If you’re looking for some escapist entertainment while we all isolate ourselves to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, allow us to suggest these 15 Hollywood movies, each of which is available for streaming at absolutely no cost (apart from subjecting your eyeballs to a few ads).
The services that make this possible are Hoopla and Kanopy (available to anyone with a library card), Crackle, iMDB, Popcornflix, Pluto TV, the Roku Channel, Tubi, Vudu, and YouTube. You can acces them with your web browser or smart TV platform or streaming box of choice. Hoopla will limit you to 25 items per month (you can stream music, audiobooks, and ebooks as well as movies), while Kanopy’s limits members to 15 titles per month.
This is the second installment in this series. We’ll publish at least two more lists in the coming weeks; you can read our earlier list here. Click the links after each film recommenation to go directly to the service(s) from which they can be streamed. Note that you might need to sign up the services in question, and you’ll need an account with a participating library to use Hoopla and Kanopy. And if you’d like to give us feedback about our picks—or recommend your own—please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the all-time best feel-good movies, this hit from France is mainly about the joy of doing good in the world. Audrey Tautou is the saucer-eyed waif of the title, a sweet, darling combination of Charlie Chaplin, Giulietta Masina, and Audrey Hepburn, who finds a boy’s treasure box hidden in her little Montmarte apartment. She decides to anonymously return it to the now-grown boy, and when she sees his joyous, teary-eyed reaction, she vows to do more good deeds, which eventually leads to her own potential soulmate, (Mathieu Kassovitz). Jean-Pierre Jeunet directs Amélie (2001) with a brightly colored, polished, cartoonish cleanness, artificial but delightfully alive.
Richard Linklater directed this bizarre comedy that purports to be “based on a true story.” It involves “Bernie” Tiede (Jack Black, in a top-notch performance), a mortician in Carthage, Texas, who likes to sing and comfort grieving widows. One widow—the mean, universally hated Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine)—is murdered, and district attorney Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey) vows to pin the crime on Bernie. Meanwhile, several “locals” are interviewed (their dialog is based on real interviews), offering mainly gossip and conjecture about what happened. Bernie (2011) is a hilarious, masterful intermingling of truth, fact, fiction, and storytelling, so clever that even Bernie’s demonstration of an embalming becomes theatrical.
This comedy, based on a Parker Brothers board game, was a flop in its day, possibly because it offered three different possible endings to its murder mystery, thereby nullifying all of them. But since its release on home video, Clue (1985) has developed a fervent cult following, with new audiences perhaps drawn to the humorous juxtaposition of several elegant, buttoned-up characters behaving in utterly zany, unhinged ways. The plot has the familiar colorful characters gathering for a dinner in a remote mansion, where an unknown killer begins piling up bodies, one by one. The entire cast is hilarious, but Madeline Kahn steals the show as Mrs. White (“flames—on the side of my face!”).
Terry Gilliam made this powerful comedy-drama after the expensive failures of Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. But even working for a Hollywood studio, he was able to put his singular, fantastic touches on this moving story of a former shock-jock DJ Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), whose on-air banter inspired a listener to commit a brutal murder-suicide. He meets a spirited, delusional homeless man, Parry (Robin Williams), who seeks the Holy Grail and insists that Jack help. Mercedes Ruehl won an Oscar for her role as Jack’s understanding, fiery girlfriend, and Amanda Plummer plays Lydia, the object of Parry’s affections.
The Fisher King available for streaming on Crackle.
The elegant Hollywood director George Cukor was largely known for romantic comedies and women’s pictures, but with Gaslight (1944), he pulled out all the stops and created a shadowy, spooky suspense film worthy of Hitchcock. Ingrid Bergman stars, and won the first of her three Oscars, as Paula, whose devious new husband (Charles Boyer) may or may not be trying to drive her insane. Joseph Cotten plays a Scotland Yard inspector and Angela Lansbury made her debut—and received an Oscar nomination—as a sultry, cockney maid. The movie received seven Oscar nominations in all, and the lush, ornate Victorian era set design also won a second Oscar.
Before South Korean director Bong Joon-ho became a household name with his Oscar-winning Parasite, he made many other movies just as good, including the giant monster movie The Host (2006). Song Kang-ho (also in Parasite) stars as a sweatpants-clad single dad, Park Gang-du, who runs a snack stand by the Han River. One day a giant, mutated squid-like creature appears, climbs out of the water and runs away with Gang-du’s crafty teen daughter (Ko Ah-sung). In addition to the amazing, creepy monster effects and nerve-rattling suspense, Bong throws in touching family dynamics and socially relevant themes (pollution, the environment, military arrogance, political corruption, unemployment, and more), and yet somehow makes it all a batch of crazy fun. (With English subtitles.)
Frank Capra’s multiple-Oscar-winning movie is still a perfect model of screwball/romantic comedy. It Happened One Night (1934) stars Claudette Colbert as spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews, who has eloped with a no-good gold-digger and has run away from her domineering father. On a bus, she meets out-of-work newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable), who recognizes her. In exchange for her exclusive story, he promises to help her get to New York (and if she refuses, he will turn her in to her father). Thus begins a road trip full of adorable bickering, snappy patter, and, of course, brewing romance. At the time, this much-loved, pre-code movie had everyone talking about the “Walls of Jericho” scene, and the fact that Gable didn’t wear an undershirt.
Back in 1994, Luc Besson’s film didn’t get as much attention as Pulp Fiction, but in terms of terrific, violent, pulpy entertainment with a touch of dry humor and a dash of craziness, The Professional is almost as good (the two would make a great double-feature). Léon (Jean Reno) is a “Cleaner;” i.e., he cleans up after botched criminal jobs, eliminating evidence. (Reno played a similar character in Besson’s La Femme Nikita.) When a sadistic drug lord (Gary Oldman) wipes out an entire family in Léon’s building, only Mathilda (Natalie Portman) survives. Leon puts her up for a while, but she decides she wants to follow him around and be a “Cleaner” too. There’s a lot of style, but quite a bit of charm as well. (Crackle offers the 110-minute theatrical cut, entitled The Professional, as opposed to the international version, titled Léon: The Professional.)
After a brief “retirement,” Steven Soderbergh returned to direct this big-screen heist movie, but whereas his Ocean’s trilogy was urban, slick, and sophisticated, Logan Lucky (2017) is more laid-back, focusing on a more tight-knit community of characters with singsongy drawls. Channing Tatum leads the incredible cast as Jimmy, one of the Logan brothers, who loses his job and cooks up a scheme to rob rob North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway. He enlists his bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver), a bartender who lost a hand in the Iraq War, and his pretty sister Mellie (Riley Keough). Their first step is to break an explosives expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig), out of jail and get him back before anyone realizes he’s missing. The movie’s many laughs are more grouped more toward the first half, and it can feel a little off-balance, but it’s still great fun.
Bennett Miller directed this fascinating baseball story, based on Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s use of numbers to build a winning team with no budget. In Moneyball (2011), Brad Pitt plays a cool, cocksure Beane, who teams up with portly statistics nerd Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to put together a team based on players that can get on base. The ragtag, misfit team includes aging Yankee David Justice (Stephen Bishop) and washed-up Red Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), but the plan actually begins to work. With a great screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Miller turns in a supremely detailed, controlled movie that still manages to pulse with suspense and life.
This action movie from future Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) unfolds in a straightforward, serious way, but is also cheesy and crazy in all the best ways. Its unique balance caused it to become a cult classic. Keanu Reeves stars in Point Break (1991) as—no kidding—Johnny Utah, a rookie FBI agent who goes undercover as a surfer to catch a gang of bank robbers (they wear the masks of four former U.S. Presidents). He meets the deeply philosophical Bhodi (Patrick Swayze) and his friends, and falls in with them as they perform high-adrenaline activities, like skydiving. But Johnny also suspects that Bhodi might be connected to the robbers. He also falls for surfer Tyler (Lori Petty), complicating matters. If that’s not enough, Gary Busey co-stars!
Unable to get this tense, New York City comedy off the ground, star Bill Murray and Howard Franklin agreed to co-direct it themselves. It begins as a man in full clown gear walks into a bank and robs it. It’s all part of an elaborate plan that works like gangbusters. But then the man, Grimm (Bill Murray), and his two accomplices, Phyllis (Geena Davis) and doofus Loomis (Randy Quaid) find that, thanks to mix-ups with construction, taxis, busses, and other urban-oriented problems, they simply can’t get to the airport to get out of the city. Quick Change (1990) is an anxious movie, but Murray’s brilliant performance helps diffuse things whenever necessary. Jason Robards rounds things out as the clever police chief hot on their trail.
Writer/director John Carney (Once, Begin Again) tells another story of how music can bring hope to the working class in the UK. Sing Street (2016) is content with creating its vivid world rather than making any grand gestures, and, thanks to a collection of vintage-sounding 1980s pop songs, it’s a charming, winning movie. His family struggling, teen Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is transferred to a new school, where he becomes smitten by the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton). He musters the courage to ask her to be in his band’s music video. The trouble is, he has no band. So he must quickly put one together and write some songs. His first tune, “The Riddle of the Model,” catches on and gets toes tapping. It’s not exactly believable, but Sing Street definitely lifts the spirits and puts a song in one’s heart.
Widely considered the greatest concert movie ever filmed (alongside Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz), Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense (1984) was designed, shot, and edited to be a feature film, rather than a simple recording of a live concert. The New York band Talking Heads perform 16 songs, constantly elevating the level of performance throughout. (The audience is rarely even glimpsed.) At first, lead singer David Byrne merely strums a guitar and sings “Psycho Killer” along with a pre-recorded beat on a portable stereo; by the end of the film, the stage is pulsing with dancing, jumping bodies, feeling the energy of songs like “Once in a Lifetime” and “Take Me to the River.” It’s an exuberant, uplifting experience, even decades later.
Based on Michael Chabon’s novel, Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys (2000) is one of those rare adaptations that has the depth and complexity of a novel, but also moves with a light breeziness and a warm, bittersweet humor. It’s also one of those rare movies about smart people, set during a writer’s festival over the course of a weekend in a snowy Pennsylvania college town. Michael Douglas plays professor and author Grady Tripp, who struggles to complete the follow-up to his first successful novel. He crosses paths with a variety of oddball characters, including prize student James Leer (Tobey Maguire), Grady’s tenant Hannah Green (Katie Holmes), who has a crush on him, Chancellor Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand), with whom Grady is having an affair, Grady’s eccentric agent Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.), and an annoyingly successful rival author (Rip Torn).
We hope you’re enjoying this series and are finding it useful. Once again, you can read the first installment here, and we anticipate publishing a similar list of movies appropriate for children’s viewing on Wednesday, March 25, followed by two more lists appropriate for audiences of all ages.
Jeffrey has been a working film critic for more than 14 years. He first fell in love with the movies at age six while watching "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and served as staff critic for the San Francisco Examiner from 2000 through 2003.