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.

10. Spirited Away (2001)

best

9.0

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akio Nakamura, Bunta Sugawara, Daveigh Chase, David Ogden Stiers

Moods

Lovely, Sunday, Sweet

Frequently considered one of the greatest animated movies of all times, and certainly the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli at their very best. It was also the first non-English animation movie to win an Oscar. On the surface, it’s a film about a Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. In a creepy spiritual world full of Shinto folklore spirits, she sees all kinds of magic and fantastic creatures, while having to find a way to save her parents and escape. In addition to the adventure, the coming-of-age theme, and the motifs of ancient Japanese lore, the film can also be understood as a critique of the Western influence on Japanese culture and the struggle for identity in the wake of the 1990s economic crisis. A deep, fast-paced, and hypnotizing journey.

9. Ex Machina (2015)

best

9.0

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Alex Garland

Actors

Alex Garland, Alicia Vikander, Chelsea Li, Claire Selby

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking, Thrilling

Ex Machina is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later (and 28 Weeks Later). It tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson from About Time), an IT developer who is invited by a billionaire CEO to participate in a groundbreaking experiment—administering a Turing test to a humanoid robot called Ava (Alicia Vikander). Meeting the robot with feelings of superiority at first, questions of trust and ethics soon collide with the protagonist’s personal views. While this dazzling film does not rely on them, the visual effects and the overall look-feel of Ex Machina are absolutely stunning and were rightly picked for an Academy Award. They make Ex Machina feel just as casually futuristic as the equally stylish Her and, like Joaquin Phoenix, Gleeson aka Caleb must confront the feelings he develops towards a machine, despite his full awareness that ‘she’ is just that. This is possibly as close to Kubrick as anyone got in the 21st century. Ex Machina is clever, thrilling, and packed with engaging ideas.

8. Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) (1999)

best

9.0

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akihiro Miwa, Akira Nagoya, Alex Fernandez, Billy Bob Thornton

Moods

Action-packed

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven’t seen it yet, do it now.

7. Fallen Angels (1995)

best

9.1

Country

Hong Kong

Director

Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Actors

Benz Kong, Benz Kong To-Hoi, Chan Fai-Hung, Chan Man-Lei

Wong Kar-wai’s dreamlike masterpiece is a perfect portrayal of the wilderness of a city at night. A hitman trying to get his job done, a woman hunting the prostitute who stole her boyfriend, and a mute who loves his father’s cooking: each of the characters in Fallen Angels is eccentric and interesting in their own way. Along the watch, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the events taking place as each character fights to stay alive and satisfy their desire, but this is exactly where the beauty lies. A hazy view of Hong Kong is the backdrop for the characters’ riveting stories, blending loneliness, lust, as well as missed opportunities. Fallen Angels is a remarkably balanced film that not only exposes the coldness of people in the city, but also their warmth.

6. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

best

9.2

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Chris Smith

Actors

Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann’s legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film’s director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

5. In the Mood for Love (2000)

best

9.2

Country

China, France, Hong Kong

Director

Wong Kar-wai

Actors

Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Joe Cheung

Moods

Dramatic, Lovely, Romantic

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi’s main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

4. The Wrestler (2008)

best

9.3

Country

France, United States of America

Director

Darren Aronofsky

Actors

Abraham Aronofsky, Ajay Naidu, Alex Whybrow, Alyssa Bresnahan

Moods

Emotional, Thrilling, Well-acted

In 2008, legendary and controversial director Darren Aronofsky delivered yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime, who is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose, and dignity later in life. Rourke, who worked as a professional boxer in his 90s and, like his protagonist, almost hung his hat at the time the movie was shot, delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance that rightly earned him a Golden Globe. Everybody talked about this movie when it came out! Marisa Tomei’s performance, who plays the mid-40s stripper The Ram pursues a serious relationship with, was also deemed iconic by some critics. Shot on 16mm film, The Wrestler’s cinematography, like its acting, feels incredibly raw, intimate, and realistic. It is essentially about bouncing back, making amends, and growing old and features acting performances that will be remembered for a long time. One for the books!

3. The End of the Tour (2015)

best

9.5

Country

United States of America

Director

James Ponsoldt

Actors

Anna Chlumsky, Becky Ann Baker, Dan John Miller, Jason Segel

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Mind-blowing, Smart

A hot summer night, around 2 a.m. You’re outside talking with a close friend about life, happiness, and the human condition. That quality and depth of conversation, which you reach at best a couple of times a year is present throughout the 106 minutes of The End of the Tour.

In the case of this movie, you become the witness of five days of conversation spent between two fine writers: the once-in-a-generation American author David Foster Wallace and best-selling Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky, as they travel the US during the 1996 publicity tour for the former’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest. Twelve years later Wallace will commit suicide.

Like a good podcast, the James-Ponsoldt-directed road movie makes you feel being part of a deeply personal conversation of the kind you would have with a long-time friend. At times, it can feel like eavesdropping on a genius at work. This effect is helped along by a flawless Jason Segal, who delivers an award-worthy performance as DFW. The fierce intelligence exuded by Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky is also nothing short of amazing. As they stuff their faces with junk food, their conversation is insightful, immediate, and unpretentiously relevant, making The End of the Tour a rare and important film.

2. The Great Beauty (2013)

best

9.5

Country

Belgium, France, Italy

Director

Paolo Sorrentino

Actors

Aldo Ralli, Alessia Bellotto, Anita Kravos, Anna Della Rosa

Moods

Thought-provoking, Without plot

The Great Beauty is a film of superlatives! Originally titled La Grande Bellezza, this movie by Italian star director Paolo Sorrentino is so replete with lush, opulent cinematography, it sometimes borders on sensory overload. Having won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award in the same category, The Great Beauty is also a critics’ darling and an award-show sweeper – in addition to being hailed as Paolo Sorrentino’s greatest work to date.

Essentially a tragicomedy, it is both a study and a celebration of the hedonism and decadence of its main protagonist – the bon-vivant and modern-day Roman socialite Jep Gambardella (played by an electrifying Toni Servillo). Instead of honing the craft of writing, Gambardella at some point decides to become the self-proclaimed “king of high life” of Rome. After his 65th birthday, he experiences a shock that changes him for good, prompting him to look past the parties and the nightclubs and to discover the sublime beauty of his hometown, the eternal city. In this way, The Great Beauty is a meditation on art, regret, and pleasure – and Sorrentino’s love letter to Rome.

1. Fruitvale Station (2013)

best

9.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Ryan Coogler

Actors

Ahna O'Reilly, Alessandro Garcia, Ariana Neal, Caroline Lesley

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Thought-provoking

This is the true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man in Oakland, California, who was shot dead by police in the morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Incidentally, 2009 was also the time when smartphones started going mainstream, and so the incident was not only captured by CCTV but also many private cell phone cameras. The murder went viral.

Grant is superbly played by Michael B. Jordan in what now counts as one of his breakthrough roles, when many only knew him as Wallace in the now-legendary crime drama The Wire. Director Ryan Coogler went on making two more movies with him, including Black Panther in 2018.

Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and compassionately told, Fruitvale Station surpasses the sadness of its subject matter and amounts to an extraordinary celebration of life. A must-watch.

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