• Sarah E. Mason

25 Great Movies to Stream for Free in Quarantine

Part 1 of the Pandemic Movie Series


Life as we know it has paused, for how long, we do not know. Everyone is on edge. This morning I saw two women physically fighting over a carton of strawberries. Many of us who work in the gig economy or as contract workers, part-time, seasonal, etc etc are terrified as we do not qualify for unemployment, have no sick pay, and have no idea how we are going to pay our rent. I get it, and I'm right there with you.


Those of us who are storytellers need to do it now more than ever--in whatever medium you can do it in. I've been writing about movies for 25 years. So here's what I offer up to lighten the load -- 25 great movies that you can stream right now for free with your Amazon Prime or Netflix account.


Let me say this, I hate list based articles. This is a thoughtfully curated list, fully vetted with explanations for why I chose the films, trivia and fun facts. Most of the films on the list are not easily found on Netflix and Amazon Prime's promotional rotations. They are hidden gems, iconic and classic films you didn't realize were streaming. There is something for everyone, in every genre, for all ages. They are in no particular order. Click the images to go directly to the films.


Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and perhaps turn this list into a viewing club. I will be back with 25 more films in Part 2 of the Pandemic series.


Stay safe and healthy and enjoy!


Disclaimer: At the time of publication, March 20, 2020, all of these films were streaming for free on either Netflix or Amazon Prime. Take note, several of the films are leaving free streaming March 31, 2020, and are marked as such.

 

1. The Court Jester

Musical, Comedy, Classic, 1955

Amazon Prime


Director: Melvin Frank,

Norman Panama

Starring: Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns,

Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury,

Cecil Parker


Synopsis: Hawkins, a kind-hearted entertainer, who disguises himself as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo, infiltrates the court of the evil villain Sir Ravenhurst but when a sorceress hypnotizes him, royal chaos ensues.


The Pitch: This classic movie is comedy gold and is the perfect respite from our over-stimulated, CGI based virtual world. Danny Kaye (White Christmas) leads an all star cast of classic actors including, Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins), a very young Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote), Cecil Parker (The Lady Killers) and the great Basil Rathbone who, long before Benedict Cumberbatch made Sherlock Holmes a household name appearing in over 14 films as the character. The most expensive comedy ever made, at the time ($4m), The Court Jester bombed at the box office. But over the years the film became a matinee classic with now famous exchanges: "Get it?" "Got it." "Good!" and "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!" Kaye's Golden Globe nominated performance is chicken soup for the weary soul.

 

2. Three Days of the Condor

Mystery, Thriller, 1975 Amazon Prime


Director: Sydney Pollack

Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson


Synopsis: A mild mannered CIA researcher paid to read books, returns from lunch to find all of his co-workers assassinated. "Condor" must find out who did this and get in from the cold before the hitmen get him.


The Pitch: Three Days of the Condor is a member of the elite class of great action/drama films produced in the 1970s. Robert Redford, in his prime flexes more than his good looks in this smart spy thriller. The opening sequence will unnerve you in 60 seconds or less after Max Von Sydow creeps into the scene. Swedish actor Max Von Sydow is extraordinary as hitman, Joubert. A methodical and charming killer, every moment he's on screen sends a chill up your spine. It's a somewhat cerebral thriller exploring the many layers of good and bad, through the inner antics of the CIA. Directed by Oscar winning director, Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa), Three Days of the Condor is one of seven films Pollack and Redford did together. The screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr and David Rayfiel based on the novel by James Grady. Pollack's use of long running sequences down narrow hallows and staircases is effective at rattling you, keeping you on the edge of your seat.All but one of the cast members are Oscar winners; Redford (Ordinary People), Faye Dunaway (Network), Cliff Robertson (Charly), John Houseman (The Paper Chase), Von Sydow was nominated but never won. Sadly Von Sydow died March 8 at 90.

 

3. Big Night

Comedy, Drama 1996 Amazon Prime

Director: Stanley Tucci and

Campbell Scott

Starring: Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Ian Holm, Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossilini


Synopsis: Two brothers run an Italian restaurant. Business is not going well as a rival Italian restaurant is out-competing them. In a final effort to save the restaurant, the brothers plan to put on an evening of incredible food for singer Louis Prima who they’ve been conned into believing his coming to their restaurant by a rival restaurateur.


The Pitch: This unbelievably charming film is one of my favorites from the 90s. It made stars out of actors Stanley Tucci (who also directed the film) and Tony Shalhoub and has one of the all-time greatest funny fight scenes: Italian brothers and restaurateurs Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci) have lost all hope for saving their restaurant and blame each other. Screaming at each other in Italian, their verbal fight turns into a hysterical tumble on the beach. Set in New Jersey in the 1950s, there is so much to love about this film. They pulled off an A-level quality production on a very small budget ($4.1m). It has a fabulous ensemble cast with now famous actors you will be happily surprised to see, stunning costume design, production and set design, the music is...well, Louis Prima! And one of the best screenplays of the era which took home the prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

 

4. Macbeth


Drama, History, War, 2015

Amazon Prime


Director: Justin Kurzel

Starrring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris


Synopsis: Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.


The Pitch: This adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth is powerful and in my opinion, one of the best Shakespeare adaptations. Oscar nominated actor, Michael Fassbender's (12 Years a Slave), is captivating in the title role making it impossible to turn your attention away from the screen. What I particularly love about this film is the combo of Fassbender and Sean Harris who plays MacDuff. Harris has become a popular movie villain of late, starring opposite Tom Cruise as the villainous Solomon Lane in two of the Mission Impossible films. Watching Harris and Fassbender throw down is like watching battle acting. Marion Cotillard is equally enthralling as Lady MacBeth and Paddy Considine (In America), also getting his star on most recently in HBO’s The Outsider, delivers a powerful performance as Banquo. It’s in Shakespearean tongue yet this adaptation is far more accessible and easy to follow. Brilliant battle sequences for those who dig those.

 

5. No Way Out

Action, Suspense, 1987

Amazon Prime - Leaving 3/31/20


Director: Roger Donaldson

Starrring: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Will Patton, Sean Young


Synopsis: Navy Lt. Tom Farrell meets a young woman, Susan Atwell and they share a passionate fling. Farrell then finds out that his superior, Defense Secretary David Brice is also romantically involved with Atwell. When the young woman turns up dead, Farrell is put in charge of the murder investigation. He begins to uncover shocking clues about the case, and becomes a suspect as well.


The Pitch: Kevin Costner, fresh off his success playing Elliott Ness in The Untouchables, was on the verge of becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood when No Way Out came out in 1987. It is a fast, exciting, edge-of-your seat thriller with twists and turns that will misdirect you until the very last scene. The film is based on the 1946 novel The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing. It was a modest hit, debuting number two at the box office (Stakeout was number one) and has often been overlooked over the years as it doesn’t frequently pop up on cable or network lineups like other similar movies of the era. Gene Hackman is, as always, the perfect foil as bad-guy Secretary of Defense, David Brice to Costner’s earnest do-the-right-thing Commander Tom Farrell. but the real star of this film is character actor Will Patton (Armageddon, The Postman) who delivers one of his career best performances. Sean Young briefly co-stars and as does model/actress, Iman, veteran character actor George Dzunda (Basic Instinct, Crimson Tide) and former US Senator Fred Thompson in the early days of his successful acting career (The Hunt for Red October, Law and Order). The music is super 80s, don't hate, part of its charm. No Way Out is one of my favorites from the era. It does not disappoint.

 

6. Train to Busan

Action, Horror, International, 2016

Netflix


Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Starrring: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma


Synopsis: While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, a Dad and his daughter struggle to survive a harrowing journey on the train from Seoul to Busan, the only safe city from the outbreak.


The Pitch: All eyes on South Korean cinema after Parasite made history as the first-ever international film to win a Best Picture Oscar. But South Korea has been producing phenomenal films for years particularly in the horror and action genres. Train to Busan is a perfect example of their mastery of the horror genre and is one of the best zombie films in years. Train to Busan, which debuted at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2016, is the first live-action film for writer/director Sang-Ho Yeon who rose to prominence as an animated feature film director. The movie was a huge box office hit, the highest grossing film of the year locally. It is frantic, gory (in the best way), and thrilling. The story is simple but illustrates how less is more works when told well (e.g. there’s a shark, eating people, gotta kill it.) The train is a perfect vehicle, pushing the story forward literally and metaphorically. We meet characters along the way who we do not want to see die particularly, Lead, Yoo Gong, the father fighting zombies to keep his daughter safe. He was a classically trained actor and model known for playing romantic leads--which is conveniently paradoxical. Fans of the zombie genre rates this amongst the greatest. If you’re not a fan, but you’re game, it is the wildest right on screen.

 

7. A Little Princess

Family, Based on Books, Drama, 1995

Netflix


Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Starrring: Eleanor Bron, Liam Cunningham, Liesel Matthews


Synopsis: When her father, fighting in World War I, goes missing, a young girl is relegated to servitude at a boarding school by a headmistress determined to stifle her self-worth.


The Pitch: Based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic children’s book, A Little Princess is one of those kid’s movies that adults will appreciate. The film marks the first feature film directed by 4x Oscar winner, Alfonso Cuarón (The Revenant, Gravity). Cuarón gave up his first offer to direct a feature, Addicted to Love starring Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick, to direct A Little Princess instead. Although it wasn’t a big box office hit, it was critically acclaimed and sent him on his way to being one of the most sought-after and awarded directors of the 21st century. This info is critical to my reason for listing this film as its beauty lies with Cuarón’s genius. He is an incredible storyteller whose respect for the source material shines all the way through the film. This is the first feature film collaboration for Cuarón and 3x Oscar-winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity). A Little Princess was nominated for two Oscars including one for Lubezki and for Production and Set Design. The artistry and craftsmanship of this film is what sets it apart from other children’s movies and adaptations. Game of Thrones fans will be happy to catch a glimpse of Sir Davos (Liam Cunningham) as the little princess’s father.

 

8. Bernie

Biography, Comedy, Crime, 2011

Amazon Prime


Director: Richard Linklater

Starrring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey


Synopsis: In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.


The Pitch: Bernie is based on the crazy true story of Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede, who was convicted for the murder of Marjorie "Marge" Nugent, a wealthy 80-year-old widow, in Carthage, Texas on November 19, 1996. Jack Black is fantastic in the title role, pushing the limits of his comedy comfort zone. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and frankly could have been nominated for an Oscar. Also great, Shirley MacLaine in the least amount of dialogue she’s ever had on screen and Matthew McConaughey in the midst of his 2.0 phase pumping out indie films with meaty Oscar-worthy roles. The film is produced, written and directed by Richard Linklater well known for the Ethan Hawke starring Before trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) and his Oscar winning groundbreaker, Boyhood. Linklater, who had previously worked with Black on School of Rock, handpicked him for the the role. Linklater spent an exorbitant amount of time researching the story and had multiple visits with Bernie in jail. The two became friends fact in 2014, Linklater and original prosecutor, Danny Buck (portrayed by McConaughey), led the charge to get Bernie out of jail after new evidence came to light. For a short period of time Bernie lived in a property owned by Linklater in Austin. In 2016 Bernie returned to jail after being sentenced to 99 years. Linklater, a master at character study, examines the question, can the nicest guy in the world commit such a heinous act? The answer and the film will surprise you.

 

9. Harold and Maude

Biography, Comedy, Crime, 1971

Amazon Prime


Director: Hal Ashby

Starrring: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Tom Skerritt


Synopsis: Harold is young, rich and obsessed with death. Maude is a lovable a fun-loving 80-year-old eccentric. When the two meet at a funeral and develop a deep bond, they must reconcile their disparate beliefs about the meaning life.


The Pitch: On every critics top movie list, Harold and Maude is a timeless gem. And I'm not just saying that because it's the inspiration for our podcast (The Harold & Maudecast). If you haven’t seen Oscar winner Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby) in action, this role is the one to see first. Every moment of Gordon on screen will add 10 years to your life. At its core, this is a love story, proving that the heart sees only love not age, or class, or any societal-driven barrier. The film’s director, Hal Ashby is the darling of film students everywhere, having directed some of the most critically acclaimed and iconic films of the 70s, The Last Detail, Coming Home, Shampoo and my personal favorite Being There (see later in list). Written by comedy legend, Collin Higgins, who was responsible for pretty much every hilarious movie from the era, Foul Play, Silver Streak, 9 to 5. Harold and Maude was based on Higgin’s thesis for the UCLA screenwriting MFA program. He sadly died too young at 47 in 1988. In addition to the brilliant script, direction and Gordon’s performance, the film’s songs were composed and performed by Cat Stevens including the wonderful, If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out. There’s something for everyone in this film, hilarity, oddity, romance, drama. Any fan of laughing and smiling needs to put this on their list.

 

10. Monty Pythons's

Life of Brian

Classic, Comedy, British, 1979

Netflix


Director: Terry Jones

Starrring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones


Synopsis: Born on the original Christmas in the stable next door to Jesus Christ, Brian of Nazareth spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.


The Pitch: Just over 40 years ago when Monty Python’s biblical satire, Life of Brian was set to be released several religious groups protested the film as blasphemies and countries including, Ireland and Norway banned it outright. The controversy over the film may be one of the best case studies for no publicity is bad publicity as it went on to be an unexpected huge box office hit. John Cleese offered to send the protestors a crate of champagne for making him rich. The film almost didn’t happen at all until George Harrison, a friend of the troupe, stepped in to arrange funding after EMI Films withdrew as financier. Collectively written by the entire group, Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Palin and Jones, and directed by Jones, Life of Brian is one of the funniest movies of all time. Ridiculous and silly-- everything we love about Monty Python and more. The end scene (one of the most controversial and hilarious), Brian and a group sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" while tapping their dangling feet in unison to the beat. The song, written by Eric Idle has become a classic in its own right, a regular sing-a-long at public events and football matches all over the UK. In addition to Life of Brian, Netflix is currently streaming Monty Python and the Holy Grail and their entire Flying Circus television series

 

11. Arctic

Adventure, Drama, Suspense, 2019

Amazon Prime


Director: Joe Penna

Starrring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, Tintrinai Thikhasuk


Synopsis: A man stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown.


The Pitch: Danish film actor, Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Doctor Strange) proves why he is one of the best actors of his generation in this intense survival story. The film is quiet, slow, and has very minimal dialogue as Mikkelsen spends much of the time alone. Despite the pacing it is not boring at all. In fact, it is captivating thanks to Mikkelsen’s Oscar-worthy performance and Brazillian writer/director Joe Pena’s thoughtful, purposeful direction. Unlike other survival stories where the protagonist does everything wrong, Mikkelsen’s character does everything right, a refreshing change. He is a pilot who clearly has survival training which becomes fascinating in itself--watching a trained survivalist take command yet still ultimately be helpless against the elements. The film was shot in Iceland, home to director of photography, Tómas Örn Tómasson whose stunning cinematography is an essential component to the narrative. Artic premiered at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival at the midnight screening. It received a 10 minute standing ovation and was sold the next morning. Pena was nominated for a Golden Camera award at the festival. Watch this when you're prepared to tune in with no distractions.

 

12. Some Like it Hot

Comedy, Crime, Romance 1959

Amazon Prime - Leaving 3/31/20


Director: Billy Wilder

Starrring: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe


Synopsis: When two male musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all-female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.


The Pitch: In the height of the conservative Eisenhower era, making a farce about two musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) dressing up as women to escape from gangsters, starring the most popular sex symbol of the era as singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), was a bold move. Only six time Oscar winning director and writer, Billy Wilder, could pull it off, and pull it off he did. Some Like it Hot, has endured as one of the greatest films of all time and the blueprint for comedies. The story was inspired by an obscure 1951 German film, Fanfaren der Liebe, that was a remake of an even more obscure 1935 French film, Fanfares D’Amour. Co-written with Oscar winning screenwriter, IAL Diamond (The Apartment), the script is peppered with razor sharp witted dialogue, and the best use of double entendres--brainy not cheesy. Wilder felt that in order for the reveal to work, the film needed more of a sense of urgency. Setting the story in the Roaring ‘20s, having the men witness one of the most brutal events in history, the St Valentine’s Day massacre, raised the stakes to life and death perfectly setting up the punchline Jack Lemmon delivers taking off his wig, “I’m a man”. Wilder was a master caster handpicking silent movie stars and actors from the 30s whose careers had been sidelined (Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard see next), something mirrored decades later by Quentin Tarantino (John Travolta in Pulp Fiction). In Some Like it Hot Wilder cast veteran 30s comedian Joe E. Brown, in the career reviving role as Osgood Fielding III. It was Brown who uttered the infamous last line, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” Also cast was iconic movie gangster George Raft (Scarface) as wise guy “Spats” Colombo and Wilder even found a cameo for Edward G. Robinson (Little Caesar, Key Largo) as mob boss, Johnny Paradise. The big band music is fun as is every moment of this delicious film.

 

13. Sunset Boulevard

Drama, Crime, 1950

Amazon Prime