Want to Watch Tons of Movies for Free? Go VHS.

by Linsey Knerl on 1 October 2012 8 comments
Photo: Marmella

If you’re a movie junkie, you have might have already exhausted the seemingly endless supply of free streaming content available from sites like Hulu. It may also be that you crave something vintage or out of production. Lucky for you, it’s possible to see obscure and amazing titles unavailable on DVD or via streaming by looking to classic VHS tapes — and you can usually also get them for free! (See also: Never Pay for a RedBox DVD Rental Again)

If you’re not convinced that VHS is for you, I recommend you review why I still think VHS tapes rock. Then, use the following methods to score hundreds of the sturdy little films for your collection.

1. Hit Up Garage Sales

Most serious sellers won’t be asking for much for these, and you can usually find dozens dumped, sans case, in the FREE pile. If you do see tapes for sale, ask if you can just take them. Many times, they are the last things to go, and sellers will be happy to clear the area of these clunky, space-hogging dinosaurs.

2. Check Craigslist

As long as there is an actual “CDs/DVDs/VHS” category on the site, you can expect people to ask cash for their collections. Unless they are mint, Disney films, or part of a large set, however, you won’t be expected to pay more than a quarter for these films. If you’re set on not paying a nickel, however, skip this portion of Craigslist, and go straight for the FREE section.

3. Ask Your Local Library

Many libraries are moving to Blu-Ray and DVD, and they no longer have a need for their VHS tapes. You can usually find these cast-offs for free in their annual book sale, although a free-will offering is encouraged. If you feel obliged to pay for something, buy some books you are interested in, and help them take the tapes off their hands. (You can also call them ahead of time and ask if you can pick up any they don’t want. Some are just plain obscure, and if you save them space in their sale, they will be eternally grateful.)

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4. Let Your Friends Know

At any given time, at least one of my friends or family is moving, downsizing, or decluttering. I know that they are throwing VHS tapes out, so why not put in a word with your crew to have them set these beauties aside? Just be sure to promptly pick them up (no leaving them there to frustrate your friends) and give a nice “thanks” when you leave.

5. Update Your Status

It’s a good idea to make “Looking for VHS tapes” a tagline for your Facebook and Twitter. Try it!

Now that you’re swimming in new movies to watch, there are a few things you should know about your new collection. First, it’s possible that tapes (especially those without cases) won’t perform perfectly. Magnets can erase the data, and tape film can get twisted, causing the audio and video to crackle. You are taking a risk by starting a film that you aren’t sure you can finish, but, for many films, it’s worth the chance.

You will also need to have a reliable VCR to watch all these tapes. If you also have an older VCR (aren’t they all old?), you can choose to clean it occasionally with either a wet or dry tape cleaner, available on Amazon and other online retailers. Most VCRs last a very long time, however, so be diligent about keeping it dust-free to ensure many more happy years. (You can also still find tape rewinders to help prolong the life of your VCR. These are dedicated machines that do nothing but rewind tapes and were made popular by video stores that used them to rewind tapes that customers had forgotten about.) Most VCRs attach to televisions with traditional red/yellow/white audio video cables. If you have a newer TV, check to see that it will work.

Do you still enjoy VHS tapes? Do you have a story of getting FREE movies that you’d like to share?

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Guest's picture

The trick now, of course, is finding a VHS player for free, since the three we had all gave up the ghost! Which made me wonder about those conspiracy theories we heard...

Linsey Knerl's picture

That's the challenge, isn't it? I've seen them at thrift stores for pretty cheap. And then there are the online outlets that still sell them. Good luck!

Guest's picture
Joe

I see lots of VHS movies being given away on Freecycle.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Ahhh! Nice call! I don't have a Freecycle location near me, personally, but that is an excellent suggestion!

Guest's picture
Tony

Sounds like a plan, if you have no interest in movies released after 2006

Linsey Knerl's picture

LOL. It's obviously not the first plan of action for new releases, but it is sometimes the ONLY option for hundreds of titles that I would consider essential classics. They can be a great way to round out a collection :)

Guest's picture

I agree - people love to give away VHS tapes! My kids have tons of them (most of them were free at yard sales). I find that our DVD player conks out every once in a while, but I haven't had a single issue with my 15-year-old VCR!

Guest's picture

You can also get free DVDs and CDs from the Library! Another idea is to trade or barter your current DVDs that you don't watch for other people's DVDs. They may have movies that you haven't seen and vice-versa

Sally Stretton