The Best Movies on HBO Max Right Now

Lots to see here.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Kier Dullea in '2001: A Space Odyssey' | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images
Kier Dullea in '2001: A Space Odyssey' | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Let's face it: You can only watch so much Netflix. At a certain point, all those little floating teaser images start to blend together, and you groan, verbatim, "I've already watched all the good movies on here a billion times, and I refuse to watch any of these countless terrible-looking ones." That's one advantage upstart HBO Max has over its biggest competitor: It has a ton of exclusive movies, old and new, that are of very high quality.

Not only does HBO Max combine the TV firepower of HBO proper and TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and CNN, it also possesses the massive Warner Bros. movie catalog, is the exclusive streaming home for Studio Ghibli features, and boasts curated selections from the Criterion Collection. But with so much to choose from, prioritizing all the beloved classics, box office hits, hidden gems, and recent award-winners currently showing on the premium sibling services becomes trickier to navigate. That's where this frequently updated guide to the very best movies on HBO Max comes in. Happy streaming!

ALSO RECOMMENDED: Our guides to HBO Max Originals and what's hitting HBO Max this month

american splendor
Fine Line Features

American Splendor (2003)

Paul Giamatti plays the perfect curmudgeon in this quirky biopic of Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland-based illustrator behind the self-deprecating comic book strip also called American Splendor. Pekar shot to national fame thanks to combative appearances on David Letterman's late-night show, the last of which effectively turned into an on-air argument that ended their tense friendship. Part-documentary (with appearances from Pekar himself), part comic book, and part fictional biopic, there's nothing quite like American Splendor—a fitting tribute, because there was no one quite like Harvey Pekar. 

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Yeah, baby, yeah! There’s no franchise that’s quite as groovy as Austin Powers, the Mike Myers comedy about a sex-crazed, mod spy cryogenically frozen and reanimated in the '90s. It's an absolutely absurd James Bond sendup, but that's half the fun in watching him take on the villain Dr. Evil (also Mike Myers). If you find the London swinger with those teeth and Victorian lace ensembles as irresistible as apparently every woman on the planet, you can also catch the second and third installments on HBO Max, too. Yes, please!

Blade Runner (1982)

Director Ridley Scott went out of his way to imagine 2019 Los Angeles as a pretty terrible place to be, and yet the look, sound, and feel of the world are so seductive that we want to visit regardless. Same goes for the story: Blade Runner's plot is a barely warmed-over detective yarn with Harrison Ford in the role of the hard-boiled investigator, but we can feel glimmers of the pain and confusion of artificial humans who realize they are powerless against their pre-determined fate. The movie is a triumph of world-building that still makes a mark on viewers and filmmakers years later.

city of god movie
Miramax Films

City of God (2002)

This film about a Brazilian favela's descent into criminal rule leaves a haunting note echoing in the wake of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The harsh reality City of God portrays, one in which gang logic trumps all, will not make for an uplifting night in, but the movie is much more than a shoot-em-up thrill ride—Brazil's natural beauty and the hope of youth always serve as heartbreaking counterbalances to violence.

Clerks (1994)

As you've probably heard by now, Kevin Smith is one of Hollywood's most vocal stoners. And though Clerks, his debut feature, predates his pothead phase, this black-and-white comedy about Dante Hicks, a retail clerk at a convenience store, bears the hazy mark of a future weed enthusiast. For one thing, it's mostly about hanging out and noticing the small details of life. It's hard to explain its appeal to people who haven't experienced it. It's also pretty long-winded if you pay attention. And most people get obsessed with it in high school. Unlike weed, it's available to stream right now.

Clueless (1995) 

As if you were browsing a streaming service and you decided not to watch Clueless. Amy Heckerling's teen comedy masterpiece is an adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma that gets more and more brilliant every time you watch it. A time capsule of the mid-1990s, it's also timeless, utterly quotable, and a complete delight. Alicia Silverstone's Cher Horowitz is self-absorbed and privileged, but you can't help but want to be her BFF. 

The Dark Knight (2008)

Not all superhero films are action movies, but The Dark Knight, with its Heat-inspired opening robbery, truck-flipping car chase, and Batman-as-NSA-watchdog high-rise fight, certainly qualifies. Critics have rightly dinged Christopher Nolan's incoherent editing and glaring plot holes, but the Inception director is a master of narrative stacking, layering stories to create a sense of frenzied tension. The Dark Knight is a brilliant Jenga tower of suspense. With Heath Ledger's iconic Joker performance at its center, the movie grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.

Deerskin (2020)

When deadbeat Georges (Jean Dujardin) takes his car on a post-breakup road trip to the dreary French countryside, he answers an ad for an old man who has a slammin' deerskin jacket -- fringe and all -- and an unused digital camera burning a hole in the bottom of his trunk. Georges dons the jacket, admires his "killer style," and embarks on a crusade to make his jacket the only jacket in the world. First, he merely steals them from a few townspeople, pretending to be a filmmaker to convince a local bartender (Adèle Haenel) to spot him some cash, but eventually his desperation to fulfill his task turns to more murderous measures. Director Quentin Dupieux squeezes every drop of hilarity out of Georges' painful awkwardness and ridiculous schemes.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Dog Day Afternoon is a movie that vibrates with the energy of a city on the brink of exploding. In telling the story of a real-life New York bank robbery, director Sidney Lumet captures more than just the inherent tension between Al Pacino's stressed-out Sonny and the put-upon citizens trapped inside the bank with him. The movie also pulls back enough to capture the media circus, the community uproar, and the law enforcement response without losing sight of the human drama at the center. There's a reason almost every bank robbery movie since has stolen liberally from this one.

The Empty Man (2020)

Adapted from a Boom! Studios comic, The Empty Man, directed by David Prior, was initially sold to Fox in 2016 as a stylish horror mystery infused with thematic ambiguity, existential dread, and a dash of Lovecraftian terror. James Badge Dale plays ex-detective James Lasombra, a grief-stricken widower whose friend Nora (Marin Ireland) enlists him to help find her daughter Amanda (Sasha Frolova) after she disappears. Amanda and her teenage friends may or may not have summoned the Empty Man, a mystical entity with an odd connection to a cult-like organization called the Pontifex Institute, led by a charismatic leader played by Stephen Root of Office Space and Barry. Think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Ring, with an ambiguous twist ending that will melt your brain a little bit.

Escape From New York (1981)

There are no good guys in John Carpenter’s dystopian rescue movie, and if there were, Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken wouldn’t be one of them. Sure, he offers to save the president of the United States, who crash landed in the futuristic Manhattan mega-prison, from battalions of free-range criminals. Yes, he goes mano a mano with the surliest of the bunch. And yes, his hang-gliding skills are off the charts. But Snake isn’t nice. He’s not fighting for 'Merica. He’s an eyepatch-wearing, gut-toting rebel who looks out for himself as the world drowns in a cesspool of its own making. He sounds like a hero, an even more ruthless Han Solo, because Russell is a pro. Plissken’s first solution to the hostage crisis: "Get a new president!"

fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 (2018)

Technically a TV movie, since it was made for HBO, but we'll let it slide. Ray Bradbury's essential dystopian novel where books are banned gets the small screen treatment, starring Michael B. Jordan as Montag, a fireman who ultimately questions the value and purpose behind the book-burning mission. He teams with Michael Shannon, an actor with the unhinged commitment to pull off an evil delivery of a simple line: "Burn it."

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The next time someone tells you the Fast franchise is dumb as bricks, remind that chump that it all started with a 1998 investigative feature on the world of underground New York City racing. Yes, The Fast and the Furious, from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story director Rob Cohen, shaves away some of the nuance of magazine prose to be a nu-metal answer to Point Break, but the world is there—diverse, rowdy, and slick. Fetishizing the growling engines, the florescent paint jobs, and the killer scowls behind the wheel (as important as nitro boosters), Cohen's movie is just a few scratchy print lines away from being a fake Grindhouse trailer. This is glossy exploitation with even more gusto than the billion-dollar juggernauts that would follow. 

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

With their emphasis on motion and duration, the movies are great at selling the idea of velocity. Ford v Ferrari, an often workmanlike and occasionally wonderful account of the Ford Motor Company's quest to win the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, is a movie that knows when to slam its foot on the gas, when to hit the brakes, and when to cruise on charm. As you'd expect, a degree of showmanship is necessary. As iconoclastic American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and hot-headed British racer Ken Miles (Bale), the two stars get to play characters that fit them like a pair of racing gloves, teaming up to take on the corporate suits and marketing executives that want to rein in their rugged brilliance. Smells like a metaphor for something, right?

Warner Bros. Pictures

Goodfellas (1990)

Start thinly slicing garlic, make yourself some gravy, and settling in to watch Martin Scorsese's still incredible classic, Goodfellas. The story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), how he became a made man, and how it all went wrong is our favorite Scorsese movie for a reason. It's a brilliant dissection of the allure of the mob lifestyle, and a horrifying look at how it corrodes people's souls all at the same time. 

The Graduate (1967)

Dustin Hoffmann's early career masterpiece of privileged malaise holds up, because it turns out that America hasn't matured enough to deal in any meaningful sense with the existential angst its productivity-first ethos creates. Today, the one word Benjamin Braddock would hear might be two: "Venture capital" or "data mining" or "fintech startups" but the vast meaningless would be the same. And, of course, we can't forget the iconic Anne Bancroft, whose Mrs. Robinson is one of the most memorable characters in American film. She's got a whole song named for her! 

Gremlins (1984)

Joe Dante's creature feature hits that sweet spot between kid-friendly entertainment and cruel-and-unusual violent delight. For Christmas, Billy (Zach Galligan) receives an adorable "mogwai" as a pet. The one rule: Don't get the damn thing wet. When the inevitable happens, Gizmo the Adorable Furry Gremlin spawns five Mischievous Razor-Toothed Gremlins, who live for destruction, and threaten to rip apart the most wonderful time of the year.

In the Mood for Love (2000)

Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love has gone down as one of the best, and certainly most breathtaking, films of all time. The Hong Kong film chronicles a story of unrequited love between two neighbors (Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung) who discover their spouses are having an affair. Set in the '60s and later torn apart by war, the immensely sensual romance is about the beauty and lust in even the subtlest moments when every gesture, or trip down the block to pick up noodles, can mean so much. 

Innerspace (1987)

Gremlins director Joe Dante gave this take on the old Fantastic Voyage framing of the human body as the next expanse for exploration a necessary shot of comedy in the arm. Dennis Quaid plays an ex-naval pilot who signs up to be the test subject in a miniaturization project. Shrunk down to the size of a single cell, the pilot finds himself accidentally injected into the bloodstream of Martin Short, a manic grocery clerk. Working together—Jack navigating a world of espionage and assassins as Quaid does what he can from inside the cranial region—the two foil a plan to steal the miniaturization technology, and we have a ball watching it.

let them all talk

Let Them All Talk (2020)

Easily dismissed as one of Steven Soderbergh's quickly filmed direct-to-streaming offerings, Let Them All Talk, which pairs him for the first time with Meryl Streep, is a quiet masterpiece. The premise puts three actresses of enormous caliber—Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen—on a gorgeous cruise ship, the Queen Mary II. Working from a script by the great short story author Deborah Eisenberg, Streep plays Alice, a celebrated author whose eager agent (Gemma Chan) agrees to send her on a transatlantic trip to work on her latest manuscript. Alice's demand: Her old friends portrayed by Wiest and Bergen get invited along with her nephew (Lucas Hedges). What could be just ladies of a certain age having a fun sea adventure becomes a deft and devastating story about creative pursuits, long simmering resentments, and what we owe to those who we use in art. Soderbergh uses the confines of his settings to heighten the tension, the luxury of the boat becoming a way for the central women to hash out the questions about privilege and status that have been nagging them for years.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Luckily, HBO Max has all three chapters of director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series available, but we suggest starting with the first entry, a rousing adventure that kicks off with wide-eyed and furry-footed hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) leaving home for the first time. Staying true to his gross-out horror roots, Jackson turns J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel into a thrill-ride populated by masked riders, dark forests, and hideous Orcs. At the same time, the movie is packed with awe-inspiring images of mysterious cities and stirring portraits of friendships forged in battle.

Magic Mike (2012)

Steven Soderbergh's story of a Tampa exotic dancer with a heart of gold (Channing Tatum) has body-rolled its way to HBO Max. Sexy dance routines aside, Mike's story is just gritty enough to be subversive. Also, did we mention Matthew McConaughey shows up in a pair of assless chaps?

the matrix movie
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Matrix (1999)

Combining its signature slo-mo, 360-degree “bullet time” sequences with artfully choreographed Hong Kong-style martial-arts scenes, the Wachowskis' pathbreaking sci-fi epic set a new bar for special effects done right. As much of a kinetic and visual triumph as it was a psychological mindfuck—and that's saying something. Hands down, one of the best action movies of all time. Give this another rewatch before the anticipated fourth installment drops on HBO Max later this year.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch intended to follow up his cult-favorite TV show Twin Peaks with an even dreamier series. That never happened, but the ditched pilot served as the basis for Mulholland Drive, a gorgeous, interpretable, mind-bending movie—effin' art, man—that draws from 100 years of Hollywood tropes. Naomi Watts plays an aspiring actress who befriends an amnesiac (Laura Harring). There are musical interludes, sexual encounters, and loads of non sequiturs. The flavor of mystery is baked into it all, but you're better off luxuriating in this surreal bath than scrutinizing the plot.

Mystic River (2003)

In the early 2000s, director Clint Eastwood was cranking out Oscar bait like it was his job, which it was, and Mystic River actually delivers the goods (not to mention actual Oscars for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins). Part mystery, part revenge narrative, part meditation on grief and trauma, Mystic River's complexity remains accessible as an exploration of the unbreakable links between childhood and adulthood. 

native son
Matthew Libatique/HBO

Native Son (2019)

In updating Richard Wright's Native Son for our current age, visual artist Rashid Johnson and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks largely hew to the outline of the novel's plot, down to the inclusion of a disturbing moment that made the audience at Sundance's opening night murmur in shock. The 2019 Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders) is a green-haired punk who gets a job working as a driver for a wealthy white man, Henry Dalton and his family. There he meets Mary Dalton (Margaret Qualley), Henry's beautiful daughter whose attempts at inclusivity are racist and vapid. But Bigger and his girlfriend Bessie (KiKi Layne) are driven deeper into her orbit until a tragedy unfolds. What results is a film full of arresting images and strong performances from the likes of Moonlight's Sanders and If Beale Street Could Talk's Layne, driven by the enduring power of Wright's prose. 

No Sudden Move (2021) 

Steven Soderbergh's crime drama dropped directly onto HBO Max, but it's up there with some of his best work. It's a period piece about mobsters in 1950s Detroit pitched at a minor key that reveals facets of its twisty storyline as it goes along. Don Cheadle plays a low level gangster assigned to what seems like an easy job. He's paired up with Benicio Del Toro, and their fractured allegiance gets more complicated as they get deeper into the heart of the conspiracy they've been thrust into, which goes higher than anyone might expect. 

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

There are few anime directors as consistently creative as Masaaki Yuasa, who through a career has focused his talents on stories about ping-pong (Ping-Pong: The Animation), creatures from Hell (Devilman Crybaby), seaside tragic romances (Ride Your Wave, streaming on HBO Max), and anime itself (Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!!, also available on HBO Max). Over a long night of heavy drinking in Kyoto, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is as funny as it is existential, the perspective-shifting animation bending its sense of time and place as a college student tries to stage a meet-cute with his younger classmate. As a spontaneous drunken night usually is, Yuasa's film diverts into unexpected tangents, including a guerrilla musical in a crowded square, that ushers a crazy night into calm daybreak.

Point Break (1991)

Point Break is sublime. With its beautiful ocean photography, pulse-pounding robbery sequences, and delicate male-friendship between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, the undercover-cop drama rides tone like a veteran surfer ripping up uneven waves. Yes, some parts—like anything with Gary Busey—are ridiculous, but director Kathryn Bigelow brings a wryness to the material that keeps the movie from descending into bro'd-out camp. It's no surprise that the Fast and Furious series lifted the film's most essential quality to kickstart a billion-dollar franchise—everyone wants to spend time with a close-knit family.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

No other modern movie so effortlessly created its own language and mythology of cool, where mere objects evoke oceans of meaning. Many have tried, but only Quentin Tarantino could cut and paste his passions into a collage. Both wickedly funny and surprisingly thoughtful, it's even better than you remember it being in the 1990s. Travolta still sizzles. The dialogue still pops. The soundtrack still sings. Forget the loftier films he'd make later in his career—this is his masterpiece.

The Road Warrior (1981)

While Mad Max: Fury Road topped critics' lists and racked up Oscar nominations back in 2015, it’s worth remembering where the cylinders first fired. No, not the first Mad Max film, more of a grungy cop drama. We’re talking about The Road Warrior, George Miller’s soft reboot of the 1979 original. With Mel Gibson's taciturn, raw performance, outlandish character designs, and its final pulverizing chase sequence, the movie defined what the phrase "post-apocalyptic" would mean for future generations. In the process, it also set a new bar for pure gasoline-fueled, pedal-to-the-metal insanity—one that has, arguably, never been topped.

Saw (2004)

Say what you like about the sequels, but those who caught Saw before all the surprises were spoiled were in for a big, bruising treat. First-timers James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer) are clearly having a ball with this buffet of horror delights. The low-budget, high-energy horror show goes from suspense to shocks and from police procedural to outright gory mayhem without skipping a beat. We're not ashamed to admit that the ending, with the reveal of the Jigsaw Killer, totally got us. If you think this movie is little more than "torture porn" (a nonsense phrase) then you need to give it another spin.

shiva baby

Shiva Baby (2021) 

Emma Seligman's comedy about shiva gone very wrong often plays more like a horror film, the chattering of bubbes turning downright maniacal as the score's strings intensify. We first meet Danielle (comedian Rachel Sennott) in the middle of sex with Max (Danny Deferrari), her sugar daddy, who shows a lecherous interest in her budding law career. Most of the movie, however, takes place at the post-funeral memorial for a distant family acquaintance Danielle is roped into attending with her parents (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed). It quickly becomes obvious that our protagonist is not, in actuality, pursuing a law career. She's an aimless college student who has made up her own major. If the agony of being barraged with countless questions about her future weren't bad enough, her high school ex (Molly Gordon) is a guest, as is—surprise!—Max. Jewish geography is indeed as much a curse as it is a blessing. Seligman's camera stays focused on Danielle as her anxiety skyrockets and she makes a series of increasingly rash decisions. At less than 90 minutes, Shiva Baby is both economical and a bit slight, but Seligman makes fascinating choices at every turn.

Spirited Away (2001)

One of the major selling points of HBO Max's launch was that it would be the first-ever streaming home for the library of Hayao Miyazaki's legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, and while most every film in it has a certain magic, Spirited Away remains its gold star. Bending down to see the world from a child's eyes and capture a moment of fresh-faced adulthood, Spirited Away tails Chihiro, your average unfocused, along-for-the-ride 10-year-old, when her family wanders through an overgrown tunnel, entering a rich world full of pastoral vistas and a menagerie of creatures ripped from notebook margin doodles. To save her parents, transformed into gluttonous pigs by some enchanted sausages, Chihiro braves the working world of a bathhouse run by a wicked witch, guides a faceless spirit through limbo, and frees the spirit of the river. A sophisticated and lush Alice in Wonderland for modern times, Miyazaki's hyper-detailed art elevates Spirited Away's simple lessons into a masterwork.

A Star Is Born (2018)

This is a movie of competing voices: On one end, you have the guttural croak of Jackson Maine, the hard-living, cowboy-rock troubadour played by the film's director, producer, and co-writer Bradley Cooper; on the other end is the soulful roar of Ally, the waitress harboring dreams of pop stardom played by IRL pop icon Lady Gaga. The contrast between the two vocal deliveries is part of what makes the film's Oscar-winning power ballad "Shallow" so immediately alluring, the sonic equivalent of your goosebumps getting goosebumps, and that same tension drives this remake from one sequence to the next.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

In 1982, documentarian Marty Di Bergi embedded himself with British rock group Spinal Tap for the Smell the Glove tour. The result is this fly-on-the-wall documentary that captures the raw emotion of band relationships, the power of a great set piece (nothing screams "ROCK" like an 18in Stonehenge replica), and exposes Spinal Tap's penchant for losing drummers to freak accidents. A must-see for music fans.

tinker tailor soldier spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

If a season of 24 took place in the smoky, well-tailored underground of British intelligence circa 1973, it might look a little like this precision-made John le Carré adaptation from Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson. Even if you can't follow terse and tightly-woven mystery, the search for Soviet mole led by retired operative George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the ice-cold frames and stellar cast will suck you into the intrigue. It's very possible Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch are reading pages of the British phone book, but egad, it's absorbing. A movie that rewards your full concentration.

Training Day (2001)

Let's forget for a minute that Washington won his second Oscar basically playing a piece of shit. His Detective Alonzo Harris is a chain-smoking, whip-riding, utterly corrupt LA cop who takes a naïve cop (Ethan Hawke) for an ever-eventful ride. Let's remember instead the devilish layers Washington brought to that role. For most of the movie, he had audiences wondering if he'd take Hawke on a crooked-but-ultimately righteous path or send him to hell along with him. Yeah, he was a bad guy, but he was one of the most fascinating bad guys anyone has ever seen.

13 Going on 30 (2004)

What if Big, the Tom Hanks classic about a little boy upgraded to an adult body, got gender-swapped? Jennifer Garner showed us what that would look like in this feel-good rom-com, which transports her 13-year-old Jenna from her 1987 birthday party to adulthood 17 years later. Wouldn't you know, wish fulfillment isn't all it's cracked up to be—but Mark Ruffalo makes it bearable as Jenna's charming love interest.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)

The man-apes. The monolith. The star-gate sequence. Maybe these are elements you vaguely remember from a Film 101 course you slept through in college, or maybe you just never got around to opening the pod-bay doors on Stanley Kubrick's existential sci-fi classic. Well, here's your chance. Sure, your laptop or phone aren't the ideal formats to appreciate 2001's meticulous production design, but if you own a decent-sized TV, it's still possible to go on an odyssey of your own.

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