If you're a fan of classic books, then you're probably familiar with Project Gutenberg, a noble effort to gather up all the out-of-copyright books in the world and provide them for easy download. Sadly, while there's no site for films as comprehensive as Project Gutenberg, there are a number of locations where you can legally download out-of-copyright works.
Public Domain Flicks is a good start, and it offers both web-based streaming and download links to all the movies talked about here and hundreds of others. If you're looking for something that's a little higher quality, the Moving Image Archive often provides direct download links to movies. If you're happy downloading via BitTorrent, then www.publicdomaintorrents.net is your go-to destination and the best place to find the highest-quality downloads. If you're happy to watch your classic movies online, a great YouTube channel can be found at www.youtube.com/user/openflix (though we're not sure if all their movies are strictly legal).
Notable classic films
A 1938 film starring the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr as well as Charles Boyer, Algiers tells the story of a jewel thief who escaped from French authorities to virtually rule the maze-like Casbah in Algiers.
Shirley Temple's first Technicolor movie (made when she was 12), this is a riches to rags story set against the backdrop of Victorian England and the Boer War. It's a little over the top, but good fun.
Before vampires started twinkling in the daylight, they used to be scary — none more so than the 1922 German silent film (named Nosferatu as the filmmakers didn't have official rights from Bram Stoker's estate).
A notable entry in the oeuvre of Cary Grant romantic comedies, His Girl Friday is the story of a newspaper man who goes to great lengths to ensure his ex-wife never quite makes it to the altar.
Pro tip: Video formats
If you're attempting to download any of these classic movies to your PC, you're likely to come across a dizzying array of different formats: Cinepack, H.264/MP4, OGG, DivX/AVI, MPEG-2 and others. So which format should you get?
The simple answer is that H.264-encoded movies (which usually have an .MP4 file extension) are probably your top pick. It offers the most compatibility with the largest variety of devices, including Android and Apple phones and tablets. It also offers the best compression and the highest video quality. Cinepack, OGG and MPEG-2 will likely only play on your PC and a limited number of network media players. DivX and Xvid files (which usually have an .AVI file extension) will play on a number of devices, including the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but may not work on your iPad without conversion software or a third-party player.
As a rule, the larger the file size the better the quality, although the video compression format will play a big part, too. A 500MB H.264 video format is actually probably better than a 1GB MPEG-2, for example.