41 Free Romance Movies in the Public DomainJuly 30, 2021
As with many other genres of film, there are a lot of free romance movies in the public domain. Some of these titles are romantic comedies, so you’ll also find them on our list of free comedy movies. That said, we’ll do our best not to have too much crossover between the two articles.
Most of the movies on this list include elements of both drama and romance. Regardless of their genre or subgenre, all of them focus on some kind of love story. Whenever possible, we will provide information about how they became public domain films.
- Resources for Free Romance Movies in the Public Domain
- What is the Public Domain? (coming soon)
- Watch More Free Movies Online (coming soon)
- 50 Free Comedy Movies in the Public Domain
- 38 Free Film Noir Movies in the Public Domain
1. His Girl Friday
This is one of the few movies we also have on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. As one of the best romantic comedies of them all, it definitely deserves the additional attention. Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant (North by Northwest, Suspicion), there’s plenty to love about His Girl Friday.
The copyright for this film was never renewed and it became public domain many years ago. That being said, there are various prints of the film which are copyrighted. The version provided below is legal to watch and enjoy for free. You may want to avoid rebroadcasting the film to protect yourself from false copyright claims.
2. Bird of Paradise (1932)
Directed by King Vidor and starring Joel McCrea (Foreign Correspondent), this 1930’s romance film is fairly well-rated. This was also the film debut of Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man, The Mummy’s Ghost). When the copyright was not renewed in 1960, Bird of Paradise fell into the public domain.
3. A Farewell to Arms (1932)
This was one of the first film adaptations of the famous Ernest Hemingway novel. This was also one of the first major roles for Gary Cooper (High Noon, The Pride of the Yankees). Much like other movies of this era, it became public domain because the copyright was not renewed.
Here’s another title we also have on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. With the star power of Cary Grant (To Catch a Thief) and Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday), it’s definitely worth a watch. James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven), and Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple) also star in this highly rated film.
This is one of those strange cases where the studio failed to provide an accurate copyright notice for the movie. As a result, it was public domain the moment it got released.
5. The Last Time I Saw Paris
This free romance movie was written and directed by Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In Cold Blood). Much like Charade, The Last Time I Saw Paris is full of notable stars. Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) leads the cast alongside Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny). Donna Reed (It’s a Wonderful Life), Walter Pidgeon (Funny Girl), and Eva Gabor (The Rescuers) also play significant roles.
Once again, this is a case where the studio did not provide an accurate copyright notice. Due to this issue, the copyright term of the film was decreased and they forgot to renew it.
6. Made For Each Other
Produced by David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind), this is another classic romance film from the 1930’s. Once again, there are several notable stars on board for this movie. James Stewart (Rear Window, Vertigo) and Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey) star in the leading roles.
Although Disney owns the original negative for this film, there are public domain prints in existence. Like so many other free romance movies, this one became public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
7. Love Affair
This is one of the first major films directed by Leo McCarey and written by Delmer Daves. The two would later go on to write and direct An Affair to Remember. Love Affair was a surprise hit, and it’s one of the better rated free romance movies on our list. When the copyright was not renewed in 1967, this film fell into the public domain.
8. Mr. Imperium
Directed by Don Hartman (Holiday Affair), this is far from the best title on our list. That being said, Lana Turner (The Postman Always Rings Twice) did have a starring role in the film. This is another case where the studio neglected to renew their copyright and it became public domain.
9. Penny Serenade
This is yet another Cary Grant (North by Northwest) vehicle, a quite common occurrence for this era of romance films. Alongside him is Irene Dunne, who also starred in Love Affair. The film itself was directed by George Stevens, who would later direct Shane and A Place in the Sun.
Penny Serenade fell into the public domain in 1970 when its copyright was not renewed. There are some prints which are still under copyright, but the one listed below is free and legal to enjoy.
10. Our Town
Fans of William Holden (Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina) will want to give this movie a watch. Martha Scott (Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments) and Beulah Bondi (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) also star in this film. Ratings are pretty good for this classic title, but it’s not the highest rated of our free romance movies.
When the studios neglected to renew their copyright for Our Town in 1968, it fell into the public domain.
11. My Favorite Brunette
This title is also on our list of free film noir movies due to its noir elements. There were a lot of famous Hollywood stars attached to the movie, including Bob Hope (The Cat and the Canary), Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man), and Peter Lorre (The Man Who Knew Too Much). My Favorite Brunette became public domain when its copyright was not renewed in 1975.
12. Pot O’ Gold
You’ll also find this title on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. Pot O’ Gold was a film based on a radio series of the same name. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good adaptation, and it’s not very highly rated. As a matter of fact, even the star James Stewart (Vertigo) would say this was his worst film. Perhaps due to its questionable quality, the studio never renewed their copyright and this movie became public domain.
13. The Silver Horde
Based on a novel by Rex Beach, this pre-code romantic drama has been all but forgotten by time. Joel McCrea (Bird of Paradise) stars alongside Jean Arthur (Shane) in this film. Director George Archainbaud eventually went on to direct several episodes of Lassie and the Gene Autry Show. The Silver Horde became public domain because its copyright was never renewed.
14. Three Guys Named Mike
This is another title you can also find on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. Jane Wyman (All That Heaven Allows) and Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny ) star in this classic romantic comedy. Three Guys Named Mike became public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
15. Sita Sings the Blues
This is the only animated film on our list of free romance movies. You can also find it on our list of free family movies in the public domain. Sita Sings the Blues features a lot of romantic elements, so it definitely belongs on this list.
Originally released in 2008, this film included audio elements which the filmmaker did not have the right to use. After many legal battles, they decided to release the film as a public domain title.
16. Sin Takes a Holiday
If you’re interested in seeing more pre-code romance films, this is an excellent example. As an added bonus, it’s also one of Basil Rathbone’s earlier roles. Fans may recognize his later work as Sherlock Holmes in several films. Rathbone really became the face of this famous detective for many years. This is another case where the copyright was never renewed and it became public domain.
17. A Star is Born (1937)
This is the original David O. Selznick production which has since been remade three other times. Both the 1954 remake with Judy Garland and the 1976 version with Barbara Streisand are more well-known. Although it’s not as popular as some of the remakes, at least this version is free to enjoy. A Star is Born became public domain when Warner Bros failed to renew their copyright in 1965.
18. Swing High, Swing Low
This is another title you’ll also find on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. It’s not a highly rated romantic comedy, but it does have some star power. Both Carole Lombard (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity) headline this film. When the copyright was not renewed in 1965, it became public domain.
19. Becky Sharp
Based on a play which itself was based on the novel Vanity Fair, this is a classic romance story. This film is notable as the first to use the Technicolor process throughout. Due to its historical relevance, this movie is now in the National Film Registry. When the studio neglected to renew their copyright, Becky Sharp fell into the public domain.
20. Behind Office Doors
This is another pre-code romantic drama film. Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) plays the lead in this decently rated title. Critics were initially unimpressed, but the movie still did well at the box office. Like many other free romance movies from this era, it became public domain when the studio failed to renew their copyright.
21. Kept Husbands
If you want to keep digging through pre-code romantic dramas, this is another one you might want to watch. Starring Joel McCrea (Foreign Correspondent) and directed by Lloyd Bacon (42nd Street), there are many reasons to give this movie a shot. The copyright was never renewed, so Kept Husbands eventually fell into the public domain.
This is yet another example of a title you’ll also find on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. We chose to add it here due to its heavy themes of romance. Starring the popular comedic duo Wheeler & Woolsey, it definitely belongs on both lists. This one became public domain in 1958 when the studios failed to renew its copyright.
23. A Lady to Love
If you’re in the mood for more pre-code romantic drama, give this one a shot. This was one of the last films directed by Victor Sjöström (The Phantom Carriage). His work went on to influence the likes of Ingmar Bergman. This is also an early role for Edward G. Robinson (Double Indemnity, Key Largo). As with many other pre-code movies, this one became public domain because its copyright was not renewed.
24. The Lady Refuses
This is another pre-code romantic drama, once again directed by George Archainbaud (The Silver Horde). Although there’s nothing that really stands out about this film, it is fairly well-rated. When the studio failed to renew their copyright in 1959, this title became public domain.
25. Meet John Doe
Just a few years after he directed It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra would also work on this title. There’s plenty of star power as both Gary Cooper (High Noon) and Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) play important roles.
This is one of the better reviewed free romance movies on our list. You’ll also find it on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. Meet John Doe became public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
26. Lawful Larceny
Although this movie was released in 1930, it’s actually a remake of an earlier film from 1923. Both titles were based on a play which goes by the same name. Critics were not very kind to Lawful Larceny, and it has since fallen into obscurity. This movie became public domain when the studio failed to renew their copyright.
27. Of Human Bondage
This might be one of the most notable titles on our list. Not only was it nominated for an Oscar, but this is the film that put Bette Davis on the map. She would go on to star in popular films like All About Eve and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Despite its success, the studio never renewed their copyright and this movie became public domain.
28. A Woman of Paris
Although this movie was written, directed, and produced by Charlie Chaplin, it is not a comedy. Needless to say, that was not the norm for this filmmaker/actor. Even so, it’s an excellent chance to see what his other work was like. Since it was released in 1923, the film is now over 95 years old and has officially become public domain.
29. The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss
This was one of Cary Grant’s earlier roles, and even then he was being typecast. Most viewers will know him better from movies like To Catch a Thief or North by Northwest. Although this isn’t his best film, it might be worth a watch for fans of his acting. Like so many other titles on our list, this movie became public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
30. Angel on My Shoulder
Although this movie plays on the tropes of film noir and crime titles of the era, there are elements of romance as well. In the movie, Paul Muni plays the gangster role he had been typecast in ever since his performance in Scarface. This time around, he plays a criminal who makes a deal with the devil to return to earth.
Anne Baxter (All About Eve) and Claude Rains (Casablanca) also star alongside Muni. This is one of the better rated films on our list of free romance movies. As with so many other movies of this era, its copyright was never renewed and it became public domain.
31. Anna Karenina (1948)
This is actually the second film adaptation of the classic novel written by Leo Tolstoy. Although the stars of this film may not sound familiar today, they were pretty big at the time.
Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire, Gone With the Wind) plays Anna Karenina herself. Ralph Richardson (Doctor Zhivago, Time Bandits) plays Karenin. In one of his earliest roles, Kieron Moore (Day of the Triffids) plays Count Vronsky.
Critics didn’t hate this one, but it wasn’t very successful in theaters. As in so many other cases, the copyright lapsed and was never renewed, so it became public domain.
32. Beyond Tomorrow
Even though this isn’t technically a Christmas movie, its plot will certainly remind you of a specific holiday classic. Three ghosts return to earth with the mission of bringing a young couple together. The three ghosts are played by Harry Carey (Red River), C. Aubrey Smith (Rebecca), and Charles Winninger (Show Boat).
The idea might not be entirely original, but it wasn’t universally panned by critics. Despite some respectable reviews, the film became public domain because its copyright was not renewed. There are some copyrighted prints out there, but the version below is free and legal to enjoy.
33. Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Based on the classic play, this film adaptation was a fine example of Broadway brought to the silver screen. The studio even went so far as to hire the star of the Broadway musical to play the titular character. Jose Ferrer would go on to have an incredible career with noteworthy roles in Dune and Lawrence of Arabia.
Many people consider this adaptation the standard by which all other Cyrano de Bergerac tales are judged. Although the film was a smash hit, the studio still neglected to renew its copyright. As a result, this classic romance movie is now in the public domain.
34. Happy Go Lovely
With a screenplay by Val Guest and a performance from David Niven, you might be thinking this is a James Bond movie. While the two worked together on Casino Royale, they also did this fairly rated romantic comedy. Cesar Romero (Batman: The Movie) also plays an important role in the film. This is yet another case where the studio didn’t renew their copyright and the film became public domain.
35. Honeymoon in Bali
Starring Fred MacMurray (The Apartment) and Madeleine Carroll (The 39 Steps), this is a fairly by-the-numbers romance film. Critics didn’t hate it upon release, but with time it has become far less popular. As in many other cases, the copyright for this film was not renewed and it became public domain.
36. A Night of Terror
This is yet another opportunity to see Basil Rathbone playing a character other than Sherlock Holmes. Based on the work of Agatha Christie, you can rest assured the story will be quite entertaining. When the studio failed to renew their copyright for this film, it fell into the public domain.
37. Love Laughs at Andy Hardy
This is another romantic comedy included on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. Mickey Rooney stars as the titular character in what was the 15th Andy Hardy movie. If you can believe it, there was actually one more title in the franchise after this! When MGM failed to renew their copyright in 1974, the film became public domain.
38. My Dear Secretary
If you’re looking for another romantic comedy, this one might do the trick. My Dear Secretary includes an early starring role for Kirk Douglas (Spartacus, Ace in the Hole).You’ll also have a chance to see Laraine Day (Foreign Correspondent) and Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove ).
This is another film you can also find on our list of free comedy movies in the public domain. The copyright was never renewed, so this film is now in the public domain.
39. The Stork Club
Directed by Hal Walker (At War With the Army), this is one of those romantic comedies aimed at soldiers returning from the war and their significant others. While it’s not the best rated movie on our list, it’s also not the absolute worst. The Stork Club fell into the public domain when its copyright was not renewed.
40. Second Chorus
As with most romantic comedies on this list, you’ll also find it among our free comedy movies in the public domain. The main draw for this movie is Fred Astaire (Funny Face, Holiday Inn), which means plenty of singing and dancing. This is another case where the studio didn’t renew their copyright and the movie became public domain.
41. Our Daily Bread
This is another romance movie directed by King Vidor (Bird of Paradise). Karen Morley (Scarface) and John Qualen (Casablanca) star in this film alongside Tom Keene (Plan 9 From Outer Space). Orson Welles once considered this one of his favorite movies of all time. Since the studio didn’t renew their copyright, it fell into the public domain.
Resources to Find Free Romance Movies in the Public Domain
There are several different resources online that you can use to determine if a movie is public domain. Unfortunately, you really have to dig if you want to find proof. That said, if you’re up to the task, consider using the following websites to find more free romance movies.
- 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
This list is not exhaustive and we will no doubt add even more in the future as we find additional resources. Whether you’re looking for proof of public domain status or you just want more movies to watch, these websites should be very helpful.