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Make sure you’re getting the most out of your HBO subscription.
We’ve been shelling out for a subscription to HBO (or its streaming counterpart, HBO Now) to get our legal fix of Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep, and Silicon Valley for years, but you’re not getting your money’s worth unless you’re watching the best movies on HBO too.
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 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 the best movies on HBO to kickstart your binge-watching session. (* Original HBO Films are marked with an asterisk.)
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This Paul Thomas Anderson film—and its protagonist Reynolds Woodcock—are obsessed with details. The story of a dressmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis as Woodcock) in early ‘50s London and the women who endure his tantrums and mood swings (Lesley Manville as sister Cyril and Vicky Krieps as lover Alma) is a sumptuous affair, detailing the intricate lines and shapes of his creations as much as his eventual unraveling. It also produced some memes thanks to its memorable dialogue and scenes. —Audra Schroeder
Logan is the perfect conclusion to Hugh Jackman’s long tenure as Wolverine, reintroducing him as an old, weary veteran of a dystopian future. It’s the most sophisticated X-Men film to date, but don’t let that downplay the importance of earlier movies. Logan couldn’t exist without the rich backstory between Wolverine and Charles Xavier, along with the political world-building we saw throughout the franchise. From Dafne Keen’s feral performance as X-23, to the subtly clever futuristic details like the self-driving trucks, nearly every aspect of this movie was on-point. After 17 years playing Professor X as an amiable mentor, Patrick Stewart finally got to stretch during Xavier’s troubled old age. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Despite modest success at the box office, Blockers didn’t quite get the attention it deserved. It’s a sex-positive comedy that cares just as much about the perspectives of the teenagers and the adults. The film is about a group of high school seniors navigating their first sexual experiences and their parents learning to accept their children’s sexuality. Oh, and it’s really funny. John Cena steals every scene he’s in, and Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz match him at every turn. The teenagers, played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon, are all great as well. Blockers marks the feature directorial debut for Kay Cannon (writer of the Pitch Perfect films who also worked on 30 Rock and New Girl), and the way she balances raunchy set pieces with emotional honesty elevates Blockers above most of its peers.
If The Godfather is the best movie ever made about the American mob, then Goodfellas is number 1.5. Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic about Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his rise and fall in the Italian-American crime syndicate that ran New York for three decades is as good as it gets. There’s an amazing soundtrack, some of the most iconic sequences in all of cinema, and a fantastic ensemble that includes Robert De Niro as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway and Oscar winner Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, just to name a few. There are no wasted moments in this movie. It’s all forward motion: a delicate, propulsive, sometimes reckless ballet of camera movement and action. In fact, Goodfellas is one of the first movies to cut scenes about doing cocaine to the rhythm of actually being on cocaine. —Chris Ostendorf
5) 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. —Michelle Jaworski
Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s drama was one of the most acclaimed, and divisive, movies of 2017. McDonagh likes to provoke, and Three Billboards crams in all of his trademarks: nasty characters, nastier words, and thorny questions about morality. Frances McDormand plays Mildred, a mother ready to scorch the earth to find her daughter’s killer. She calls out the local police force publicly with the billboards and forces their hand. The movie raises themes of justice, vengeance, racism, sexism, and more, but McDonagh refuses to offer easy answers. Whether you like the movie or not, you’ll want to talk about it after you’ve seen it.
7) The Tale *
Laura Dern headlines The Tale as Jennifer Fox, a documentary filmmaker who begins to reckon with the sexual abuse she suffered as a child for the first time after her mother (Ellen Burstyn) finds a short story she wrote at 13. As Jennifer revisits the relationships she had with her childhood riding instructor, Mrs. G. (Elizabeth Debicki), and running coach, Bill (Jason Ritter), the film cuts back and forth between Jennifer’s present in past, using her story as a bridge between the two. Eventually, her journey leads her to present-day Mrs. G. (Frances Conroy) and Bill (John Heard), and the movie culminates in an unforgettable confrontation that Jennifer has been building to her whole life. —C.O.
8) 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.” —M.J.
Between the did-it-fall-or-did-it-not-fall ending and the mind- and gravity-defying visuals, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster is one of the defining movies of the decade. The best thing about Inception is that, despite a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, you’re never far from seeing something awesome, from cities folding in on themselves or zero-gravity fights. But Nolan anchors the visual razzle-dazzle in a story that is also emotionally engaging.
10) Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman isn’t just a great movie. It’s a cultural phenomenon. It managed the near-impossible achievement of telling a fresh and entertaining origin story in 2017, after we all thought we were sick of the genre. It proved that women heroes can make bank at the box office. It even delivered a ray of hope for Warner Bros.’ DC franchise, whose other offerings are consistently sub-par. Romance, jokes, great action scenes—Wonder Woman had everything. This was surely a formative moment for the next generation of women filmmakers, and we can’t wait to see what Patty Jenkins does with the sequel. —G.B.W.
11) Paddington 2
Paddington Bear is back for more adventures in a sequel that is somehow more charming than its predecessor. This time out, Paddington has a plan to work and save money for a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy, but when the gift is stolen, Paddington finds himself as the prime suspect. Paddington 2 is such a delightfully good-hearted film that it’s impossible to imagine someone not enjoying it. Ben Whishaw’s voicework for Paddington is truly great, and the supporting cast, including Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant, is strong across the board. Paddington 2 is a cinematic hug you need to embrace.
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12) 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. —M.J.
The renaissance of Robert Downey Jr. and writer-director Shane Black began with this underrated 2005 neo-noir gem. The story is a twisty meta-narrative featuring an actor training for a cop role, the real cop charged with training, and the real murder they’re trying to solve. You may get lost in all the convolution, but that’s part of the point, and you’ll be laughing too much to care anyway.
14) 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. —M.J.
15) Game Night
Game Night does everything you want from a major studio comedy and then some. It takes an A-list cast and fun high-concept, and it ups the dramatic stakes and laugh quotient at every turn. When Max and Annie’s (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) game night is hijacked by Max’s brother (Kyle Chandler), and things spin wildly out of control from there. The cast, which also features Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, and a movie-stealing Jesse Plemons, is an utter delight. The fun they’re having is infectious and you won’t regret having a Game Night of your own.
Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book is nearly perfect. The movie captures all of the wonder and story of the book (Max leaves home and goes to an island with the Wild Things before returning home), and imbues it with soulfulness and sadness in a way that is certain to strike a chord with viewers. Jonze is one of the best American filmmakers of the last 20 years, and Wild Things encapsulates everything that is great about his movies, from the energetic filmmaking to the fully formed characters.
17) The Descent
Most people are instinctively scared of the dark. As an adult watching The Descent you’ll learn to fear it again. The plot follows a group of six women on a spelunking adventure who end up lost in an uncharted cave system. Without the aid of monsters or extreme gore, the film’s opening is a harrowing tale of survival; made all the more powerful by the time it spends developing the relationships between the characters. By the time monsters and gore show up in the second act, you’ll be too emotionally invested to turn away. Sadly the U.S. version features a silly shock ending, so if you have the opportunity make sure to watch the director’s cut. —John-Michael Bond
Fargo is arguably the pinnacle of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre. But that’s a matter of opinion. What isn’t up for debate is the greatness of Frances McDormand’s iconic performance as Marge Gunderson. This tale of a crime committed by a bunch of idiots and the pregnant police chief smarter than everyone else is everything that is great about the Coens. It’s darkly funny, sharply written, unflinching, and impeccably acted. Fargo is a classic that is as fresh today as it was 20 years ago.
19) Isle of Dogs
Do you love dogs? Of course you do, and Wes Anderson knows it, and he’s gonna break your heart. This stop-animation tale about dogs exiled to a place called Trash Island digs deep into our bond with canines, but it also boasts an incredible voice cast: Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono, Greta Gerwig, and more. —Audra Schroeder
Danny Boyle’s most underrated film is this 2007 sci-fi thriller about a team of astronauts tasked with taking a nuclear bomb to the dying sun in order to kickstart it. As tensions between the crew simmer and questions about the mission pile up, Sunshine goes to some fascinating places. With a stacked cast (Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy), a script by Alex Garland (who wrote and directed Ex Machina and Annihilation), and stunning visuals from Boyle, Sunshine is heady-sci-fi that knows how to deliver the genre goods.
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Normally we wouldn’t recommend getting into the headspace of John Malkovich. But when your shepherds are Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, you just go with the flow. John Cusack plays Craig, a puppeteer, who accidentally stumbles across a portal into the mind of John Malkovich. This portal knocks Craig and his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz) out of their mundane routines and makes them reevaluate their lives. Being John Malkovich is a high-wire act that is hilarious and insightful in equal measure. Take the trip for yourself.
22) 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. —M.J.
23) Hard Candy
Ellen Page roared onto the screen in 2006 with her debut film, Hard Candy, a chilling cat-and-mouse tale of a pedophile who finds he’s taken the wrong teenager home. Co-starring Patrick Wilson and Sandra Oh, Hard Candy slowly builds to a cacophonous crescendo of dread as the tables turn over and over between villain and victim. Upon release the film was met with critical acclaim, but in the decade plus since its release, Hard Candy has taken on further cultural importance. A terrifying, profoundly feminist horror film, Hard Candy will fill your soul’s need for vengeance. —J.M.B.
24) Paterno *
Barry Levinson’s controversial film highlights two fateful weeks of the renowned Penn State head coach’s life, in which willful ignorance and institutional hubris around the Sandusky scandal eventually come to a head for Joe Paterno. Al Pacino, vital as ever, remains grounded in his portrayal of Paterno as a national hero turned pariah. Penn State fans may hate this movie, but you can’t say it doesn’t strike some core, unsettling truths about power and complicity. —Kahron Spearman
Holes, the novel by Louis Sachar, is one of the great youth novels of the last 20 years, and Holes, the movie, is one of the best family-friendly films of the 2000s. Stanley Yelnats IV ends up at a juvenile camp where he’s forced to dig holes as part of a court-ordered rehabilitation. There he meets Zero, Armpit, Zig Zag, X-Ray, and the rest of the Camp Green Lake crew, a lovable, eclectic bunch. The camaraderie between the boys is infectious. The adult villains (played by Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, and Tim Blake Nelson) are threatening without being scary. Holes is funny and adventurous. It aims for the 8-12 crowd, and it has just about everything you could want in a family movie.
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26) Cop Car
This darkly comedic crime thriller from director Jon Watts, who went on to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a blast. Two young boys, Travis and Harrison, are out roaming the woods near their house when they find an abandoned cop car. Curiosity gets the best of them and the two boys take the car for a joy ride. But joy quickly turns to terror when Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) begins chasing them. Cop Car is a slick and efficient thriller that will test your nerves and funny bone.
27) Tokyo Project
Tokyo Project is a short film by Richard Shepard (who worked on HBO’s Girls, among his other credits) that follows two strangers, Sebastian (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and Claire (Elizabeth Moss) who keep running into each other in Tokyo. The movie jumps back and forth in time and their relationship but is anchored by the emotional truths it gets at. Tokyo Project runs less than 40 minutes, so the time investment is minimal, and the movie is easily worth it.
28) About Time
About Time is an unabashedly emotional drama that doesn’t hesitate to pull at the heartstrings. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers that he can travel through time to relive, or even change, parts of his life. The first half of the film is light rom-com fare, meaning it walks the line of going from cutesy to creepy. It’s About Time’s second half that makes it worth watching. Tim’s life takes a couple turns, and the movie becomes more emotional and bittersweet. Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) has built his career covering this material and About Time is one of his best.
29) Pitch Perfect 3
The Bellas are at it again to close out an unlikely trilogy. This time the girls are reuniting to go on an overseas USO tour. Everything that made the first two films such huge hits is here again: the signing and, most importantly, the camaraderie. Pitch Perfect 3 mixes more action that you’d expect, but a trilogy has to end with a bang, right? Anyway, viewers are coming to see the Bellas play the hits, and that’s exactly what you get. That’s meant as a compliment. While it’s not as good as the first one, finds an agreeable crowd-pleasing note to go out on.
30) Love, Simon
Love, Simon is a surprisingly effective movie. The prospect of a major studio movie about a teenager who hasn’t told anyone he’s gay could go wrong in so many ways. But, on the strength of the cast, top-lined by Nick Robinson as Simon and Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner as Simon’s parents, Love, Simon succeeds. As Simon explores his sexuality and keeps up correspondence with a potential crush, the characters around him are recognizably human (aside from two cartoonish exceptions). The movie’s sincerity allows it to get away with the big, sweeping gestures that only happen in the movies. While the movie may get knocked for being a romanticized version of this kind of story, it’s clearly a film made with good intentions and can be quite moving at times.
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31) Liar Liar
Out of all of Jim Carrey’s comedy hits from the ‘90s, Liar Liar has proven to be the one that holds up best. The concept of a man bound by his son’s birthday wish to not tell a lie for 24 hours is ridiculously simple and simply ridiculous. That’s the best kind of premise. Carrey’s verbal and physical dexterity is in top form as motor-mouthed lawyer Fletcher Reede, who struggles through a hectic day at home and in court.
In the mold of Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water is a vintage Guillermo del Toro adult fairy tale. It’s about a woman who works as a janitor at a government research facility who finds an unlikely friend in a strange amphibian creature. Sally Hawkins plays the woman, and del Toro stalwart Doug Jones plays the Amphibian Man. Michael Shannon plays the big bad, in a typical Michael Shannon-type role. Casual viewers may scoff at some of the places The Shape of Water goes, but it’s all done with del Toro’s usual bent toward the humane, so even the most “out there” bits ring emotionally true.
33) Dawn of the Dead
Zack Synder remake of George Romero’s classic is a kick-ass zombie film. From the rollicking opening scene, Synder establishes a brash and clever tone that the film carries through to the end. The flashy visual style of the film pairs well with James Gunn’s script. Sarah Polley leads a game cast (featuring Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, and pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell) as a group of survivors try to ride out the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. This version of Dawn may not have the classic status of Romero’s original, but it’s still pretty great and entertaining in its own right.
34) Bring it On
Kirsten Dunst sticks the landing in this wickedly fun 2000 comedy as Torrance Shipman, a senior at Rancho Carne High School who aims to lead her school’s cheerleading squad, the Toros, to their sixth national title in a row. But Torrance’s game plan gets slightly derailed when she replaces injured teammate Carver with Missy Pantone, who just transferred to Rancho Carne for her senior year. As Torrance and Missy struggle to find harmony on the field, Torrance also has to grapple with her attraction to Missy’s twin brother, Cliff. —Bryan Rolli
35) Inherent Vice
Like all Paul Thomas Anderson movies, Inherent Vice is a film full of pleasures. On first pass it’s a convoluted stoner epic, but each viewing reveals more and more. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a PI looking into the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. Set in 1970s California, Doc’s investigation brings him in contact with a wild assortment of characters, each more idiosyncratic that the one before. If you like The Big Lebowski and The Long Goodbye, you’ll find a kindred spirit in Inherent Vice.
Need something else to watch? Here are the best HBO documentaries, the sexiest movies streaming on HBO, and what’s new on HBO Go this month. Plus, check out the cheapest way to watch HBO online and how to watch HBO on Hulu.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.
Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.