The Best Movies on HBO Max Provide a Masterclass in Cinema History
From Citizen Kane to Pulp Fiction, Mad Max, and Purple Rain—this might be the most wide-ranging list of films you can find on a streaming service.
As the Solarmovie writer who put together this list you’re reading—a compilation of the best movies on the newly-launched HBO Max—I’ll admit one thing. Before I tell you about that thing, know that I’m not out on the corner, stopping every other person who walks by, shilling out free trials for HBO Max. But: HBO Max really does have the most wide-ranging selection of films you’ll ever see on a streaming service. Bar none. Seriously.
Sci-Fi, classic cinema, sports documentaries, Studio Ghibli (!). It’s all here. If you need more convincing, know that Mechagodzilla, Arrietty, Jesus Shuttleworth, Frodo, David Byrne, and Ma (from the movie Ma), all make cameos on this list. It’s beautiful. It’s weird. It’s great. Now read up—and watch all that you possibly can before this is updated with Richard Linklater’s entire Before trilogy.
Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard’s cinema-shattering story of a French criminal, is a small drop in HBO Max’s film-student 101 bucket. Start here before you knock out the obligatory Citizen Kane watch.
He Got Game
Here’s a big three for you: Denzel. Spike. Ray Allen. Together, they created one of America’s greatest sports movies—and a fictional basketball legend, Jesus Shuttleworth, worth imitating on your nearest blacktop.
Local mayors, public officials, governors, etc. etc.: Don’t be Larry Vaughn again this summer. If there’s another spike, close the damn beach.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road successfully rebooted the Mel Gibson-fronted Mad Max franchise—and maybe even exceeded its quality in the process. Mostly thanks to Charlize Theron’s unforgettable turn as Furiosa. That’s why we consider it one of the best movies of the last decade.
“Well, if you like burgers, give them a try sometime. Me, I can’t usually get them ’cause my girlfriend’s a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian. I do love the taste of a good burger. Mmm.” Never gets old.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
The late Nirvana frontman has been endlessly profiled, covered, investigated, and talked about both during his career, and ever since his death in 1994. That said, few deep-dives on Cobain have offered a more defining portrait than Montage of Heck.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Again, another PSA: Studio Ghibli’s library is on HBO Max, if you’ve already exhausted Disney+’s Pixar offerings and need a reliable third-act cry. You might’ve already seen Spirited Away, so check out The Secret World of Arrietty—which will leave you with the same sense of wonder.
No Country For Old Men
Even if, in the Coen Brothers matrix, you’re more of an Inside Llewyn Davis kind of fan, you still have to respect No Country For Old Men—where Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones all give career performances. Not bad!
The Dark Knight
Whether you’re looking to relive Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker, want to see where many of today’s superhero flicks find their inspiration, or just want to lose yourself for two hours—you won’t be disappointed by a rewatch of The Dark Knight.
Little Shop of Horrors
Before you watch Captain America develop his green thumb in a remake of Little Shop of Horrors, revisit the OG with national treasure Rick Moranis. (Here’s hoping the reboot keeps the animatronics around.)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
You may have noticed that two rather large monsters have been fighting on YouTube. One of them is Godzilla, who, if you didn’t know, has been fighting rather large monsters for quite a long time know. Watch the one where he fights an alien version of himself.
Us might always be overshadowed by Jordan Peele’s previous effort, Get Out. But that’s a generational film. Still, you can bet that Us won’t be lost to history—it’s just as complex, terrifying, and darkly funny.
Alien is a sci-fi classic for good reason. You have Sigourney Weaver as one of the greatest badasses put to film, a scary, slobbery, monster, and the predecessor to a just-as-great sequel.
Ma? Featuring Octavia Spencer as the titular Ma? It’s a misunderstood horror-genre gem. A showcase for the always-great Spencer. Weird. Wild. Wonderful. And a future cult classic. Bet on it.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Amazon may have the proverbial ring in this scenario (i.e. keys to build the kingdom of the big-money Lord of the Rings TV series), but HBO Max has the entire Peter Jackson film trilogy. Start at the beginning with The Fellowship of the Ring. And keep going through Return of the King. You’ll feel better when you’re done.
It’s a shame that Wonder Woman 1984 didn’t quite live up to the greatness of its predecessor. Thankfully, Wonder Woman is endlessly rewatchable. And hopefully, will more closely resemble the inevitable third film in the series.
If you still haven’t seen Citizen Kane, you’ve probably heard that it’s in the GOAT conversation. Time to find out why for yourself. The prescient story of Charles Foster Kane will haunt you for long after the credits roll.
Two basketball movies on this list? Yeah. HBO can ball. If you want to know where nearly every sports documentary that doesn’t feature a big-named superstar takes its inspiration from, look no further than Hoop Dreams. Arthur Agee’s story shows the beauty, joy, and pain that comes with a love of sports.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
David Byrne’s American Utopia—where Spike Lee puts Byrne’s legendary Broadway show to film—is so good that we put both men on the cover of Solarmovie to talk about it.
Purple Rain, which features the legendary Prince as a fictionalized version of himself, is far and away one of the greatest musical films of all time. Warning: it’s mandatory that you listen to the Prince album of the same name, on repeat, after watching the film. For at least a week.