With the streaming wars hotter than ever, it’s hard to decide which to subscribe for. Maybe you’ve got a movie in mind, look it up, and find out it’s on HBO. But you’ve only got Netflix and Amazon Prime and Disney+ and Hulu and Starz and Showtime and CBS All Access! What’ll you do?!
These are hard days we’re living in. Most of us are bored with our DVD/Blu Ray collections, and when what we want to watch is only streaming somewhere else, and forking over the four dollars to view it is simply out of the question because subscribing to Netflix and Amazon Prime and Disney+ and Hulu and Starz and Showtime and CBS All Access has rendered you broke, there is still a refuge.
YouTube is that place. The online platform has a surprisingly robust library of ad-supported free movies streaming right now. Here are the very best movies you can legally stream for free on the site at the moment. And for more ideas on where to watch movies for free, here's our handy guide.
Dances with Wolves
Director: Kevin Costner
Writer: Michael Blake
Cast: Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Mary McDonnell, Rodney A. Grant, Wes Studi
They don’t make movies like Dances with Wolves anymore. Set in the waning days of the American Civil War, the story follows Lt. John Dunbar, a Union soldier who requests transfer to the Army’s westernmost outpost. He’d like to see the frontier before it passes into history. What follows is a breathtakingly beautiful film featuring some of the most brilliant cinematography of the 1990s, thanks to Dean Semler. Dunbar’s journey is one of self-discovery as he learns to tolerate and, ultimately befriend the Sioux people of the land, becoming accepted as one of them. This was Kevin Costner’s directorial debut and it’s a masterpiece of filmmaking that transports you to a time and a place inaccessible to the modern world. Though it’s Dunbar’s story first, four characters in all have emotionally potent arcs, culminating with a satisfying climax that leaves you shaken by the bittersweetness of it all. The film won Best Picture and Best Director for Costner, deservedly so. And, if you can believe it, the 4-hour cut is even better.
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Robert Bolt
Cast: Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson
Quite the cast assembled for Roger Donaldson’s take on the ill-fated HMS Bounty. Based on Richard Hough’s book recounting the events of the merchant vessel’s 1787 botanical mission, this third film iteration is on par with the 1962 Marlon Brando version. In it, Anthony Hopkins is Lt. William Bligh, whose abuse of his crew leads to a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson). The film’s tension boils over in explosive fashion, resulting in a split—some on the side of Bligh, others with Christian. In the end, a grim fate awaits the mutineers, while Bligh is left with lots of explaining to do before his superiors in a court martial. It’s a tonally foreboding film, one whose end is known from the outset, but it’s the getting there that keeps you rapt. Gibson and Hopkins are fantastic, the intense enmity between them growing with each scene. And the lively performances from young Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis—pitted against one another—is a nautical treat.
Director: Mike Nichols
Writers: Calder Willingham, Buck Henry
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross
Entering the real world isn't so easy. Ben Braddock sure learns this lesson in Mike Nichols’ watershed comedy, The Graduate. Played by a sub-thirty Dustin Hoffman, Ben is seduced by the older Mrs. Robinson, who is married to Ben’s father’s business partner. Despite their affair, Ben later falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine. And Mrs. Robinson is none too pleased about that. With that sort of dynamic, there’s no way Ben gets out of this thing unscathed. Entangled in a predicament of his own making, Ben’s desire for Elaine only grows, culminating in an iconic climax that sees Ben stop her wedding. But it’s the closing image that film lovers remember best (and the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, of course)—the two on a bus, she still in her wedding dress, having chosen Ben over her groom-to-be. When the high subsides, the lack of chemistry between the two is palpable, and regret fills their faces. It’s one of the more potent final shots of the 1960s, and a reminder that true love is far more valuable than what so many young people are after.
Return to Me
Director: Bonnie Hunt
Writer: Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake
Cast: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, David Alan Grier, Carroll O’Connor, Robert Loggia, Jim Belushi, Bonnie Hunt
There’s nothing wrong with a little sappy romance every now and again. Bonnie Hunt’s Return to Me has enough substance and laughs to sustain it all the way through. David Duchovny plays Bob, an architect who suffers the loss of his wife Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) in a car accident in the early goings of the movie. Jumping ahead a year later, Bob is still healing from the tragedy. Set up on a blind date at a restaurant, it’s the waitress, Grace (Minnie Driver), who captures Bob’s attention. As it turns out, Grace needed a heart transplant a year earlier. And the heart beating within her once belonged to none other than Elizabeth, though once Grace learns of that, she dare not reveal it to Bob. The love story that develops between the two is wholesome and sweet, as both characters are impossibly affable. The supporting players, namely Grace’s grandfather Marty (Carroll O’Connor in his final role) and his band of wisecracking old timers, provide a welcome dose of comic relief.
Eight Men Out
Director/Writer: John Sayles
Cast: John Cusack, Clifton James, Jace Alexander, David Strathairn, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, Michael Rooker, D.B. Sweeney, Christopher Lloyd
The 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal is painted with both damning and empathetic strokes in John Sayles’ Eight Men Out. Telling the true story of the disgruntled team who agreed to throw the World Series in exchange for gamblers’ money, the film details the inner conflict of such an act, most apparent in the fiery Buck Weaver, played by John Cusack. The baseball play is a little sloppy, but this movie is stronger as an historical drama than a sports film anyway. It would be the first of two movies in back-to-back years about this team, preceding 1989’s Field of Dreams, which firmly re-established “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as a baseball icon. A handsomely made picture that’s aged well, its old-timey, oft comedic tone transports you back to post-World War I America, where sports stars’ lives hardly resembled the pampered opulence that would come in the decades to follow. Ultimately, it’s a morality play whose implications will always be relevant.
Director: Barry Levinson
Writers: Ronald Bass, Barry Morrow
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
1988’s Best Picture took an old star and a young star and put them together—as brothers. Dustin Hoffman, who won Best Actor, plays Raymond, the previously unknown brother of Tom Cruise’s Charlie—a self-centered Los Angeles hustler. Only after Charlie’s estranged father dies and bequeaths the bulk of his fortune to Raymond, does Charlie learn of his brother’s existence. Raymond, it turns out, is an autistic savant living in a mental institution. Thinking it an injustice, Charlie ventures out to meet Raymond and conceive a way to get a hold of half of their father’s $3 million estate. Charlie is able to gain custody of Raymond, and the two take a road trip (with Charlie’s girlfriend, played by Valeria Golino). The strength of the film is Hoffman disappearing into the role, convincing you he is this person on probably the third level of the autism spectrum. Predictably, the film also has a lot of heart, which reveals itself as the duo spends more time together, their bond tightening over that time.
The Brothers Bloom
Director/Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz
In between his stylish feature debut, Brick, and his excellent sci-fi time travel actioner, Looper, Rian Johnson made The Brothers Bloom, a tonally other kind of a film by comparison. In fact, there’s virtually nothing about these three movies that is anything alike, save for some camera angles. The Brothers Bloom is a quirky, funny film about a pair of con men—brothers Stephen Bloom (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom Bloom (Adrien Brody)—who opt for a final job wherein they’ll swindle Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a rich New Jersey heiress, out of her fortune. It’s a smartly written flick with shades of The Ladykillers and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but with more heart. Imagine if Wes Anderson did a re-write on one of those and you’ve got this movie. It’s a two-pronged love story—romantic and brotherly—and it leaves you oddly satisfied, despite a touch of pathos. Though a box office flop, the movie is worth checking out, if only to see Johnson’s artistic range.
Thelma & Louise
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Callie Khouri
Cast: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald
When he’s not doing science fiction, Ridley Scott has eclectic tastes. 1991’s Thelma & Louise is exhibit A. The story of a pair of female fugitives—played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in the title roles, respectively—is a movie about friendship. Mistreated by the men in their lives, these gals decide to take a road trip one day, but when a drunk tries raping Thelma outside a bar, and Louise shoots and kills him, they opt to run from the law. It’s a fresh spin on the road movie, considering its lead characters and the reason they’re on the move. In spite of the catalyst to their fleeing and, ultimately, how this movie ends, the tone is generally light, fun, and funny. It is not tongue-in-cheek however. In that, the stakes are high, the tension palpable. These ladies are affable, though taking inspiration from them would be ill-advised. Its most indelible moments, outside of the closing minute, are those featuring a young Brad Pitt as a hitchhiking cowboy.
Director/Writer: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Reggie Bannister, Ella Joyce
If you’re up for something especially weird, and horror-comedy is your bag, Bubba Ho-Tep should hold a special place in your heart. The great Bruce Campbell plays Elvis Presley who, in the early 2000s, lives in a Texas nursing home. Don’t worry, the movie explains that. But that ought to be the least of your concerns once an ancient malevolent Egyptian entity shows up at the home to suck out the souls of the poor old geezers who live here. If this diabolical force is going to keep up his antics, he’ll have to get through Elvis. Fortunately, the King isn’t alone in this fight; he’s got Jack to help him. That is, Ossie Davis as a character who believes that he’s the actual John F. Kennedy. A hidden gem, this gore-filled romp is a blast all the way through. Released in 2002, it’s among the best loved cult films of its time. And if you need more convincing, it was made by Don Coscarelli, who also wrote/directed the Phantasm films!
Director: Jonathan Wacks
Writers: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Teri Polo, Brian McNamara, Fisher Stevens, BD Wong
Though it hit theaters in 1991, Mystery Date feels like a comedy that came from the middle part of the decade that preceded it. Ethan Hawke plays Tom, who’s got the hots for his neighbor Geena (Teri Polo), though actually talking to her is no easy task. Lucky for Tom, he’s got a cool older brother (Brian McNamara) in law school, who helps set up a date between the two. But this date goes spectacularly sideways. After Tom borrows his brother’s car, it all goes downhill. He gets wrapped up in, and suspected of, a bevy of crimes, leaving Geena confused, but stuck with him for the night. The movie takes place across one wild evening, as things spiral out of control and more and more bad guys get after Tom, thinking he’s his brother. It’s the kind of shut-your-brain-off fare you just sort of need sometimes, not unlike Martin Scorsese’s largely forgotten comedy, After Hours.
Director/Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Famke Janssen, Peter Falk, Vincent Pastore, Sean Combs, David O'Hara
After their dynamite pairing back in 1996’s Swingers, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn reunited in 2001 for Made. In this one, Favreau plays amateur boxer, Bobby, who works in construction for Max (Peter Falk). But struggling to make ends meet, Bobby agrees to help Max with a Mafia job, heading to New York to act as his representative in a money laundering agreement. Bobby imprudently brings along his buddy Ricky (Vaughn). And things go sideways pretty quickly. Much like his Swingers character, Vaughn is the bigger personality of the two, but he lacks all the charm, digging the pair into a hole that puts their lives in danger. Written and directed by Favreau, it seems he made this film just so he and Vaughn could bicker for the better part of ninety minutes. But that’s also the movie’s best quality. It’s an amusing little mob comedy that has enough heart to make it worthwhile.
The Road Within
Director/Writer: Gren Wells
Cast: Zoë Kravitz, Robert Sheehan, Dev Patel, Robert Patrick, Kyra Sedgwick
The difference between a good familiar story and a bad familiar story is often the characters. Gren Wells’ The Road Within, a remake of a German film, takes a standard road movie and delivers something fresh thanks to the trio of oddballs making the trek. Vincent (Robert Sheehan) is a young man with Tourette’s Syndrome who hopes to scatter his recently deceased mother’s ashes in the Pacific. The problem is, he’s been placed in a special clinic in order to get the treatment he needs by his father (Robert Patrick). But Vincent escapes, taking his roommate Alex (Dev Patel), who suffers from extreme OCD, and the anorexic Marie (Zoë Kravitz). The journey becomes one of self-discovery for all three, even sparking a romance between Vincent and Marie. But the big laughs are what make this charming indie a treat. You don’t want to find humor in the conditions of Vincent and Alex, but it’s played so earnestly, you can’t help but crack up at their outbursts and idiosyncrasies, which are frequent, and consistently funny.
Griffin & Phoenix
Director: Ed Stone
Writer: John Hill
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, Blair Brown
A remake of the 1976 film of almost the same name (Griffin and Phoenix), this little seen 2006 iteration is a worthy do-over. The title characters, played here by Dermot Mulroney and Amanda Peet, play a pair of cancer stricken lovers with limited time left on earth. They meet by chance one day, Phoenix giving Griffin reason to make something of his final months. She knows that he knows of her cancer, but she doesn’t know of his. This complicates matters for the duo as their romance progresses. Once everything is out in the open, they fall deeper in love. It’s a heart wrenching story of “last love,” if there is such a thing, that sees its two leads connect with strong chemistry. The notion that life is worth living no matter your circumstance is the takeaway message from this one. Because, truly, none of us know how much time we’ve got left. If you’re a sucker for boy-meets-girl stuff and you like a good cry every now and then, this is among your better options.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Director: Pete Hewitt
Writer: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Pam Grier, George Carlin, Joss Ackland
This follow up to the 1989 hit, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, is not quite as good as the original, but it’s got some fresh ideas and is still a riot of a movie that’s just as clever as it is stupid. With their band, Wyld Stallyns, set to perform at a battle of the bands competition, the title characters are met by future robot versions of themselves who have been sent back in time by Joss Ackland’s Chuck De Nomolos to kill them. As it turns out, in the future, the music of Wyld Stallyns has resulted in a utopian society, and De Nomolos is none too pleased about it. Now dead, the boys must go toe to toe with Death (William Sadler) in a war for their souls (in games like Twister and Battleship). If they’re going to win the battle of the bands—creating that global harmony—they must find a way to get their lives back, literally, and rewrite the past. It’s a bonkers movie with lots of laughs thanks to its absurd plot and dimwitted protagonists. And it might be good as a refresher before the third installment hits theaters in 2020.
Lord of War
Director/Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, Ian Holm, Ethan Hawke
Andrew Niccol’s (Gattaca) dark and sometimes funny satire, Lord of War, details the rise of Yuri Olav (Nicolas Cage), an arms dealer who has become very rich selling weapons to warring countries. As he manages his younger brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), who struggles with the morality of their work, Yuli brokers deals with an African warlord in exchange for diamonds. All the while, he’s pursued by an INTERPOL agent played by Ethan Hawke. The film is an introspective piece on profiteering in one of the most ethically bankrupt black market trades imaginable, and Cage plays Yuri as someone coming to terms with that, accepting the reality of it all, though not necessarily intent to change his ways. Ultimately, Niccol makes a bigger statement, condemning first world nations—the U.S. in specific—that benefit from the wars of underdeveloped countries. Agree with his take or not, the film is a different kind of character study with a blend of tones that distinguishes it from the director’s other work.
The 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' star joins LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, and Tiffany Haddish, among others.