44 Free Western Movies in the Public DomainApril 28, 2021
Although the western hasn’t been quite as popular in recent times, it is still unquestionably one of the most important American genres in film history. Of course, the age of most popular westerns is actually one of the reasons that they are more likely to be in the public domain, as many studios didn’t renew their copyrights after the films left theaters; there was no such thing as “home media” at the time, so no reason to assume they would need an extended copyright.
For this reason and many others, there are several great westerns that you can watch legally without paying a dime. This list will provide dozens of free western movies you can watch right now, in addition to information about how they fell into the public domain (if those details are available).
- Resources for Public Domain Westerns
- What is the Public Domain? (coming soon)
- Watch More Free Movies Online (coming soon)
- 50 Free Comedy Movies in the Public Domain
- 30 Free Family Movies in the Public Domain
1. Angel and the Badman
It’s hard to go wrong with a John Wayne western, and he not only stars in the film, but he also produced it as well. The film was directed by James Edward Grant, who was far better known as a writer, and he actually wrote another film on this list: McLintock! This movie entered the public domain because its copyright was not renewed.
TAKEDOWN NOTICE: Some prints of this movie have been taken down from websites like Youtube. This is likely because there are copyrighted prints in existence. Even though the movie is public domain, it might still get taken down. Please keep this in mind before deciding to rebroadcast the film.
2. The Deadly Companions
This is a somewhat early western for Sam Peckinpah, who would eventually become very well known for classics in the genre such as The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. At the time he directed this film, he was mostly known for his work on popular western television shows like The Rifleman and Broken Arrow. This movie was his motion picture directorial debut, and it entered the public domain because the studio failed to provide a proper copyright notice.
3. The Outlaw
Directed and produced by the great Howard Hughes, this film is notable for being the breakout role of Jane Russell, and also for testing the limits of censorship at the time it was made. Take one look at the movie poster below and it should be pretty clear why the censors had an issue with the film. This classic western fell into the public domain in 1969 when its copyright was not renewed.
4. One-Eyed Jacks
This is a fairly unique western with a lot of star power behind it. Although it was originally intended to be directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), Marlon Brando (The Godfather) would eventually become the director. The screenplay was put together by a number of different people including Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) and Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch). This movie fell into the public domain many years ago, but there have since been restorations done, and those prints are still under copyright. The copy provided below is free and legal to enjoy.
5. Vengeance Valley
This is one of hundreds of films directed by Richard Thorpe, and it’s a notable early role for Burt Lancaster (Birdman of Alcatraz). Thorpe was the kind of filmmaker who was put under contract with a major studio and given multiple films per year. While few of them are noteworthy, you have to respect a guy with over 180 total directorial credits to his name. MGM did not renew its copyright for this film, and thus it fell into the public domain.
6. Santa Fe Trail
Directed by none other than Michael Curtiz (Casablanca), this western stars both Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Ronald Reagan, who would eventually become president of the United States. At the time of its release, this was a pretty popular film. Unfortunately, it still ended up falling into the public domain in 1968 because the copyright was not renewed. This is one of the better free western movies on our list.
7. Rage at Dawn
Randolph Scott made a name for himself as a western star from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, and this is just one of the dozens of films he starred in within this genre. Released in 1955, this movie was actually produced fairly late in Scott’s career, and it isn’t one of the more notable examples of his work.
As a matter of fact, a similar plot was later used in the film Love Me Tender, starring Elvis Presley, and you can probably guess which one was more popular. Although this film has long been considered to be in the public domain, there is no information about how or why this happened. The only thing we know for sure is that the studios haven’t made much of an attempt to reclaim the copyright.
This is yet another classic John Wayne film, although it’s not the kind of western most people would think about when they envision the genre. Billed as a western comedy, this movie is actually based loosely on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. As with most of the titles on our list, McLintock fell into the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. Now it has a place on our list of free western movies.
9. Sagebrush Trail
Get ready for a string of John Wayne westerns, because a lot of his work is in the public domain. This is actually somewhat surprising given how big of a name he had within the genre. Although there isn’t anything particularly remarkable about most of these John Wayne movies, it’s definitely nice to know that anyone who wants to get into this genre can see a lot of work from the biggest western star of them all. This film fell into the public domain because the copyright notice lacks a claimant.
10. Randy Rides Alone
This is yet another John Wayne classic, but there’s nothing special about it that really stands out from the rest on our list. The main reason to watch these films is just to get a sense for the tropes of the western, as during the 1930s and even into the 40s, many movies in this genre followed the same basic beats as you’ll find in this one. As with Sagebrush Trail, this title is in the public domain because there is no claimant for the copyright notice.
11. Blue Steel
Ready for another prototypical John Wayne western? This one is directed by Robert N. Bradbury, who also served as the director for many other John Wayne westerns on our list. He made a career for himself directing movies in this genre, and although few of them ever stood out from the rest, they’re definitely excellent examples of pre-code western films. The copyright was never renewed, so it fell into the public domain and is now one of our free western movies.
12. The Star Packer
This is another John Wayne western directed by Robert N. Bradbury, one of many the two worked on in the mid-1930s. One of the reasons that these movies aren’t often fondly remembered is because they were so mass produced, dozens being made every year to satisfy an audience that was hungry for westerns at the time. Of course, one of the side effects of just throwing these films out into theaters is that they often weren’t concerned with future re-releases or anything of the sort and thus copyrights weren’t renewed.
13. The Lucky Texan
John Wayne sure did make a lot of westerns, and many of them were directed by Robert N. Bradbury. This is another unremarkable western, but these films are at least a good way to familiarize yourself with one of the biggest stars of the genre. Sadly, one of the only notable aspects of this movie is that it has been broadcast in a continuous loop by WNBC-TV as emergency filler just in case the station got cut off, which means it’s literally the last thing you’d see if that network were to have some kind of catastrophic failure. According to some sources, this movie is in the public domain because it was published without a copyright notice.
14. The Man From Utah
John Wayne and Robert N. Bradbury teamed up once again for this western classic. There’s not much which stands out about this title. That being said, there is one reason to check it out: John Wayne’s character actually sings in this movie! Of course, his voice was dubbed, but it’s definitely an interesting detail that sets this western apart from others. As with others on the list, this movie was published without a copyright notice and fell into the public domain.
15. Riders of Destiny
If you couldn’t get enough of John Wayne playing the singing cowboy, this western musical might be right up your alley. Once again, Robert N. Bradbury teams up with John Wayne. The result is another fairly mediocre title clocking in at around an hour. The copyright for this film was not renewed and it fell into the public domain.
16. West of the Divide
As with many of the westerns directed by Robert N. Bradbury and starring John Wayne, this movie is also in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed. Although there’s nothing particularly special about this film, it’s another great opportunity to see one of the biggest names of the genre.
17. Just Pals
John Ford was one of the most prolific directors in the western genre. He defined much of what the western would look like from the very beginning. This silent era film is one of his earlier projects, and it reveals the origins of his genre building. Released in 1920, this movie is over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. Sadly, a lot of movies from this era no longer exist because they have either deteriorated or simply been lost. Needless to say, this is a wonderful opportunity to discover the genesis of the western genre.
TAKEDOWN NOTICE: This movie probably won’t get taken down, but it has been removed from some services in the past. Since it’s over 100 years old, it is absolutely public domain. However, there might be a copyrighted print in existence. As such, this movie might get a takedown on sites like Youtube.
18. The Covered Wagon
This is another very early silent western which reveals a lot about the origins of the genre. Much of the film was shot on location in states like California, Nevada, and Utah. The wagons used on set were not replicas, but rather actual covered wagons from the 1800s. The producers of this movie offered owners $2 per day to use their wagons. In other words, when you watch this movie, you’re getting a look at actual relics from the real wild west! Since it was released in 1923, the film is over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain.
19. The Iron Horse
This is yet another early John Ford film, a silent era western which is in the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry. As the name implies, this movie tells the tale of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. One scene depicting several Chinese men working on the railroad is performed by actual retired Central Pacific Railroad employees who helped build the railroad. Since it was released in 1924, it is now more than 95 years old and in the public domain.
20. Go West
This western comedy plays up some of the most well-known tropes of the genre. It depicts a city slicker who goes out west and tries his hand at being a cowboy. As a matter of fact, one could easily see how this movie might have inspired the much later film City Slickers. The movie was directed by and stars the beloved Buster Keaton. Since it was released in 1925, the movie is now more than 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. That said, some modern prints have been remastered and they are currently under copyright.
21. The Gold Rush
This is another popular western comedy from the mid-20’s, but in this case it stars and was directed by Charlie Chaplin. He was another very well known comedian from this era of filmmaking. As with Go West, this title is also in the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry. While some modern prints have been remastered and copyrighted, the film was released in 1925 and has become public domain.
22. 3 Bad Men
Hailed as “one of John Ford’s greatest silent epics,” this film actually inspired the title of Akira Kurosawa’s Three Bad Men in a Hidden Fortress, which would later be retitled “The Hidden Fortress” internationally. That film would then go on to inspire director George Lucas who made a little known western in space called Star Wars. Released in 1926, the movie has literally just become public domain in 2021. There are some newer prints of this movie which are still copyrighted. Due to this factor, you may want to avoid rebroadcasting the film. All that being said, this is definitely one of the better free western movies.
23. American Empire
This by-the-numbers western was directed by William C. McGann. He was far better known as a special effects artist in movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo. Nonetheless, this movie became public domain when its copyright was not renewed. Although it’s not very well-known, American Empire has received reasonable reviews throughout the years.
24. Young Bill Hickok
Starring none other than Roy Rogers, this classic western tells the tale of Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. This is another case where the copyright was not renewed and the movie became public domain. Young Bill Hickok was directed by Joseph Kane, one of the greatest early western filmmakers.
25. Under California Stars
If you can’t get enough Roy Rogers, do yourself a favor and check out this classic western. Although reviews for this film aren’t excellent, it also isn’t poorly rated. There is very little information about how this movie fell into the public domain. That being said, we found no evidence of a current active copyright for Under California Stars.
26. Tumbleweeds (1925)
This is one of the oldest western films on our list. At almost 100 years old, Tumbleweeds has fallen into the public domain automatically due to its age. Despite the era in which it was produced, this western includes many of the popular tropes of the genre. If you want to see how the genre developed, this is a great introduction to early western films.
27. The Trail Beyond
If you’re looking for more John Wayne, this is another early film from the beloved western star. Yet again directed by Robert N. Bradbury, this is another somewhat forgettable genre title with obvious star power. This movie became public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
28. Texas Terror
This is another John Wayne western directed by Robert N. Bradbury. Needless to say, a lot of the movies they worked on together ended up in the public domain. Much like the others, the copyright for this film was never renewed and it is now free and legal to watch.
29. Rainbow Valley
John Wayne teamed up with Robert N. Bradbury once again for this classic western. As with many other films the two did together, this one is also in the public domain. This is another case where the copyright was not renewed and the movie is now free to enjoy.
30. Paradise Canyon
This is another classic John Wayne western that you can watch for free. As with many movies he made in the mid-1930s, the copyright was never renewed and it became public domain. There’s nothing particularly notable or special about this film, but it does have decent ratings.
31. Oh, Susanna!
Fans of Gene Autry won’t want to pass up this free chance to see one of his classic westerns. Directed by Joseph Kane, this film became public domain when the copyright was not renewed. The title is of course based on the classic folk song, and Gene Autry does in fact sing the song in this movie.
32. ‘Neath the Arizona Skies
If you just can’t get enough John Wayne, this is another one of his classic westerns. Like many of his movies from this era, the copyright was not renewed and it became public domain. Ratings for this film aren’t great, but they are somewhat reasonable.
33. My Pal Trigger
Calling all Roy Rogers fans! As the title suggests, this movie is about his horse Trigger. Although we don’t know when or how this one became public domain, there is no active copyright on record. This is one of the better rated westerns on our list.
34. Mad Dog Morgan
Starring Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), this is one of the more modern westerns on our list. Originally produced in Australia, every scene in this film was shot on location. The movie was eventually released by Troma on DVD and VHS in the United States. Although they hold a copyright for their home video releases, they do not hold the copyright for the film itself. As such, this movie is technically in the public domain.
Just keep in mind that only certain prints of the movie are public domain. You might want to avoid rebroadcasting this one, because most copyright protection programs can’t tell the difference.
35. The Lawless Frontier
There are enough John Wayne westerns in the public domain to fill out a movie marathon. This is another classic title from the 1930’s, once again directed by Robert N. Bradbury. While there’s nothing about this western that stands out from the rest, it’s at least free to enjoy. When its copyright was not renewed, The Lawless Frontier became public domain.
36. Kansas Pacific
Starring Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle, Johnny Guitar), this classic western tells a story from the Civil War. Although this movie is in the public domain, we cannot find details about how that happened. All we know for sure is there are no active copyrights for the film. As such, it is now one of many free western movies!
37. Born to the West
This is another John Wayne western, but this time it’s based on a Zane Grey story. Grey was a well-known and respected western novelist at the time. Born to the West became public domain when Paramount failed to renew their copyright. As such, it’s now one of the better free western movies available.
38. Fighting Caravans
This is another western based on a Zane Grey story, and it has also fallen into the public domain. Although the movie stars Gary Cooper (High Noon, The Hanging Tree), it isn’t very highly rated. Even so, Paramount failed to renew their copyright and the film has become public domain.
39. The Desert Trail
Ready for more John Wayne? This time around he plays a rodeo star wrongly accused of crime. As with most westerns during this era, the copyright was not renewed and it became public domain. Although it’s not the best movie in his career, it’s hard to complain about a free western movie!
40. The Dawn Rider
Robert N. Bradbury once again teamed up with John Wayne for this classic western. Needless to say, the two worked together quite frequently in the 1930s. This is another case where the copyright was never renewed and it became public domain.
41. Billy the Kid Trapped
Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) stars as Billy the Kid in this classic western. As with many other westerns from the era, this movie became public domain when its copyright was not renewed. This might not be the highest rated western on our list, but it is free to watch!
42. Billy the Kid Returns
This time around, Roy Rogers plays a look-alike who pretends to be Billy the Kid. Thankfully, reviewers were more kind to this Joseph Kane title than others on our list. When the copyright was not renewed, this film became public domain. As a result, this is now one of many free western movies!
43. The Arizona Kid
This is another Roy Rogers vehicle, and it’s actually a pretty well-rated western. As with Billy the Kid returns, this movie was also directed by Joseph Kane. Roy plays an officer fighting crime during the Civil War. The copyright for this film was never renewed, and it has since become public domain.
44. Bad Man of Deadwood
What is it with westerns and bad men? Roy Rogers and Joseph Kane teamed up yet again for this classic film. Although it’s not the highest rated title on our list, it’s also not the worst. This is yet another case where the copyright was never renewed and the movie became public domain as a result.
Resources to Find Free Western Movies in the Public Domain
While the list above does include some of the best and most widely accepted examples of public domain westerns available to watch for free, there are undoubtedly many more out there to find. If you’re in the mood to go digging for gold, there are a few things to keep in mind. Consider the following factors to ensure that the free western movies you find are actually in the public domain.
The age of the film
Older movies are much more likely to be in the public domain. This is due to a variety of factors related to copyright laws. Often it has something to do with a failure to renew a copyright or an improperly placed copyright notice. That said, if a film is at least 95 years old, it is considered to be public domain. As a result, any movie made before 1926 is free and legal to watch (if you can find it).
Who released the print
Public domain movies with a home video logo from a major studio are usually from copyrighted prints. If that is the case, even if the movie is public domain, that copy will not be legal to watch. This is as true for movies made in the last 50 years as it is for movies made more than 95 years ago, so be careful!
The quality of the video
If you find an HD version of a public domain movie, there’s a chance that print is under copyright. Your best bet is to stick with video files that are not HD, or at best 720p.
Where do I start?
There are a few different resources with reliable information about the public domain status of a film. We recommend checking these sites if you want to be sure about the legality of any public domain western.
- The Library of Congress
- List of Films in the Public Domain
- Infodigi’s Public Domain Resource
This is not an exhaustive list of resources. As such, they are not always going to provide accurate details about the public domain status of a movie. Always do the research necessary to ensure free western movies you find are actually legal to enjoy! We wish you luck in finding more free western movies to watch.