Is downloading movies prohibited, or is it basically distribution of it?

downloading is dishonest.

both are ilegal look at they are shut down that should answer your ?
If you get something for free that you would customarily have to pay for, likelihood are it's illegal. If the RIAA or MPAA catch you next to even one downloaded movie or song, they can sue you. Chances are, you'll never get caught, but it's still illegal.
The distinction you are looking for (in English law anyway) is between "primary" and "secondary" copyright infringment.

By primary infringement I mean making a copy of adjectives or part of a "work" (book, film, whatever) which is subject to copyright, lacking permission. Primary infringment is a civil wrong against the owner of the copyright.

Secondary infringement is (broadly) actions to do next to mass distribution and commercial exploitation of copies created by primary infringement (really secondary infringement is wider than this - if you're really interested look up the Copyright Designs and Patents Act). Secondary infringement is a criminal offence.

So, both are unsanctioned, but one is a civil matter and the other is criminal.

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