50 Best Must-watch Movies on HBO Max

50 Best Must-watch Movies on HBO Max

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Love it or hate it (the latter of which is understandable, considering its buggy interface), HBO Max is one of the best streaming platforms for cinephiles. Thanks to its affiliation with Warner Bros. Studios and Tuner Media, among other production studios, it has a vast collection of blockbusters and classics alike. It even has a hold of international gems, including the vast majority of the Studio Ghibli catalog. 

It’s hard to go wrong when selecting from this platform, but if you’re looking for the crème de la crème of cinema, then we have you covered. Below, we gather the very best, must-watch movies that are on right now, on-demand, on HBO Max.

40. Only Yesterday (1991)

best

8.0

Country

Japan

Director

Isao Takahata

Actors

Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito

Moods

Heart-warming, Lovely, Slice-of-Life

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko’s past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

39. A Most Violent Year (2014)

best

8.0

Country

United Arab Emirates, United States of America

Director

J. C. Chandor

Actors

Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Annie Funke, Ashley Williams

Moods

A-list actors, Inspiring, True-crime

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star in this slow-burning but impeccable crime thriller.

Abel Morales (Isaac) owns a fuel distribution company in 1980s New York. His competitors are violent and corrupt, and the feds are after him. The temptation to resort to unlawful methods is high, especially that his wife (Chastain) is the daughter of a mobster.

A Most Violent Year is about how this temptation of corruption unfolds and whether Abel will surrender to it or not.

38. The Lobster (2015)

best

8.0

Country

France, Greece, Ireland

Director

Giorgos Lanthimos, Yorgos Lanthimos

Actors

Aggeliki Papoulia, Angeliki Papoulia, Anthony Dougall, Ariane Labed

Moods

Mind-blowing, Smart, Thought-provoking

A unique movie about a near-future society obsessed with couples; viewing couples as the norm, as opposed to single people who are viewed as unproductive and undesirable. In that way, the film shows David (Colin Farrell), a newly single person who is transferred to the Hotel, a place where single people have just 45 days to find a suitable mate, and if they fail, they would be transformed into animals of their choice. While the film’s original premise may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Lobster will prove a goldmine for people who are into a Kafkaesque, absurdist mentality, or anyone looking for an idea-driven experience.

37. Days of Being Wild (1990)

best

8.1

Country

Hong Kong

Director

Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Actors

Alicia Alonzo, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Carina Lau

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Lovely

Forlorn longing envelops Days of Being Wild, where the act of dreaming is as valuable as its actual fulfillment. “You’ll see me tonight in your dreams,” Yuddy tells Su Li-zhen on their first meeting, and indeed, this line of dialogue sets the film’s main contradiction: would you rather trap yourself in the trance-like beauty of dreams or face the unpleasant possibilities of reality? Wong Kar-wai’s characters each have their own answers, with varying subplots intersecting through the consequences of their decisions. In the end, happiness comes in unexpected ways, granted only to those brave enough to wake up and dream again.

36. Belfast (2021)

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Kenneth Branagh

Actors

Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Slice-of-Life

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they’re the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

35. In the Same Breath (2021)

best

8.1

Country

China, United States of America

Director

Female director, Nanfu Wang

Moods

Instructive, Thought-provoking

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it’s an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

34. The Tale (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Germany, United States of America

Director

Female director, Jennifer Fox

Actors

Chelsea Alden, Common, Daniel Berson, Deana Deatherage

Moods

Challenging, Dramatic, Emotional

Sometimes you can just tell a movie means way too much to the people who made it. That makes me want to watch it more than once, which is what I wanted to do with The Tale. But while I think it’s such an amazing movie and everyone should watch it, I don’t think I can stomach a second watch.. It is based on the director/writer Jennifer Fox’s own story – recounting her first sexual experience at a very young age. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves to deal with trauma, and in that sense, and with utmost honesty, it invites grief and closure for similar experiences. A powerful movie led by a powerful performance by Laura Dern as Jennifer.

33. Chef (2014)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Jon Favreau

Actors

Amy Sedaris, Bobby Cannavale, Charles Lao, Chris Nunez

Moods

Feel-Good, Lighthearted, No-brainer

A popular chef loses his job and respect after a bad review. He ends up with a food truck and tries to show the world he still has his creative side, while at the same time trying to fix his broken family. Chef is a heartwarming feel-good movie, after you finish it you will want to cook, love your family, travel, and spread the love. One of my favorite movies, I see myself happily watching it again numerous times.

32. Woman at War

best

8.2

Country

France, Iceland, Ukraine

Director

Benedikt Erlingsson

Actors

Björn Thors, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Bersi Björnsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring, Sunday

A calm choir leader lives a secret life as eco-warrior in this visually stunning and intelligent story about our complex times. If you’re familiar with Icelandic movies, this one has just the right amount of that Icelandic quirkiness – making it a proper feel-good movie with a message. This is added to the superb acting and an off-beat musical score. Not to be missed.

31. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

best

8.2

Country

Canada, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Andrew Dominik

Actors

Alison Elliott, Anthony Harrison, Brad Pitt, Brooklynn Proulx

Moods

Dramatic, Slow, Suspenseful

Robert Ford is an aspiring gangster who idolizes Jesse James, leader of the notorious James gang. When that admiration reaches a level where it can transform to challenge and resentment, he starts considering the unthinkable. The cast is excellent- Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, and Garret Dillahunt. Brad Pitt delivers an amazing performance which truly captures the presence that Jesse James brought to a room, one that seemed to overcome those around him. In addition the soundtrack is superb, one of the most memorable I have ever heard. This is a very unique, thrilling, and well-shot movie, it is easily one of the most underrated films of the past 10 years.

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