’ fashioned horror flicks, as well. Most notably, you can find 13 different Alfred Hitchcock movies streaming free on YouTube.

Here are the 20 Best Free Movies on YouTube:

bucket-of-blood.jpg20. A Bucket of Blood
Year: 1959
Director: Roger Corman
A Bucket of Blood captures B-movie maven Roger Corman in a transitional period, after his early, shoddy monster movies and before his more acclaimed, Edgar Allen Poe-inspired gothic horror pieces. Here, he turned to comedy for the first time, effectively satirizing his own cheapo oeuvre while also drawing parallels to early classics of the horror genre. The film features Corman mainstay Dick Miller in the lead role—an actor you might not know by name but would recognize as “that guy who gets killed” in practically every ’80s horror or sci-fi feature, from The Terminator to Chopping Mall. He plays a rather slow-witted worker in a Bohemian cafe who is unintentionally hailed as a great sculptor after accidentally killing a cat and covering its body in clay to hide the evidence. A madcap series of accidental and eventually premeditated murders follow to keep up the ruse, in a story with obvious inspiration in Mystery of the Wax Museum and House of Wax. Featuring an unusually sincere portrayal of Beatnik culture in the late ’50s, it’s a funny, sneakily insightful flick from the King of the B’s.—Jim Vorel

farmers-wife.jpg19. The Farmer’s Wife
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1928
Alfred Hitchcock’s sly sense of humor was always a great asset to his films, but it’s rarely in the forefront as much as in this silent comedy of manners. The film follows a widowed farmer’s (Jameson Thomas) ill-fated attempts to fulfill his late wife’s wish that he replace her. Hitchcock rolls through a variety of comedic episodes as the farmer attempts to woo outlandish spinsters, widows and barmaids, spoiling at least one lavish party in the process. Each character has such a unique personality and style that the simple premise never runs out of charm.—Jeremy Mathews

carnival-of-souls.jpg18. Carnival of Souls
Year: 1962
Director: Herk Harvey
Carnival of Souls is a real diamond in the rough, an indie cheapie that gets by much more on style than substance but proved influential in its own ways. An eerie, black and white horror flick with the “urban legend” quality possessed by so many episodes of The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery, it follows a woman who miraculously survives a deadly accident and the strange and terrifying sights she begins to witness in the days that follow. She’s haunted by pale-faced ghouls and a specter known only as “The Man,” played by the film’s director, Herk Harvey. Employing some great performances and visual cues that take inspiration from German Expressionism, it’s the sort of atmospheric, creeping horror film that some modern audiences may no longer have patience for, but indispensable to students of the genre.—Jim Vorel

the-ring-hitchcock.jpg17. The Ring
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1927
While he crafted screenplays his whole career, Alfred Hitchcock’s only sole screenwriting credit was for The Ring, a silent boxing film depicting a scandalous love triangle. While he makes the mistake of creating such an unlikable woman that you hope she doesn’t end up with anyone, he shows his impeccable sense of structure and visual wit. He loads the film with camera trickery, telling details and clever production design (note the comparative wear on the boxing round signs to show how little a match ever goes to round 2). Even the energy of the champagne bubbles relay emotional significance in this minor but impressive display of the master’s abilities.—Jeremy Mathews

college.jpg16. College
Year: 1927
Directors: Buster Keaton, James W. Horne
Sandwiched in Buster Keaton’s filmography between two elaborate, grand-scale epic masterpieces (The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.), College naturally seems small by comparison, with its contemporary genre story of a nerd trying to learn athletics to woo the woman he loves. But don’t let that make you think The Great Stone Face didn’t pay the same attention to building gags, teasing the audience, and finishing it all off with a thrilling finale. The film also features a scene with Keaton in blackface, as his character gets a job as a “colored waiter.” While the racism shouldn’t be brushed aside, Keaton deconstructs the racial humor by surrounding himself with black staff members at the restaurant, who walk around the restaurant normally while his character increasingly turns up the racist pantomime as he senses his ruse unravelling.—Jeremy Mathews

the-living-wake.jpg15. 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.jpg14. 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

the-lodger.jpg13. The Lodger: A Story of London Fog
Year: 1927
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock’s films before The Lodger had plenty of his characteristic inventive camerawork and playfulness, but this is the one where he overtly hits the themes that he’d explore throughout his career: suspicion of people close to you, public mania, fear of the police. Telling the story of a sexy-but-dangerous lodger, whom our heroine suspects may be Jack the Ripper, Hitchcock builds upon clues and doubts, while making Ivor Novello’s character increasingly intriguing.—Jeremy Mathews

house-haunted-hill.jpg12. House on Haunted Hill
Year: 1959
Director: William Castle
We’ve hit a few William Castle features on this countdown, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without getting tired of it.—Jim Vorel

39-steps.jpg11. The 39 Steps
Year: 1935
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Before Alfred Hitchcock came to America and made some of the greatest thrillers ever, he had a lucrative filmmaking career in England, including many films American audiences still haven’t seen. One of his finest was The 39 Steps, where a man attempts to help a secret agent, but once the agent dies, the man is suspected of murder and goes on the run. While it may sound similar to other Hitchcock films, like North By Northwest, The 39 Steps is one of the most perfect combinations of Hitchcock’s shocks and bitingly witty scripts.—Ross Bonaime

night-of-living-dead.jpg10. 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 “fairly well.” Unlike, say Dawn of the Dead, 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 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.—Jim Vorel

blackmail.jpg9. 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

the-navigator.jpg8. 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

joyless-street.jpg7. Joyless Street
One warning about this beautifully melodramatic G.W. Pabst drama: The YouTube version is actually a bowdlerized 60-minute edition that cuts the two-and-a-half-hour movie down to the scenes featuring then-emerging star Greta Garbo. Yet still, this silent film is plenty affecting, looking at Vienna between the wars as a callous upper-class and a conniving financial system conspire to oppress the rest of the population. Ninety years later, that top-down inequality remains, and The Joyless Street is best when Pabst lets that seething anger seep through the stripped-down black-and-white images. The original film was an ensemble piece—on YouTube, The Joyless Street is more of an our-poor-heroine tale as Garbo plays a young woman struggling to pull her family out of destitution. In her expressive eyes, which go from rage to terror to sorrow, you can see a budding icon starting to come into her own.—Tim Grierson

gold-rush.jpg6. The Gold Rush
Year: 1925
Director: Charles Chaplin
The Klondike gold rush made the perfect setting for Charles Chaplin’s tramp to run wild. Chaplin took all the motifs he could find from adventure novels, melodramas and other stories of the northern frontier, tossed them in a blender and served up a collection of what would become his most famous scenes. He finds humor in peril—with a suspenseful teetering cabin scene, as well as starvation (when he famously makes a meal of his boot) and of course finds time to show off with his dancing roll scene. However, no one has succeeded in finding any humor in the atrocious voiceover Chaplin added to the 1942 rerelease. Be sure to watch the original.—Jeremy Mathews

sita-sings-the-blues.jpg5. 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

the-general.jpg4. 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

downhill.jpg3. Downhill
Year: 1927
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Known in America as When Boys Leave Home, Downhill shows Alfred Hitchcock in full control of his craft. While the film isn’t in the director’s trademark thriller genre, Hitchcock’s style is on full display as he shows Ivor Novello’s character mentally deteriorate using dramatic angles and camera effects. A delirious fever scene is particularly disturbing, pointing to the shocking, unsettling moments the director would deliver throughout his career.—Jeremy Mathews

sunrise.jpg2. 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.jpg1. 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 place on this list. 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 the film also showcases some of Keaton’s best intimate acting, including a scene in which his father tries to find him a more manly hat, and a painfully hilarious attempt to pantomime of a jailbreak plan.—Jeremy Mathews

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