For movie fans, the rise of streaming has made it possible for vast film libraries to be accessible to the entire world via the Internet. However, these movies are owned by companies who want to get paid when people see their movies. Some holders have been fairly generous about this, and licensed out their material at reasonable prices so that it could reach a wide audience. Other folks have been a little less forthcoming.
Back in the days of broadcast TV, there were only a few channels available, but they were all ad-supported and thus free at the point of use. Today there are numerous streaming service, but most of them want a monthly subscription fee. Although services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO all offer trials, it’s not actually possible to obtain those services for free for more than a month or so – and the subscription fees for paid streaming channels run anywhere from $5.99 to $14.99 a month.
There are lower-cost alternatives. RedBox, the 21st century equivalent of the video store, is still a thriving concern, with kiosks around the country offering a cheap way to rent DVDs, but not everyone is able to access those platforms, and the selection at RedBox is limited at best. There are torrenting sites that provide access to commercial movies and TV shows for free, but it comes with a number of legal and ethical issues. For one, streaming a movie for free through most torrent websites means you’re breaking copyright law. Illegally streaming copyrighted material is covered under the Copyright Act of 1976, and allows for people caught pirating content to be fined anywhere between $750 to $30,000 per copyrighted work.
However, there are alternatives to both torrenting and the RedBox kiosk. There are many legal ad-supported streaming sites that are absolutely free. While you may have to shop around to find the content you’re looking for, you can get a wealth of entertainment without having to pay anything other than a bit of your time for ads. Below, we present our favorite sites and apps that will let you legally watch online movies for free without having to hand over your credit card. These are primarily ad-supported services, without hidden fees or charges.Most of all, they are 100% legitimate – no pirating allowed. It’s the ethical way to go.
The Free Trial Option
Speaking of ethics…every college student and broke 20-something in the world knows about the free trials offered by Netflix, Hulu, and the rest. Some people rotate credit card numbers and email addresses to keep their premium subscription going for a few months. However, those trials are limited, and you’ll eventually run out of credit cards and email addresses.
Hulu and the rest identify unique customers by a combination of the credit card number, the e-mail address, and the IP address used to subscribe to the service – but mainly by the credit card number. You can use a given credit card number to subscribe to one free trial, but you won’t be able to use that card again on that service other than to start paying for the subscription. Rotating your email address and IP address won’t overcome that limitation. It’s how these services prevent the whole world from just free-trialing them to death.
Most of us only have a couple of credit cards, and so we can only sign up for a few trials before we have to sigh, bite the bullet, and start shelling out the $7.99 a month. But what if you had an infinite number of credit cards?
Many credit card companies offer their members virtual credit card numbers, designed specifically for use in online transactions as a fraud prevention device. A virtual credit card number is indistinguishable from a regular card number, but it is temporary, with its own expiration date and CVV code, and points to an existing real credit card. For instance, someone wanting to buy something from Amazon could register their virtual card number on the site and make a purchase, but Amazon would have no record of their real credit card number – just the virtual number. If the Mad Hacking Bandit steals Amazon’s entire database, all he or she has access to is your virtual card – the one that you set to expire the day after you made your purchase.
Virtual credit card numbers are available through at least three major card issuers – Bank of America, Citi, and Capital One. So how do you use this with your Hulu or Netflix trial? Simple. First, generate a new email address via Gmail or some other free site. Then use your VPNto generate a fresh new IP address, just for safety’s sake. Then you use your card issuer’s website or app to generate a new virtual number for your existing credit card. Armed with the new email address and credit card number, you sign up for a 30-day free trial.
When the trial expires, you repeat the process. Since you have an endless supply of credit card numbers, you can continue doing this for as many months as you want the subscription service. It’s a hassle, yes – but it’s free.
However, this process is unethical. It means taking advantage of the subscription service’s desire to give people a chance to preview their service in order to get that service without paying for it. So, decide if you can live with yourself or not before taking this route.
Also note that there are some real downsides. The main one is that you’re going to lose all your watched-show history, because you’re creating a “new” account every time. So you’re going to be retraining the site’s algorithms over and over. Also, you’ll lose your place in any movies or shows that you’ve started to watch when the trial period ends. And of course, you always run the risk that Hulu or Netflix or whoever will get wise to your shenanigans and cut you off.
And now, on to the free (and ethical!) places to get movie content!
Internet Movie Archive
It might not be the best place to go for new releases, but the Internet Movie Archive can be a great place to head to find classics and older films you might not have seen that have fallen out of copyright status. While Archive.org might seem like a strange place to head to for free movie streams, the site has become the home of plenty of classic films including the original 1968 horror classic, Night of the Living Dead. You can find tons of movies here, both from users and established filmmakers, with a library reaching over three million videos.
In terms of design, we’d be lying if we said the Internet Movie Archive has a good layout or appearance. The site is incredibly hard to browse efficiently, largely due to the size of library. With the overall amount of their videos primarily being user uploaded content (free of any sort of copyright status), it can be difficult to find anything interesting or noteworthy around the assorted content listed. Instead, the best way to find free movies is to head into their feature films section, linked here, where they have about 6,000 different titles, sorted by popularity. And there’s some actual great content here—the aforementioned Night of the Living Dead, Roger Corman’s classic The Fast and the Furious (unrelated to the current series, but a great film on its own), the so-bad-it’s-greatPlan 9 From Outer Space from noted director Ed Wood, and the incredibly campy 1960’s marijuana paranoia film Reefer Madness. Indeed, this site is the perfect place for anyone looking to find some lost classics.
Most likely, you wouldn’t be able to find new movies, but that doesn’t mean the archive isn’t a great utility, especially when you’re looking for free content to be used in any number of ways. Because these films have fallen out of copyright status, they can be rebroadcast or utilized in all sorts of programs and videos, without having to worry about legal status. The average consumer might be turned off by the age of the films, but for any true movie buff looking to watch some seriously significant movies, you can’t go wrong. And with more than 6300 films on the site, you’ve got enough movies to keep you entertained for hours and hours.
Yidio is an interesting platform, with an easy-to-browse interface and a really great search function. Recently the platform has put in some real effort on getting better content. There’s still a lot of unknown films and family movies, but there are also great films on the site.
The easiest way to browse Yidio’s free content is to head into their movie section and reduce everything from their complete collection to only their free content. There’s a tab on the top of the search interface titled “Free” that limits your content to just the free stuff. Yidio regularly rotates movies in and out of the free queue, so there’s often something different there to see. Some available movie genres include drama, romance, horror, documentary, science fiction, adventure, animation, and fantasy.
Yidio gathers content from other movie streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. That is why most of the movies in the site requires payment or subscription.
If you do find a film to watch, you can use the “Watch” button to be led to the website it’s currently legally streaming on—typically Vudu or other assorted VOD sites. These sites occasionally require a sign-in, but not always, and accounts for these sites often require nothing more than an email and a password. Unfortunately, this means Yidio isn’t the perfect streaming site for those looking to stream without an account, but rest assured you still won’t have to pay or download a single thing to view films. Summed up, all of this means Yidio’s best feature—the ability to search and find streaming movies for free around the web—is also its biggest weakness. While Yidio itself doesn’t require an account, its search feature means some of the sites it pulls into its rotation do require an account.
SnagFilms is an interesting site, presenting “philanthropic movies and TV shows online”. They identify themselves as being for “those looking for something different” and they deliver on that promise. In exploring their site, you’re bound to find a ton of indie documentaries, low-budget dramas, and classic films from Old Hollywood. SnagFilms puts an emphasis on publicizing films with important social messages or meanings. We’ve seen categories on SnagFilms’ homepage that focus on Human Rights, as opposed to offering straight comedies, dramas, or romance. You’ll find categories for content like Justice, Youth and Education, Refugee and Immigrant Stories, and Veterans and the Military.
SnagFilms’ site is clean and simple, with a straightforward design that has a single recommendation in a banner on the top of the homepage, with a list of categories and genres underneath, dividing their films and documentaries into specific topics like the ones mentioned above. Flipping through the categories, we generally didn’t see much that was recognizable to most viewers. Although, there were a few documentaries that had made some waves in specific awards circuits. Also included on the site were some classic films from the early-to-mid 20th century, including films by Charlie Chaplin, the 1950s animated adaptation of George Orwell’s infamous novella Animal Farm, and Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. Each film has ratings, runtime, and cast prominently displayed when scrolling over the film to display information, and the films tested during our experience with the site featured a solid playback, with great quality, good sound, and no commercial breaks or interruptions—all while presenting the films for free.
The site isn’t a great choice for anyone looking for established hits and films they’ve seen previously in theaters. This is for those who are looking to branch out of their cinematic comfort zone and try something new. The documentary choice is excellent, the lineup of classic films makes for a great experience for those looking to get their first tastes of old-school drama or comedy in film, and the site design is excellent overall. Of course, with an experience that doesn’t require an account, payment, and plays without ads, it’s one of our favorite streaming services to date.
It’s no secret that YouTube is home to a number of streaming films. While plenty of them require rentals, if you know where to look, you can often find user-uploaded entire films for streaming right from the comfort of your own home. We won’t lie—while these films streaming through YouTube are technically breaking copyright (and placing the uploader at risk of being banned from YouTube due to copyright concerns), there’s also no reason not to check out these films streaming on YouTube for free. Seriously, while it can be pretty difficult to find great films on YouTube, there are some great selections if you’re willing to put in the work.
There’s really no easy place to go on YouTube to find free films. The easiest method to see if a film is on there is to simply search for it using YouTube’s own built-in search engine, but even that won’t guarantee that the film will be found on the service. If you aren’t looking for a specific film, you can typically find certain channels that upload and host content, though what’s being uploaded often depends on the channel itself. Typically, newer or popular films receive copyright strikes immediately, as film studios set up bots to automatically take down content that matches their own films. One channel we found, Popcornflix, seems to be relatively established as a way to watch films on YouTube. They regularly upload new content, and while nothing we found on their service was incredible, there were some pretty solid offerings along in the mix, including a lot of family-friendly films and TV movies. While nothing here was spectacular, it’s worth noting that everything was free—and this is only one channel.
YouTube also has a lot of new content available for rent, though obviously this will require an account and a credit card. The free content you can find on there is often taken down, but occasionally, you might just find the exact film you’re looking for in the moment. The easiest way to search through films is to have an idea of what you’re looking for in your mind, and then try to find a copy of it on YouTube. Quality isn’t YouTube’s specialty when it comes to user-uploaded films, though. Often, you’ll find a film has been edited visually or aurally to avoid being caught by a copyright strike, and while this often means the film will be left up, it also means the aspect ratio, color, and song selection has been modified in a negative way. YouTube’s home to a ton of content, though, and to this day remains one of the best ways to watch films online for free. We’ve gathered a full list of some films streaming on YouTube here, though do note that these films often get dragged off the site.
Crackle is currently one of the only studio-backed free streaming services left standing, ever since Hulu left their free tier behind last August to focus on their paid content. Crackle is owned by Sony Pictures, which means you’ll mostly see Sony-released films with a few other offerings alongside them. In our tests, Crackle had one of the better libraries of both original and non-original content available for free. Everything did include ads, unfortunately, but the inclusion of those pesky ads also meant that everything was above the board and completely legal. Let’s take a look at the web-based service (which is also available on iOS and Android with respective apps, as well as Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku boxes), and what it has to offer those looking for a fantastic streaming service.
First things first: Crackle, like any other streaming service, changes their library every so often, so just because something is on there now doesn’t mean it will be there permanently. The site features some critically acclaimed, important and landmark films, as well as Crackle Original productions such as Joe Dirt 2, Dead Rising: Watchtower, and Charlie Sheen’s Mad Families. In the TV section, you’ll find such content as All in the Family, The Critic, Jackie Chan Adventures, and so much more. There’s some legitimately good content here, even if you have to put in the work to find it.
The site itself is easy to browse, with its fair share of advertisements but overall, nothing too serious. Because the site rotates content out on a regular basis, you’ll be seeing new and old stuff here regularly. If you sign up for an account, you can add movies and shows to a watch list to keep track of your content easier. That said, the site absolutely does not require an account, so you can reliably use the site without ever putting in account info. Overall, Crackle is one of the cleanest and easiest-to-use sites for legal content. Ads mean you’re still supporting content creators while simultaneously being able to view new content, and that’s more or less all we can ask for when it comes to free content online.
TubiTV does require you to register for an account — though thankfully, you can use your already-existing Facebook account to login and watch every piece of content on their site. Here’s the other piece of good news: for a fully-free, legal, ad-supported service, TubiTV has some seriously good content, and the site is organized in a cohesive, easy-to-use layout that makes finding content—especially good content you’ll actively want to watch—pretty easy. TubiTV routinely cycles content from their service, so it’s easy to predict you won’t often be seeing the same movie on the platform twice, and with apps for both iOS and Android, there’s no reason not to use the service for your streaming needs.
At first glance, TubiTV looks a lot like Hulu’s layout. There’s a rotating carousel of content at the top of the screen, with highlight movies and TV shows that you might want to check out. Below that are popular and genre categories, including horror, comedy, and “Not on Netflix,” which highlights films you might want to check out that you won’t find streaming currently. There’s also a “Leaving Soon” category that makes it easy to pinpoint exactly when films are going to leave the service that you might want to check out. There’s even a “Highly Rated on Rotten Tomatoes,” which points you towards popular and critically acclaimed films pre-vetted by everyone’s favorite movie review site. There are some legitimately great films in this collection, which makes it one of the best legal streaming sites on the web at the moment.
Not everything is perfect. As we mentioned, TubiTV does require signing up for an account, though the Facebook login allows you to sidestep this—you can even revoke your email address from the service before moving onto the actual login. There are also a good number of advertisements, which can be frustrating if you’re trying to watch a movie at home with your family or friends. The ads come in chunks of three to five ads, and the service isn’t perfect at breaking up the content smoothly. Even worse, the web player doesn’t show when an add is going to activate, unlike what we’ve seen in Crackle’s user interface. Still, there are some great choices for every genre on here, and if you’re looking for the best streaming service on the web that doesn’t require a download or a credit card, this is it. Oh, one last note about Tubi.TV: if you’re running an ad-blocker in the background, make sure to disable it for Tubi’s site. Otherwise, you won’t be able to play content.
Hoopla is a site that partners with your local library system to offer hundreds of thousands of titles, including movies, TV shows, comic books, music, and more. The amount of content you can “check out” using your existing library account varies by system; my local system allows me to borrow 10 titles every month and keep them for 72 hours. The content selection is first-rate, offering movies likeHamilton,RBG,Bridget Jones’ Diary, andElla Enchanted. As stated, the available selection is huge and growing all the time.
With more than 1500 public library systems in the United States partnering with Hoopla, it’s good odds that you can sign up for free and get access to amazing digital content (not just movies!) absolutely free each month.
Pluto TV collects a huge variety of public content, including a lot of movies, and puts it into organized channels. They categorize their content into things like gaming, news, sports, science fiction and so forth. Theirchannel guideshows just how much content is available; it’s a lot. As of May 2019, Pluto has 75 content deals and more than 100 free channels, with 15 million subscribers. The service makes their money by showing ads between programs. Pluto TV has more old TV shows than it has movies, but it still has a lot of movies and the cable-like interface makes it a solid addition to any movie-lover’s library of sites. Pluto TV has sections where you can watch “what’s on” as well as an “on demand” library of films and shows. And unlike some of the other offerings in this roundup, Pluto TV’s movie list has quite a few recent, first-run, and hit movies. For example, in May 2019 the site was featuring “The Terminator”, “Planes Trains & Automobiles”, “True Grit” (the remake), “Legally Blonde”, and “The Mexican” – and those aren’t B movies.
Popcornflixis a legitimate site that will let you watch free movies online. The site has a generally good selection of films; you want find any top blockbusters or brand-new films, but most of their selection are Hollywood releases that star actors you’ve heard of.
They have a good mix of “big” movies and little independent films, and you’re sure to find something that suits your taste. Definitely worth worth checking out.
Vuduoffers both free and paid content, both TV and movies. You can rent individual movies (usually new releases and top films) or watch free content from their extensive library. Most of the free movies are older, but they play in HD and have great quality. The website is easy to navigate; just find a movie, hit play, and watch. There are some ads but they aren’t too bad.