Getty Images / Clive Brunskill

With the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when YouTube was the only game in town for online-based viewing. While the service has continued to rely on their bread-and-butter of user generated content, they’ve also tossed their hat in the ring with originals on YouTube Red which found a breakout hit in last year’s Karate Kid continuation, Cobra Kai.

What’s probably unbeknownst to even the most passionate movie buff is that YouTube has quietly made almost a hundred films free to watch on the platform (of course there are ads along the way).

Although the selection isn’t necessarily a Criterion Collection of heat, there are still several free YouTube films to consider for the inevitable day you look at your Netflix queue and realize you’ve watched everything already.

Here are the best of the bunch.

Rocky I, II, III, IV, V

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 93 percent

The Rocky franchise is as relevant today as it was when it first film came out in 1976 thanks to the titular heroes involvement in the Creed universe. While an additional film exists in the canon — 2006’s Rocky Balboa — most purists view the original four as the core stories that still feed the Rocky narrative in a contemporary context.

The Terminator

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 100 percent

Much in the same way that Rocky has continued to be milked for all that it’s worth since debuting, The Terminator franchise still continues to pit man versus machine in scenarios that are becoming increasingly more likely to occur.

In a role that made him a global icon, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg assassin sent back to 1984 to kill John Connor. Whereas Terminator 2 is a clever flip on the premise, the original still holds up today.

Out of Time

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 63 percent

It’s certainly not Denzel Washington’s best performance by a long shot, but there’s something still quite enjoyable about this Hitchcockian thriller that focuses on a morally questionable cop (Washington) who enters into a tangled web involving stolen evidence, lucrative life insurance policies, and a scorned ex-lover who is also a homicide detective.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 88 percent

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a dream pairing of Michael Caine and Steve Martin that is set in the world of con artists. Both men are intent on bilking $50,000 out of an American heiress, and as most 1980s movies entail…hilarity ensues.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 99 percent

We certainly love a good documentary around these parts, and when it includes food, they are that much more enjoyable.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells the story of an 85-year-old sushi chef, Jiro Ono, whose 10-seat restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is considered one of the greatest hidden culinary treasures in the world.

Jesus Camp

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 88 percent

Whereas Jiro Dreams of Sushi is lighter fare when it comes to exploring real aspects of life, Jesus Camp is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Focusing on an evangelical camp for kids — aimed at strengthening their relationship with God — the film is polarizing to this day and still has people asking, “was it child abuse?”

The World’s Fastest Indian

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 82 percent

Sir Anthony Hopkins is a four-time Oscar nominee. That alone should get your attention. If you need more convincing, The World’s Fastest Indian is a true story based on the life of New Zealand gearhead Bruce Munro — who despite his advanced age — never gave up his youthful dream to break the world’s land speed record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.

A Place at the Table

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 90 percent

While many food-centric documentaries tend to focus on the chefs, dishes, and world-renowned restaurants, A Place at the Table reminds us all that 50 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Focusing primarily on three different subjects labeled “food insecure” — a single mother, fifth grader, and second grader — the film not only shines a light on the problem, but also offers up solutions as well.

Venus and Serena

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 77 percent

Although HBO released a Serena Williams-focused documentary, Being Serena, in 2018, the 2012 film that focuses both on her and her seven-time major championship winning sister, Venus, is still recommended viewing for sports buffs out there.

Countdown to Zero

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 80 percent

With simmering tensions between rival nations reaching a boiling point, Lucy Walker’s film, Countdown to Zero, is as relevant as ever given its examination of the threat of a nuclear explosion occurring. Featuring interviews with past heads-of-state like Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, and Tony Blair, the film leaves the viewer with the impression that tomorrow is never truly promised.

Good Ol’ Freda

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85 percent

Beatles fanatics seemingly know everything there is to know about John, Paul, George, and Ringo — whether anecdotes behind iconic songs — or more intimate slices of their personal lives. However, Good Ol’ Freda takes an alternate approach; Freda Kelly was the band’s personal secretary and presided over aspects of their careers that only she knew about.

Now, here are 20 of the best documentaries on YouTube.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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