We’ve been shelling out for a subscription to HBO (or its recently launched streaming counterpart, HBO Now) to get our legal fix of Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep, and Silicon Valley for years, but many of us are far from getting our money’s worth.
Before streaming became our medium of choice, HBO offered a wide variety of premium content for subscribers. New films debuted on HBO every Saturday night, offering a variety of popular and prestigious movies months after they left movie theaters. Add in the slew of of original programming, primetime boxing, and sports talk shows, and HBO’s status as a powerhouse was cemented even further.
The introduction of HBO Go and NOW brought its great original content to the streaming forefront. While there are many TV shows, miniseries, and documentaries on HBO to choose from, there are just as many movies worth watching. We’ve picked out a few movies to kickstart your binge-watching session. (Original HBO Films are marked with an asterisk.)
1) 101 Dalmatians
Even if you’ve seen the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians (and its sequel, 102 Dalmatians, which is also streaming on HBO), it’s certainly worth revisiting. Released nearly two decades before Disney’s current live-action renaissance, it’s fun and silly while not straying too far from the original animated version. Glenn Close captures the essence of Cruella de Vil, while Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams—better known for portraying Gregory House and Arthur Weasley, respectively—are the bumbling henchmen Jasper and Horace.
2) All the Way *
All the Way depicts President Lyndon B. Johnson’s push to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed through Congress while seeking the support of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. It was already a critically acclaimed play on Broadway before its television debut in May. Bryan Cranston, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Johnson on Broadway, reprised his role for the film (he’s likely a top contender for the Emmy) and is joined by Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, and Frank Langella.
3) Bessie *
Queen Latifah, Mo’Nique, Khandi Alexander, and Michael Kenneth Williams star in the HBO biopic about American blues singer Bessie Smith. Ambitious and complex, it paints an extensive picture of the singer from struggling in the early days of her career to becoming “The Empress of the Blues.”
4) The Book of Life
Vibrant and imaginative, The Book of Life weaves a tale of life, love, and death in the backdrop of the Day of the Dead, giving viewers a key lesson on the holiday while illustrating a beautiful story—and a unique rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” after the band approved of the script.
5) Confirmation *
Kerry Washington stars in the film adaptation of Anita Hill courtroom battle against Clarence Thomas, who was then nominated to join the Supreme Court, sexually harassed her. It’s harrowing and highlights the importance of the hearings for those who were too young to remember Hill's sexual assault allegations, which had real-life ramifications—even if Thomas ultimately did get confirmed.
Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, Coraline is one girl’s escape into a parallel world that’s not as wonderful and perfect as it first seems, followed by her attempt to save her parents.
7) Furious 7
The seventh film in the Fast and the Furious franchise is as much a continuation to the long-running series as it is a tribute to star Paul Walker, who died before filming finished. Dynamic and poignant, Furious 7 was beloved by critics (although not the Academy) and was one of the highest-grossing films of 2015.
8) Game Change *
The stories that emerged from the 2008 presidential election after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate feel like a much simpler time given the current political landscape. With Julianne Moore taking on Palin, it’s a more nuanced portrayal than Tina Fey gives on Saturday Night Live, but is every bit as scathing.
9) The Iron Giant
The Iron Giant didn’t make much of an impact at the box office when it was first released, but it’s since become a beloved cult classic. Set during the Cold War, a young boy finds and befriends a massive metal robot that fell from space, and together they have to withstand the military forces trying to destroy the Giant.
10) Mad Max: Fury Road
Chances are you probably already saw Mad Max: Fury Road in movie theaters, but it’s more than worth revisiting after it inspired a newfound Mad Max fandom and won six Academy Awards earlier this year. Tom Hardy may play the titular character, but it’s largely Furiosa’s movie as they drive and try to navigate a post-apocalyptic world that people have noted might be where we're headed.
11) The Normal Heart *
Glee creator Ryan Murphy directs an all-star cast in The Normal Heart, which started out as a play and focuses on the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s as a group of people come together and create an organization calling for research on the disease that’s killing their friends.
Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig are a Hollywood power duo, and in Spy that’s no different. Yes, it’s a spy movie, but it’s also a smart comedy that turns the tropes of an action/spy movie on its head, in part due to great performances from McCarthy and Rose Byrne.
Trainwreck, which stars Amy Schumer (who wrote the screenplay), subverts the type of story we usually see in a romantic comedy by switching the roles for the leads. It also puts LeBron James’s acting skills on display, which makes our dreams for that Space Jam sequel grow even bigger.