This article is updated frequently as titles leave and enter HBO and HBO Max. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk. Don’t have HBO Max yet? You can sign up here.
The moment HBO Max launched, it instantly boasted one of the best streaming libraries of films in the world. It’s certainly the deepest. Not merely content with HBO original programming, the service incorporates an extensive Warner Bros. library of classic films along with a vast selection of Criterion Collection releases and the exclusive streaming rights to Studio Ghibli. Oh, and also all the movies that just happen to be on the actual HBO at the moment.
The truth is that a list of the 100 best movies on HBO Max could consist of just the Criterion releases (with maybe a couple of Ghibli’s), but we have attempted to present a diverse selection. To that end, almost every filmmaker is included only once, but you can consider a recommendation for one Charlie Chaplin or Ingmar Bergman to be a recommendation for all of the ones on the service. For now, we’re leaving out all HBO Originals that aired on the network, although there are great films in that category like The Tale and the recent Bad Education. We’ve also tried to include some current films and will circulate everything in this list to present not a definitive list of the best of an incredibly deep catalogue as much as a snapshot of 100 great movies on HBO Max anytime you’re looking for something to watch. It will be updated monthly.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film changed the language of the genre forever. It has influenced nearly every film set in space to follow and embedded in pop culture a shorthand about distrust of technology that still resonates a half-century later. One of several films on HBO Max that can legitimately be called a masterpiece.
Federico Fellini’s 1963 dramedy is a deeply personal film that became an international success. The great Marcello Mastroianni stars as Guido Anselmi, an Italian director working on a sci-fi film and going through something of a creative crisis. Surreal and moving in equal measure, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and was named one of the ten best films of all time by the BFI.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder died too young, but he left an incredible catalogue of films made in a relatively short span of time. Arguably his most accessible work is this 1974 riff on Douglas Sirk’s great All That Heaven Allows, in which an elderly German woman falls in love with a Moroccan immigrant. It’s delicate, nuanced, and moving.
J.C. Chandor wrote and directed this dramatic vehicle for Robert Redford and ended up giving him the platform for one of the best performances of his legendary career. Redford is the only cast member in this nearly dialogue-less film about a man who gets stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean and has to battle the elements to survive.
One of the most unexpected Best Picture winners, Argo tells the story of Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who staged a fake film production to rescue hostages from Tehran. Ben Affleck directed and stars as Mendez in a tense, old-fashioned thriller that became a bit of a punchline when people didn’t think it deserved its Oscar (which often happens) but seems overdue for a reappraisal. It’s an effective, taut piece of filmmaking.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s incredibly detailed and lavish period piece about one of the most infamous eccentric millionaires of all time. It feels like every other month produces a bit of social outrage about Scorsese’s place in movie history or his comments on Marvel movies. Ignore that noise and just watch one of his works that doesn’t get nearly enough praise, anchored by one of DiCaprio’s best performances.
There aren’t a lot of silent films on any of the streaming services, and there aren’t a lot of silent films as influential as Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece. It’s the story of a mutiny that occurred in Russian in 1905 on the titular ship, but it’s most remembered for a sequence on the Odessa Steps that would become wildly influential on generations to come. It really is something that every film fan needs to see.
Like a lot of movies on this list, Ladri di Biciclette is considered one of the most influential films of all time. Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 drama is studied early in any film program in the world for a reason. The story of a father and son searching for a stolen bicycle defined the Italian Neorealism movement and was once considered the greatest film of all time in a Sight & Sound poll. It remains devastating and genuine over 70 years after its release.
Ridley Scott directed the Hollywood version of Mark Bowden’s non-fiction book of the same name, which tells the story of a 1993 incident in Mogadishu that became known around the world. Members of the U.S. Military (including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, and Tom Hardy) are pinned down in the city as they try to capture a faction leader. Black Hawk Down is a technical marvel, winning Oscars for Best Editing and Sound Mixing.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi epic was notoriously derided when it was released, but it would go on to change the cinematic landscape. This is the final cut edition of the film, the 2007 version that removes the voice-over, re-inserts the unicorn, and takes out the original happy ending. It’s the essential edition.
Two brothers began one of the most important film careers of the modern era with this grisly 1984 noir starring Dan Hedaya and Frances McDormand. See where Joel and Ethan Coen got their start in a clever riff on noir tropes — double crosses! Femme fatales! — all imbued with the brothers’ dark sense of humor and understanding of human nature. It’s one of the most impressive debuts of the ’80s.
Screen violence changed forever with Arthur Penn’s 1967 telling of the story of the famous lovers turned criminals starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Often considered one of the films that ushered in the creative era of filmmaking that would follow in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, what really shocked audiences was the film’s ending, something more violent than mainstream film had ever really delivered. Anyone who thinks this work was designed to glorify murderers wasn’t paying attention.
Lars von Trier had his worldwide breakthrough with this 1996 drama starring Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard. Watson would go on to earn a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her role as a woman whose immobilized husband asks her to have sex with other men. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, it became arguably the most acclaimed of the Dogme 95 movement and a film that has lost none of its power.
Almost every cinematic telling of stories of unrequited love owes a debt to Noël Coward and David Lean’s masterpiece, quite simply one of the best films ever made. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard star as two people who meet at a train station in England and begin a relationship that can never be because they are both married. The sense of longing and impossible happiness resonates in every moving frame.
One of the best films of James L. Brooks’s career is his 1987 romantic dramedy that was so acclaimed, it was nominated for Best Picture and included a couple years ago in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks are fantastic in this smart movie about the people who bring viewers the news. Some of it is a little dated now but the acting and writing will always be brilliant.
Bob Fosse’s masterpiece is set in Berlin in 1931, as the Nazi Party was gaining prominence. The success of this story of a German cabaret and the people who work there became a cultural phenomenon in 1972, winning Oscars for Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, and Fosse himself (along with five others). In fact, it holds the record for the most Academy Awards won by a movie that didn’t win Best Picture — that went to The Godfather.
One of the best horror movies ever made, Herk Harvey’s 1962 film is an early cult classic, a film made for almost no money that became an influential masterpiece. Candace Hilligoss plays a woman who starts having terrifying visions after surviving a car accident. These visions lead her to an abandoned carnival. You can see this film’s DNA in hundreds of horror movies to follow, but it’s still wonderfully creepy when judged on its own terms.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? There’s a reason Michael Curtiz’s drama is still being quoted and referenced almost 80 years later. See for yourself.
Sure, most people who want to see Citizen Kane have probably seen Citizen Kane by now, but it’s certainly not a film that plays on cable TV as much as some other acknowledged classics. And maybe you’re one of the people who haven’t seen the movie that redefined the form through the vision of Orson Welles? You have no more excuses.
Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund’s searing crime epic about life in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro was, for a movie of its scale, a massive hit, making over $30 million worldwide and landing four Oscar nominations. It’s a vibrant, moving look at a world so dominated by crime that violence is an everyday part of life. It became such a phenomenon over the years that it produced a spin-off TV series and even a follow-up documentary film called City of God – 10 Years Later.
Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed a stunning follow-up to their breakthrough with Delicatessen, delivering an even better film (and would follow this one up with Amelie). The City of Lost Children is an impossible movie to describe in a capsule — a crazy vision of a fantasy world that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s beautiful and unforgettable.
There simply aren’t enough films directed by women in the HBO Max catalogue, partially because it relies so heavily on classic cinema and Criterion releases, two things that have long been very white and very male. So take the chance to explore the career of one of the best directors ever in Agnes Varda, a key member of not just the French New Wave but cinema history from around the world. This is her best film, but you couldn’t go wrong with any of them.
Kevin Smith rocked the indie filmmaking world with his comedy that was shot for almost nothing and became a worldwide hit. Films at the convenience and video stores at which Smith worked in real life with his buddies, no one could have expected that this comedy would still be influencing writers a quarter-century later.
It’s been a half-century since Stanley Kubrick made one of the most controversial films of its era with his adaptation of the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel of the same name. It’s lost none of its power, capturing a vision of a violent dystopian future in a way that thousands have tried to copy over the decades since, but no one has really matched.
*Cool Hand Luke
Certain movies just find stars at the right point in their career, throwing up their magnetic charisma in all its glory. Such is the case with Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 hit, which is exhibit A for why Paul Newman was one of the biggest stars of his generation. Newman plays Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison camp, and the lead in a film that not only delivered one of his best performances but stands as an early entry in the counter-culture dramas that would define the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Christopher Nolan’s landmark superhero sequel is over a decade old now and its influence shows no signs of diminishing. If anything, the story of the Batman, the Joker, and Two-Face feels more relevant today than it did when it was released. Most of all, the movie’s breakneck momentum and unforgettable performance from Heath Ledger haven’t aged a day. The entire trilogy, including Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, are currently on HBO Max.
After winning so many Oscars, including Best Picture, Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic became something of a target (Academy Awards will do that), but it’s a way better film than its recent reputation. Once again, Scorsese paces this thing like a runaway train, and he straps his incredible cast to it, drawing two of the best performances in the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.
Alfred Hitchcock reportedly made Psycho because he wanted to make a movie that scared him as much as Diabolique. Don’t you owe it to yourself to see a movie that can boast that trivia? The final act of Diabolique is a beauty, anchored by a wonderful horror movie twist that no one saw coming when it was released but has been copied dozens of times since, including by the masters of the form.
Any list of the best performances of all time that doesn’t include Al Pacino’s work in this 1975 masterpiece is simply incorrect. Pacino plays Sonny Wortzik, a New Yorker who tries to rob a bank with his buddy Sal (John Cazale). Sidney Lumet directs a film that’s alternately as tense as any thriller and as illuminating as any character study.
Few musicians were bigger than life more than Jim Morrison, and filmmaker Oliver Stone captures that sense of immortality in his 1991 biopic about one of the most famous rock bands of all time. Val Kilmer rocks as Morrison, but it’s really Stone’s psychedelic approach to a traditionally stale genre than elevates this film.
Down by Law
Early Jim Jarmusch films that had been included in the Criterion Collection have made their way to HBO Max, including Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man, and this indie gem. One of the titles that put Jarmusch on the map: this 1986 black-and-white dramedy, starring Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Roberto Benigni in what is basically a jailbreak film but in a way that only the master of droll humor could make.
The large fan base of Stanley Kubrick often mentions dark pieces of work like 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining, but one of his best and most influential films is a comedy about the end of the world. Satirizing the Cold War this aggressively way back in 1964, Kubrick rewrote the textbook for political comedy and presented viewers with an instant classic that was both hysterical and terrifying.
A Christopher Nolan film dropping on a streaming service is always a big deal and the current exclusive home for the beloved auteur’s 2017 war film is HBO Max. Nolan tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. Say what you will about the film, it is a stunning technical achievement.
Some movies come along at just the right time that they become more than just a movie — they become cultural landmarks. 1969’s Easy Rider is one of those movies. Dennis Hopper directs and co-stars in a flick that both reflected and would go on to shape the counter-culture of its era.
Stanley Kubrick’s final film was a controversial one when it was released in 1999 but has been recognized in the two decades since as one of the master’s best. Tom Cruise does some of the best work of his career as a man who spirals into a seedy underworld of sex and betrayal in this mesmerizing drama.
Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel star in this 2000 drama with an emotional twist. Caviezel plays John Sullivan, who discovers a ham radio that can communicate with his deceased father, played memorably by Quaid. This didn’t make much of an impact with critics or audiences when it was released but has developed a following in the last two decades for a reason. Smart, thrilling, and very moving.
Michael Haneke is one of the most daring filmmakers alive, willing to shock viewers to make a point. Perhaps his most divisive film remains this 1997 shocker about a family who are essentially held hostage in their vacation home in Austria. Over the course of the day, the criminals basically torture this family, and through fourth-wall breaks, Haneke interrogates why people would even want to watch something like this, illuminating what art can reveal about the dark side of humanity.
Criterion released an amazing boxed set of Toho Godzilla films last year to commemorate spine No. 1,000 in its collection. Several films from that set have made the jump to HBO Max, including the essential original, Godzilla Raids Again, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla, King of the Monsters. It’s time for a marathon!
There are several Charlie Chaplin films filtered through the Criterion Collection and now on HBO Max, including City Lights, Monsieur Verdoux, and Modern Times. Some may disagree, but this 1925 comedy has always felt like the best gateway to the works of a master. It’s a perfect example of how Chaplin could tackle serious subject matter though his comic lens, revealing how much tragedy and comedy were intertwined.
One of the best films of the 1990s, Martin Scorsese’s telling of the story of Henry Hill changed the language of how we tell stories about mobsters. Seriously, The Sopranos simply isn’t the same without it. GoodFellas has held up perfectly over the last three decades partially because of how much that followed it tried to repeat it.
Few films have impacted the culture as much as Mike Nichols’s 1967 dramedy based on the Charles Webb novel of the same name. It really was one of the first films in a wave of artistic expression that would make the late ‘60s and ‘70s one of the richest times in American film history. Dustin Hoffman stars as a recent college graduate looking for direction in his life in this sharp, clever comedy that spoke to an entire generation of young people looking for how to change the world.
The reason that Joe Dante’s film became such a phenomenon, and the reason it holds up so well 35 years later, is that the super-talented director knew how to balance both the comedy and horror in his story of Gizmo, Stripe, and the rest of the Gremlins. It’s a family movie, action movie, comedy, and horror movie all rolled into one.
The incredible Wong Kar-wai followed up his double feature of Chungking Express/Fallen Angels with this remarkable drama starring Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as a couple in the middle of a rocky romance. Both actors are phenomenal, but its WKW’s lyrical craft that really turned this into one of the most critically acclaimed films from its region of the late ‘90s.
This is the only drama currently on HBO Max by Spike Lee, one of the best living filmmakers, but it’s also one of his most underrated works. Lee draws another phenomenal performance from Denzel Washington, the father of a top-ranked basketball prospect, played by Ray Allen. It’s yet another electric piece of filmmaking from Lee and contains one of Washington’s most underrated performances. (Available on 6/1.)
Stephen Frears directed this adaptation of the beloved 1995 of the same name by Nick Hornby and the result is one of the best films of John Cusack’s career. The actor plays Rob Gordon, a Chicago music store owner who struggles with relationships and responsibility. It’s a smart, funny movie with a fan base that has only grown in the two decades since its release.
Steve James’s 1994 masterpiece is on any respectable list of the best documentaries ever made. Following two young black men from Chicago over years, James chronicles the extraordinary stories that are unfolding in cities and homes around the world in a way that only he can. James is one of our most humanist filmmakers — someone who deeply cares about his subjects — and that compassion shows through in every frame. It’s a documentary that’s more riveting and moving than most fiction.
This is another case on this list where one film represents everything by a master on HBO Max. The service doesn’t have quite the extensive collection of Akira Kurosawa as the Criterion Channel, but there are still a few of the acknowledged classics like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and this 1952 masterpiece, arguably the Japanese director’s most moving work. Inspired by a Tolstoy novella, it’s the tale of a Tokyo bureaucrat who learns his days are numbered and how he tries to find meaning in the final chapter of his life.
James Gray co-wrote and directed the 2013 period piece, which boasts a fantastic ensemble anchored by Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner. Cotillard plays a Polish woman who comes to Ellis Island in 1921 with her sister and falls under the spell of a theater owner played by Phoenix and a performer played by Renner. With gorgeous period detail, the film that casts a spell.
One of the best films ever made, Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 drama is the story of a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung) who form a delicate relationship of glances and brief touches but can never fulfill their obvious passion for one another. Set in 1962 Hong Kong, it is a gorgeous film, filled with color and music that tell the story as much as dialogue or action. Filled with longing, cultural imposition, and regret, In the Mood for Love captivates every time you see it. It’s like entering a dream.
It wouldn’t be a streaming service without a Quentin Tarantino movie or two and HBO Max has one of the Oscar winner’s best in this adaptation of the Elmore Leonard book. The only time that Tarantino explicitly worked from someone else’s material results in a film that beautifully blends both his and Leonard’s voices, anchored by great performances from Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Samuel L. Jackson.
One of Cameron Crowe’s best films became something of a punchline with its heavily quoted lines (“Show me the money,” “You had me at hello,” everything that cute kid says), but it’s actually a wonderful romantic comedy that has held up incredibly well in the quarter-century since its release. Tom Cruise plays the title character, a sports agent who is pushed into starting his own agency while he falls in love with a single mother, played by Renee Zellweger.
One of Oliver Stone’s best films is this 1991 epic that digs into the conspiracy theories around the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Kevin Costner leads an amazing ensemble cast that includes work from Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Bacon that stands among their career best, but this movie belongs to Stone, one of our most fascinating cinematic historians at his most passionate.
The Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor and a nominee for Best Picture is now back on HBO Max after its brief hiatus that followed its 30-day run on the platform concurrent with its theatrical release. A phenomenal drama about an under-told chapter of history, the film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, a leader in the Black Panthers who was murdered by the U.S. government. Fellow Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield plays the man who betrayed him.
Monster movies would never be the same after this 1933 classic debuted. Remade over and over again, there’s still something so powerful about the original. Sure, it’s lost some of the horrific power it must have had when it first came out, but it’s still a wonderfully creative film, one that completely set the foundation for an entire genre that’s still being made to this day. And it’s not just monster movies. Every film that relies on spectacle owes something to that building-climbing giant gorilla.
The Lady Vanishes
There’s some early Hitchcock on HBO Max courtesy of Criterion, including The 39 Steps and this comedy-thriller gem, an underrated entry in the master’s filmography. Blending the humor of a road movie with his thriller sensibilities, Hitch tells the story of an old woman who basically disappears on a train, then almost everyone acts as if she was never there. It’s gaslighting long before that became a trendy term.
Todd Field co-wrote and directed this powerful adaptation of the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers). Some of the familiarity of stories of suburban ennui has allowed this excellent performance piece to be relatively forgotten by history, a true shame since it contains some of the career-best performances from Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, and Jackie Earle Haley.
Peter Jackson shook the movie world with his trilogy based on the beloved fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, and all three of the original films (plus the lesser Hobbit ones) are on HBO Max for your marathoning needs. HBO Max is reportedly waiting to add 4K streaming until later this year. These will look incredible then. Let’s hope they’re still on the service.
John Carroll Lynch may be known primarily as a great character actor but he’s also a top-notch director, as evidenced by this excellent dramedy that gave the great Harry Dean Stanton one of the best performances of his career. A simple character study about a man who leads a simple life, Lynch’s film is mesmerizing and poetic, the kind of flick that can make one look at the world around them in a different light.
Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece has lost none of its shocking power, influencing generations of thriller directors for nearly a century of moviemaking. Peter Lorre gives one of his most iconic performances as a serial killer of children in Lang’s first sound film, one that blends the director’s incredible sense of visual language and tension with heart-racing storytelling. In the ’90s, a group of film journalists around the world voted it the best German film of all time.
One of the best action films of all time has rarely been on streaming services, but it currently sits right there on HBO Max. No one knew what would result in George Miller returning to the world of Max Rockatansky in 2015, but the master filmmaker delivered one of the most acclaimed films of the decade.
The classic adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel was actually the third attempt, but it’s the one everyone remembers. It’s John Huston’s directorial debut, tackling the tale of Sam Spade and Mary Astor with style. Of course, Humphrey Bogart plays Spade, drawn into a competition to obtain a rare statue by a femme fatale played by Mary Astor. Here’s some good trivia about how important this movie is to film history: In 1989, the Library of Congress started selecting films for the National Film Registry. The Maltese Falcon was in the first wave of 25 films included.
Robert Altman referred to his beloved 1971 film as an “anti-Western” because it so completely pushes back against the norms and expectation of the genre. It’s fascinating now to watch Altman’s improvisational style blend with the blinding star power of Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, who earned an Oscar nomination for her work here.
It sounds cliché, but they really don’t make adult thrillers like this 2007 Oscar winner anymore as stories like this one have basically migrated to Prestige TV. Tony Gilroy wrote and directed the story of a high-powered attorney played by George Clooney, who gets caught up in a dangerous case involving one of his firm’s major clients. Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and Sydney Pollack co-star in a film that’s even better than you remember.
Arguably the best movie of the ‘00s, David Lynch’s masterpiece is a dreamlike tale of sex and horror in modern Los Angeles. Naomi Watts plays Betty Elms, a woman who arrives in the city of angels and meets a brunette (Laura Harring) who has lost her memory. Explaining what Mulholland Dr. is “about” in a brief paragraph cannot possibly convey why it’s an essential modern film. It’s a mood piece, containing some of the most striking, unforgettable imagery of Lynch’s notable career.
There’s not much Eric Rohmer on HBO Max, but this one has come through the Criterion collection to the streaming service. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars in the film that really put Rohmer on the map. The centerpiece of a collection known as “Six Moral Tales,” My Night at Maud’s is the story of a riveting conversation and flirtation between a man and a woman, and how that night changes their lives. It was an international phenomenon, making Rohmer into an art-house hit in major cities, and redefining the terms of how one could make a film that’s so dialogue-heavy so riveting at the same time.
Clint Eastwood found material perfectly suited for his style in Dennis Lehane’s devastating novel about loss and vengeance. The mystery of a murdered girl in a Boston community became one of Eastwood’s biggest critical darlings, winning Oscars for stars Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, and nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.
Steven Soderbergh returns to one of his favorite genres with this excellent thriller featuring another incredible ensemble of actors. Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, and Kieran Culkin play three criminals who take the family of a low-level auto industry employee hostage. Things go very wrong from there. David Harbour, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, Julia Fox, and many more join in the top-notch fun.
Movies simply don’t get much better than Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau. Like so many Hitch classics, it’s a tale of mistaken identity, as Grant’s protagonist is chased across the country. The set pieces — like the infamous crop-duster sequence — are well known, but check out the complete picture, a perfectly paced and executed piece of refined filmmaking.
Get the tissues ready for Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling’s 2004 breakthrough romantic drama, a movie that was so successful that it led to roughly a dozen inferior films that tried to find the same blend of doomed love. Nick Cassavetes directed the genetically blessed stars in this story of unpermitted love in the ‘40s, a movie so unapologetically romantic that its cheese factor doesn’t matter anymore. It helps that Gosling, McAdams, Gena Rowlands, and James Garner are about as likable as stars can be.
This 1940 George Cukor classic is the movie that really made Katharine Hepburn a star, but it also features incredibly charismatic performances from Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart opposite her. Hepburn plays a divorced woman who is about to marry again when her ex-husband (Grant) and a reporter (Stewart) complicate things. It’s clever in ways that would redefine the comedy and are still influencing the genre. And the star power is blinding.
Strap in and take a ride through one of the most fascinating franchises of all time. Of course, the best film is still the Charlton Heston original about a man who crash lands on a planet run by apes, but HBO Max has some of the sequels too, including Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Mercifully, the Tim Burton remake is nowhere to be found.
An underrated thriller of its era, this 1990 flick casts Harrison Ford against type as a prosecutor who has been charged with the murder of his mistress, played by Greta Scacchi. There was a time when Scott Turow was the king of the legal thriller, and this is one of his best books, adapted robustly by the great Alan J. Pakula.
Ridley Scott returned to the world of Alien with this divisive prequel to the saga of Ripley and the iconic H.R. Giger creatures from his landmark original. It’s about a crew on a spaceship who find artifacts of Earth cultures on another planet, and it ultimately leads to a connection with the Alien mythology, although it also stands as its own gorgeous film. Say what you will about the storytelling, Scott is one of our best craftsmen ever.
There are certain tentpoles of American film history that changed the form forever, and this is undeniably one. Heck, we’re still getting Tarantino riffs over twenty years later, as everyone wants to make a movie as effortlessly cool as his masterpiece. What more could possibly be written about Pulp Fiction? You know you love this and want to see it again. Now you can!
Maybe you’ve heard of it? As Quentin Tarantino makes waves in 2021 with new interviews about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…, go back to the movie that announced a major new talent as much as any debut of the ‘90s. Remarkably, unlike a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s debuts, this one works just as well today. It would arguably be an even bigger hit if it came out in 2020. That’s how much QT influenced the form for the quarter-century after its release.
HBO Max has a good habit of putting an entire franchise on their streaming service at the same time, and the latest fan base to benefit from this is the one who love the best boxer to ever come out of Philly, Rocky Balboa. The run of Sylvester Stallone flicks are on HBO Max, but the best remains the 1976 rags to riches story that really changed the sports movie landscape forever, and even won Best Picture.
Michael Moore has long ago become a different kind of filmmaker and celebrity, but his debut way back in 1989 took the world by surprise. Moore told a very personal story of the impact of General Motors CEO Roger Smith’s closure of auto plants in Flint. It launched an entirely new kind of documentary style, for better or worse, in which the filmmaker put himself in the center of the story.
Infamous filmmaking pair James Ivory and Ismail Merchant had one of the biggest critical hits of their careers with this 1985 adaptation of the E. M. Forster classic. The cast is simply ludicrous, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, and Julian Sands. It is a story of a repressed young woman who falls for a free spirit in Edwardian England, and it was a nominee for eight Oscars, including Best Picture.
Running on Empty
The masterful Sidney Lumet directed a family drama that features one of the best performances from an actor taken way too young, River Phoenix. The actor earned his only Oscar nomination as Danny Pope, the son of two parents who have taken their family on the run from the FBI, played by Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti. A delicate, nuanced character study.
HBO Max subscribers could do no wrong by picking any of the Ingmar Bergman films on the service, but this is arguably the best gateway to that world. Even those who have never seen this surreal vision have probably seen clips and images, especially the iconic chess match with Death himself. Max von Sydow is riveting in a film that defined a style of foreign filmmaking for American audiences when it was released.
Movies don’t get more delightful than this beloved classic about backstage drama on the advent of the talkie. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor are as charming as charming can be, and the movie contains some of the best choreography of its era, and not just in the titular number. It’s joyous from front to back. Honestly, you have to be kind of a jerk not to like this movie.
Few film debuts have been as momentous as that of Billy Bob Thornton, who wrote, directed, and starred in this 1996 drama that became a critical darling and eventual hit. The story of a mentally disabled man who is being released from a mental hospital he has lived in most of his life struck a chord with viewers, earning Thornton an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The mannerisms of Thornton’s Karl kind of became an easy impersonation, but this is a tender, nuanced character study that deserves appreciation beyond that.
How about a different kind of marathon than Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? On HBO Max, you can watch three of the four iterations of A Star is Born — the ones from 1954, 1976, and 2018. Why do they keep telling this story over and over again? And which one is the best version? Watch them all and figure it out yourself.
The great Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) made his English-language debut with this tense and underrated 2013 thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, and Matthew Goode. Heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, it’s the story of an 18-year-old girl who ends up living with her unstable mother and discovers that her uncle Richard has a few secrets. The script isn’t exactly airtight, but Park brings his typical impeccable craft and style.
Elia Kazan directed the most essential version of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize winner from 1947. It’s the story of a southern belle on hard times and the trouble she gets into at her sister’s house (and with her brother-in-law), but it’s also just a great example of blinding star power in the form of Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Marlon Brando as Stanley. It’s Brando’s breakthrough film. Movies would never be the same.
Almost all of the Studio Ghibli films are on HBO Max, the now exclusive home to them when it comes to streaming. The truth is that we could devote about 10 percent of this list to Hayao Miyazaki and his colleagues, but we’ll give up some that space and just point you here to the ranking of the entire output of the most important modern animation studio in the world. Start with Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle in the Sky. You won’t stop.
The comic book movie has come so far in the last four decades that it may be hard for young viewers to watch this 1978 Richard Donner film through modern eyes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Donner’s movie has held up incredibly well, thanks in large part to the charismatic Christopher Reeve, who became so identified with Superman that no one has really replaced him since.
Michael Mann’s 1981 crime flick is one of the best directorial debuts of the era, a pronouncement of a major talent and a film that still feels fresh and new. James Caan is fantastic as a safecracker who is trying to leave his life behind. Mann’s refined visual style was there from the very beginning and the score by Tangerine Dream is unforgettable.
All mockumentaries owe a massive debt to Rob Reiner’s directorial debut in this 1984 classic. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer made musical and comedy history when they stepped into the leather boots of Spinal Tap, “one of England’s loudest bands.” While a lot of comedies from the ‘80s are sadly dated, this one still lands every single joke.
The late, great Krzysztof Kieslowski co-wrote and directed three films released in quick succession in the fall and winter of 1993–94. They became instant art-house hits that have only grown in esteem in the quarter-century since their release. Based on the colors of the French flag and what they stand for, Blue, White, and Red, these movies are masterpieces on their own that gain even more power when viewed collectively.
There are a lot more films by Yasujiro Ozu on The Criterion Channel, but the Japanese master’s best film has also made the journey to HBO Max. It’s as essential as movies get, the story of an aging couple who journey to Tokyo to visit their children. It’s ostensibly the story of a generation gap, but it’s the delicacy of the detail and setting work that have defined it. Viewers feel like they’re looking through someone’s window on lives that existed before the film started and go on after the credits roll. There’s a reason it’s in the top ten of almost every list of the best films ever made.
Tony Scott directed a script by the then-unknown Quentin Tarantino while the eventual Oscar winner was working on his own debut, Reservoir Dogs. Scott’s film starred Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as a young couple who heads on the run after stealing a shipment of drugs from her boss. One of the best ensembles of the ‘90s also includes James Gandolfini, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken.
David Lynch came roaring back with Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return, but HBO Max has the film that followed the original seasons, this daring prequel to the story of Laura Palmer. With the resurgence of this world, Fire Walk With Me got a bit of an overdue reassessment, and a film considered one of Lynch’s worst when it was released is now widely considered one of his best.
Can black-and-white horror films from nearly a century ago still have power for modern audiences watching HBO Max on their tablets? We’ll see. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror classic contains some of the most striking imagery of its era in the story of a student of the occult who travels to a village in search of a vampire. He regrets it. Vampyr is nearly silent but it contains visuals that you’ll never forget.
To coincide with their exclusive streaming access to his The Human Voice, HBO Max added a selection of great Pedro Almodovar films. Consider this entry a placeholder for all the wonderful Pedro goodies, including Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, The Skin I Live In, Bad Education, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother, and more.
Henri-Georges Clouzot is one of the best suspense directors of all time, and his The Wages of Fear has lost none of its power to thrill. The premise alone is perfectly thrilling: Four men take a job driving explosive nitroglycerin over a mountain pass. Every bump could be their last moment on Earth. It’s a model of how to produce tension through narrative and pacing. Watch it and start listing movies that it obviously influenced. It will take all night.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal star in this 1989 rom-com that became an essential film. Ryan and Crystal have arguably never been as charming as they are here, but it’s really Nora Ephron’s razor-sharp script that made this an instant classic.
One of the best movies of the ’80s, Wings of Desire is about longing and what it means to be human. Bruno Ganz, in an unforgettable performance, plays an angel who can hear the thoughts of the denizens of Berlin and decides to give up his immortality to join them. One of the most poetic, lyrical films ever made.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? Seriously, what could possibly be written if you’re on the fence about The Wizard of Oz? Maybe you haven’t seen it since you were a little kid? Revisit the journey of Dorothy over the rainbow if that’s the case and appreciate this wonderful fantasy on a new level.
John Cassavetes’s best film is this 1974 drama that features one of the best performances of all time at its center. Gena Rowlands owns the screen as a woman whose average domestic life starts to come apart at the seams. She’s simply riveting in every scene, finding the truth in her character that other actresses wouldn’t have even considered.