Think that the only legal way to watch movies online is to pay for them? You would be 100% wrong. We've rounded up the best free online movie sources that we could find - no Netflix subscription required.
While you're not likely to find many new releases in here, all of them are free, none require any silliness like filling out a zillion surveys, and all of them will keep you on the right side of the law.
The secret to Yidio is that it aggregates movies from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle and many other video streaming services, setting itself up as a sort of online hub. Unfortunately, that also means that many of the movies on offer here require subscriptions to those services. The coolest part, though, is that for any given movie you're offered your choice of streaming service. For example, All Dogs Go to Heaven is hosted free on Yidio, but you can also add it to your Netflix DVD queue, stream it via Amazon Prime with a membership, or rent it on Amazon, iTunes or Vudu - and all of those options are presented for users to choose from. There are plenty of movies from free sources, and we found more than enough to keep us busy for awhile.
Backed by Sony and available on some streaming devices like Roku, Crackle's selection of classics and more recent releases might make you wonder what you were really paying for over at Netflix anyway. The TV here is pretty excellent too, with original productions like Chosen and meaty cult favorites like The Shield and Damages.
Regular users of streaming video already know that Hulu is the go-to service for TV content, but many don't realize that Hulu also offers a limited selection of movies that you can stream for free. While you won't find any new releases, or even many movies that you've heard of, we did spot the original Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Highlander, and a healthy dose of kung fu.
Got a library card? If your local public library is hooked into Hoopla, you can use it to check out streaming music and video. As of March 2014, there were 256 partner libraries using Hoopla nationwide, in both big cities like Boston and smaller communities like Hastings, Nebraska, and more communities are coming online every day. You can check out this map to see if Hoopla is available where you live.
We love SnagFilms for the stylish look and for the way they present their movies. We love the Film School 101 category, for those of us who "don't have $80K to drop on a film school degree", as well as the nod to Autism Awareness Month that calls out autism documentaries. Of all of the sites we looked at, SnagFilms feels the most curated and lovingly cared for.
Classic Cinema Online
These are the classics that gave us our modern notions of old Hollywood glamour. The selection is limited, but easy to browse and has stuff you'll actually want to watch, like Anything Goes, Some Like It Hot, and the 1944 serial of Captain America. The Cap's been around for quite awhile.
Proving that it's more than just cute pet videos, YouTube turns up in our list with a surprising offering of full-length movies. The gems are few and far between in this mostly terrible collection, but we've been wanting to see Life In A Day and it's hard to be down on Jackie Chan's 36 Crazy Fists.
An eclectic mix of indie films, trashy sci-fi and really trashy comedy, we did spot a few guilty pleasures in here. Croczilla, anyone? If you watched Sharknado more than once, you might want to check that out. And I won't lie, I'd give The Last Kung Fu Monk a try. We were also pleased to see some Bollywood in here, even if the collection is small.
There are some unusual categories at Viewster that set it apart, like the incredibly specific Korean Drama, but it's the Critical Darlings genre that really makes Viewster worth the bookmark. And although it's not a movie, I have to give them a shoutout for Trigun, which holds a special place in my heart.
Free Movies Cinema
Some of the best flicks here are pure classic camp. Check out Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Reefer Madness. Heads up to Wes Anderson fans - we spotted Bottle Rocket in this collection!
Finding something to watch on Veoh can take a bit of digging since the database caters to any language ever filmed, but we had some luck filtering down by language and length (specifically "English" and "> 60").
Another source of film in public domain, this is where I first encountered Cat Women of the Moon. The best part of Pub-D-Hub is the classic cartoons ranging from Felix the Cat and Betty Boop to a wonderfully odd bit called Zeppelin Vs. Pterodactyls. Tip: If you have a Roku, it's much easier to search for content on the Pub-D-Hub channel there than it is at the website.
You're unlikely to find anything you've ever heard of at Vimeo, but it's worth diving into for indie films like Barackula and Hell No - The Sensible Horror Film. There's a strong filmmaking community here that blows most user-submitted video fare completely out of the water. Don't know where to start? Try the Vimeo Staff Picks.
The Internet Archive
Drilling down through the Movie Archive's many layers, you'll find tons of classic film ranging from Charlie Chaplin classics like Charlie Shanghaied to the 1925 Lon Chaney production of The Phantom of the Opera. The site isn't fantastically easy to browse, but if you have an idea of what you're looking for the search function works very well.
Public Domain Torrents
About as stripped down and unstylish as they come, Public Domain Torrents is exactly what it says it is - torrents of movies in the public domain. This is really only a useful site if you're already a fan of torrents. If not, there are plenty of other places to find public domain film on our list.
Note: The channel-specific options on this list may not offer all of their programming via streaming video, but all have at least some with full episodes available.
Amazon Instant Video
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, much of the streaming video content on Netflix is also available to you for free at Amazon.
Premium Cable Channels
HBO Go, Showtime, AMC, FX, Syfy, TBS and TNT all offer streaming content if you're also subscribed to the channel on cable. And just like that, Game of Thrones is no longer appointment viewing!
Video on Demand
If you're a cable subscriber, check out the movies available on demand. This should be an obvious option, but it's one I usually overlook myself, so I'm sure that others do as well.
Looking for a particular movie can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. That's where Can I Stream It? comes in. This handy free service will show you exactly where any movie is available online, whether or not you need a subscription, and lays out a cost comparison for one-off rental options. There's even a notification service so that you can be alerted when a movie you want to see finally turns up online.
If a site is promising a movie that's only just been released to video or that's even still in theaters, just don't do it. Not only is the copy going to be illegal, but these shady sites are potentially exposing your computer to malware that you are not going to want to deal with later. Also, steer clear of sites that want you to fill out surveys or earn points. We've also heard about sites that let you watch all but, say, the last 10 minutes of a movie, at which point they demand payment to continue. Sketchy.
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(Legal alternatives only, please - the other kind will be deleted. Thanks!)