A simple method for the production or synthesis of carbon nanotubes as free-standing films or nanotube mats by the thermal decomposition of transition metal complexed alkynes with aryl, alkyl, alkenyl, or alkynyl substituents. In particular, transition metal (e.g. Co, Ni, Fe, Mo) complexes of diarylacetylenes, e.g. diphenylacetylene, and solid mixtures of these complexes with suitable, additional carbon sources are heated in a vessel. More specifically, the heating of the transition metal complex is completed at a temperature between 400-800.degree. C. and more particularly 550-700.degree. C. for between 0.1 to 24 hours and more particularly 0.5-3 hours in a sealed vessel under a partial pressure of argon or helium.