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How to Watch the Best Public Domain Movies Online

While there is a surge for watching the latest and greatest movies and shows from the TV. There is a wealth of great stuff often forgotten about and readily accessible.

Movies in the public domain are the ideal way to watch videos free and without restrictions. There are plenty of classics, and not all are black and white, silent comedy, you can find horror, action, adventure, and romantic comedies starring some of the greatest actors and actresses we ever had the pleasure to see.

In this guide, we will show you all you need to know about watching movies in the public domain online.

This will include an extensive list of public domain films and some of the best places you can go online to view these public domain films free. (Watch Openload movies on Kodi)

What is a Public Domain Movie?

When you begin looking at what is public domain films and what isn’t, it can appear to get technical because of the wording and terminology used.

Add to this, some countries look at what is a public domain entity differently, so here we will primarily focus on the meaning from the United States.

A Public Domain movie refers to a body of creative works (intellectual property) and knowledge where no person, organization, or government claims ownership interests such as copyright over the material.

Wikipedia uses the following to explain: “public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable.”

Movies entering the Public domain are those released as such by the author, the copyright renewed for that particular movie didn’t happen, or in simple terms, it expired.

Thus, public domain movies are such works, which has no ownership or control by anyone, and it is freely available to be used by all.

How Do Movies Become Public Domain

Here again, it can become technical when determining the effective date movies enter the public domain.

The protected status and the life of such protection starts when the movie has its first commercial showing, a given date for copyright registration or even the in-notice date. Whichever arrives first is the date used.

Even with this, it can be hard to comprehend, which is the effective date of a property having protection, and thus the date the film entered the public domain.

Here is a quick overview of why a movie or portions of it could make it one of the films in the public domain.

  • There was no copyright notice accompanying the movie on its release
  • The movie wasn’t registered to the Library of Congress (late or incorrect registrations can affect this)
  • Films made before 1964 fall under old requirements and copyrights were not renewed

To help clear this here is what each of these means:

Copyright Notice: The copyright symbol, the word copyright, and the year, as well as the owner of the copyright, had to be included by law. It was to be shown in the credits at the start or end of the movie.

Registration: Laws were changed as many 1930’s movies were not registered. Now, a movie can be registered at any point in its registration life of 95 years. Non-registered can include materials such as TV movies, films from foreign countries, or ones made after 1964, which await registration, yet until that point, they can be used as films in public domain terms.

Copyright Renewal: The initial term was 28 years for registration, and which could be renewed for another 28 years. Any failure to renew at this stage left these movies without copyrights, and thus why many American film can be in the free public domain movies lists.

One complication comes with the following example, although to viewers, this may never cause an issue. (Learn how to watch 123movies safely)

Underlying rights are where the movie was made based on a play, book, or any other story. While the copyright of the movie may fall into lapse, the underlying work could still be protected under copyright.

The best example being His Girl Friday. In 1969, it became public domain, yet the play it was based upon ‘The Front Page’ is under copyright protection for another four years. With this, the movie cannot be used without permission from the copyright owner of the play.

Public Domain Movies

Here is a quick list of public domain movies you can watch free. Some of the directors are well known and went on to produce many classic films.

  • The Brain that Wouldn’t Die – Joseph Green
  • A Bucket of Blood – Roger Corman
  • Cyrano de Bergerac – Michael Gordon
  • Debbie Does Dallas
  • Dementia 13 – Francis Ford Coppola
  • Fear and Desire – Stanley Kubrick
  • The General – Buster Keaton
  • The Gold Rush – Charlie Chaplin
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – Frank Capra
  • The Little Shop of Horrors – Roger Corman
  • Night of the Living Dead – George A. Romero
  • The Outlaw – Howard Hughes
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space – Ed Wood
  • Superman (1940’s cartoons)

Where to Watch Public Domain Movies

Here are a few places you can go to watch any of these movies or shows online.

Retrovision TV

Retrovision is one of the best websites where you can watch free classic TV shows.

You will also find there a great library collection of classic films. The content on this streaming platform is legal for downloading and streaming free TV series because it is not copyrighted and is in the public domain.

Navigation on the site is easy, and all programs are on one page. You can also filter with adventure films, cartoons, classic TV, comedy, detective stories, drama, and much more.

There are free screenings, cartoons, and films to please the oldest or youngest viewers.

Page Link:

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive offers a unique feature in their Wayback Machine where you can view offline web pages and check the site’s history.

Included are a collection of vintage TV programs, TV documentaries, and government videos, among others.

On the first appearance, the site is basic, yet it does allow you to filter from the simple menus by year, creator, topic and language, etc.

Page Link:

Public Domain Movies

If the above site lacked any refinement in its appearance, the Public Domain Movies site looks like Netflix of yesteryear.

Across the top of the page are links for filters such as feature films, comedy, drama and romance, science fiction and horror, and the last section of cartoons.

The home page displays media tiles for each movie or show, and hovering your mouse over adds more details before you select.

Once you click, you are given much more detail and the media play window. All it takes from there is for you to click the play button and wait for your selection to begin playing.


One of the best places to access lots of old movies that are out of copyright and free to view is YouTube. All you need to type in the search bar is Public domain cartoons, Public domain movies, or anything else that you can think of for your search.

If you already know the name of the movie, cartoon, or documentary, you can type that, and you are presented with the viewing options available.

One advantage of using YouTube to watch all this classic content is, you get the same ease of use and recommended viewing from the streaming platform.

Once you begin watching, you can find a library of thousands of shows, movies, and any other free content, which falls into this category.

Public Domain Footage

It is possible to find some locations that distribute movies on a commercial basis. Yet, one of the most extensive sites to visit in the USA is the National Archives and Records Administration.

You can find an extensive motion picture archive library of films made for use by the US government. There are documentaries, training films and old newsreels along with outtakes.

Because the site includes so much other information, it can be hard to locate what you are looking for, although using this link you can head straight to search the National Archives Catalog.


Moving Image Archive

Last on the list is the Moving Image Archive, where you can download or listen to free movies, films, and videos.

The homepage is laid out with a media tile for each category, or you can use the more detailed filters to the left of the screen.

You can find collections, movies, all of which are available in various languages, year creator, or many other ways to search.

Once you have your search, you can see how many others have viewed the movie, ratings, and comments.


Once you begin going through all the archives, you open up access to more than enough shows or movies to keep any fan’s appetite fed.

The other great thing with this is there is lots of content, which isn’t only free, but you may not find it from any of the current streaming platforms or cable subscriptions.


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