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.

50. West Side Story (2021)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Steven Spielberg

Actors

Ana Isabelle, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort

Moods

Dramatic, Romantic, Well-acted

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story’s weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

49. In the Heights (2021)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Jon M. Chu

Actors

Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Feel-Good

Even if you aren’t familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

48. The Wind Rises (2013)

7.9

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jun Kunimura

Moods

Heart-warming

In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.

But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.

47. Porco Rosso (1992)

7.9

Country

Japan

Director

Hayao Miyazaki

Actors

Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Bunshi Katsura Vi, Hiroko Seki

As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig. 

Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.

46. Beau travail (1999)

7.9

Country

France

Director

Claire Denis, Female director

Actors

Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin

Moods

Original, Thought-provoking

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

45. Just Mercy (2019)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Destin Daniel Cretton

Actors

Adam Boyer, Al Mitchell, Alex Van, Andrene Ward-Hammond

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Inspiring

This drama is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard graduate who moved to Alabama in the 80s to defend wrongly accused prisoners on death row. He’s played by Michael B. Jordan, who brings to the surface the unstoppable determination and ambition of the character. Components that were necessary to go on such a difficult task, especially with the racist barriers at the time. Not to mention, no one had ever been released from death row in the history of Alabama at that point. An inspiring and well-acted movie, made by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton.

44. Lean on Pete (2017)

7.9

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Andrew Haigh

Actors

Alison Elliott, Amy Seimetz, Ayanna Berkshire, Bob Olin

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, Warm

A24 + Steve Buscemi = ?. 

In “Lean on Pete,” Buscemi plays a guy called Del Montgomery (of course), who is a racetrack horse owner in Portland, Oregon. He befriends a kid, Charley (Charlie Plummer in an amazing performance), who had been abandoned by his family and is new to Portland. 

Together they take care of Montgomery’s only horse, until the kid discovers that the horse is set to be slaughtered. He embarks on an impossible journey across the U.S. to try to save the horse while also looking for his family. 

This movie flew under most peoples’ radars. It is truly amazing. If you like “Lean on Pete” you should watch other A24 gems like “Lady Bird” or “The Florida Project.”

43. Night on Earth (1991)

7.9

Country

Finland, France, Germany

Director

Jim Jarmusch

Actors

Armin Mueller-Stahl, Béatrice Dalle, Eija Vilpas, Emile Abossolo M'bo

Moods

Easy, Funny, Lighthearted

An absolute delight of a gem starring a young Winona Ryder as well as an amazing cast. Arguably Jim Jarmusch’s best film, it tells the story of 5 different places at night from the perspective of cab drivers and their passengers: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. It’s really hard to pick a favorite among the stories, from a messy tomboy having to deal with a busy businesswoman, to a blind woman in Paris making a frustrated driver from Ivory Coast go insane. But look out for Helmut and Yo-Yo, from the New York story. I’ve rarely seen anything in film as fun as their story.

42. Chungking Express (1994)

7.9

Country

Hong Kong

Director

Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Actors

Brigitte Lin, Chen Jinquan, Faye Wong, Jimmy Wong Chi-ming

Moods

Sunday

“California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas. You will fall in love with that song (if you haven’t already) after watching this movie. Two stories, entangling into one; both about Hong Kong policemen falling in love with mysterious women. It was recommended by my friend after I said I loved Frances Ha. I don’t know whether you can call this as offbeat romance.. but to me it was, and it’s well worth the watch.

41. Three Colors: White (1994)

8.0

Country

France, Poland

Director

Krzysztof Kieślowski

Actors

Aleksander Bardini, Andrzej Precigs, Barbara Dziekan, Bartłomiej Topa

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Smart

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy reflects both the colors and the values of the French republic: liberté, égalité, fraternité. In Trois couleurs : Blanc (Three Colors: White), Kieślowski explores not only the theme of equality, but also the ramifications of defining and “achieving” equality as a European ideal.

After failing to consummate their marriage, Dominique (the ever-bewitching Julie Delpy) divorces Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), leaving him broke and humiliated. Karol plots to exact revenge on his ex-wife, becoming richer and cruller in the process. 

Although this is often regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, White is worth a watch not just for completionists. Kieślowski interrogates what it means to be equal in sex and socioeconomic class—and if when we strive to move upward in society, whether we are really debasing our basic humanity and humility.

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