The Best Movies on HBO Max Right Now
Lots to see here.
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!
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!
Black Hawk Down (2001)
It's hard to tell the actors apart inBlack Hawk Down: they're all dressed in military fatigues, often with helmets and goggles that obscure their faces; there's dust everywhere; and yelling is the preferred method of communication. To say that Ridley Scott's chronicle of a 1993 US military raid in Mogadishu doesn't cohere isn't exactly a negative critique. It's a part of the movie's frenzied, discombobulating aesthetic. Faces blur. The soundtrack pummels you with gunfire. Helicopters whirl overhead. It's experiential, the type of movie that's tough to shake—even on a puny computer screen.
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 (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.
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.
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.
The Departed (2006)
Don't let your most annoying friend's affection for The Departed ruin the movie for you—it's an enormously entertaining crime film. Leonardo DiCaprio's expert slow-boil performance as undercover cop Billy Costigan is a big reason for that and marked a major career step forward. He stood tall against the Martin Scorsese film's many big-name scenery chewers and kept his Boston accent under control.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece thrusts you into the world of dreams, and leaves you so bewildered that it's difficult to wake up. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate spy who steals secrets by inserting himself in others' subconscious dream states, the film not only imagines this complex universe, it flips its structure, as DiCaprio’s man on the run is made to plan the perfect heist in order to leave behind his criminal life. Rather than stealing ideas, he's got to implant one—that's inception, baby!—with his team of specialists, resulting in a surrealist, multilayered film.
In the Line of Fire (1993)
Before throwing Harrison Ford in a plane inAir Force One and tossing George Clooney on a boat in The Perfect Storm, action maestro Wolfgang Peterson put Clint Eastwood in the line of fire in…In the Line of Fire! Skillfully playing "too old for this shit" characters way back in the early '90s, when he was still relatively spry in his 60s, Eastwood excels as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan, a old-timer tasked with stopping an assassination attempt and unraveling a vast political conspiracy. With a classic villain performance from John Malkovich, the movie leaps from one nail-biting sequence to another, and Eastwood ties it all together with his grizzled charm.
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.
Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)
Arguably the movie that established Quentin Tarantino as a full-fledged mainstream auteur, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 possesses some of the filmmaker’s most iconic set pieces and visual tableau, from the Bride rocking Bruce Lee's Round 5 jumpsuit to the animated O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) backstory sequence. The relatively quiet, reflective sequel was viewed by many as a leisurely paced come-down from the frenzied blood-letting high of the action-packed first half. But, like Beatrix Kiddo herself, the movie has only gotten wiser with age.
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.
Without the nostalgic glow, Steven Spielberg's rowdy, rousing act of political theater stands out as a treasure waiting to be appreciated. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for portraying our thunderous 16th president, who pulled every string necessary to end the Civil War and abolish slavery in one fell swoop. Spielberg finds comedy and tragedy in the saga, which resonates with a particularly damning pitch in our current stagnant moment. With gorgeous period accoutrements and the sharpest casting of the decade, Lincoln captures the past, speaks to the present, and hopefully inspires the future.
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 (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.
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 (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.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
There's a scene in Eliza Hittman's drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always that is near impossible to shake. Teen Autumn (Flanagan) has traveled to New York with her cousin Skylar (Ryder) in order to have an abortion, prohibited in her home state of Pennsylvania. She sits in an office in a Manhattan Planned Parenthood as a counselor cycles through a series of mandatory questions. The camera holds on Autumn's face as the questions grow more and more personal. The young woman doesn't reveal much in her answers, but you can read the pain in the cracking of her voice and the glistening in her eyes. Hittman has made a film about the grim pacts women make with each other in a world that is hostile to them set in an unromantic vision of New York. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is an unforgiving movie, and it's nevertheless stunning.
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.
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
If there's a better "just guys being dudes" movie than Ocean's Eleven, Soderbergh's update of the 1960 heist comedy classic, we certainly don't know it. Assembling his own Rat Pack out of the hottest stars of the early 2000s, Soderbergh trips the light fantastic around the casino heist genre, as his unlikely crew of misfits snap together like puzzle pieces, pulling off the impossible seemingly on charm alone. Led by the tag team of George Clooney's irresistible Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt's endlessly snacking, loud-shirt-wearing Rusty Ryan—whom you absolutely believe are two sides of the same poker chip thanks to a lean script and breathtakingly entertaining character work ("You think we need one more. All right, we'll get one more.")—and antagonized every step of the way by Andy Garcia's steely yet hapless casino owner villain Terry Benedict, Ocean's Eleven is simply great fun, with a thrilling here's-how-they-pulled-it-off twist ending that set the tone for the director's oeuvre ever afterward.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino's directorial debut is all talk, and mostly bullshit, spewing from the mouths of knuckleheads who just screwed up the diamond heist of a lifetime. Unencumbered by Hollywood's rules, Tarantino deconstructs masculinity through monologue, standoffs, and the literal removal of body parts (the now-legendary ear scene deserves that status). Speaking of ears, Tarantino has one; the "tipping" scene alone is an apogee of crude, poetic vernacular. Reservoir Dogs will always feel primordial, an introduction to the writer-director's -isms and a kickoff for endless imitators.
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.
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.
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.