50 Free Comedy Movies in the Public Domain

50 Free Comedy Movies in the Public Domain

May 14, 2021 0 By Stoudman

If you’re in need of a good laugh, there are quite a few comedy films in the public domain that you can watch legally for free. Some of these movies are absolute classics, while others are probably long forgotten for a good reason. Either way, there’s definitely plenty to choose from, and we’ll be covering some of the best options on the following list.

Whenever possible, we will provide detail about how and why each movie below fell into the public domain. At times, this information is either non-existent or very difficult to come by, but we definitely try out best to provide proof to avoid any potential legal issues. If you’re interested in doing a little digging yourself, make sure to check the bottom of this post for additional resources.


1. The General

This is one of the more notable free comedy movies in the public domain, and that’s because it’s one of the most beloved Buster Keaton films of all time. It’s also one of the first major films to reference The Great Locomotive Chase. The copyright for The General was not renewed after its 28th year of publication, and as such it fell into the public domain in 1954. Even if that hadn’t been the case, this movie would still have entered the public domain in 2021 since it was released approximately 95 years ago. That said, some modern prints will be copyrighted. The following version is free and legal to watch.

 

 2. Sherlock Jr.

Speaking of Buster Keaton, if you’re looking for more of his work, much of it is now in the public domain because many of his films were released prior to 1926, including this classic title. The American Film Institute placed this movie at #62 on their list of the funniest films of all time. Although some prints are still copyrighted, the movie itself is in fact in the public domain as of 2020. The following copy is free and legal to enjoy.

 

 3. Safety Last!

This is one of the most important films of all time in general, as it features some of the best special effects of its time. Starring Harold Lloyd, the title of this movie is a play on the common phrase “safety first,” and it features several impressive stunts including a rather famous scene depicting Lloyd himself hanging from a clock tower. Since the film was released in 1923, it is over 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain. Some prints remain copyrighted, but the following copy is legal and free to watch.

 

 4. The Kid

Since we’re on the subject of comedy legends, it would be crazy to forget about this classic Charlie Chaplin film from 1921. This film currently has an overall rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made. Of course, due to its age, this title is officially in the public domain and has become one of the best free comedy movies to watch. As with many other important silent films, there are some prints which are still copyrighted, but the version we will provide below is free and legal to enjoy.

 

 5. The Navigator

This is yet another classic Buster Keaton film; it was actually his biggest hit in terms of commercial success, although others became more notable and beloved over the years. The American Film Institute listed this at #81 on their list of the 100 best comedy films of all time. Released in 1924, The Navigator is now over 95 years old, and has officially fallen into the public domain. There are likely a few prints still copyrighted, but the copy provided below is safe and legal to watch for free.

 

 6. His Girl Friday

Not interested in the silent era? Well, this Howard Hawks film came roughly a decade later, and it’s widely considered a classic and important comedy from this era. Starring none other than Cary Grant (North by Northwest, Suspicion), this movie is well known for moments which break the fourth wall, quick and witty dialogue, and even improvisation from the actors.

American Film Institute has the film at #19 on their list of the 100 best comedy films of all time, so you can rest assured that this is one of the best free comedy movies on our list. His Girl Friday fell into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed, but there are some prints which are still copyrighted. The version below is free and legal to watch.

 

 7. Charade

This classic romantic comedy is absolutely chock full of huge stars, although some of them weren’t as well known at the time. Starring Cary Grant (His Girl Friday, To Catch a Thief), Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday), James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape), and Walter Matthau (The Odd Couple, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), there’s plenty of star power to go around in this one. Charade entered the public domain immediately upon its release because Universal didn’t put a proper copyright notice on the film. That said, there are likely some prints which are copyrighted, and the musical score is still under copyright when played outside of the movie. The version provided below is free and legal to enjoy.

 

 8. Pay Day

This is another classic Charlie Chaplin film from the silent era. This two-reel short film was released in 1922, and although it’s not as well known as some of his other work, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Chaplin. Since the movie is over 95 years old, it is officially in the public domain and one of the best free comedy movies on our list. There have been several prints copyrighted for release on home video, but the copy below is of course legal to watch and enjoy for free.

 

 9. The Gold Rush

You know that tired old trope of the hungry man who looks across the campfire to see his partner, and instead sees a nice big piece of chicken? It’s very likely that visual gag got its start in this classic Charlie Chaplin film. The Gold Rush is unquestionably one of the most significant comedy films of the silent era, and it fell into the public domain in 1953 when its copyright was not renewed. Although some prints are likely copyrighted for home video releases, the version below is free and legal to watch.

 

 10. The Pilgrim

Charlie Chaplin made a lot of silent films which would go on to inspire future comedians and comedy movies in general, including this two-reel movie which would become a favorite among film aficionados. Critic Andre Bazin considered this one of the ten greatest films of all time; Bazin is perhaps best known for his work on the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, as well as his contribution to film theory such as auteur theory. That all said, the Pilgrim is now more than 95 years old and has fallen into the public domain, making it one of the best free comedy movies available.

 

11.  One Week

If you’re in the mood for more Buster Keaton, do yourself a favor and check out the first movie he ever released on his own. This may not be the longest movie he ever made, but it’s definitely historically relevant. As with Keaton’s other work, the special effects really shine in this film. Since it was made in 1920, the movie is over 95 years old and it has officially entered the public domain. 

 

 12. The Love Nest

This is another classic Buster Keaton film from the silent era. As with many films of this time period, The Love Nest is quite short at only around 20 minutes in length. This was actually the last silent short film Keaton ever made, and although it’s not his most popular or notable work, it’s always worth seeing one of the masters of comedy whenever you get the chance. Since the movie was released in 1923, it is over 95 years old and has entered the public domain. This is definitely one of the better short free comedy movies on our list.

 

 13. The Idle Class

According to some, this is one of Charlie Chaplin’s funniest short comedies. Although it’s obviously not the first movie that most people think of when it comes to Chaplin’s work, this is a well-rated classic from the silent era which shouldn’t be missed. The Idle Class was released in 1921, which means it is over 95 years old and officially one of the many free comedy movies in the public domain.

TAKEDOWN NOTICE: Despite the fact that this movie is definitely in the public domain, it has been taken down from some websites. This is likely because there is a copyrighted print in existence. If you plan to rebroadcast this film, please be aware that there is a risk of your content being taken down.

 

 14. Pot o’ Gold

Directed by George Marshall (How the West Was Won, Destry Rides Again) and starring James Stewart (Vertigo, Rear Window), this classic romantic comedy was actually based on a radio show by the same name. Stewart would supposedly go on to refer to this film as the worst movie he ever appeared in, and legendary critic Leonard Maltin gave it 2 stars. The copyright for this film was not renewed after its 28th year of publication, and it fell into the public domain in 1969.

 

 15. Meet John Doe

Directed by Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and starring Gary Cooper (High Noon, The Pride of the Yankees) and Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity, The Lady Eve), this is another comedy with plenty of star power. This is one of those films that only attempts to play with the formula of comedy, and it’s not always an uproariously hilarious experience. The movie entered the public domain in 1969 when the copyright was not renewed by its owners. 

 

 16. Made For Each Other

Produced by David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind, King Kong) and starring James Stewart (Philadelphia Story, Anatomy of a Murder), this movie focuses more on drama and romance than just straight comedy. Although the film is in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed, the original negative is owned by Disney, and any print produced from that would be under copyright. The following copy is free and legal to watch.

 

 17. Second Chorus

This musical comedy stars none other than Fred Astaire (Funny Face, Holiday Inn), so you can expect some pretty good dancing and singing performance. As with many other titles on our list, the copyright for this film was not renewed after its 28th year of publication, and it fell into the public domain back in 1968, ensuring its spot on our list of free comedy movies. 

 

 18. Father’s Little Dividend

Starring the likes of Spencer Tracy (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Judgment at Nuremberg), Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Joan Bennet (Suspiria, The Woman in the Window), and Russ Tamblyn (West Side Story, The Haunting), there are so many notable stars in this film that you might just miss a few of them. This movie is a sequel to the original Father of the Bride, starring pretty much the same cast. When MGM failed to renew its copyright in 1979, Father’s Little Dividend entered the public domain.

 

 19. Life With Father

Although this title has pretty much nothing to do with the Father of the Bride movies, it does star Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra, Suddenly Last Summer) yet again, and it’s directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood). Although the rights to distribute theatrical copies of this film have been retained, this movie lapsed into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed in 1975, and there are several legal copies you can watch online for free.

 

 20. Nothing Sacred

Directed by William A. Wellman (A Star Is Born, The Ox-Bow Incident) and produced by David O. Selznick (Rebecca, Portrait of Jennie), this is actually one of the higher rated films on our list. Although it received a positive critical reception, the film never made any money and the studio failed to renew its copyright in 1965, resulting in its addition to the public domain. Today, it is now one of many free comedy movies you can watch without paying a dime.

TAKEDOWN NOTICE: Even though all evidence suggests this movie is in the public domain, it has been taken down from some websites. This is likely because there is a copyrighted print in existence. If you plan to rebroadcast this film, please be aware that there is a risk of your content being taken down.

 

 21. Swing High, Swing Low

Starring Carole Lombard (To Be or Not to Be, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and Fred MacMurry (Double Indemnity, The Apartment), this romantic comedy never really impressed many critics, but it also isn’t the worst reviewed example of this genre. After its copyright was not renewed in 1965, this movie fell into the public domain and it is now one of many free comedy movies on our list.

 

 22. Three Guys Named Mike

This is another somewhat unremarkable romantic comedy, but it has been generally well received by critics over the years. Back when it was released in 1951, actress Jane Wyman (All That Heaven Allows, Pollyanna) and actor Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny, Battleground) were actually quite well known stars, and they definitely shine in this film. As with many other titles on our list, this movie fell into the public domain because its copyright was not renewed.

 

 23. My Man Godfrey

If you can’t get enough romantic comedies, this is another pretty decent flick starring Carole Lombard (Virtue) and William Powell (The Thin Man), who were actually married before the movie was shot. The book on which this film is based is currently still protected by copyright, and thus the film script can technically be claimed by the copyright holder of the original work. That said, nobody has made any attempt to claim the movie, and it has widely been considered a part of the public domain since 1963. There are some modern prints which are under copyright, and they would not be legal to watch, but the following copy should be safe for viewing.

 

 24. The Inspector General

Danny Kaye (White Christmas, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) headlines this generally well-received musical comedy directed by Henry Koster (Harvey, The Bishop’s Wife). As with many movies of this time period, it fell into the public domain when the studios failed to renew its copyright after its 28th year of publication. Today, it’s yet another free comedy movie you can legally watch without paying a dime!

 

 25. At War With The Army

If you’re in the mood for another musical comedy starring some of the best musicians and comedians of their time, this is one movie you won’t want to miss. Starring Dean Martin (Rio Bravo, Ocean’s 11) and Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor, The King of Comedy), this movie is filled with star power, but it wasn’t particularly well received by critics. The copyright for this film was not renewed, and it has since fallen into the public domain.

 

 26. My Dear Secretary

This romantic comedy features one of the earliest roles for Kirk Douglas (Spartacus, Ace in the Hole) and also stars both Laraine Day (Foreign Correspondent) and Keenan Wynn (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). The copyright for this film was not renewed, causing it to fall into the public domain and become one of the free comedy movies on our list.

 

 27. Road to Bali

Starring Bing Crosby (White Christmas, Holiday Inn) and Bob Hope (The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers), this comedy is all about star power, and it’s actually the 6th movie in a series of films such as Road to Rio, Road to Singapore, and even Road to Zanzibar. The story behind how this one fell into the public domain is quite interesting. The copyright holders made a clerical error when renewing the copyright and failed to do so within 28 years of publication, so even though it was their intention to keep control of the rights to the film, the law required them to release it into the public domain.

 

 28. Africa Screams

Back in the 40’s and 50’s, Abbott and Costello were arguably the most popular comedians in the film business. The duo teamed up for several movies, including this parody of the safari genre. The copyright for the film was not renewed and it fell into the public domain in 1977. Ever since, it has been one of the most notable free comedy movies out there.

 

 29. The Flying Deuces

Speaking of comedy duos, Laurel and Hardy were equally as popular during the 30’s and 40’s, at which point they worked together on this well-received comedy from the early days of Hollywood. As in many other cases, the copyright for this film was not renewed and it fell into the public domain. There are some later prints of this movie which are still under copyright. However, the version below is legal and free to watch.

 

30. Atoll K (Utopia)

This is yet another Laurel and Hardy classic about a small group of people stranded on a desert island. Part Robinson Crusoe and part Lord of the Flies, there are plenty of laughs to be had. No copyright for the film was ever filed in the United States. The version entitled Utopia has always been in the public domain. There are other versions of the film which are still copyrighted, but the print below is free and legal to watch. The best way to tell the difference is by the title card, as it will read “Utopia.” 

 

 31. Royal Wedding

This film stars Fred Astaire (Funny Face, Holiday Inn) and Jane Powell (A Date With Judy, Luxury Liner). It was the first movie Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Damn Yankees) directed by himself. Despite the fact that it was a box office success of critical acclaim, MGM failed to renew its copyright. As such, it has fallen into the public domain. Some prints of this movie are still under some form of copyright. However, the version below is free and legal to watch.

 

 32. God’s Little Acre

This movie was based on a scandalous book which many found obscene. The screenplay for this film was originally credited to Philip Yordan (Detective Story). However, it would later be revealed that Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle) had written it. At the time, Maddow had been blacklisted for being a suspected communist. This is fairly interesting given that at least one subject in this film is a worker’s uprising. Although there are elements of comedy, this is also a fairly dramatic film. The copyright for this movie was not renewed, so it fell into the public domain.

 

 33. Love Laughs at Andy Hardy

If the name Andy Hardy sounds familiar, that’s because there was actually a series of 16 movies about the character. This was actually the 15th title in the series. Mickey Rooney (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) stars in the film. This is an excellent opportunity to see a Hollywood legend in action. MGM failed to renew the copyright and this movie fell into the public domain in 1974. Due to their neglect, it’s now on our list of free comedy movies.

 

 34. Topper Returns

This is another sequel to a popular comedy series which was very well received at the time. Roland Young (The Philadelphia Story) plays the titular character, and he is supported by Joan Blondell (Desk Set, Grease). Although the first two films in the Topper franchise are not yet in the public domain, the copyright for this title was not renewed. It is now one of the best rated free comedy movies you can legally enjoy without paying a dime!

 

 35. Hook, Line and Sinker

Before Laurel & Hardy there was Wheeler & Woolsey, the two stars of this movie. If you couldn’t already tell, comedy duos were very popular in the early days of film. This title was actually one of their biggest financial successes, but the copyright was not renewed after its 28th year of publication. The film fell into the public domain where it now resides as one of many free comedy movies on our list. 

 

 36. Half Shot at Sunrise

This is yet another Wheeler & Woolsey classic, released the same year as Hook, Line and Sinker. Although this one wasn’t as popular as some of their others, it’s still a respectably well-rated comedy film. This was also the first movie for which Max Steiner would be given the credit of musical director. Although his name might not sound familiar to modern audiences, he would go on to score films like Gone With The Wind and Casablanca. The copyright for this flick, as with many other free comedy movies on this list, was not renewed. It has since fallen into the public domain and is now free and legal to watch.

 

 37. Ella Cinders

Although modern audiences likely won’t be familiar with the name, this movie is actually based on a comic strip entitled Ella Cinders. Of course, you don’t really have to know anything about the character, because it’s heavily inspired by Cinderella. This movie fell into the public domain in 2021 because it was released approximately 95 years ago. It is one of the more easily forgotten free comedy movies on our list. 

 

 38. Dixiana

This is another movie starring the comedy duo Wheeler & Woolsey, although they actually weren’t a team yet when this movie was released. This is just their third film together, and it was also the first time Max Steiner received a screen credit for orchestration. The copyright for this film was not renewed, and it entered the public domain in 1958. This is one of the lesser known free comedy movies on our list.

 

 39. The Animal Kingdom

Produced by David O. Selznick (A Star Is Born, The Third Man) and starring Leslie Howard (Gone with the Wind), this film was lost for many years, but has since been found. It originally flopped and received only modest ratings from critics. That said, since it failed in theaters, the copyright was not renewed and this movie fell into the public domain in 1960.

 

 40. Beat the Devil

While some may see this as more of an adventure movie, there are elements of comedy throughout this film. As a result, it earns a spot on this list. Directed by John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen) and starring the incomparable Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon, In a Lonely Place) and Peter Lorre (Casablanca, Passage to Marseille), this film is absolutely packed with stars. The copyright for this film was never renewed and it fell into the public domain. There was a recent restoration done, and that print is still under copyright. You’ll find the free and legal copy below.

 

 41. The Front Page

Based on the Broadway play of the same name, this film was directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) and produced with the help of Howard Hughes (The Outlaw, Scarface). The same story this movie was based upon would later be adapted for another title on this list, His Girl Friday. This is another case where the copyright was not renewed and it fell into the public domain. Some modern prints are not public domain, but the copy below is free and legal to enjoy.

 

 42. Letter of Introduction

Directed by John M. Stahl (Leave Her to Heaven) and starring Adolphe Menjou (A Star Is Born, Paths of Glory) and Rita Johnson (Sleep, My Love, Here Comes Mr. Jordan), this isn’t an especially notable film, but it is a fairly well-rated title from this era. After the studio failed to renew its copyright for this movie, it fell into the public domain in 1966. It is now part of our list of free comedy movies.

 

 43. Lonely Wives

Many of the films on this list have likely not aged well with time. This is one that some viewers may not appreciate given its subject matter. That being said, it’s a traditional comedy film which is actually based upon a vaudevillian play. If only to learn more about film history, you might want to give it a shot. The copyright for this film was not renewed, so it fell into the public domain in 1959. It is now one of many free comedy movies you can legally watch without paying a dime.

 

 44. The Royal Bed

This early 1930s comedy stars Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon, Across the Pacific) and it’s based upon the 1928 play The Queen’s Husband written by Robert E. Sherwood (Rebecca, The Bishop’s Wife). At the time of release, this film was fairly well received, but it would eventually fall into obscurity. The studio didn’t renew its copyright for this film and it fell into the public domain in 1958. That means it’s now one of many free comedy movies you can enjoy without paying a dime.

 

 45. Sin Takes a Holiday

At the time of release, this film starred some of the most famous people in Hollywood, Constance Bennet (Topper, Rockabye) and Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Son of Frankenstein). While Rathbone was more well known for playing Sherlock Holmes in several films, Bennet was for a short time the most well-paid actress in Hollywood. The copyright for this film was not renewed, and as such it entered the public domain.

 

 46. Sita Sings the Blues

This is one of the stranger titles on our list, as it was actually released in 2008. This animated film is described as a musical romantic comedy, and thus it earns a spot on our list. When this film was produced, it used several recordings from Annette Hanshaw. These recordings were thought to be in the public domain, but they were actually protected by specific state laws. Sadly, this made their use in the film illegal.

After a few different legal disputes, the filmmaker changed the license for their film to public domain. This means that anyone is free to watch it legally. Redistribution would likely run into the same issues as the film had when it was initially released. We do not recommend trying to use these film elements for anything other than personal enjoyment. This is a perfect example of why it’s important to make sure that something is public domain before using it.

 

 47. Brideless Groom

This was one of almost 200 shorts featuring the Three Stooges during their successful career between the 1930’s – 1950’s. While most of the copyrights for their films were maintained, this one lapsed into the public domain. The copyright expired and was not renewed in the 1960s.

 

 48. Disorder in the Court

If you’re in the mood for even more of the Three Stooges, this is another title the studio neglected. Historically, it was only the 15th short from this well-known comedy trio. When the time came to renew its copyright, Columbia Pictures let it fall into the public domain.

 

 49. Malice in the Palace

This is the third Three Stooges film that Columbia forgot about when it came time to renew their copyright. It’s the 117th short this comedy group put together. When the copyright for this short film expired in the 1960s, it officially became public domain. If you’re looking for something Christmas related, this movie features Larry, Curly and Mo dressed up as Santa Claus!

 

50. Sing a Song of Six Pants

This is the last Three Stooges short in the public domain. It’s the 102nd film the trio worked on together. Columbia Pictures neglected to renew the copyright for this movie in the 1960s. As a result, the film lapsed into the public domain. Today, it is one of the more noteworthy free comedy movies on our list!

 

 


Resources to Find Free Comedy Movies in the Public Domain

It can often be a difficult task to actually determine whether or not a movie is in the public domain. Even though a movie might be listed as public domain by a reputable source, there’s always a chance it isn’t. Always look for details about how and why the copyright lapsed to ensure movies are legal and free to watch. If you want to find titles that are in the public domain, consider using the following resources.

These resources are not exhaustive. Often a quick google search can help you confirm the copyright status of a film. However, the studios who released these films aren’t incentivized to tell you when their copyright has lapsed. As a result, it’s often very difficult to prove that a movie is in the public domain. We’ll discuss a few details to consider while hunting for public domain films in the section below.

Charlie Chaplin, actor in several free comedy movies. Source: Pixabay.com.

The age of the film

Before the 1960’s, copyright law was still fairly reasonable. Studios often had to renew their copyrights for films every 28 years to maintain control over them. Since home video wasn’t available, there was no reason for studios to maintain a copyright. Unless it was a massive hit like Gone With the Wind, they often neglected to renew copyrights. As such, most movie studios would let their copyrights for films lapse into the public domain more frequently.

It’s also important to note that almost any movie made at least 95 years ago is automatically considered public domain. The only time this isn’t the case is when the film (or portions of it) are lost for a long time and were only more recently discovered, as this additional footage and/or the only print of the lost film will usually be copyrighted.

Look for home video logos

While researching these lists, I’ve actually run into this issue a few times myself. Often times, even if a movie is in the public domain, some modern prints of the film will be copyrighted. Sometimes you’ll find these modern prints of the film uploaded with home video logos of the current copyright holder.

If you find a print of a film with these logos, chances are it’s not the public domain print. Always look for copies which contain no additional bumpers in front of or after the film.

Video quality is another indicator

Since most of these movies are quite old, the public domain prints are also old and not very high quality. HD copies of public domain films are usually copyrighted for home video releases. This isn’t always the case, but it’s usually an indicator that the print might not be legal.

That said, if you see an HD public domain movie that was uploaded to Youtube several years ago and has not been taken down, there’s a good chance it is safe and legal to watch.