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Downloading a film from a website implies some form of piracy. However, public domain movies can be freely, and legally, downloaded. And these aren’t unwatchable B-movies either. In just a few clicks, you can download and watch some brilliant films.
In this article, you’ll learn what public domain actually means, before we recommend the best public domain movie sites available online…
What Is Public Domain?
Simply put, a public domain definition means creations which lack exclusive intellectual property rights. The most common reason a movie, television show, or book has fallen into the public domain is the passage of time.
For example, many public domain movies are older silent or black and white films, since they were created before copyrights were established. Alternatively, their copyright may simply have lapsed. Additionally, many works fall under the public domain because the creator declined copyright.
Aside from cinema, you can find TV shows, music, and even images in the public domain. Software created before 1974 slides into the public domain too. Still, you’ll want to be careful when downloading. Occasionally, copyright changes, so always double check before streaming or downloading a film.
While there’s variety in available public domain flicks, some genres outshine others. Notably, public domain horror movies abound. For instance, you can download the likes of George A. Romero’s genre-defining Night of the Living Dead, and Vincent Price hit The House on Haunted Hill.
Likewise, you’ll find loads of solid sci-fi flicks. Darkly comedic science fiction romp A Boy and His Dog, Gamera the Invincible, and Kong Island are all public domain movies. Granted, much of what you’ll find would benefit from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) treatment. Not surprisingly, several titles have including public domain horror movies Horrors of Spider Island and Manos: the Hands of Fate.
As the name suggests, Public Domain Torrents features torrents of public domain movies and shows. This veritable treasure trove of films and shows features tons of cult classics.
Although many sites exist for free, legal movie downloads, Public Domain Torrents remains one of the top sources. On the left-hand sidebar, there’s a fantastic public domain movie database. It’s segmented by categories, so you’ll find genres including action/adventure, animation, sci-fi/fantasy, and westerns.
Despite its retro web design, Public Domain Torrents offers a bevy of public domain movies from a variety of genres. Movies are available in a variety of formats including AVI, iPod MP4, and PlayStation Portable MP4.
Over on Archive.org, there’s a thriving catalog. You can sort its public domain movies list by genre, year, and more. Unlike Public Domain Torrents, films are available for direct download as well as torrents. However, specific format options depend on the title in question.
While there’s some crossover with other sites, Archive.org touts a tremendous catalog. In its movie vault, you’ll find classics like the groundbreaking noir flick The Hitch-hiker, and thriller He Walked By Night.
Unfortunately, Archive.org is ridden with multiple copies of uploaded movies. Sure, this means you might find a higher resolution copy of a certain video, but it also requires slogging through duplicates. Still, it’s an incredible source for movies, TV shows, and public domain music. Whereas Public Domain Torrents only hosts downloads, you can stream straight from Archive.org.
Similarly, Public Domain Movies serves as an impressive public domain movie database. It’s packed with quality films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Because you can stream movies without downloading, it’s an excellent option. But there are download options available as well.
Most movies benefit from a substantive synopsis and cast list. For this reason, Public Domain Movies provides a fertile landscape for free, legal cinema. Though the user interface is aesthetically pleasing, there’s no search feature. Nevertheless, sorting by genre will help you navigate this extensive collection of films.
Though Public Domain Flix appears to almost entirely consist of embedded YouTube videos, it’s a nifty resource. Here, you can stream thousands of movies. Site navigation is simple thanks to a robust search feature. There’s also a brief synopsis of each movie.
Unfortunately, Public Domain Flix lacks download options. However, its excellent layout and descriptions still make it a phenomenal public domain movies site.
5. OpenFlix [No Longer Available]
While most public domain movie sites yield streaming and download capabilities, OpenFlix is a bit different. Rather than concentrating on movie hosting, OpenFlix is merely a public domain movie database. But it excels at delivering a catalog of films.
Essentially, it’s the Wikipedia of public domain movies. You can search or browse by genre. Clicking into a movie’s entry, you can read plot synopses, DVD quality ratings, and more. Plus, there’s essential information such as the year of release and country of origin.
Although you can’t actually download directly from OpenFlix, it provides what’s arguably the definitive public domain movies list. There are links to Amazon DVDs of titles, or you can use OpenFlix to find what to watch, then download or stream elsewhere.
The Best Public Domain Sites for Movies
Although you’re unlikely to cancel your Netflix subscription based on the public domain movies available online, they’re another option when you want something to watch.
If we had to pick one site to bookmark it would be Archive. org for the sheer number of films available. Despite its lack of video content, OpenFlix is also a must-bookmark. Its information about public domain movies is unrivaled.
Whichever site you choose to use, ultimately, you can find hours of entertainment online completely free, and legal to download or stream. So you’d be a fool to pass up the opportunity.