It’s easy to focus on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, et al. when discussing streaming services. However, if you’ve got a library card — and you really ought to have one because libraries are awesome — then you can access some great streaming options that won’t cost you a thing.
I’ve written about Hoopla’s streaming library before, but Kanopy also boasts an impressive library that includes Hollywood classics, world cinema, indie films, and even titles from the illustrious Criterion Collection. Here are some of the best movies currently streaming on Kanopy, listed alphabetically by title.
Note: Like most streaming services, Kanopy’s catalog changes as titles are added and removed. This list is current as of August 7, 2023.
Werner Herzog’s films often focus on stories about men driven to the breaking point by their fixations, and Aguirre, the Wrath of God may be the best example of this. In the 16th century, a group of Spanish conquistadors set out in search of the legendary golden city of El Dorado. But as they venture deeper into the Amazon jungle, the men find themselves at the mercy of nature and unseen attackers, and begin slipping into madness and mutiny. Klaus Kinski delivers a terrifying performance as the titular madman, and the film’s arduous and demanding production — it was shot on location in the Peruvian rainforest — is the stuff of legend.
Told in a non-linear fashion, Shunji Iwai’s searing drama follows a troubled young student whose only comfort is the music of the titular musician. All About Lily Chou-Chou is certainly bleak as it explores the lives of alienated youth who face rape, forced prostitution, and bullying. But the beautiful, even dreamlike, manner in which the film unfolds, thanks to its ethereal soundtrack (which incorporates the music of Claude Debussy) and vivid digital cinematography, makes it a compelling and affecting watch.
One of the very best sci-fi films in recent years, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a thought-provoking film unlike any alien invasion film you’ve seen. When strange alien ships appear around the globe, the military asks a linguist (Amy Adams) to help decipher the alien’s strange language. But as she begins to understand it, the language begins to affect her in mysterious ways. Arrival’s slow pace may frustrate some, but Villeneuve’s direction is masterful, the cinematography is gorgeous, the concepts are fascinating, and the soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson is incredible (read my review).
Based on Koushun Takami’s controversial novel, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is set in a dystopic Japan where juvenile delinquency is out of control. In an attempt to instill some order, the government picks random classes of delinquents and sends them to an island where they’re forced to kill each other until one remains. A searing film that’s as cynical as it is moving (read my review), Battle Royale achieved immediate cult status upon its release, as well as no small amount of controversy. The film was banned in several countries even as Japanese officials claimed that it was harmful to teenagers.
Given that it was produced by Wong Kar-Wai, you might expect Chinese Odyssey 2002 to be a moody, existential-laden melodrama about star-crossed lovers pining away into the night as tendrils of cigarette smoke curl about their heads. But what if I told you that it is, in fact, a delightful screwball comedy musical with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai hamming it up like he’s in Stephen Chow flick? Might sound hard to believe, but Chinese Odyssey 2002 is precisely that, as it follows two pairs of siblings who fall into a case of mistaken identities and romantic hijinks (read my review).
Clive Owen stars in this Mike Hodges thriller as a struggling author who works as a croupier in the casino. Calm and aloof, he’s the very picture of professionalism and detachment — until he gets mixed up with one of the casino’s patrons, and his composure threatens to crumble as tragedies mount. Owen delivers a solid performance that’ll make you wish you lived in an alternate universe where he became the next 007 (read my review).
Before he directed such beloved cult hits as Halloween, Escape from New York, and Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter wrote and directed this sci-fi comedy about the crew of a scout ship on a mission to destroy unstable planets. But after twenty years in space, the crew has started to go a little loopy. And their precarious situation isn’t helped when one of their ship’s smart bombs begins questioning its own existence.
When I first saw Donnie Darko after months of anticipation, it felt like writer/director Richard Kelly had somehow tapped directly into my sub-conscious with his fantastical film about a troubled young man who begins to see apocalyptic visions. I found it utterly fascinating and compelling (read my review). Weaving together sci-fi, fantasy, horror, high school angst and melodrama, some wonderfully dark humor, and a killer soundtrack, Donnie Darko is one of the great indie films of all time.
Nobody does crime thrillers like Johnnie To, with his attention to detail and style, and Election is one of his best. Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-fai star as two mob bosses with very different personalities vying for the top position in their triad. But as the election draws near, they go to increasing and even shocking lengths to ensure their power. The film also stars Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, and Lam Suet, and was followed an equally excellent sequel (read my review).
Liam Neeson narrates this riveting documentary about one of the great expeditions of all time: Ernest Shackleton’s failed attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. But when his ship becomes locked in ice and destroyed, Shackleton is forced to lead his men on a harrowing trip to safety through some of Earth’s most brutal territory. The resulting story of survival is truly one for the history books.
Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the Dutch master’s most famous paintings, and its creation serves as the inspiration for this gorgeously rendered period piece by Peter Webber. Scarlett Johansson stars at the titular girl, a lowly maid serving in Vermeer’s (Colin Firth) household. The two strike up an unlikely relationship, leading to controversy and challenge, especially from Vermeer’s frustrated wife, Catharina (Essie Davis). The film won wide acclaim upon its release in 2003, and in particular for its striking, Vermeer-inspired cinematography.
Jet Li has previously talked about turning down the Matrix sequels in order to star in Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Which was definitely the right choice: the Matrix sequels were underwhelming (to say the least) while Hero is one of the greatest martial arts films of all time (read my review). It’s certainly one of the most beautiful thanks to stunning visuals, an evocative score, and beautiful costumes. As for the martial arts, they’re the epitome of visual poetry, whether its combatants fighting each other in their minds’ eyes or gliding over a mirror-like lake.
This classic Hollywood screwball comedy stars Cary Grant as a newspaper editor and Rosalind Russell as his ex-wife and former star reporter. When he tries to convince her to cover one last story before getting remarried, the sparks begin to fly between them — and the dialog flies even faster. Grant and Russell are at the top of their game here, and their intricate and whip-smart dialog crackles with energy and hilarity. Filled with charm and wit, His Girl Friday is an absolute joy to watch.
Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru is one of the great humanistic films as it follows a lowly bureaucrat named Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) who experiences an existential crisis upon learning that he has a terminal illness. Vacillating between hedonism and despair, Watanabe struggles to find some purpose and meaning for his life in his final days, leading to a most unlikely and surprising decision and a final poignant scene (read my review). Ikiru was partially inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway star in this classic British comedy about an unremarkable bank clerk (Guinness) who sets out to plan the perfect crime. But of course, even the most well-planned crime can fall to pieces, as the clerk and his accomplices soon realize. Originally released in 1951, The Lavender Hill Mob has since been recognized as one of the greatest British films of all time, and even enjoys a spot on the Vatican film list.
I never saw the appeal of Liam Neeson’s Taken movies, especially considering The Man From Nowhere is such a better former-special-agent-out-for-revenge kind of movie. The Man From Nowhere slow burns for the first 30 minutes or so, and then bang! — all hell breaks loose as the hero takes on an organ-trafficking gang to save a young girl. Won Bin is excellent as the emotionally damaged yet extremely lethal agent (he won “Best Actor” at the 2010 Korea Film Awards for this role), the villains are appropriately slimy and despicable, and the action is fast and brutal. Being a South Korean film, there’s plenty of melodrama but that only enhances the film’s intensity and poignancy.
Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, and Katsuhiro Otomo direct shorts films in this anime triptych based on three of Otomo’s short stories. All three are excellent in their own way, but Memories is particularly worth watching for the first short, Morimoto’s Magnetic Rose. Boasting a Satoshi Kon screenplay and some truly magnificent artwork and design, Magnetic Rose follows a group of astronauts who discover a giant space station that soon begins to challenge their notions of reality.
Written and directed by Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a heartfelt love letter to cinema and its power to inspire. Given that this is a Satoshi Kon film, Millennium Actress is both deeply heartfelt and incredibly surreal, as a film crew attempts to unravel the mystery of an aged star and her life. And of course, it’s an absolute feast for the eyes (read my review).
In this harrowing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, a hunter discovers a bunch of drug money and decides to keep it — which puts him in the sights of a psychotic hitman (Javier Bardem, in a chilling performance). Meanwhile, the only one who might save him is an aging, world-weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones, also giving a fantastic performance). No Country for Old Men may not have the quirky humor that the Coen Brothers are best known for — O Brother, Where Art Thou? this most certainly is not — but its depiction of human evil and darkness is captivating and provocative in its own right (read my review).
Ken Kubo is a completely ordinary Japanese college student — until he begins to embrace the otaku lifestyle. Abandoned by his girlfriend, Ken devotes his life to becoming the greatest otaku of all time. This humorous OVA was produced by the legendary Gainax studio (Neon Genesis Evangelion) as a loving spoof of the obsessive otaku lifestyle. (The joke being that Gainax itself arose out of otaku culture.) Inter-mixed with the anime, however, are scenes from a live-action mockumentary that reveals the darker side of otaku culture.
The Paper Tigers fulfills basically every martial arts movie cliché as it follows a ragtag group of martial arts students seeking to avenge their fallen master. But the twist is that these students are now squarely in middle age, and trying to reconcile the idealism and energy of their youth with the sad realities of adulthood. As a result, The Paper Tigers is by turns hilarious and heartfelt (read my review), and of course, boasts some kick-ass action sequences that feature some of the same folks behind the martial arts mayhem in Everything Everywhere All at Once.
After an unnamed secret agent resigns from his position, he’s kidnapped and finds himself held captive in a bizarre-yet-idyllic village. There, he must do everything he can to maintain his individuality while matching wits with the village’s authoritarian leaders. With its surreal aesthetics and countercultural themes of rebellion, The Prisoner is one of the greatest cult classic TV shows of all time, and its influence can be seen throughout popular culture.
In 1931, three young Aboriginal girls are kidnapped and taken from their home to a special camp where they’ll be trained to reject their culture and eventually become servants in white households. Refusing to submit, the girls escape and set out for home, a journey of 1,500 miles on foot through the Australian outback, all while being pursued by their captors. Based on a true story, Rabbit-Proof Fence is both a searing indictment of Western colonialism and racism as well as a haunting story of courage and determination.
Winner of the Golden Lion award at the 2003 Venice Film Festival, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s directorial debut is both stunningly beautiful and emotionally devastating. After two brothers are suddenly reintroduced to their long-absent father, he takes them on what sounds like a simple vacation. But as their trip unfolds, tensions between the three grow, pushing them all to the breaking point. The Return recalls the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, due to its stunning visuals and locales in the Russian wilderness.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a film that’s more charming than Roman Holiday. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck share a delightful chemistry as a naïve young princess desperate to see more of the world and the jaded reporter who takes her under his wing to get the big scoop. (Eddie Albert almost steals the show as Peck’s photographer buddy.) Shot on location amongst Rome’s many landmarks, including the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the Mouth of Truth, Roman Holiday is a pure cinematic delight (read my review) that garnered Hepburn an Oscar for “Best Actress.”
In this, the final film by the master Russian filmmaker, an atheistic journalist and professor makes a deal with God to save his family when it appears that World War III has begun. What follows is a series of bizarre experiences that tests the man’s faith (or lack thereof). Often called Tarkovsky’s last will and testament, The Sacrifice is a brilliant and thought-provoking film about faith and spirituality (read my review) that gets its power through Tarkovsky’s stunningly realized visuals. The Sacrifice won the Grand Prix award at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.
Jef Costello (the ever-so-suave Alain Delon) is a hitman who lives a solitary and impeccably controlled existence. But when his latest job goes awry, that existence begins to unravel as he spends time with the only witness and finds himself pursued by both the police and his former employer. Le Samouraï has since become a classic crime thriller thanks to its moody tone and chilled atmosphere, and directly inspired several other films, including John Woo’s The Killer and Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
Featuring a near-complete lack of dialog, The Scent of Green Papaya instead forces the viewer to pay attention to every second of the film to follows its storyline. Which is easy to do because it’s a gorgeous , even sumptuous film (read my review) that gently pulls you into its world, following a young girl as she grows up as a servant in a Saigon household. The film won multiple awards at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for a “Best Foreign Language Film” Academy Award.
Irish studio Cartoon Saloon is one of the world’s best animation studios, and it all started with The Secret of Kells. A fantastical retelling of the creation of the Book of Kells, a 9th-century illuminated manuscript, the movie follows a young boy who desires to create beautiful manuscripts. But when his efforts are threatened by the encroaching Viking horde, he must rely on help from a mysterious fairy spirit. Nominated for “Best Animated Feature” in the 2009 Oscars, The Secret of Kells is a beautifully animated tale inspired by Irish history and folklore.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, thanks to its deeply human storyline, thrilling battles, and bravura directing, Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai has influenced cinema ever since its release in 1954 (read my review). The story of a village hiring a group of samurai to protect them from a vicious bandit gang has been remade several times (e.g., The Magnificent Seven, The Mandalorian) and influenced countless films, including Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Avengers: Endgame.
Ingmar Bergman’s medieval drama about a world-weary knight (the late, great Max von Sydow) undergoing a crisis of faith during the Black Plague is one of cinema’s most iconic titles. As such, it’s been spoofed and referenced by the Muppets, Monty Python, the Animaniacs, and of course, Bill and Ted. But that does nothing to diminish the power of The Seventh Seal’s indelible images, be a knight playing chess with the Grim Reaper or the final, stirring shot. Nor does it diminish Bergman’s stark and deeply moving exploration of faith, hope, and doubt.
In this quirky indie drama, Peter Dinklage (aka, Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister) inherits an abandoned train station, which leads him to meeting a cast of odd individuals who slowly draw him out of his shell. If “quirky indie drama” turns you off, rest assured there’s plenty of heart and fascinating character study to go along with the offbeat material. The film also stars Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Richard Kind, and Michelle Williams.
Russian director Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most pivotal figures in early film history. His “montage” theory of filmmaking, in which completely unrelated shots are combined for a greater cumulative effect, was deeply influential even on more modern filmmaking like music videos. Strike uses montage to tell the story of a factory strike, including one (in)famous scene where footage of the striking workers getting shot is juxtaposed with footage of a bull being slaughtered.
The first film in Park Chan-wook’s famous “Vengeance” trilogy, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is a brutal, no holds barred piece of filmmaking. After a man kidnaps a wealthy executive’s daughter in order to get money to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant, things quickly spiral out of control — with disastrous and bloody consequences for everyone. Directed with style and intensity by Park, the film stars some of South Korea’s best actors: Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, and Bae Doona.
When the apocalypse arrives, a family heads out to their country home to wait it out. But when their husband and father is killed, a woman and her children must survive as best they can. So unfolds Michael Haneke’s disturbing post-apocalyptic fable, as humans are pushed to the brink of morality — Time of the Wolf is disturbingly violent at times — even as others try to hold on to the light in shocking ways (read my review).
Shinya Tsukamoto is best known for deeply provocative films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Tokyo Fist, and A Snake of June, and at first blush, Vital looks to be more of the same. After all, its about an amnesiac medical student who starts regaining his memories as he unknowingly dissects the cadaver of his former girlfriend. Which sounds really gross and icky. In fact, however, Vital is a surprisingly haunting and even touching film about the nature of memory, and its relationship to the body (read my review).