This article is updated frequently as titles leave and enter HBO and HBO Max. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
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.
Steve McQueen made headlines in 2020 with his collection of films on Amazon Prime called Small Axe. However, his masterpiece that won him an Oscar for Best Picture is available for HBO Max subscribers. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in this adaptation of the true slave memoir by Solomon Northup. In many ways, it is the definitive film about American slavery.
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.
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.
Movies don’t get funnier than Christopher Guest’s brilliant mockumentary about people obsessed with their canine counterparts. Reuniting with most of his favorite colleagues and friends after the success of Waiting for Guffman, Guest and his ensemble dropped what is quite simply one of the best comedies ever made. HBO Max also has other “Guest Cinematic Universe” movies A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.
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.
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.
The Bridges of Madison County
Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this tender adaptation of the hit book, but it’s really Meryl Streep’s movie through and through. She’s simply breathtaking as an Iowan mother and wife who meets a National Geographic photographer and falls in love. It’s really one of her best performances.
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.
The film world hasn’t exactly been the same since it lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the best actors of his generation. Any debate about the best performance of his career that doesn’t include his Oscar-winning turn as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s 2005 drama is simply incomplete. Hoffman bypasses the typical shallow nature of playing real people to offer something deeper and truer about how the story of In Cold Blood changed Truman Capote’s life. It was powerful then, but it’s even more poignant now that PSH is gone.
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.
Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown. One of the best movies of the ‘70s, this Best Picture nominee (and Best Screenplay winner) tells the story of Jake Gittes, played unforgettably by Jack Nicholson, as he investigates an adulterer and finds something much more insidious under the surface of Los Angeles. It’s a must-see, as important as almost any film from its era.
Wong Kar-Wai seems to gain more esteem every year. Go back and watch one of his breakthrough films, a movie that Quentin Tarantino helped find a larger international audience with his support. The gorgeous dramedy unfolds in Hong Kong across two stories, both about men obsessed with women they’ve lost. It’s a tender character study, a beautiful film from one of the world’s masters.
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.
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.
Michael Mann directed Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx to two of the best performances of their career in his 2004 thriller Collateral. Cruise plays against type as a hitman who contracts Foxx’s cab driver as he goes on a killing spree. Smart and beautifully shot.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most acclaimed films is his adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1982 novel by Alice Walker. The Color Purple was really a turning point in his career, being the first time he made a historical drama instead of an escapist blockbuster. Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Danny Glover star in a story of the Black experience in the United States in the early 20th century. Some of it feels a little dated now, but there’s still power in those performances.
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.
Carl Franklin wrote and directed one of the most underrated Denzel Washington performances of all time in the 1995 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Walter Mosley. Washington plays Easy Rawlins, a World War II vet in 1948 who gets drawn into a mystery that classic noir filmmakers would have adored. Charming and riveting, the only crime here is that there wasn’t a whole franchise of films with Washington playing Easy.
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.
It’s a mad world in Richard Kelly’s sci-fi hit starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, and Jena Malone. Darko made almost nothing in theaters but developed a loyal following on the home market, becoming one of the more acclaimed sci-fi films of the ‘00s. Join in the conversation that seems to constantly surround this film (and maybe Kelly will be encouraged to make another one soon – he hasn’t directed in over a decade)!
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.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour drama is one of the most acclaimed films of 2021, landing multiple critics awards and three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name, it’s the tale of a director (poignantly played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) who stages a multi-lingual adaptation of Uncle Vanya while dealing with his own grief. It’s a moving beauty of a film.
It’s been three decades since the release of Terry Gilliam’s masterful fantasy-drama about a shock jock DJ and the homeless man who changes his life. Jeff Bridges plays the DJ, whose life is shattered after inadvertently encourages a mass shooting. When he meets Robin Williams’s character, he sees a chance at redemption for both of them. Smart, funny, and heartbreaking, it’s one of the best movies of the ‘90s.
Bob Rafelson really made Jack Nicholson a superstar with his 1970 film. Jack plays an oil rig worker named Bobby Dupea who travels home to Washington when he learns that his father is dying, taking his girlfriend (the wonderful Karen Black) with him on the trip. The film was a major hit and has been included in the National Film Registry as one of the most important of all time.
One of Harrison Ford’s most beloved films remains the 1990 Best Picture nominee which transcended its blockbuster success to become a true phenomenon, even going as far as winning an Oscar for Tommy Lee Jones. A remake of the hit TV series about a man wrongly accused of the murder of his wife, The Fugitive simply moves and is a perfect example of how to pace an action movie for maximum effect.
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.
Ben Affleck’s adaptation of the great Dennis Lehane thriller stars the actor/director’s brother as a Boston detective investigating the disappearance of a little girl. Affleck’s greatest gift as a filmmaker is the way he works with a great ensemble, which here includes the likes of his brother Casey, Michelle Monaghan, and Amy Ryan.
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.
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.
The Harry Potter Movies
Given that HBO Max is really the new catalog service for Warner Brothers, it makes sense that their most popular franchise would now be its exclusive property. All eight of the films based on the J.K. Rowling books are ready for you to stream in HD.
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.
Don Cheadle stars in this recounting of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, seen through the eyes of a hotelier caught up in the madness and forced to act. Paul Rusesabagina saved not only his family but hundreds of other refugees. Films like this can often feel exploitative, but Cheadle’s amazing work breaks through that and allows it to feel genuine and moving.
Nominated for 11 Oscars (and winning five), Hugo is one of Scorsese’s most acclaimed and beloved films, which should further put to rest any of those dumb insinuations that the legendary director only knows how to make mob movies. It’s a whimsical, delightful film that you can watch with the entire family, and while it may not be in 3D on HBO Max, you can still enjoy its endless visual glory.
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.
Was it released too soon? The box office failure of Jon Chu’s adaptation of the musical of the same name by Lin-Manuel Miranda was surprising, but it means that a lot of people still haven’t seen the film, and now they can on HBO Max! Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, and Melissa Barrera lead a cast of talented newcomers in a story of dreamers in a vibrant New York community.
In the Same Breath
Nanfu Wang directed one of the best documentaries of 2021 and the best non-fiction film to date about COVID-19, and it’s already on HBO Max. Not only were Wang’s cameras rolling in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic, but she deftly ties the incompetence and corruption of the Chinese response to the virus to what happened (and is still happening) in the United States and around the world. It’s a must-see.
Last year marked the tenth anniversary of one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, the story of a team of agents who can infiltrate dreams, led by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s part heist movie, part Bond movie, and mostly something that only the director of The Prestige and Tenet could possibly make.
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.
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.
Steven Soderbergh quietly delivered another banger in early 2022 with his latest HBO Max original about an agoraphobic employee of a company like Alexa that offers virtual home assistance. Zoe Kravitz rocks as a woman who listens to errors on the service KIMI and thinks she may have heard a murder. With echoes of Blow Out, Rear Window, and Panic Room, this is a taut, fantastic thriller.
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.
HBO Max has a dense catalog of classics, but maybe you’re looking for something newer? How about a great Western that was buried by the great theatrical disaster of 2020? Don’t miss this story of a retired sheriff (Kevin Costner) and his wife (Diane Lane) as they endeavor to rescue their grandson from a powerful family of criminals. Both performers are fantastic, doing some of the best work of their career in this vicious modern Western.
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.
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.
The biopic is almost always a stale, by-the-numbers genre, but then you get movies like Spike Lee’s story of the life of Malcolm X that make the entire genre worthwhile. The movie is a powerful force of nature, driving by one of Denzel Washington’s career-best performances and Lee’s most ambitious filmmaking.
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.
Christopher Nolan announced himself to the world with a Sundance thriller that really reshaped the indie scene — and eventually the blockbuster landscape, too. Guy Pearce gives one of his best performances as a man with such severe memory loss that he has to use his body to remind himself of the details he needs to solve a mystery. Clever and riveting.
*Menace II Society
Boyz N the Hood got more attention (and Oscar love), but this 1993 drama nearly felt as culturally essential to how film could capture life in the inner city of Los Angeles. It was a major talent pronouncement too, introducing the world to the Hughes Brothers, who directed the story of Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) as he navigated gang life in Watts and Crenshaw.
Sam Rockwell went from an underrated actor to an Oscar winner in the last couple years, but Moon was arguably his most beloved and possibly best performance. The new love affair with Rockwell should lead people to Duncan Jones’ best work, the story of a man working a solitary job on the lunar surface who learns a terrifying truth about his existence. It’s a brilliant piece of intellectual science fiction that shows how great genre movies don’t always need huge budgets to be effective.
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.
Guillermo del Toro adapted the acclaimed Tyrone Power noir and gave it his unique, daring style, and it’s already on HBO Max! An odd deal with Fox/Disney means that the film gets some time on the Warner streaming service before being exclusively on Hulu. Take the chance to watch one of 2021’s Best Picture nominees while you can!
Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s crime novel is one of their best movies, a won them three Oscars: Directing, Writing, and Best Picture. If you haven’t seen it since 2007, you may be surprised at how well it’s held up. The exact same film could be released today and it would have the same cultural impact. It already feels timeless.
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.
Paul Newman gave one of his best career performances in the 1994 Robert Benton drama based on a beloved book by Richard Russo. Newman plays “Sully” Sullivan, a normal guy in a normal New York time, but the Oscar winner finds a way to make a very normal life seem extraordinary. It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of character work that you could watch on any streaming service. Note: There’s also a wonderfully subtle turn from Bruce Willis in this flick.
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.
Elia Kazan’s complicated place in film history shouldn’t overshadow the incredible performances that anchor this 1954 drama, once considered one of the best films ever made. It undeniably features a top-tier performance from Marlon Brando, who won an Oscar, but he’s matched by Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint.
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.
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.
Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the days after the death of Princess Diana. Stephen Frears directed her and the great Michael Sheen as Tony Blair. How the Royal Family deals with the media and their people was deftly captured in a film for which Mirren basically won every award that they give out for this sort of thing.
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.
John Ford and John Wayne took a hard look at the genre that made them household names with this 1956 instant classic. Wayne plays a man who has devoted his life to finding his niece (Natalie Wood), kidnapped during the Texas-Indian Wars. Not only is this arguably Wayne’s best performance, but it digs deeper into the genre than the Western was typically allowed to do, opening it up to new visions by revealing it as something capable of doing more than shoot-outs and horse chases.
The wonderful Ang Lee directed an adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel of the same name from a script by star Emma Thompson that was so great it won her an Oscar. She stars as Elinor Dashwood in a tale of class and romance, appearing alongside Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. It’s a great period piece.
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.
Steven Soderbergh always zigs when people expect him to zag. Coming off the massive success of Traffic and Erin Brockovich, he turned to a movie he loved, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a sci-fi film that’s more about emotion and humanity than the future. George Clooney stars in the remake that doesn’t quite live up to the amazing original but is still worth a look for its place in the career of one of America’s best filmmakers.
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.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three decades since Thelma and Louise took over the national conversation and even the Academy Awards. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis give two of the best performances of their career in this unforgettable story of an assault that sends two women on a fateful road trip. Everything about this movie works better than you remember, particularly the fearless performances from its two stars.
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.
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.
Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Western completely deconstructed a genre that the director/star helped define and earned the filmmaker Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. It’s a straight-up masterpiece, the story of an aging outlaw dragged back into one more job that will remind him of his own history of violence and that of this country.
Brian De Palma directed one of the best movies of his notable career with The Untouchables, which won Sean Connery an overdue Oscar. Connery co-stars with Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness and Robert De Niro as Al Capone in an action-packed story of how Ness took down one of the most famous criminals of all time. Tense and riveting, it’s a great epic movie that’s anchored by phenomenal performances and De Palma’s unique eye.
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.
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.
No, not the Best Picture-nominated Steven Spielberg remake. This is the beloved original that dominated the Oscars over 60 years ago, winning a stunning ten Oscars, including Best Picture. Watch the original and then contrast and compare when you get to see the new one.
West Side Story (2021)
Steven Spielberg finally directed a musical, and it’s a masterpiece. An adaptation of the 1957 stage musical and the 1961 Best Picture winner, Spielberg’s vision is a reminder of his remarkable craftsmanship, earning him a Best Director nod, along with six other Academy Award nominations. It’s a vibrant retelling of a classic that pays homage to the original while also carving its own path.
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal star in the 1989 rom-com that became an essential movie about whether or not men and women can truly be friends without romance entering into the picture. 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.
Michael Douglas gives one of his top career performances in this 2000 dramedy based on the novel of the same name by Michael Chabon. He’s pitch perfect as Grady Tripp, a novelist who is now teaching at a university and trying to live up to the success of his breakthrough debut. Charming and funny, Curtis Hanson’s film also features one of Tobey Maguire’s best turns.