Bored With Netflix? Your Library Has Free Movies Too

Category: Video

Our modern libraries are marvels of information technology. Even in small towns, the local library often provides free digital services you can access from home. One popular library service competes with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and other streaming video services. If your library system is part of it, you’re in luck. Read on for the details...

Free Streaming Movies via Your Library

The service I mentioned above is called Kanopy and it could be your ticket to watch movies and TV shows for free, if you have a library card. Kanopy's mission is to "democratize meaningful film and television" through partnerships with public libraries and universities. Library patrons, students and faculty can watch Kanopy for free on a TV, desktop, laptop, or mobile device; the library pays on a per-view basis.

About 4,000 public and academic library systems subscribe to Kanopy. Most large cities and university libraries are under the Kanopy canopy. But don't assume that your small-town library isn't a Kanopy subscriber. My local library is located in a rural town, and sits across from a cow pasture. But I was pleasantly surprised that Kanopy is available there. You can search for your library by clicking “Watch Now” on Kanopy’s homepage. If your library system does not subscribe, you can send it a request from Kanopy’s search page.

Kanopy does not have millions of flicks; as of this writing, there are only about 32,000. But that’s a good thing because, let’s face it, most movies don’t deserve to be watched. Kanopy collects some of the finest films in the most popular genres; indeed, Forbes magazine called Kanopy, “One of the most unique and compelling film collections in the world.”

Free Movies with Kanopy

That said, you won't find the popular blockbuster movies of recent years on Kanopy. Instead of "Mission Impossible" you'll find "Admission Impossible," a documentary about post-WWII Australia. Kanopy does have "A Star is Born," but it's the 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor. Kanopy emphasizes classics, documentaries and international films. But you will also find classic children’s TV series like “Arthur,” classic comedy such as “Charade,” action films such as “Seven Samurai” (of which the Western classic “The Magnificent Seven” is a shameless rip-off), "The Man in the Iron Mask", several John Wayne war films, Charlie Chaplin comedies and film noir (“Metropolis”), and much more.

International films are especially useful for broadening one’s perspective. I have added to my Kanopy watchlist “Pather Panchali,” a 1955 drama about the harsh everyday life of a young Indian boy, and "Bicycle Thieves," an Italian neorealist classic set in post-WWII Rome. I had never heard of the latter, which according to Kanopy, is "one of the greatest movies ever made." On a lighter note, Kanopy includes the cult horror-comedy “Little Shop of Horrors” and The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”

See my article, “Are Public Libraries Obsolete?” to see what else your local libary may offer to kids, veterans, job seekers and people who want to learn new skills. If you're more into reading, see my article Get Your Free eBooks Here and learn how to access millions of free books in digital format.

The Science genre includes Neil de Grasse Tyson’s “Unsolved Mysteries;” several half-hour tours of the universe through the Hubble telescope’s eye; a surprising number of documentaries concerning the perils of “screen time” and social media; zoology from dinosaurs to animal rights; Stephen Hawking’s autobiographical documentary; “Meat,” a probably gruesome tracking of cattle from pasture to BBQ grill; and more subgenres such as Mathematics and Engineering.

How to Watch With Kanopy

Kanopy is available on your living room TV via Roku, on desktop computers via web browsers, and through mobile apps for Android and iOS, so you can watch movies anywhere. But don’t plan on binge-watching; each library system imposes a limit on the number of films a patron can stream per month, ranging from 2 to 20. But if your household has more than one library card, or if you have cards in multiple participating library systems, you can work around that limitation.

If your film cravings are not ruled by pop culture but by your own inner tastes and a willingness to explore, Kanopy will not disappoint you. If you want to learn a skill, a new language, or brush up on your quantum physics, Kanopy has what you need. It’s an example of how less can be more. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Bored With Netflix? Your Library Has Free Movies Too"

Posted by:

05 May 2020

Too bad our libraries here in San Diego have been closed for many weeks.They have loads of DVDs and Blu-Rays.

Posted by:

Dave H.
05 May 2020

Kanopy isn't the only show in town. (Pun intended.) My library subscribes to one called Hoopla (officially spelled with a small "h").

Posted by:

David Holland
05 May 2020


I am fortunate that along with Kanopy, our library has Hoopla, The Ohio Digital Library, Acorn TV, The Great Courses Library, and Lynda.

Posted by:

David Holland
05 May 2020


I am fortunate that along with Kanopy, our library has Hoopla, The Ohio Digital Library, Acorn TV, The Great Courses Library, and Lynda.

Posted by:

Joan C.
05 May 2020

As a library employee, I have to say that Kanopy is great, but it's pretty expensive. And with tax revenues going down thanks to COVID-19's impact on the economy, public library budgets are being cut. If your library doesn't have Kanopy now, it's not likely to be able to afford it in the near future. P.S. Please support your local public libraries - they're going to need help in the days to come!

Posted by:

05 May 2020

My Library has OverDrive, which until now I only thought had ebooks and audiobooks. But, I just checked and they have some movies too. :-)

Posted by:

05 May 2020

Bob, I do understand you're an American, and your main audience is probably in the States, and as a regular reader from the UK I've always accepted that some of your posts will be specific to that audience — talking about US phone-providers or whatever.

It does, however, seem that, lately, many more of your posts have been US-specific — is this a deliberate policy or just chance?

More of the universally applicable stuff please — we all use the same sorts of hardware and software and are exposed to the same sorts of hazards on the Internet.

Not wanting to complain too vociferously — over the years I've had some great advice from you and I look forward to your posts, as, I feel sure, do many others around the world.

Posted by:

05 May 2020

I'll check my library for this and other services they may have added, thanks.

Just FYI, the name of the film you mentioned is "The Bicycle Thief" (singular) and just saw that I put it in my Netflix queue long ago but never watched it. I just now read the reviews and they are wonderful! so I'm putting it at the top of my list. :)

Posted by:

top squirrel
05 May 2020

Liz is right about The Bicycle Thief being singular, but there's more. I saw this movie back in the '70s, I think it was.
An out-of-work house painter is desperate for work to support his family in post-war Italy. He gets a job as a poster-putter-upper, but for that he needs a bicycle. He goes through a lot of trouble to get one. Which is promptly stolen out from under him as he put up his first poster. Fearful of losing his job he tries to beg, borrow or....steal one. After a lot of looking he spots one leaning against a wall somewhere, unlocked and unattended. Nobody around. He approaches and in a dash, gets aboard and starts riding away. All of a sudden people appear from everywhere, screaming and running after him. It looks like the whole town has been waiting to pounce. They take him down, say they are going for the police. Someone points out he was just trying to support his family. So they let him go with a finger-wagging. He and his small son, who saw everything, walk away, looking dejectedly at each other. The end. Cue the violins.
It has been described, negatively, as a weepy postwar sob story, and that it is. I could never understand why some people thought it was so great. Perhaps because it includes a big name in Italian cinema. Maybe next war. If you are able to watch it for free, that's a fair price.

Posted by:

05 May 2020

Our Libraries in Australia are run by local Council Government. They give us access to Kanopy which I have but I am going to check out if we have access to any other video suppliers. I have enjoyed watching films on Kanopy. I set up play on my PC or Android Phone and cast it to my TV. It is better viewing on big screen.

Posted by:

06 May 2020

Thanks for the nice plug for libraries, Bob! I work in a public library in Colorado and our digital downloads have increased 500% since mid-March when we closed all our library branches. If it's been a while since you've checked out your local library, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's not's your father's library!

Posted by:

Amanda R.
10 May 2020

"...let’s face it, most movies don’t deserve to be watched..."

Bob you are a man of true wisdom.

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