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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.
One of the best documentaries of the last couple years is also one of the least seen, so it’s great that a service like Paramount+ can bring it to a wider audience. Premiering at Tribeca in 2019, this is the story of the Sanford family, a clan in northern D.C. who filmed themselves over 20 years. The title comes from the family’s proximity to the White House, even though their lives couldn’t be more different from the people who live there.
Danny Boyle directed an unexpected critical and commercial darling in 28 Days Later, a film that influenced dozens of inferior works in the two decades since its release. It’s the story of a man (Cillian Murphy) who wakes up to discover that the world around him is gone. Society has disappeared because of a highly contagious virus. Yes, it will almost certainly play differently after the events of 2020 than it ever has before. (Note: Paramount+ also has the strong sequel, 28 Weeks Later.)
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.
Cameron Crowe wrote and directed this 2000 masterpiece about a young man (Patrick Fugit) who ends up on tour with a rock band known as Stillwater. With incredible supporting performances from Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this is one of the richest films of its era.
It’s hard to overstate how much Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s romantic comedy took over pop culture in 2001, becoming such an international hit that it grossed over $170 million worldwide and was nominated for Best Picture. The delightful Audrey Tautou stars as the title character, a waitress who works to better the lives of those around her but struggles to find her own happiness.
Incredibly controversial when it was released, Alan Parker’s 1987 thriller has aged very well thanks in large part to great performances from Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a private investigator who is hired to solve a disappearance that leads him to New Orleans at the behest of a devilish man named Louis Cypher (Get it!?!?). Explicitly sexual and violent, it’s the kind of movie for adults that doesn’t get made anymore.
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.
In between the first two Godfather movies, Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed a drama that’s arguably even better (yes, we said it), a stunning story of a surveillance expert who believes he has uncovered a murder plot. Gene Hackman leads an incredible cast in a film that’s about paranoia, privacy, and power. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to, well, The Godfather Part II.
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.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 masterpiece is one of the best films of its time, a story of violence and redemption in the great American North. The Coens won Best Original Screenplay and Frances McDormand took her first Oscar home for playing the unforgettable Marge Gunderson, a Minnesotan cop who gets entangled in a car salesman’s deeply inept foray into the criminal world.
Jiayan Shi directed and produced this heartbreaking documentary about the disappearance and death of Yingying Zhang in 2017. Shi has unique access to the story in that she knew Yingying, and so her film has an incredible you-are-there quality as Shi captures the investigation and grief that would emerge from this horrific crime. Paramount+ deserves credit for bringing smaller projects like this to their subscribers, ones that other major streamers might ignore.
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 the Bedroom
Todd Field’s drama is the kind of adult-driven film that doesn’t get made as often as it used to, featuring incredible performances from its Oscar-nominated cast. In particular, Sissy Spacek does some of the best work of her career as a mother dealing with an unimaginable tragedy. Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei are also stellar — all three actors earned Oscar nominations, along with the film landing one for Best Picture.
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.
Looking for a good thriller that history has kind of forgotten? Check out this 1992 mystery starring Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, and John Malkovich. Garcia plays a detective who discovers that a serial killer is terrorizing blind women in the area around San Diego, which leads him to cross paths with Thurman’s blind music student. It’s a little hacky at times but has a great cast.
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.
Over four decades after the wildly influential original film, Jonathan Demme returned to the Richard Condon 1959 novel and delivered a movie that was widely underrated. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, and Liev Schreiber star in the 2004 story of a sleeper agent, a film that played a lot differently in a scary post-9/11 world.
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.
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.
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.
Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the ‘10s? You’ve probably already seen this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its tight, taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. Plus, Paramount+ recently added the sequel, so: double feature time!
Sam Mendes directed this adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates that reunited Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in a very different kind of drama. The two Oscar winners play a couple in the mid-‘50s who are struggling through a dissolving marriage. It landed three Oscar nominations, including one for a great supporting turn from Michael Shannon.
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.
People like to point at ‘80s movies and say they were ahead of their time, but this may be most true about Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece, a film that foretold how technology would impact law enforcement in ways that took decades to come true. A brilliant action satire, Robocop is the story of a Detroit cop who is murdered and revived as the title character, a superhuman cyborg enforcer. It’s even more riveting and relevant over three decades later. (Note: Both sequels are on Paramount+ too.)
Forget that Queen nonsense, Rocketman is the best rock biopic in recent memory. Taron Egerton plays Elton John, whose life story unfolds in vibrant musical numbers actually sung by the leading man in this case. Energetic and emotional, Rocketman works by embracing the creative passion of its subject and trying to express it cinematically.
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.
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.
The 1986 coming-of-age story based on the author’s short story “The Body” remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations. Rob Reiner directed a fantastic young cast that includes River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell, Wil Wheaton, and Corey Feldman as four friends who go on a hike to find a dead body.
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.
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 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.
Rick Famuyiwa directed this 1999 coming-of-age comedy that has incredibly loyal fan base. Maybe you’re one of them? Revisit this tender, big-hearted story of friendship that stars Omar Epps, Richard T. Jones, and Taye Diggs. It’s a charming movie about how friendship shifts and changes from childhood to adulthood, but that the strongest connections never really go away.
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.