Free to Use and Reuse: Selections from the National Film Registry

“Duck and Cover” is a 1951 U.S. Office of Civil Defense film for schoolchildren highlighting what to do in the event of an attack by atomic or other weapons.

The Library of Congress is offering film lovers a special gift during the holiday season: Sixty-four motion pictures, named to the Library’s National Film Registry, are now available online. The collection, “Selections from the National Film Registry,” is also available on YouTube.

These films are among hundreds of titles that have been tapped for preservation because of their cultural, historical and aesthetic significance—each year, the National Film Registry selects 25 films showcasing the range and diversity of America’s film heritage.

Legendary sailors Popeye and Sinbad battle in the 1936 film “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor.”

All of the streaming films in the new online collection are in the public domain. They are also available as freely downloadable files with the exception of two titles. Additional films will be added periodically to the website.

“We are especially pleased to make high-resolution ProRes 422 .mov files freely available for download for practically every title in this digital collection,” said curator Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section. “We think these films will be of particular educational and scholarly benefit as well as for reuse by the creative community.”

Highlights from “Selections from the National Film Registry” include

  • Memphis Belle” (1944)—William Wyler’s remarkable World War II documentary about the crew of a B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber
  • The Hitch-Hiker” (1953)—a gritty film noir directed by actress Ida Lupino
  • Trance and Dance in Bali” (1936–39)—Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson’s groundbreaking ethnographic documentary
  • Modesta” (1956)—a Spanish-language film produced by Puerto Rico’s Division of Community Education
  • Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor” (1936)—a two-reel Technicolor cartoon
  • The House I Live In” (1945)— a plea for religious tolerance starring Frank Sinatra that won an honorary Academy Award
  • Master Hands” (1936)—a dazzling “mechanical ballet” shot on a General Motors automotive assembly line
  • Duck and Cover” (1951)— a Cold War curio that features Bert the Turtle explaining to schoolchildren how best to survive a nuclear attack

Enjoy!

The final mission of the B-17 bomber, Memphis Belle, is the subject of the 1944 documentary “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress.”

21 Comments

  1. Verle N. Schrodt
    December 13, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    I want to see what is available.

  2. karol
    December 14, 2017 at 11:48 am

    I have tried several times to view a few different films. They act like they will open – but sort of get hung up. I have also tried to view different forms: jpeg, gif, mov, etc. – but I get the same thing. Yes I have tried different computers, and also different browsers. What am I doing wrong?

  3. Christopher Strong
    December 15, 2017 at 5:30 am

    Thank you for offering these selections! I heard about this on Turner Classic Movies the other day; showcasing some amazing new entries. I was blown away by Ace In The Hole and other selections presented by Leonard Maltin & Dr. Hayden. Can’t wait to see Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker; I’ve missed that classic Noir on previous TCM airings so thanks for giving us the chance to see it now. Keep up the good work!

  4. Wendi Maloney
    December 15, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you, Christopher Strong, for your kind comments and enthusiasm. We appreciate them.

    Regarding Karol’s comment, we’ve tested the site on different browsers and operating systems, and you are the first to report an issue. Please check the site on another computer or smartphone device to see if the problem may be with your computer.

    Best wishes.

  5. Joe Cano
    December 22, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    This are all magical films of when I was a kid. BEAUTIFUL.

  6. Ron
    January 11, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    I had the same experience reported by Karol on December 14, 2917.

    I tried several films, but they never played.

    I have a 2015 Apple desktop with the most up-to-date operating system.

    Cheers,

    – Ron

  7. Eleanor
    January 17, 2018 at 9:38 pm

    I also have the same issue playing the videos. They work on youtube but not with the National Film Registry’s website. I am on a MACbook pro. When I open the Network of the page, the .mp4 file loading on cdn.loc.gov gets cancelled so never loads.

  8. Wendi Maloney
    January 18, 2018 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for your comments about problems with playing the videos from the website of the National Film Registry. Our technical staff is investigating. In the meantime, please use the YouTube link in this post to access the Film Registry selections. We apologize for the confusion.

  9. joe lawson
    July 15, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Looking for an old Dracula or vampire movie free to use is there any such thing available?

    • Neely Tucker
      July 16, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Joe,

      I’ll ask around and come back to you as soon as I know!

      Best,
      Neely

    • Neely Tucker
      July 19, 2019 at 9:00 am

      Hi Joe,

      Rosemary Hanes, a reference librarian in the Library’s Moving Image Section, researched your question. Her answer:

      There is nothing from our collections regarding Dracula or vampires that can be downloaded from our website. There are relevant movies posted at the Internet Archive, but they include copyright protected films (e.g. 1931 Dracula).

      Sorry there wasn’t a happier answer, but there you have it.

      Best,
      Neely

  10. Menno
    July 11, 2020 at 8:21 pm

    Hi,

    Thank you for all the efforts in making these wonderful films available.

    Could you tell me if all the sound in these films is also free to use and reuse?

    Cheers,
    Menno

  11. S P H Chamara Amarasinghe
    February 18, 2022 at 2:37 am

    Hi Joe,
    we are telecasting a Television channel from our university ( University of the Visual and Performing arts, Colombo, Sri Lanka).this television is based on Edutainment and a noncommercial project funded by the university. Do we need copyrights to telecast these films on the TV channel? anyway, will be great if you can share some paths to find royalty-free classical movies for our purpose.
    best

    • Neely Tucker
      February 18, 2022 at 12:38 pm

      Hi there,

      Thanks for writing! Everything on “Free to Use” is copyright free is available for use on any platform. If the film can be downloaded, it’s yours to use!

      Best,
      Neely

  12. Wonder
    October 15, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Regarding a previous comment that states, “If the film can be downloaded, it’s yours to use!”

    Does this apply to all films across the Library of Congress, as in if they are copyright restricted they wouldn’t be available to download, or only to the films in the Free to Use collection?

  13. Ken
    January 15, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    There are some Public Domain film on the National Film Registry, like “Lady Helen’s Escapade,” “A Girl Without a Soul,” “A Virtuous Vamp,” and “Heroes All” which are not commercially available anywhere…is it possible these will ever be added to this selection available here? It seems odd that some films are being preserved but you cannot view them online, on DVD, or even via VHS. I appreciate everything that has been made available, hopefully more can be added.

    • Neely Tucker
      January 17, 2023 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Ken,

      I’ll check with our experts in the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, but this is most likely due to copyright issues.Just because the Library designates a film worthy of preservation does not mean that we have the rights to post it online, for free, to all viewers. For example, if we designated a book worthy of preservation, it would not mean that we could republish it on our website, free to anyone.

      All best,
      Neely

  14. Ken
    January 15, 2023 at 7:11 pm

    Will more public domain films be added to this list at some point? Films like Lady Helen’s Escapade, A Virtuous Vamp, A Girl Without a Soul, Heroes All or the serial Exploits of Elaine. These are not commercially available in any format (not even VHS), so it would be great to see them preserved here. I appreciate all that has been made available here, would hope to see these others added.

  15. Ken
    January 17, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    I can understand that if there is a copyright issue, but I believe all of those I mentioned are Public Domain, as they are all from 1920 or earlier. I did not mention another film pre-1920, as my research indicates that the film may be owned by the Museum of Modern Art. But beyond that they just seem like Public Domain orphan films which can not be viewed in any capacity, but may exist as prints within the LOC. I also don’t what exactly is needed to digitize these prints for public viewing or free use.

    • Neely Tucker
      January 17, 2023 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Ken,

      Here’s the reply from the head of the film section: “The Library makes every effort to make public domain titles on the National Film Registry available online through the selections from the National Film Registry digital collection. That collection is comprised solely of titles in the Library’s holdings, but we’re planning to work with other archives that hold copies of these films in their collections.”

      For more direct research questions, try our Ask a Librarian feature. It will put you in touch with a research librarian, just as if you walked into the Library itself. Here’s the link to the film team: //ask.loc.gov/film-tv-video

      All best,
      Neely

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