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15 Hidden Gems on YouTube (You Can Watch for Free)

The ad-supported streamer offers more than just cat videos: classic TV shows, fabulous British comedies and award-winning movies


spinner image carol burnett tim conway vicki lawrence and harvey korman pose for a promotional portrait for the carol burnett show and johnny cash playing his acoustic guitar on the set of the johnny cash show
Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Harvey Korman (clockwise from bottom); Johnny Cash (right)
CBS Photo Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images; ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

You may think of YouTube as the home of short-form videos — how-to demos, movie trailers, behind-the-scenes reels and adorable cat clips. But the service also hosts a surprising amount of long-form content, from full-length movies such as Robert De Niro’s Once Upon a Time In America to classic TV staples like The Carol Burnett Show.

There are also original shows, including a documentary about Johnny Cash, that were created exclusively for YouTube. Most of this content streams with commercials, though YouTube parent Google does offer a premium service, available for $14 per month, that bumps up the streaming quality and, better yet, strips out all those annoying ads.

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Here’s a roundup of some of our (free!) favorites to check out on YouTube.

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Back before Keke Palmer became one of the hardest-working people in Hollywood, hosting Password and starring in hit films like Nope, she played an 11-year-old girl from a rundown L.A. school who became a stereotype-shattering spelling bee champion. Laurence Fishburne, 62, and Angela Bassett, 64, also star in this feel-good story that, like any good come-from-behind sports yarn, will cast you in its spell.

Watch it: Akeelah and the Bee

Breaking Away (1979)

Peter Yates’ Oscar-winning coming-of-age story was prescient in a lot of ways — and not just for giving early roles to future stars like Dennis Quaid, 69, Daniel Stern, 65, and Jackie Earle Haley, 62. The film also anticipated the popularity of bicycle racing in the U.S. (long before Lance Armstrong pedaled on the scene) as well as the class tensions that flare up in small Midwestern communities where working-class jobs (like the limestone quarry in the film) were disappearing and college seemed out of reach to many.

Watch it: Breaking Away

The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78)

Apologies to Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live, but is there any sketch comedy show that is more beloved than this one? Carol Burnett, 90, established herself as one of TV’s biggest stars over the course of 11 side-splitting seasons — creating legendary characters like working-class homemaker Eunice Higgins or the curtain-rod-wearing Starlet O’Hara in a parody of Gone with the Wind. It’s enough to make you want to tug on your earlobe in satisfaction.

Watch it: The Carol Burnett Show

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Sergio Leone’s epic crime drama was a notorious flop when it was first released in the West — partly because the American distributor hacked the nearly four-hour film down to just over two hours and rearranged the order of scenes without the director’s involvement. But the original European cut now streaming has been rightly acclaimed for its gritty look at the Prohibition era and indelible performances by Robert De Niro and James Woods.

Watch it: Once Upon a Time in America

Death on the Nile (1978)

Forget Kenneth Branagh’s recent remake. This classic Hollywood take on the Agatha Christie mainstay is a lush, Oscar-winning delight, led by Peter Ustinov as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Plus, it’s hard to top the cast of Hollywood legends like Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, 88, and Mia Farrow, 78.

Watch it: Death on the Nile

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The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash (2019)

The Man in Black returns to the spotlight in this original YouTube documentary, featuring previously unseen (and unheard) archival materials from the country legend’s memorable performance at California’s Folsom Prison. Daughter Rosanne Cash, 68, Emmylou Harris, 76, and Bruce Springsteen, 73, all chime in with additional insights.

Watch it: The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash

The Goes Wrong Show (2019-21)

There’s something irresistible about bloopers — an idea that has birthed a wide variety of (mostly) reality TV shows. In this hilarious two-season series, a fictitious amateur theater troupe from the U.K.’s Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society mount a series of error-prone productions, from a courtroom drama to a Christmas play featuring a Santa who enjoys way too much sherry.

Watch it: The Goes Wrong Show

Grand Designs (1999- )

For two decades, designer Kevin McCloud, 64, has hosted this series that unblinkingly follows the building of a new house, from blueprints to final trims. What sets the show apart from its high-gloss HGTV cousins is how it keeps the cameras rolling when problems arise: Contractors quit, cranes won’t go up steep hills, budgets get busted, tempers flare. Some projects come off without a hitch, while others are epic disasters worthy of Greek tragedy.

Watch it: Grand Designs

The Impossible (2012)

J.A. Bayona’s film is a kind of humanistic horror film, imagining a scenario that’s all too realistic. A family of five is vacationing at a beach-side villa in Thailand when a massive tsunami strikes, separating them. Dad (Ewan McGregor) and the two youngest kids survive, and he soon goes searching for his wife (Naomi Watts) and eldest son (future Spider-Man star Tom Holland, in an impressive performance) who have been swept deep into the island by the torrential force of the waves. This is a gripping, often harrowing tale that ultimately provides some hard-won uplift.​

Watch it: The Impossible

Kitchen Nightmares (2007-2014)

Quick-tempered British super-chef Gordon Ramsay, 56, first made a name for himself on this reality series, going into failing restaurants and berating chefs, owners and front-of-house staff at volumes higher than a perfectly executed soufflé. Better yet, the original British version was pure fly-on-the-kitchen-wall vérité — with the struggling restaurateurs expected to step up to the stove on their own (in the better-funded American reboot, Ramsay and the show ponied up for new appliances and full dining-room makeovers). Kitchen Nightmares captured Ramsay at his cheffiest, and anticipated a whole genre of foodie-centric series like The Bear.

Watch it: Kitchen Nightmares

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Midsomer Murders (1997-)

The U.K.’s version of Law & Order is a comparably long-running crime drama set in a fictional county that seems to have a body count as high as Cabot Cove (the Maine town made famous in Murder, She Wrote). Here, the cases are cracked by Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles, 79), and in later seasons by his younger cousin John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, 62). And instead of the ba-dum gavel sound effect, the show’s theme tune boasts an otherworldly theremin.

Watch it: Midsomer Murders

To Catch a Thief (1955)

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly sizzle in this Oscar-winning classic from Alfred Hitchcock (who makes his signature cameo as a bus passenger about 10 minutes in). Grant plays a retired cat burglar who uses his skills to apprehend a copycat criminal targeting well-to-do tourists in the French Riviera, including an heiress played by the future Princess of Monaco. While the film has more charm than suspense, the two leads demonstrate the sparkling power of on-screen chemistry.

Watch it: To Catch a Thief

Taskmaster (2015- )

Each season in this wildly entertaining show, five comedians compete in a series of bizarro tasks (throw a tea bag into a mug from the greatest distance, get a stuffed toy camel “through the smallest gap”). All are seeking to win the favor of Taskmaster Greg Davies, 55, and his obsequious assistant (and show creator) Alex Horne — with the humor rung from the easily flustered contestants’ exasperation as well as their outside-the-box thinking. (Former Great British Bake Off host Mel Giedroyc, for example, ran her toy camel through the local Baby Gap, winning admiration and top marks.)

Watch it: Taskmaster

Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2010)

The granddaddy of true-crime shows still holds up decades after its launch. Unlike modern imitators, and a recent reboot on Netflix, the long-running show benefited from sharp writing, minimal padding (no music cues or talking-head interviews) and host Robert Stack’s no-nonsense narration.

Watch it: Unsolved Mysteries

Wiseguy (1987-1990)

This ’80s crime series, starring Ken Wahl, 66, as an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate the Mafia, was ahead of its time. Instead of discreet episodes, story arcs unfolded over multiple episodes — often featuring notable guest stars like Jerry Lewis, Maximilian Schell and a young Kevin Spacey, now 64.

Watch it: Wiseguy

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