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.)
The best movies on HBO Go and HBO Now
Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece (depending on who you ask) is a marvel of nerve-jangling tension. From its stunning, dialogue-free opening to its final moments, Dunkirk is relentless. Nolan’s retelling of the evacuation of Allied soldiers who were surrounded by German soldiers is frequently breathtaking. Nolan conjures up some incredible imagery, like the trailer shot of a soldier laying on the ground with explosions going off behind him, or Tom Hardy’s pilot coasting across the sky after his plane runs out of fuel. Dunkirk is meant to be seen on the biggest and loudest setup possible, so some of the magic doesn’t translate to the in-home experience, but that’s a minor complaint about a film this gripping.
2) Lady Macbeth
We aren’t worthy of a movie as badass as 2017’s Lady Macbeth. That’s the only reasonable takeaway from the film’s minimal box office take and overall cultural status. In director William Oldroyd’s directorial debut, Florence Push delivers a deliciously wicked performance as Florence, whose hand in marriage has been given to a man unworthy of her time. Fed up with her loveless and hostile marriage, Florence decides to live by her life her own way. Katherine becomes a force of nature, destroying anyone who gets in her way. Lady Macbeth is your next favorite movie and one of the best movies on HBO.
Proving that lightning can, in fact, strike twice, Blade Runner 2049 is just as much of an enigma as its predecessor. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (finally) create a world that is a feast for the eyes. 2049 picks up 30 years after the events of Blade Runner, with K, a newer blade runner, tracking down the long-missing Deckard. 2049 is meditative but always compelling. It’s a film worthy of the Blade Runner legacy.
Deciding whether to watch E.T. or not is one of the easier HBO choices you can make. You see it and you click play, right? For most adults that reaction is automatic, and now is as good a time as any to bring the next generation into the fold. Steven Spielberg’s classic holds up astonishingly well, and the idea of bonding with a stranger and helping others is always timely. E.T. is the kind of movie that will endure for as long as watching movies is a thing, and almost 40 years after its release, the joy you get in sharing the movie with the next generation nearly exceeds the pleasure you get from watching it. Almost.
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. —Chris Osterndorf
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.” —Michelle Jaworski
Any time Charlize Theron stars in an action movie is a cause for celebration (with the noted exception Fate of the Furious, which inexplicably wastes her talents). In Atomic Blonde, Theron teams up with direct David Leitch (half of the John Wick duo) to get down and dirty during the Cold War. The story revolves around an MI6 agent investigating a murder, but the story is beside the point here. The action is relentless, and there are a couple of instant-classic scenes (including a deservedly hyped stairwell sequence). On the Theron scale, Atomic Blonde is a cut below Fury Road and a step above most other recent action joints.
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. —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
11) Girls Trip
Girls Trip made waves for Tiffany Haddish’s breakout performance as the uninhibited most vocal member of the Flossy Posse. And Haddish earns every bit of praise. She’s hilarious at every turn. But her co-stars (Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Reginal Hall) are every bit as good if not as flashy as Haddish. This Posse is the reason to watch Girls Trip. The story is generic (lifelong friends who haven’t seen each other much recently spend a crazy weekend in New Orleans), and the plotting is as predictable as can be. But the stars elevate the material and make it a trip worth taking.
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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.
For all the supernatural elements at play in It, the scariest thing about it is the real life horrors facing the Loser’s Club. Between Beverly’s abusive father, the bullies who torment the group, and the grief overwhelming young Bill, It presents a world that is recognizably terrifying. Add to that another everyone’s favorite nightmare inducing clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and it’s no surprise that It resonated with critics and audiences across the world. As the first of two installments, It sets the bar high.
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.
The Hugh Jackman run as Wolverine comes to a close with Logan. It’s a worthy end for a character that helped kick off the superhero movie run with the first X-Men back in 2000. A visibly tired Logan lives in relative solitude with Professor X, until he’s yanked from his quiet existence by the threat, and possibility, of a younger mutant, Laura (a breakout performance by Dafne Keen). The movie feels more like a Western than a typical superhero joint, and it’s a fitting swan song for the rugged character.
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.
The Alien series has been able to sustain full-on action (Aliens), French art film influences (Alien Resurrection), pro wrestling (Aliens vs. Predator), and isolationist survival horror (Alien 3). However, of all the films in the series, the original stands the tallest, as a perfect blending of Lovecraftian science and gothic horror. Anchored by an all-star cast—Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and more—Alien makes you care about each character before they’re systematically ripped apart. Barely showing the monster builds a sense of the unknown flashier films sometimes miss out on, and Alien is a stronger film for it. Director Ridley Scott has returned to the series recently with two prequels, Prometheus and 2017’s Alien: Covenant. —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. —Eddie Strait
These new Apes movies have no business being as good as they are. After catching audiences by surprise with Rise, then proving it was no fluke with Dawn, War sends the trilogy out on a high note. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the apes finally go to war with the humans, led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). With the fate of the world in the balance, this is the rare blockbuster that justifies its huge stakes. Between the epic story, the awesome action, the incredible VXF work, there is much to admire in War.
20) The LEGO Batman
Like all LEGO movies, LEGO Batman shouldn’t work, and yet it does. The Will Arnett-voiced Caped Crusader made a strong impression in The LEGO Movie, and that carries over here. Anyone and everyone you know from Batman shows up here, and while the movie is deliriously entertaining, there’s a touch of dramatic heft unpinning the whole thing that makes The LEGO Batman more than a pastiche. —E.S.
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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.
“It’s not your fault.” Ouch, right? Even if you’re tired of looking at the smug face of Matt Damon’s Will Hunting, even if the obnoxious mass of Boston accents has started to get to you, even if the movie’s general earnestness drives you crazy, by the time Good Will Hunting arrives at that one scene, even the hardest and most cynical hearts will also start to melt. Among Good Will Hunting’s considerable powers are Gus Van Sant’s deft but subtle direction and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning script. But it’s Robin Williams’ crushing performance, for which he also received the Academy award, that makes the movie worth revisiting. The late Williams showed he could tone his more over-the-top antics way down in this, his most acclaimed role. The result is breathtaking. —C.O.
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. —E.S.
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26) The Beguiled
Only bad things can happen when you let a fox into the hen house. Union corporal John (Colin Farrell), wounded and left for dead, is found and taken in by the seven remaining staff and students at an all-girls school. The sexual tension starts off slow, and by the time it becomes oppressive, you realize that John is actually a hen in a foxhole. The movie’s atmosphere is intoxicating, as you’d expect from Sofia Coppola, and the cast is stellar from Farrell to Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning.
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. —E.S.
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) Die Hard
It’s Die Hard. Do you need any other reason to watch it again? At this point it’s hard to divorce the movie from the talk around the movie: the praise as the best action movie of all time, the silly debate over whether it’s a Christmas movie or not, but who cares? Die Hard is entertaining every time you watch it. From the moment Hans Gruber enters Nakatomi Plaza until he leaves, Die Hard is packed with action and memorable performances. It’s the total package.
While much has been written about Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, the real joy of the film is Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill. Whether driving home the importance of lotion or dancing to new wave, each of his scenes helps build a sense of dread that will stick with you long after you’ve run out of Chianti. —J.M.B.
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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.
32) The House
It’s crazy to think that a comedy starring Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell barely registered with audiences, but these are crazy times. Poehler and Ferrell play Kate and Scott, a married couple with a daughter on her way to college. But with the prohibitive cost of college, they do what any parent would do for their child: raise money by running a casino out of their house. The House, while being completely silly, does have some sharp social commentary to offer, but, more importantly, it has a great cast and plenty of good jokes.
A group of strangers comes together at a rinky-dink motel in the middle of a hellacious storm. Then they start to realize they have some connections. Then they start dying. It’s the kind of movie where every time you think you’ve figured it out, a new wrinkle is introduced. Identity is a riff on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and it’s a fun thriller that’ll keep you guessing to the end.
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
Jaume Collet-Serra consistently delivers more than anyone expects from the B-movie premises of his films. He has a visual flair, able to concoct the kind of imagery that lingers for a long while. He’s a showman and an excellent match for the wackiness of Orphan. The movie revolves around a couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who adopt a creepy 9-year-old girl and get so much more than they bargained for. Orphan is for the people who want their movies to embrace their insanity. The only real knock against Orphan is that you’ll wish it was even crazier.
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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