Film & video

8 Free Film Libraries of Classical and Modern World Cinema

From Korean classics to Old Hollywood talkies, stream films from around the world with these free online movie archives

Want to expand your knowledge of cinema, but not sure where to start? Every year, thousands of films are released to cinemas around the world, with many more created for festivals and smaller audiences.

The result is mind-blowing: there are over a million feature-length titles listed on IMDb! That’s a lot of inspiration for aspiring movie-makers and storytellers.

But often, films are locked behind paywalls, or are difficult to access when they're not from your own country. Here, we’re sharing eight free online resources to watch movies from all over the globe, stretching back to the 1920s.

Still from The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), available to watch via The Film Detective below.
Still from The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), available to watch via The Film Detective below.

A global storytelling tradition

Ever since 1895, when the Lumière brothers first showed a film to a public audience, the world has been in love with the moving picture.

As budgets and technologies have grown, the stories have become longer and included more sophisticated special effects, music scores, and more. The art of Western screenwriting has also become so refined as to be a science—analyze most commercial movies and you’ll find Blake Snyder’s "save the cat" story beats hidden in there somewhere.

But by looking at a wide range of cinematic styles and origins, we can also think outside the box and discover new possibilities. By consuming both international films and the flicks of yesteryear, we can learn a lot about how cultures and tastes change with time. We can discover favorites we’d never have known about otherwise. And we can unlock new sources of inspiration with different perspectives than our own.

From the classics to indie animation to documentaries, check out these eight amazing cinema resources to discover modes of storytelling from global history…

1. Korean Film Archive

With over one hundred movies on their YouTube channel, and several hundred more via their website, the Korean Film Archive offers captions in Korean and English, and occasionally has other languages including Malay, Arabic, and French.

Recorded here you’ll find almost a century of Korean film-making. Fans of Bong Joon-ho may particularly appreciate the playlist filled with movies recommended by the Parasite director.

Access the Korean Film Archive's YouTube channel.

Still from The Lovers of Woomuk-Baemi (1990), available to watch via the Korean Film Archive.
Still from The Lovers of Woomuk-Baemi (1990), available to watch via the Korean Film Archive.

2. National Film Board of Canada

We’ve covered the NFB’s film collection in full on the blog before, exploring the history and context of this great resource.

You’ll find over 5,000 productions, from shorts to features, at the NFB’s online screening room. These include animations and live-action films, organized into five main categories: cinema, documentaries, animation, interactive cinema, and education. You can browse each section by title, director, or genre, as well as NFB expert-curated playlists.

The National Film Board of Canada.
The National Film Board of Canada.

3. Kanopy

Kanopy partners with public libraries and universities to make films available to anyone with a library card. Available in several countries including Australia, the US, and the UK, Kanopy is a great resource for more recent, critically acclaimed movies from around the world, and also for a range of documentaries.

A sample of the films available on the Kanopy website.
A sample of the films available on the Kanopy website.

4. The Film Detective

For lovers of Old Hollywood and cult black-and-white movies, The Film Detective offers a range of ways to watch, from their web player to handheld devices. Watch for free with ads, or get a subscription to go ad-free.

You can search by keyword, actor, or director. Find genres such as film noir, comedy, action, and rare Hollywood silents, and watch everything from Oliver Twist (1922) to cult classics like Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

Image from The Film Detective's website.
Image from The Film Detective's website.

5. British Film Institute

Discover 120 years of British and international film via the BFI’s free archive. Though they also offer a paid subscription, there are hundreds of shorts to discover in the free section. From silent movies a century old, to poetic responses to the Covid pandemic from the last couple of years, there’s a story for everyone.

The BFI has created a range of collections grouping together pieces on certain topics, such as comedy classics and LGBTQ history. This resource is also useful for finding newsreels, documentaries, and other curiosities.

The BFI archive houses thousands of films and video media from British history.
The BFI archive houses thousands of films and video media from British history.

6. Japanese Animated Film Classics

The National Film Center, Tokyo, celebrates the pioneers of early Japanese animation in this archive of over sixty shorts. Some silent, some with music and dialogue, in the Japanese Animated Film Classics collection you’ll discover a range of enchanting black-and-white animated stories. You can search by genres and rankings, and also by the technique used: such as cutout, cell, or stop motion animation.

Still from A Wolf is a Wolf, short animated film by Yasuji Murata, available to watch at the link above.
Still from A Wolf is a Wolf, short animated film by Yasuji Murata, available to watch at the link above.

7. FilmDoo

The word "doo" is from Thai, meaning watch or see. FilmDoo founders Weerada Sucharitkul and William Page were frustrated at the lack of international films available in the UK, and wanted to allow this act of watching and seeing to expand audience’s minds.

While some films have a rental fee, the free section of the FilmDoo site is home to over 1,000 titles in over a hundred languages: from artsy animations to martial arts to documentaries on global issues.

The Journey (2004) is a Romance/Drama available via FilmDoo.
The Journey (2004) is a Romance/Drama available via FilmDoo.

8. Chinese Film Classics

Finally, we have this YouTube playlist of thirty Chinese film classics, compiled by Columbia University. China is now the largest movie market in the world, having recently overtaken the USA, but its history is just as significant.

Discover English-subtitled films from the 1930s onwards in the Chinese Film Classics collection, featuring both silent films and talkies. You can also take a course on classic Chinese cinema via the main YouTube channel, and explore other Chinese novels, films, and more.

A screenshot from the playlist of classic Chinese films, such as Laborer's Love and Woman Warrior White Rose.
A screenshot from the playlist of classic Chinese films, such as Laborer's Love and Woman Warrior White Rose.

For any creative, refilling the well of inspiration is an essential step of the artistic process. Let us know in the comments if you have dived into any of these amazing wells of international movie magic!

If you want to learn more about bringing stories to life through cinema, check out our film-making and scriptwriting courses.

You may also like:

- 10 Online Video Editing Courses for Beginners
- 20 Artworks that Inspired Famous Movie Scenes
- Screenwriting Essentials: Create, Write, and Develop for TV, course by HaJ
- Introduction to Film Direction, course by César Pesquera

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