Whoa, hold on there, person about to exchange money for movies or music—do you know how much free stuff is out there on the web, all legally released and available for anyone to listen to or watch? If you want to spend less on your entertainment budget and maybe discover some interesting new stuff at the same time, here’s where to look.
The Crackle portal is owned by Sony and serves up a rotating selection of films (and shows) you can stream for free in return for registering a user account. You will have to put up with a fair amount of advertising—this is free, remember—but the choice of movies is good, and there are accompanying apps available to watch across multiple devices.
God bless PBS, which lets you jump on its website and start playing movies and shows straight away, no registration required. The focus is more on the small screen than the big screen here (if there really is a difference any more), but you can still find plenty of independent movies, documentaries, and short films to keep you occupied for a while—as well as popular British imports like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Poldark.
Most of the movies you’re going to find on Popcornflix are of the trashy, low-budget variety, but we did spot a few decent films here too—notably the deliciously weird Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader flick Secretary. It’s all free and ad-supported, and there are a ton of films to pick from, so jump in and see if you can find something to suit your tastes.
You won’t get any Hollywood blockbusters on Vimeo, but what you will get (more so than YouTube) is experimental short films from up and coming movie-makers looking to perfect their craft. The staff picks on the front page are a good place to start, but you can just as easily start exploring yourself, with documentaries, animations, and more.
Classic Cinema Online
The clue’s in the title of Classic Cinema Online—classic movies, typically plucked from the 30s, 40s, or 50s, surrounded by ads. If you’ve grown up in the era of Transformers and The Avengers these movies might look a little dated, but there are some genuine gems to find here, and you’ll come away from your viewing with a much more rounded film knowledge.
The Internet Archive
If you didn’t know that The Internet Archive hosted movies, we’re here to tell you that yes, it does. As befits the site’s purpose, these are older, classic movies rather than the ones you can find in theaters or on DVD, but it’s well worth diving into—you’ll find the original Jungle Book and Night of the Living Dead here, plus a stack of Charlie Chaplin shorts.
No doubt you’re on to this one already, but it’s worth mentioning anyway—you can find pretty much any song you like on YouTube, though the legality isn’t always clear cut outside the official channels. You can set up autoplaying mixes based on your favorite music, discover new artists, and turn the whole site into a very decent free music player.
The future of SoundCloud remains uncertain, but while it’s here, it remains one of the best places to get free tunes, especially from rising or unsigned artists looking for exposure. You can’t hear the latest top-tier album releases here, but you might be able to discover the next big star before everyone else, and an online player is integrated right into the site.
Last.fm pulls most of its music from YouTube but it’s still worth mentioning separately as it has better music discovery features, an integrated web player, and a recommendation engine that’s second to none—put the Last.fm algorithms to the test and see if it can lead you towards some more artists of interest, while you’re listening to a load of free music.
As we’ve said in the past, don’t forget that online radio stations are an option, whether you want to tune into one running in your local area or one broadcasting from the other side of the world. TuneIn is one of our favorite starting points for finding new stations online, but there are plenty of other options out there too, such as Radio Garden or Internet Radio.
Strictly speaking, Pandora fits into the online radio bracket we’ve already mentioned, but it does add another layer of personalization, so you can get recommendations on tunes you’ll love, and pick out your favorite tunes and artists, even if you don’t get a full say over what you’re hearing as you would if you signed up for a service like Apple Music or Spotify.
Jango doesn’t have the most modern-looking interface we’ve ever seen on the web, but it does a great job of serving up customized online radio stations, similar to Pandora: Start it off with something you like, and you then an endless stream of related music starts up, complete with links to artist bios and websites, as well as lyrics if you want to sing along.