30 Free Family Movies in the Public DomainJune 8, 2021
These films are usually in the public domain due to age, missing copyright notice, or simply lacking a copyright. Whenever possible, we will include details about how or why the titles in our list are legal to enjoy.
The first list covers proven public domain family films, but we will also include a section for movies that need more research. In these cases, we always do a background check to make sure a copyright for the film does not exist. However, more research is required to find out if they are legal to watch.
Whatever the case might be, one thing is for sure: each of these free family movies is available to watch online. If a copyright claim is made, they will be removed from the host site immediately. That said, please keep in mind that free to watch does not necessarily mean free to broadcast.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dig into all of these public domain family films!
Official Public Domain Family Movies
The free family movies in this list have been researched enough to determine that they are definitely in the public domain. In most cases, there will be specific details to explain why each film is free and legal to watch.
1. The Little Princess
This is one of the few times you’ll see a Shirley Temple movie on such a list. The copyright for this film was not renewed, so it fell into the public domain. This was a common mistake back then, as most filmmakers and studios did not think their movies would make any more money after their initial release.
2. The Painted Hills
This is the seventh and final Lassie movie MGM ever produced, and it is in the public domain because the studio did not renew their copyright. Although it’s not regarded as a beloved Lassie film, fans of the franchise might still want to watch this one.
3. Gulliver’s Travels
As with many other free family movies on our list, this title fell into the public domain when its copyright was not renewed. Although the movie itself is free and legal to watch, some later prints might be copyrighted. The version posted here is safe to enjoy.
4. Sita Sings the Blues
This might be a controversial addition to the list, but I think it’s family-friendly enough to make the cut. Of course, this movie also has the distinction of being the newest film on our list.
Why is a movie released in 2008 in the public domain? Well, there were a lot of copyright issues with Sita Sings the Blues due to its use of material that the filmmaker believed to be public domain.
In other words, this is an excellent example of what happens when you don’t do your research! This is another reason we stress the point that free to watch does not mean free to distribute or use in your own artistic endeavors.
Regardless, due to all the legal issues, the filmmaker decided to change the license for this film to CC-0 (public domain).
5. The Jungle Book (1942)
No, this is not the Disney version of The Jungle Book, but it is surprisingly well-rated, and it was nominated for four Academy Awards.
As with many other titles on our list, this family movie is in the public domain because the copyright holders forgot to renew their license. It should be noted that the original film elements are owned by a studio. Their prints will not be free to watch, but this copy is safe and legal to enjoy.
6. Oliver Twist (1933)
This adaptation of Charles Dicken’s classic story is in the public domain because its copyright was not renewed. Although the film stars Dickie Moore (Out of the Past) and Irving Pichel (The Miracle of the Bells), there’s nothing else especially noteworthy about this family movie.
7. Oliver Twist (1922)
Speaking of Charles Dickens adaptations, this version of Oliver Twist is also free and legal to enjoy. This movie is in the public domain because it is over 95 years old. Films of this age automatically fall into the public domain by default. Did we mention this film stars the incomparable Lon Chaney (Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man)?
8. Pollyanna (1920)
Much like the previous film on our list of free family movies, this title is over 95 years old and has automatically fallen into the public domain. This early adaptation of the story Pollyanna stars silent film era star Mary Pickford and it is fairly well-rated.
9. Scrooge (1935)
Although it can’t compare to the later adaptation of Scrooge starring Alastair Sim (1951), this is a pretty well-rated version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Like so many other free family movies, this one fell into the public domain when the copyright was not renewed. This is just one of several great Christmas movies in the public domain.
10. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
If you’re in need of more Christmas fun, this one is definitely part of a class known as nanar cinema. Maybe it’s not technically brilliant, but it’s still enjoyable for other reasons.
To give you a sense of what we mean, this film was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This movie is in the public domain because it was published without a copyright notice.
11. March of the Wooden Soldiers (1950)
This Laurel and Hardy adaptation of Babes in Toyland was released in 1934, but it was re-released in 1950 under the new title March of the Wooden Soldiers. This version of the film is public domain because it was published without a copyright notice. Needless to say, this is another fun Christmas movie you can watch for free during the holidays.
12. Santa and the Three Bears
Here is yet another Christmas movie that is free and legal to watch. This is another example of a well-rated film that fell into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed. Written and directed by Tony Benedict (The Flintstones), this is one of the often overlooked free family films on our list.
13. The Great Rupert
Although the title doesn’t immediately give it away, this is also a Christmas movie. Like many other films of this era, it fell into the public domain when the copyright was not renewed. That said, the film was later re-released by a major studio with a colorized print, and that version is not free to watch.
14. Little Lord Fauntleroy
This adaptation of the classic story is very highly rated, and it was produced by David O. Selznick. Believe it or not, this was actually the most successful film his company produced before Gone With the Wind, which of course went on to become the most profitable movie of all time.
While they saw the value in maintaining the copyright for that cinematic classic, the copyright for Little Lord Fauntleroy was not renewed and it fell into the public domain. Of course, this movie did eventually get a remaster, and the version released by Kino Lorber is not free to watch.
15. Adventure Island (1947)
Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story, this is another case where the copyright was not renewed and the film fell into the public domain. Although this movie stars Rhonda Fleming (Out of the Past,Spellbound) and Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell,How to Mary a Millionaire), it’s not really regarded by many as a must-see title.
16. The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957)
This made-for-tv adaptation of a classic story stars Claude Rains (Casablanca, The Invisible Man) and Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny, Brigadoon), and although it’s not poorly rated, it’s not very popular either.
From what we can tell, the copyright for this film was never renewed and it fell into the public domain.
Free Family Movies Regarded as Public Domain
This section will be a continuation of our list, but it will cover free family movies that are only probably in the public domain. We’ve done a bit of research for each of these films, even going so far as to check for a current copyright.
In the case of every movie below, no copyright was found for the film itself. If a copyright exists for either the screenplay or the soundtrack, the movie might not be in the public domain. Although it’s a good sign that these free family movies are readily available from reliable sources, more research is required.
Another issue is that these films often lack information about how they fell into the public domain. Even if we could prove no copyright currently exists, we wouldn’t know why or how that happened.
All of that being said, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that some research on these movies has been done and all indications are that they are in the public domain.
17. Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome
Well before the 90’s movie was released, there were actually several Dick Tracy movies produced back when the character was most popular.
This movie features acting from Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy) as the title villain. We have found evidence that the copyright for this film was not renewed. We have found no evidence that a copyright currently exists for the movie.
18. Dick Tracy vs Cueball
This is another Dick Tracy film that likely fell into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed, but we have not been able to confirm that yet.
There does not appear to be an active copyright for this movie. Although this is not regarded as a great film, it is notable for being one of the earlier films directed by Gordon Douglas (Them, In Like Flint).
19. Dick Tracy’s Dilemma
Much like the other Dick Tracy films on our list, there is no active copyright for this movie. It is very likely that many of the movies in this franchise are on the public domain. This title in particular has been regarded as public domain in the past, and there is at least a little evidence to support that claim.
20. Dick Tracy (1945)
This is another example where it does not appear that anyone currently holds the copyright for this film. In addition to the lack of a copyright, this movie has widely been considered public domain for a long time.
Although we need to do more research to confirm the copyright status of this title, it’s a good sign that it has been freely available to watch online for many years.
21. The Borrowers (1973)
This adaptation of the classic story was made for television, and the Wikipedia article lists it as a public domain film. Unfortunately, there is no citation for this claim, and extended research has not produced evidence to confirm it.
What we have discovered is that there does not appear to be an active copyright for this movie. Whatever the case might be, the title is freely available to watch online.
22. The Return of Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin was a fairly popular franchise back in the day, but this title may have fallen into the public domain regardless. Upon doing a bit of research, we were unable to find an active copyright for this movie. As you can see, the film has been considered public domain for years, and it is readily available to watch for free.
23. Heidi (1952)
This probably isn’t the version of the story you’re familiar with, but it is widely regarded as one of the best film adaptations of the novel ever made. The film has been considered public domain for many years, and we were unable to find an active copyright. This is probably one of the better free family movies on our list.
24. The New Adventures of Heidi
No, this is not a sequel to the previous movie on our list. There does not appear to be an active copyright, and it is very likely that this movie is in the public domain. Although this is not widely considered to be a good movie, it is notable for starring Burl Ives (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).
25. Tarzan and the Trappers (1958)
This might not be the best adaptation of Tarzan, but it is more than likely in the public domain. We’ve done a bit of research and were unable to find a current copyright for the movie.
It has been licensed for VHS releases in the past, but not by the original copyright holders. While we can’t yet confirm that this title is in the public domain, it is freely available to watch online.
26. Tarzan’s Revenge (1938)
Speaking of bad adaptations, this Tarzan movie is also poorly rated. We have found no evidence that a current copyright for the film exists, and it is probably in the public domain. All we can say for sure is that you can easily watch this movie for free online and it has widely been considered a public domain title for many years.
27. Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938)
This is another poorly rated adaptation of Tarzan which is most likely in the public domain. Some have claimed that its copyright was not renewed, but we were unable to confirm this. What we can say for sure is that we were unable to find an active copyright for the movie, so this claim is probably correct. Whatever the case, this movie can easily be watched online for free.
28. Santa Claus (1959)
Often given the title Santa Claus vs the Devil, this movie is very well known for being shown in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Yes, this movie is that bad, but it could also be considered an example of nanar cinema. In other words, even if it’s not a good movie, you might still enjoy it for other reasons. We were unable to find a current copyright for this film, and it is more than likely in the public domain.
This would make an excellent pairing with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and it’s pretty easy to find online for free.
29. Alice of Wonderland in Paris (1966)
As the title should indicate, this is not the Disney animated classic you might remember.
That being said, there are a few notable voice actors in this film including Carl Reiner (Ocean’s Eleven, The Dick Van Dyke Show) and Howard Morris (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Andy Griffith Show).
We could not find an active copyright for this film, and it appears to be in the public domain. Whatever the case might be, you can easily watch this movie for free online.
30. Dot and the Bunny
Unless you’re Australian, chances are you have never heard of this movie. Believe it or not, this is a sequel to the previous film Dot and the Kangaroo. Although we are unsure about the copyright status of that movie, this one does not appear to have an active copyright in the United States.
Over the years, it has widely been considered a public domain film, and it is freely available to watch on many streaming sites.
Resources to Find More Free Family Movies
If you’re interested in digging through the public domain yourself, there are several resources you can use to get started. Honestly, the more I look into the subject, the more resources I find. Here are a few of the most useful websites you might want to visit in order to find more free family movies to watch online.
- The Library of Congress
- U.S. Copyright Office Search
- List of Films in the Public Domain
- Infodigi’s Public Domain Resource
- Romano Archives
- Festival Films
- Film Chest
None of the resources on this list are exhaustive, and confirmation of public domain status often requires cross referencing of multiple sources. Of course, if you’re just looking for more movies to watch, you should be able to find many other titles using these databases.