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On March 4, 2021, CBS All Access rebranded with the name Paramount+, reflecting the history of the legendary film and TV company with that nifty little mathematical sign that all the streaming companies seem to love these days. The name Paramount brings a deep catalogue of feature films, and the streaming service also includes titles from the Miramax and MGM libraries. They have additionally promised a more robust original selection than at launch, which includes the long-delayed SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.
For now, Paramount+ can’t compare to the depth of a catalogue like HBO Max’s or the award-winning original works at other streamers, but it has a solid library with at least 40 films you should see.
When it was released in 2001, audiences were divided over Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project started by Stanley Kubrick about the nature of human existence. History has come around to recognize it as a visually daring, often brilliant film. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, an android child who learns about the meaning of life and human nature. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious piece of work that you should revisit if you haven’t seen it since it came out.
Jodie Foster won a Golden Globe for her performance in The Mauritanian in early 2021, but it’s only the latest in a long string of wins, including an Oscar for her work here as a rape victim fighting for justice. When The Accused was released in 1988, Hollywood hadn’t really reckoned with rape and the issues around it like trauma and victim blaming. This movie was brave enough to do so, and it’s anchored by one of the most striking performances of the ’80s by one of her generation’s best actresses.
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.
Before Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu directed this highly acclaimed Oscar nominee in 2006 about intersecting lives in a moving narrative that takes place around the world. The remarkable ensemble includes Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Adriana Barraza, and Rinko Kikuchi.
After his failed attempt to go mainstream in Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong and found fame bigger than he could have imagined in a string of films that started with 1971’s The Big Boss. Directed by Lo Wei, it makes perfect use of Lee’s athleticism and charisma in the story of a young man who crosses paths with a crime lord. Guess who wins?
Co-directed by two men known mostly for their acting — Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci — Big Night is a tender movie about a pair of Italian brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) who own a restaurant in ’50s New York. As they struggle to keep it afloat, Big Night becomes a heartfelt movie about the immigrant experience and the American Dream.
If you’re looking for a good, underrated thriller, look no further than this 1997 movie about a road trip gone horribly awry. Jonathan Mostow directs the always-great Kurt Russell as a man who has some words with a truck driver and learns that road rage is never the answer. A mix of modern fears with a noir sensibility, this is a tight, effective little movie of the kind that doesn’t really make it to theaters all that often anymore.
Long before he played Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. notched his first Oscar nomination for Chaplin, the 1992 biopic of the life of one of the most influential movie stars of all time, Charlie Chaplin. Another legend, Richard Attenborough, directed what turned out to be a legitimately great performance from RDJ.
One of the best movies of the ’70s is a part of the Paramount+ launch-day catalogue. The 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 of its era.
Before Election and The Descendants, Alexander Payne made his directorial debut with this razor-sharp comedy about abortion. Laura Dern gives one of her best performances as a pregnant woman who becomes a household name when pro-life and pro-choice activists turn her into the center of a debate over the eternally divisive issue. Smart and sharp, this is one of Payne’s best films.
Sometimes a movie’s quality can become overshadowed by the headline-grabbing twist in its final act. Such was the case with Neil Jordan’s 1992 hit, a movie that became a cultural phenomenon because of its twist, but the movie itself kind of faded into history. Even without the shocker, this is a solid film with great performances by Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, and Jaye Davidson.
There was a time, young readers, when Eddie Murphy was the biggest stand-up comedian in the world. He is one of the few in history whose stand-up comedy was so incredible that a recording of it could turn into a blockbuster comedy. Take this film, which is the highest-grossing stand-up-comedy concert movie of all time and one of the funniest that will ever be made.
Horror wunderkind Kevin Williamson followed the massive success of his scripts for Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer with arguably his most underrated project, this clever approach to the alien-invasion movie done in that meta Williamson style. Robert Rodriguez directed the film about an alien invasion at an average high school and gathered a great cast that included Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, and many others.
Adrian Lyne’s 1987 thriller was more than just a movie, it was a cultural phenomenon. The story of a woman who basically stalks and terrorizes her weekend affair became a cautionary tale for an era dealing with changing views on sexuality and infidelity. Michael Douglas and Glenn Close were perfectly cast in a movie that doesn’t exactly hold up today in terms of its gender politics, but does serve as a fascinating snapshot of where these issues were in the mid-‘80s.
Largely ignored by audiences, this critical darling took some time to find viewers, and it’s possible it slipped under your radar. This is a fantastic 1994 drama about a young man named Fresh (Sean Nelson), who ends up running drugs for gangsters, including one played memorably by the great Giancarlo Esposito. Samuel L. Jackson is excellent as Fresh’s alcoholic father, who also happens to be a chess master.
Relatively unsuccessful when it was released, Dean Parisot’s 1999 sci-fi/comedy has become a major cult hit in the last two decades. It’s a loving ode to the world of shows like Star Trek, starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, and Tony Shalhoub. The ensemble plays the cast of a fictional sci-fi show who get caught up in an actual alien invasion.
In 1990, Paramount released one of the most influential and beloved romantic dramas of its era. Ghost was such a hit that it was nominated for Best Picture and made over $500 million (in 1990 money, no less). Everyone could relate to the story of loss wrapped up in a mystery and a romance at the same time. Patrick Swayze plays the dead lover of Demi Moore, who turns to Whoopi Goldberg for help after she starts being haunted. It’s cheesy, but it’s very rewatchable.
The entire franchise featuring one of the world’s most famous action heroes resides on Paramount+, including the divisive fourth and final (for now) chapter. Of course, the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, remains the best of the bunch, but there’s some value and fun in Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade too (and even parts of Crystal Skull. Yeah, we said it).
The great Hong Kong director Andrew Lau directed this fantastic 2002 crime film so instantly popular that an American remake was rushed into production and ended up being a little movie called The Departed. The story is very similar to that of the Scorsese classic, about a police officer who infiltrates a criminal underworld by going undercover only to discover that there’s another officer already in the organization. See where this great piece of screenwriting really began.
There’s a reason this tale of people taken over by an alien invasion has been remade again and again. The ’70s version remains the best, but the 1956 original is definitely worth a look, a taut and smart sci-fi action movie from the great Don Siegel. Adapted from the 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, no one involved could have guessed how much this movie would change the genre forever.
F. Gary Gray directed this remake of the 1969 action-movie classic and really made the most of his incredibly charismatic cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Ed Norton, Jason Statham, and Donald Sutherland. The truth is that this remake has little to do with the original film, focusing more on a planned heist to steal gold than the vehicle-based caper of the first movie. It’s well-shot and the stunt work is strong, giving action fans what they need in a streaming library thin on this particular genre.
Believe it or not, they’re currently making a fourth Jackass film right now, but you can watch the whole series exclusively on Paramount+ right now. (That includes even the “alternate” ones, like Jackass 3.5). Go back to the heyday of Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, and the rest of the dangerous idiots. These movies are often derided as being dumb but they’re a glorious, infectious kind of dumb that wants nothing more than to make you laugh.
One of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies. Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, it’s the only time that Tarantino explicitly worked from someone else’s material, and the result is a film that beautifully blends his voice with Leonard’s, anchored by great performances from Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Samuel L. Jackson.
He may have won awards for Green Book, but Peter Farrelly’s best film remains this 1996 comedy starring Woody Harrelson as a grifting bowler and Randy Quaid as the Amish prodigy he exploits and then befriends. All you need to know about this movie is that it’s laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end and also features one of Bill Murray’s best supporting performances.
Director Brad Silberling adapted the massively successful Lemony Snicket books by Daniel Handler, taking the first three novels and combining them for this 2004 smash hit. Jim Carrey plays the villainous Count Olaf, who obtains legal custody of two children named Violet and Klaus, along with their baby sister, in an effort to steal their fortune. This is darker and more creative than family entertainment is often allowed to be.
Long before creating the beloved The Queen’s Gambit, Scott Frank made his theatrical film directorial debut with this intense and brilliant 2007 crime film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, and Isla Fisher. JGL plays an average guy who works at a bank, where he is roped into a scheme to rob his new employer. Smart and taut, this is great genre material.
It was notoriously mishandled by Miramax, but Guillermo del Toro’s English-language debut still has enough signs of its creator’s vision to justify a revisit. Based on the short story of the same name, it stars Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, and Norman Reedus and concerns deadly underground bugs that were genetically engineered to stop a disease being spread by cockroaches. Again, some of this is clunky, but there are memorable set pieces.
One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime that he has no intent of committing in this fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted. It’s forever timely.
The more recent Mission: Impossible films have been floating around the streaming services for the past few years, but the core original trilogy has been harder to find. Catch up with the original adventures of Ethan Hunt with these three films by Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. The first movie in particular has held up splendidly.
The incredible genius that is Elaine May didn’t direct nearly enough films, so take any chance possible to watch one when it’s on a streaming service to which you subscribe. This one is her 1971 black comedy in which she also co-starred alongside the phenomenal Walter Matthau. The neat trivia here: May became the first woman to write, direct, and star in a major motion picture with A New Leaf — and it happened only a half-century ago this year.
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau changed comedy history with this film adaptation of the massive-hit 1965 play by Neil Simon about two divorced men trying to navigate the next chapter of their lives. Lemmon and Matthau defined these character types in comedy with Lemmon capturing the neat freak Felix Unger and Matthau embodying the roommate who drives him crazy, Oscar Madison.
History has been a little cruel to this 1980 drama because it won Best Picture over Martin Scorsese’s masterful Raging Bull, but this is a better movie than its reputation would suggest, an empathetic family saga about grief and trauma. Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton star in ax film that also won Robert Redford an Oscar for Best Director.
Spike Lee directed one of the best stand-up movies of all time when he helmed this look at a tour featuring sets by Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and a movie-stealing Bernie Mac. Shot over two nights of the tour, Lee focuses mostly on the stand-up, but we also get some nice behind-the-scenes footage on a magical event.
Jane Campion directed this acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1881 novel of the same name. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, a young woman manipulated by the other women in her life, including Madame Serena Merle (Barbara Hershey) and Henrietta Stackpole (Mary-Louise Parker). It can be a little stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a great performance piece, especially for Kidman and Hershey, who landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
Ivan Reitman’s hysterical adaptation of the book of the same name by Howard Stern, one of the most iconic radio personalities of all time. In his 1993 book, Stern detailed his background and rise in the business, and the film hits many of the highlights of the Stern story, with a number of key personalities playing themselves, including Robin Quivers, Fred Norris, and Gary Dell’Abate. Baby Booey to y’all!
Gore Verbinski broke the pattern in which remakes of Asian horror films are usually a total waste of time with this update of the incredible Ringu. Instead of just repeating the beats of a story of a VHS tape that kills people after seven days, Verbinski made his own film and grounded it with a great central performance by Naomi Watts.
Paramount+ doesn’t have the classic movie depth of Criterion Channel or HBO Max, but they do have this 1953 gem from William Wyler, an all-time rom-com classic. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn have so much chemistry and charisma that it’s blinding in this story of a princess who goes to Rome and meets a handsome reporter. Hepburn is so great here that she won the Oscar for Best Actress.
Franco Zeffirelli directed and co-wrote this controversial adaptation of the William Shakespeare classic, which spoke to a new generation of young people when it was released in 1968. Notable for being the first film version of this story that cast young people in the lead roles, it was nominated for the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.
The great Steven Zaillian directed this excellent adaptation of the book of the same name by Fred Waitzkin. Did you like The Queen’s Gambit? Check out one of the most beloved dramas about a chess prodigy named Josh Waitzkin, whose talents are nurtured at a young age, even as those around him worry about this young genius losing sight of what’s important. It’s got a great ensemble that includes Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, and Ben Kingsley.
The Sam Raimi dramatic thriller is not exactly like the other horror and superhero films he’s primarily known for. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton star as Minnesotan brothers who find a plane crash with $4.4 million in cash. They take the money and, well, things go wrong from there. It’s a fantastic movie with a “what if” premise about what you would do in the same situation.
Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino teamed up on this stylish version of Miller’s beloved graphic novel about violent men and femme fatales. The star power here is one draw (the cast includes Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, and Elijah Wood), but the best reason to watch this is that there’s never been anything else quite like it.
Paramount’s most famous brand (sorry, SpongeBob) will likely always be Gene Roddenberry’s universe of space travelers. So, of course, the Star Trek movies are on Paramount+ alongside all of the old and new series, from the Shatner iteration to Discovery and Picard. Strap in and watch all the voyages of the Starship Enterprise you can handle.
Jackie Chan was one of the biggest stars in the world in the late ’80s and early ’90s when Supercop dropped in cinemas. (Technically, it’s a sequel to Police Story, but it was released as just Supercop in U.S. theaters.) The Stanley Tong action hit really highlights Chan’s incredible stunt work. It made almost $50 million in Hong Kong and the U.S. alone on a budget of under $1 million.
There’s not much Hitchcock on Paramount+, so take the opportunity to watch 1955’s To Catch a Thief, a great flick that doesn’t get the attention that other, more commonly beloved Hitch do. Based on the novel of the same name by David Dodge, this one features the amazing Cary Grant as a retired cat burglar who is drawn back into the criminal world when he discovers that someone is posing as him on the French Riviera. Grace Kelly co-stars.
The late Chris Farley’s best film, the hysterical buddy comedy Tommy Boy finds him paired with his friend David Spade, who plays the employee forced to babysit Farley’s man-child heir to his dad’s company. The Odd Couple chemistry between Farley and Spade was never better than it was here.
The Airplane and Naked Gun movies will always be more popular, but true fans also love the ZAZ spoof Top Secret! from 1984. There’s a lot to laugh at here, and it comes with one of Val Kilmer’s funniest and most fearless performances.
Danny Boyle really broke through with his second film, a beloved adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about addiction. Ewan McGregor plays Mark Renton, the most charismatic member of a group of friends who became instantly iconic, including Spud (Ewan Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd), and the sociopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Plus, it’s got one of the best soundtracks of the ’90s.
Peter Weir directed Jim Carrey to one of the best performances of his career in a 1998 dramedy that now seems far ahead of its time in the way it foretold people living lives online. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who has grown up on a TV show but has no idea that his entire life has been watched by millions. Ed Harris and Laura Linney are also just phenomenal in this modern classic.
Sofia Coppola made her directorial debut with her version of Jeffrey Eugenides’s beloved novel about a group of sisters who captivated the entire neighborhood in which they lived. Kirsten Dunst anchors the dreamy film about the myth of perfection that exists in the world of picket fences in middle America. It’s got a great soundtrack too, by the French band Air.
One of the best films of the ’00s stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo as three men who become individually obsessed with the unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher’s masterpiece is supremely nuanced in the way it dissects that which we can never really know about true evil.