While you constantly hear about how downloading movies is illegal, there are numerous free legal movies you can download. Sure we aren’t talking about the latest summer blockbusters here, but there are some great films out there on the Internet that can be had for free.
The Internet Archive works to bring together anything and everything that resides in the public domain, and that includes movies. We’ve gathered together 40 of the best ones that will keep you entertained for hours on end, all without costing you a dime outside of using some of your bandwidth. Enjoy!
You may also be interested in David Cassel’s compilation of the top 40 best free comedy movies you can watch right now compiled in 2011.
A Star Is Born: This 1937 version of a story of a rising star in Hollywood was remade twice, once in 1954 with Judy Garland and again in 1976 with Barbara Streisand.
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin): A major turning point in the production of silent movies that took the camera out of being something that didn’t move to actually being involved in the story.
Captain Kidd: Charles Laughton and John Carradine star in this film of suspense on the high seas from 1945.
Child Bride: A controversial film from 1938 about a schoolteacher trying to end the practice of older men taking child brides in the Ozark mountains.
Cyrano De Bergerac: This 1950 adaptation of the story is widely regarded as the best version by many people.
Farwell to Arms: Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, this 1932 film stars Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes.
Great Guy: James Cagney stars in this 1936 film about one mans efforts to clean up corruption in the Weights And Measures Department.
Iron Mask: A 1952 re-release of the 1929 silent film with added narration by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as his father had starred in the movie.
Last of the Mohicans: A 1920 silent film adaptation of the novel. Keep an eye out for Boris Karloff in his first role as an uncredited Native American.
Mambo: A 1954 film about the rising star of a female dancer who’s past comes back to haunt her when she returns to her home city of Venice.
Meet John Doe: A Frank Capra film starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck about a journalist who makes up a story about a John Doe, and then sees the story take on a life of its own, even launching a political movement.
Shame: Produced by Roger Corman and starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, this film tells the story of a man sent into a southern town to stir up race riots. Roger Corman claims this is the only film of the over 300 he’s produced to lose money.
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble: A 1976 television movie based on the real life story of a boy who could not come into contact with unfiltered air, causing him to live his life in a bubble. It was notable for starring John Travolta and Robert Reed, best known as Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch. For some odd reason this film became a pop culture phenomenon, being referenced many times on That 70’s Show, spawning the term “in the bubble” in politics and so on.
The Contender: A 1944 version of the story of a prizefighter that loses sight of what is most important in his life. Stars Buster Crabbe, best known for his role as Tarzan.
The Stranger: Starring Edward G. Robinson and Orson Welles, this 1946 film tells the story of a Nazi who hides in the United States after the war and is hunted by a member of the Allied War Crimes Commission.
The Time of Your Life: A 1948 adaptation of William Saroyan’s award-winning play, this version starred James Cagney.
Beyond Tomorrow: A Christmas classic about three ghosts that attempt to help two young lovers that they knew in life to finally get together.
Little Lord Fauntleroy: A 1936 film adaptation of the classic 19th century novel of the same name. Great movie with an A-list cast of the day and age.
Rescue from Gilligan’s Island: The first of three TV films that followed the original series. Yes, the castaways do indeed get off the island. This film was also notable for Tina Louise, the original Ginger, not returning for the production, but the rest of the original cast returned.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: A 1964 film that probably would have been forgotten if it wasn’t for Mystery Science Theater 3000 making fun of it. Yes, it involves Santa Claus and Martians … and it just gets weirder from there.
Scrooge: The 1935 version of the classic A Christmas Carol from Carles Dickens starring Seymour Hicks.
The 39 Steps: A 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is loosely based on the novel The Thirty-nine Steps by John Buchan.
Blackmail: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1929, not only was this the first film he directed with sound, but it was the first British “talkie”. It was also released as a silent film, so the talking is a bit sparse.
Dick Tracy: This is the original 15 chapter film serial combined into one film which runs over four and a half hours.
Dick Tracy Detective: Based on the Dick Tracy comic strip, this 1945 film was the first full-length feature film adaptation of the character as opposed to the numerous serials that had been down up to this point. Tracy must solve a series of murders that appear to have no connection.
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome: Another Dick Tracy film from 1947, this one is notable for starring Boris Karloff as Gruesome. A gang of bank robbers discover a nerve gas that will freeze people in place.
Five Minutes To Live: A movie about bank robbers that is most notable for starring Vic Tayback (Mel on the TV series Alice), Johnny Cash and a six-year-old Ron Howard that is credited as “Ronnie Howard”.
Murder!: A 1930 film by Alfred Hitchcock based on the novel Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. It revolves around a murder in an acting troupe and the member who is found standing over the body suffering from amnesia.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog: A 1927 silent film by Alfred Hitchcock about a landlady who suspects her lodger is a murder killing women around London.
The Phantom of the Opera: A 1925 film adaptation of the novel by Gaston Leroux, this silent film version stars the infamous Lon Chaney as the Phantom.
Hercules Against the Moon Men: Poor Hercules, he has had more bad movies made about him than probably any other mythical character. This one ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 if that’s any indication of how bad it was.
House on Haunted Hill: The 1959 version of the story of a man who invites people into his home full of ghosts to spend the night, and if they make it, they will earn money.
Night of the Living Dead: The first of the “Living Dead” films by George A. Romero. Even though it was made in 1968, it fell into the public domain immediately because the copyright notice was inadvertently left off the finished film.
Plan 9 from Outer Space: Considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made, Ed Wood’s “classic” has to be seen to be believed.
Rocketship X-M: A 1950’s sci-fi “classic” starring Lloyd Bridges about a spaceship that misses the target of landing on the moon and somehow ends up on Mars where it discovers an ancient city.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die: A 1962 film that is probably best remembered for being mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000 more than its own merits.
The Brother from Another Planet: A cult classic film that was released in 1984, but sadly another example of a copyright notice being left off the print, so it immediately fell into the public domain. A mute alien lands in Harlem and is chased by intergalactic bounty hunters.
The Last Man on Earth: Starring Vincent Price, this was the first film adaptation of the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. This version was made in 1964, and then followed by The Omega Man in 1971 and I Am Legend in 2007.
The Phantom Planet: A 1961 film that also has the dubious honor of being remembered mostly for having been on Mystery Science Theater 3000. A rocketship ends up on a planet full of mini-people, and the astronauts get shrunk down to their size … it just gets stranger from there.
White Zombie: A 1932 horror film starring the infamous Bela Lugosi about a man who turns to a witch doctor to win the love of a young woman, but she instead gets turned into a zombie. This was the film that inspired the name of the band White Zombie.