Free movie streaming is a growth industry, as legacy media brands continue with the ad-funded model they’ve always used, and newer players realise that a subscription audience is, rightly, a very demanding audience. Even if they’re sharing their password around like it’s going out if style. Which it is.
Being able to stream great movies, TV shows and 'original content' – such a romantic phrase, ripe with artistry – is one of those modern miracles we all take for granted. Until the monthly or annual bill arrives, when we cry, 'Holy crap, am I really paying this much for Netflix/Amazon Prime Video/ HBO Max/Disney+/ whatever?!' If you're thinking about cancelling Netflix et al, the good news is that there are some great movies and shows to be had for free. Yes, for absolutely no money at all.
That's an offer that you can't refuse, right? Although sadly, The Godfather is not among the films available to stream for free, plenty of classic movies are out there, just waiting for you to watch, with no money changing hands.
These are not all old-ass movies in black and white, but for obvious reasons, older films are more available for free than newer ones. So most of them are slightly old-ass movies in colour. But they’re all acknowledged as great movies, both by critics, audiences and me. And more importantly, they’re available free, gratis and for nowt, as we say in Yorkshire.
These free to view films are sourced from the UK, due to that being where I live. It's the home of BBC iPlayer, and my colleague Bethan Girdler-Maslen claims to be cancelling Netflix to watch iPlayer instead, so you can't say fairer than that. If you are overseas they should still be available to you, but you may need to look into the dark arts of VPN usage. Our guide to the best streaming VPN seeems like a good place to start.
As well as iPlayer, there are three other handy sources of free movies (and TV shows) that I use, and those are the UK's All 4 and ITV Hub, plus Amazon's Freevee TV. Here I’ve gathered some great movies currently available on each of them. The only catch is you will need to sit through adverts, or be the proud owner of a UK TV License, in the case of the ad-free iPlayer. Pro tip: you may be able to circumvent this requirement by ticking 'yes' when it asks if you are a License holder, instead of ticking 'no'.
1. Citizen Kane on BBC iPlayer
You might expect free-to-stream movies to all be a load of rubbish, like Weekend At Bernie's 2, or the first Thor movie, but you would be completely wrong. To convince you of this, here is what many critics still consider to be the greatest movie of all time: Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.
Sure, it's in B&W, and I'm more of a fan of Welles' work on Touch of Evil. Oh, and the Green Giant commercials he made once he'd descended into something of an alcohol- and depression-fuelled rut in later life. Even so, the story of Charles Foster Kane's rise to power remains an absolute trip. It still looks absolutely amazing – much of the incredibly opulent looking 'sets' and cinematography were created using techniques that were brand new at the time. Perhaps more surprising is how cynical and world-weary it feels. Modern audiences often expect old-timey films to be rather quaint and safe, but Kane has real bite.
2. Cape Fear on iPlayer
This one isn't a black & white movie. It's a remake of a black & white movie, directed by Scorsese at his most popcorn-friendly, and sees Robert De Niro putting in one of his most enjoyably terrifying performances.
Long story short, after a long stretch in prison, De Niro's Max Cady is not in the best of moods with his lawyer, Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte. He proceeds to stalk and terrorise Bowden and his family, using his prison-learned legal book learnin' to ensure he cannot be arrested for committing any specific crime.
De Niro is brilliantly intimidating in Cape Fear. Put it this way, the hulking, macho figure of Nick Nolte is hardly a shy little lad, but he appears very convincingly menaced by his inked-up, jacked-up foe. Scorsese expertly ratchets up the tension, culminating in the worst boating holiday of all time – later parodied in one of the most beloved episodes ever of The Simpsons.
3. Zombieland on All 4
The UK broadcaster Channel 4’s streaming service is probably better for streaming hit shows such as Great British Bake-Off and Derry Girls, but it does have the occasional solid movie to watch as well. At the moment there's Zombieland, which fits the current vogue for post-apocalyptic entertainment. Unusually, it replaces the traditionally rather grim tone of most zombie movies with an acknowledgement that living in a scenario where you get to shoot lots of things and basically do whatever you want can be kinda fun.
Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are expertly cast to play the same, contrasting, roles they both always play. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin make a great pair of gun-totin', ever-lovin' sisters. Oh, and there is a one very surprising cameo appearance. No spoilers now!
4. Drive on ITV Hub
Sure, Amazon Prime Video may have all the Bond films but ITV Hub currently has every single Carry On film available to stream for free. Ooh, matron! There is one genuinely good Carry On film: Carry On Up The Khyber, and one great joke, in Carry On Don't Lose Your Head, where Joan Simms refers to 'my husband, the Count'. It's all in her delivery.
Now I've saved you the bother of watching any of them, on to Nicolas Winding-Refn's Drive. Probably the most influential arthouse movie of the past decade, this film features a lot of neon, a pulsating electronica soundtrack, swooning romance, a certain amount of driving – although not that much, considering the title – and an awful lot of very extreme and bloody violence. Something for everyone, then.
Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan make a lovely pair, and the rest of the cast is perfect. Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman and Bryan Cranston are the key players, and Oscar Isaac crops up in a minor but critical role, too.
5. Crimson Peak on Freevee
Given its terrible name, you might reasonably expect Freevee to be a load of old crap. You would be incorrect in this assumption, although its adverts are a little clunky and annoying. Films currently streaming on the Amazon-owned channel, which was formerly known as IMDb TV, include Guillermo Del Toro's Crimson Peak, Dan Jones adaptation Inferno – for the mums and dads – and post-apocalypse misery-fest The Road, as well as a bunch of Dreamworks cartoons.
I wouldn't say the Freevee selection was all amazing, but it must be the only place where you can watch, for free, both the original series of The A*Team and The Passion of the Christ. Although I pity the fool who would try to watch those two back to back.
Anyway, back to Crimson Peak. Despite its prestigious director and cast – Mia Wasikowska! Jessica Chastain! Tom Hiddleston! Erm… Charlie Hunnam! – this is not one of Del Toro's films made with an eye to the Oscar's. Rather, it's a slightly hysterical haunted house movie featuring vengeful ghosts, illicit trysts and a stabbing with a pen. Fun for all the family.
Battle Royale on Freevee
Anyone still pining for Squid Game should check out this, the OG of Far Eastern movies in which people are killed by an uncaring elite, for no apparent reason.
Like an R-rated version of The Hunger Games, the majority of Battle Royale is taken up with scenes of children battling to survive on an island where they have been placed in order to kill each other, using a variety of heavy weapons and other nasty means of homicide. I can't really tell you a lot about the plot, but I think you get the general gist from that. Like a lot of weird and blood-spattered Japanese movies, Battle Royale features an appearance by Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano. This is often a bit disorientating for audiences in the West, where he is best known as the host of Takeshi's Castle, the offbeat physical-challenge game show.
As well as the obvious influence on Hunger Games, this film also gives its name to the massively popular genre of games exemplified by Fortnite and PUBG. It stands up very well indeed today, but is obviously not for the faint-of-heart.