With the advent of the Internet, media delivery has become so easy and so convenient for us. It started with music but quickly moved to include TV shows and feature-length films, and in the wake of Napster illegal piracy has skyrocketed. But what can you do if you want to watch movies online while staying within the confines of the law?
It’s quite telling that the question isn’t “How can I watch movies online?” but rather “How can I watch movies online legally?” We all want to do it but the producers have made it so difficult for us. And while you won’t be able to legally watch the latest Iron Man online for many years to come, there are places where you can watch full feature films without fear of repercussions.
Open Culture is a dedicated web hub for free media related to culture and education. Yes, they have a repository of over 500 free movies spanning genres like Classic, Indie, Noir, Western, etc., but they also have tons of free audio books, ebooks, online courses, and other such things.
If you want to use Open Culture for free movies, though, you’ll need to have the right expectations. 99% of their free films are old. Like, really old. I’m talking about a 1910s-to-1980s time range. There are a couple of films that were released in the 1990s and even 2000s, but even those have some sort of cultural or educational merit to them. You won’t find any summer blockbusters here.
Downloading torrents is one of the primary modes of illegal piracy, but Public Domain Torrents has flipped that around to use the BitTorrent protocol in its proper context. Public Domain Torrents is a collection of nearly 1,000 different torrents for movies that have impacted history and remain in the public domain – in other words, legally free.
In order for movies to be in the public domain, their copyrights and intellectual property ownerships have to expire, which means that most of the movies on Public Domain Torrents are going to be pretty old. However, if you’re into older movies that have earned merit over the years and deserve to be watched, this site will do you well.
All of the movies on this site come in DVD quality AVIs, but some have alternate formats that are optimized for iPods, Zunes, PSPs, and PDAs.
Hulu has been around for a while now and they’re one of the more popular video streaming sites on the Internet to watch movies online. Unfortunately, my personal experience with their service hasn’t been amazing – not too shabby, but nothing spectacular – even with extensions that aim to improve the Hulu experience. Their free movie section feels about the same in that regard.
Hulu movies are split into 4 categories: Trailers, Documentaries, Genres, and Staff Picks. They have a few movies in their database that are worth the watch (Primer, Highlander, Ip Man) but the majority of them are lesser known films that you likely haven’t heard of. But if you find a movie on Hulu that you want to watch, great!
Crackle is all about on-demand feature-length film access that’s available for free to anyone and everyone. Their movie selection is hand-picked and includes movies and TV shows that span multiple genres including action, science fiction, horror, crime, and comedy. All of their movies are presented in their original uncut and unedited versions.
They don’t have the largest selection by any means but I’m impressed by the selection they do have. Right away, I see great movies like Stranger Than Fiction and Kung Fu Hustle in the list and that gives me hope that the remaining movies that I haven’t heard about will be good watches. As a bonus, they have a free Crackle app so you can watch the movies anywhere on your mobile device.
It makes the most sense for documentary films to be the most freely available movie type on the Internet. After all, those films aren’t primarily made for profit but to get a message out to the public. It’s no surprise, then, that Watch Documentary has over 7600 free documentaries and Top Documentary Films has thousands of free documentaries available for you to watch.
I grouped these two sites into the same section because they both serve the same purpose: free documentary films only. Honestly, documentaries can be more entertaining and fulfilling than any blockbuster film out there – the only issue is finding the ones that will interest you. Thankfully, with these two sites, you can both find them and watch them legally without paying a cent.
If you’ve gotten this far in hopes of finding a free version of Netflix where you can watch a huge selection of high-quality films, you’re probably disappointed. But, hey, films cost money to make and it’ll be a long time before a sustainable business model comes around that could support a “free Netflix” so to speak.
In the meantime, your itch may be satisfied through YouTube’s free movies channel which does have a number of mainstream films like Snatch, The Fifth Element, Mr. Deeds, and Panic Room, though a lot of the movies on that channel are lower list films that never saw theatrical releases.
Unfortunately, if you want to watch movies online legally, you don’t have many avenues that will satisfy you unless you’re specifically looking for documentary-type films. It’s easy to see why illegal piracy is such a big force right now and hopefully we’ll start to see some more free and legal Internet channels in the coming future.
If you got this far and realize that you’re willing to shell out a tiny bit of cash for the convenience of streaming high quality movies, Netflix is an affordable and recommended alternative that could be the solution to Internet movie piracy.
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