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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.)
The best movies on HBO Go and HBO Now
Jean-Pierre Jeunet 2001 film made Audrey Tautou a star, and it’s easy to see why. As the title character, she finds joy in bringing joy to others, quietly pulling strings around Paris to brighten the lives of strangers. She’s not a matchmaker; Amélie’s goal is something bigger. But then she stumbles upon Nino, a man with a similar goal. —Audra Schroeder
2) Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 ups the ante from the first film by going bigger, badder, and bloodier. This time out, Wade/Deadpool puts together the X-Force to help him take on the cyborg soldier Cable. Ryan Reynolds continues to own every facet of the character, and Josh Brolin makes a fine addition as Cable. But the reason to see Deadpool 2, beyond the ultra-violence and filthy meta-humor, is to watch the ragtag X-Force in action. If you loved the first Deadpool, Deadpool 2 delivers a double serving of the same thing. And if you don’t love the film, Deadpool has two words for you.
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.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians tells the story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a smart, young economics professor at New York University who is dating Nick Young (Henry Golding), a man she later learns is essentially the Asian Prince Harry. It’s a charming film that manages to strike the perfect balance of romance, comedy, drama, and absurdity to show viewers that stories with non-white actors are just as funny, beautiful, and heart-wrenching. Forget being an Asian American film or a rom-com—it’s just a good film. —Kristina Nguyen
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
A black man infiltrating the KKK is the kind of story so outlandish that it could only be based on real life, and it could only be a Spike Lee joint. John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, the first black officer in the Colorado Spring force, who snakes his way into the KKK’s good graces via phone calls. Adam Driver plays Stallworth’s partner Flip Zimmerman, who handles face-gto-face meetings with the Klan. BlacKkKlansman is a fiery satire, both hilarious and terrifying, with a timeliness and vitality that marks Spike’s best films.
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) Halloween (available 5/25)
Michael Myers goes back to Haddonfield for one final showdown with Laurie Strode in director David Gordon Green’s sequel. After escaping from a mental institution, Myers slices and dices his way back home. Laurie’s waited decades for this inevitable moment, and she’s ready to end the terror that started back in John Carpenter’s original film. Rather than delivering just another slasher sequel, Green and co-writer Danny McBride dig deep into the psychological toll the last 40 years have taken on Laurie and her family. Halloween delivers plenty of scares and insight from a series that had all but run its course.
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.
13) The Prestige
The Prestige may not be Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film, or even his most action-packed or most mind-bending, but it does contain examples of everything he does so well. There are layers of twists, heart-stopping visuals, and perhaps most rewarding of all, it falls into the half of Nolan’s filmography where you actually care about the characters. In the lead roles, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale shine as Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, two illusionists whose quest for revenge and desire to one-up each other takes them down a path of destruction. It’s one of the better movies ever made about the toxic side of competition and rivalry, and over 10 years later, the film’s ending still sends chills down the spine. Plus, David Bowie’s in it. What more do you need? —C.O.
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.
16) Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s classic novel about society that has outlawed books, and essentially knowledge, gets a 21st-century adaptation courtesy of HBO and writer-director Ramin Bahrani. Michael B. Jordan plays Guy, a “fireman” who has a change of heart and helps spark a rebellion. That pits him against Michael Shannon’s Captain Beatty. HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t quite live up to the novel’s reputation, but with strong performances from Jordan and Shannon, it’ll do the job until the definitive adaptation comes along.
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
18) Mean Girls
Tina Fey’s classic high school comedy is now old enough to be in high school itself. It’s a testament to Fey’s writing that the emotions driving the action in Mean Girls still resonate. And the years have only sharpened the film’s sense of humor. The story of an outsider, Cady (Lindsay Lohan), navigating high school and all that comes with it is as universal as a concept can be. Crack open the Burn Book and let the good times roll.
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. —A.S.
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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21) The Post
A film that was most assuredly produced to procure on Oscar, Steven Spielberg’s The Post tells the story of Washington Post owner Katharine Graham (a poised Meryl Streep) and the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers (after the New York Times was barred from doing so). Tom Hanks is her sparring partner as editor Ben Bradlee, and the chemistry between them lights every scene they share. The Post also shows us the mechanics of the newspaper business in the ‘70s, and what Graham had to endure as the only woman in the room. —A.S.
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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Borat will always be Sacha Baron Cohen’s masterpiece, but Brüno has its fair share of highlights. While Cohen’s brand of character-driven trickery can lose its charm quickly, the one thing that doesn’t get old is the sense of danger in his films. There is still a palpable sense that Cohen is always just seconds away from getting his ass kicked, and that commitment gives the film an undeniable energy. As the flamboyantly gay Brüno, Cohen takes his act across the country, terrorizing and satirizing unsuspecting targets along the way. It all builds to one of Cohen’s greatest stunts, which features two men making out in a cage at a UFC event while “My Heart Will Go On” plays in the background.
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) Déjà Vu
Of Denzel Washington’s 2000s run of middling action fare, Déjà Vu is the one most overlooked. It’s a twisty story about an A.T.F. agent (Washington) using a wild new technique to solve a ferry bombing by going back in time to look for the bomber. It’s directed by Tony Scott, so you already know there’s going to be visual flair. But his frenetic style pairs perfectly with the script, and the acting is strong (particularly by Washington and Paula Patton). Give me this over Man on Fire, Out of Time, or John Q.
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) The Meg
Jason Statham versus a prehistoric shark? Sign us up for this one and at least three sequels. The movie starts slowly, but once the action kicks in, The Meg lives up to the glorious goofiness of its premise. Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver who gets more than he bargained for when a 70-foot mega-shark emerges from the depths of the sea. This one is meant to be seen with friends to maximize enjoyment, but you’ll be plenty entertained if you go for a solo dive.
Steven Soderbergh’s drug war opus is a harrowing and gripping film. Multiple storylines play out in an “it’s all connected” style, even though there’s little overlap. Traffic looks at the drug trade from the perspectives of the people trying to stop it on both sides of the border, the people who use drugs, and the people selling them. That mosaic approach can feel a bit ludicrous at times (of course, the hot-shot judge’s daughter is hooked on crack), but it’s all part of the bigger picture. Traffic is on the bubble of being a “one-timer” for being such a tough watch. But it doesn’t quite go dark enough to truly disturb, and Soderbergh’s filmmaking keeps you engaged even when you want to get away from the story.
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. —B.R.
35) Ready Player One
Steven Spielberg goes meta with his adaptation of Ernie Cline’s bestselling book. The film is set in 2045, where society turns to the virtual reality world of the OASIS in order to escape the drudgery of real life. But that escape takes on new meaning when the creator of the OASIS dies, leaving behind a fortune hidden somewhere in the virtual world. The film follows Wade (Tye Sheridan) as he logs on to find the treasure. Ready Player One is an ode to nostalgia, and the novel is heavily indebted to Spielberg, so it only makes sense that he’s the one to bring the story to the big screen.
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.