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 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 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.)
The best movies on HBO Go and HBO Now
I think Spike Jonze is one of the top five American directors going. Jonze specializes in taking bizarre concepts and exploring them thoroughly. He’s great at world building filling his films with fully fleshed out characters, and Her is no exception. Her will forever be known as the movie where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his phone. Once you accept the premise, Jonze presents a treatise on loneliness and love so nuanced that you’ll be surprisingly rooting for Phoenix and his phone by the end. Scarlett Johansson provides the voice of the phone’s Siri equivalent, Samantha, and gives one of the best vocal performances you’ll ever hear. —Eddie Strait
2) La La Land
La La Land is an entertaining throwback musical about two people chasing their dreams. It’s an ode to persistence, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (who won an Oscar for her work) do some of their best work as dreamers Sebastian and Mia. Their easy report carries the movie. Similar to writer-director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, La La Land has strong replay value. From the opening freeway set piece to the excellent final 10-15 minutes, La La Land is sure to entertain. —E.S.
3) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
If you can’t get enough of the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts will help scratch that itch for you. If you’re a fan of the series, I assume you already know that it’s about Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) and the adventures and creatures he would go on to write about, and Harry Potter would eventually read. It’s hardly essential as a film, but for anyone with an insatiable thirst for all things Potter, it is a fun trip back to the magical world of J.K. Rowling. —E.S.
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4) The Dark Knight
I can attest from countless basic cable viewings that The Dark Knight has top-tier replay value. No matter where you jump in, you’re about to see something great. That’s a credit to Nolan’s direction and pacing, as well as the duo of great performances by Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart as The Joker and Two-Face. Many superhero movies have aped The Dark Knight’s dour tone, but few have used it as effectively. I know “dour” and “top-tier replay value” don’t exactly jive, but The Dark Knight makes it work. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch the interrogation scene again.
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. —M.J.
6) Get Out
Jordan Peele’s pivot from comedy to more dramatic material is one of the biggest surprises, and successes, of 2017. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya in a breakout performance) goes away for a weekend trip with his girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her family (Katherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, and Caleb Landry Jones). Chris is black and everyone else is white; what could go wrong? Well, plenty. Peele milks the setup for all the awkwardness possible, building off of Key & Peele’s sharper commentary to deliver a uniquely satisfying film. —E.S.
7) Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures is a crowdpleaser in the vein of The Help and The Blind Side, only better. Where those movies came up short (usually by disproportionately focusing on the white people), Hidden Figures excels. It’s about a team of mathematicians (played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, all excellent) who helped put man on the moon. The movie isn’t totally immune to the pratfalls of PG-13 inspirational tales of overcoming racism (see Jim Parson’s cartoonish antagonist or the big bathroom moment), but it overcomes those broad elements by excelling in its quieter moments. —E.S.
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.
9) John Wick 2
Keanu Reeves adds another notch on his action movie belt with this hit sequel to 2014’s sleeper hit John Wick. This time out a bounty has been put on Wick’s head so he has to take on hitters from home and abroad. The John Wick mythology is expanded enough to fill in some backstory gaps and set up future installments. What matters most here, of course, are the action scenes, and the movie delivers the goods multiple times over. While the prospect of recommending a movie that fetishizes gun violence is a bit queasy, if you liked the first one, you’ll certainly dig this one. —E.S.
M. Night Shyamalan has found the fountain of youth by partnering up with horror hitmaker Jason Blum. Shyamalan is working with smaller budgets and less expectations, and you can practically feel his giddy energy through the screen in The Visit and Split. James McAvoy stars in Split as a man with 23 personalities. He kidnaps a group of girls and from there the film continuously ratchets up the crazy. McAvoy’s performance, or performances, is the key to the movie’s success. Split is a return to form for Shyamalan, giving him his biggest box office hit in over a decade. It’s also a return to form in the way it connects to the world he created in Unbreakable and will be revisiting with his follow up to Split, titled Glass. —E.S.
Jackie isn’t your usual biopic. There are enough tweaks to the formula to keep it from feeling like a history lesson. It’s a gripping account of someone taking command of their own narrative and becoming legendary in the process. Natalie Portman gives one of her best performances as Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination. Special shout out to composer Mica Levi for delivering another incomparable score (after Under the Skin).
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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.
Ben Stiller does dumb-comedy-by-smart-people as well as anyone this side of Mike Judge. In the easily corruptible world of male modeling, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is an aging star fighting the inevitable as upstart Hansel (he’s so hot right now) comes for the throne. Does anybody really need a parody of the modeling world? No, but now that we have it, I can’t imagine how we made it so long without Zoolander. From walk-offs to gasoline fights to funeral crashing to assassination attempts, Zoolander surely has something for everybody. —E.S.
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) Logan (12/9)
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.
16) Sin City
Sin City is the last legitimately great movie Robert Rodriguez made before an unfortunate run of movies nobody was interested in. For what it’s worth I like Planet Terror, but most people like to rag on it. In adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel, Rodriguez found the perfect outlet. It allowed him technical indulgences (the use of green screen is particularly noteworthy), while the anthology-style approach helped focus his increasingly shortened attention span. The result was revolutionary at the time and is still golden a decade later. —E.S.
17) Jackass: The Movie
The Jackass films are some of the best comedies of the last 20 years. The films do much more than offer cheap shocks and thrills. The physical punishment endured by Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Wee Man, Steve-O, and the rest of the crew is breathtaking. They’re doing the best slapstick, and the choreography and imagination that goes into most stunts would make Chaplin and Keaton proud. Few comedies hit their targets as frequently and thoroughly as Jackass. —E.S.
2016’s Sully is another in a long line of films from director Clint Eastwood about ordinary men achieving something extraordinary. In this case, it’s pilot Chesley Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks. The word that comes to mind when thinking about Sully (the movie more so than the man) is “workmanlike.” I mean that as a compliment. The film is solid all the way around and features a few standout moments, such as the re-enactment of Sully’s fateful flight and some of his quieter moments outside the cockpit. It’s the kind of movie destined for endless cable airings. Watch it now without the commercials.
19) Scream 2
This is the last great horror movie the late Wes Craven made. (Red Eye is a blast, but that’s a thriller.) A year removed from the bloodbath in Woodsboro, Sidney (Neve Campbell) heads off to college, but she can’t escape the ghost (mask) from her past. The film ranks high in the horror-sequel pantheon in part because Campbell does legitimately great work, making Sidney a sympathetic figure. The series lost much of its luster in subsequent sequels (and TV show), but Scream 2 matches its predecessor laugh for laugh and kill and kill.
With the recent announcement of HBO’s new Watchmen show (from Damon Lindelof), it’s a good time to revisit Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation of Alan Moore’s great graphic novel. Snyder made a valiant effort to adapt the unadaptable, and there are enough positives to justify a recommendation. The opening montage, the visuals, and the performances (particularly Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian) are the film’s highlights. Sure, there are some regrettable choices (at least that terrible sex scene is laugh-out-loud funny), but that’s par for the course with a Snyder film. —E.S.
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21) Stuck on You
Matt Damon is perennially underrated as a comic actor. Even with the Ocean’s 11 films on his resume and a slew of hilarious appearances on sitcoms and talk shows, Damon doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Stuck on You is a perfect showcase for his skill set. He and Greg Kinnear play Siamese twins, one loves being a small town guy running a dinner and the other aspires to fame and glory in Hollywood. —E.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) Collateral Beauty
This movie is a complete disaster, and it’s amazing that it was ever made, and even more baffling considering the top-tier talent involved (Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren). Smith stars as a man dealing with a personal tragedy that has him reconsidering everything in his life. The film grows increasingly bizarre with each plot reveal. Collateral Beauty is a movie that aims for transcendence and understanding but lands squarely on maudlin. Obviously, you have to see it. —E.S.
24) Quick Change
Bill Murray’s illustrious career is one of the most iconic. While he’s beloved by nearly everybody, his rapport somehow escaped his lone directorial effort, Quick Change. It starts with a bank robbery and follows the three thieves (Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid) and their attempts to get away with the loot. Murray’s performance is quietly one of his best, and the rest of the cast is just as good. That work in front of the camera elevates the material, and the work behind the camera will make you wish Murray had spent more of his time there. — E.S.
25) The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most important horror films of all time. It’s critical and box office success speak to the film’s popularity at the time of its release, but nearly 20 years later, the film still holds up. If you saw the film when it opened in 1999 you either caught it before the hype reached insane proportions or you saw it to see what the hype was all about. It’s about three young filmmakers who get lost in the woods and go through some scary business. Much of the film’s genius derives from its simplicity. Presented as found footage and with unknown actors, it’s easy to get sucked in alongside the characters as they go deeper into the night and the mythology.
26) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Popstar was destined for cult status well before it tanked at the box office. Nearly a decade after the debut of “Lazy Sunday,” you know where you stand with The Lonely Island. The trio (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) pack everything you expect from them into Popstar: a potent mix of pop culture satire and lowbrow humor, slick production values, and a personal best set of songs. Popstar is the group’s crowning achievement. —M. J.
Where would you rank Speed on the list of Keanu’s best action movies? For me, it’s number one with a bullet (all respect to John Wick). What’s not to love about Speed? This movie has it all: a bus that can’t stop, Sandra Bullock, the chess match between Keanu and Dennis Hopper. It’s immensely entertaining. I always liked Speed, but I didn’t learn to love it until my first son was born and my middle-of-the-night TV options were, more often than not, Speed or Friends reruns. Maybe my TV was stuck on an all 90’s channel or something, but whatever the case Speed won that battle frequently. —E.S.
A should’ve been Oscar contender, Loving went largely unrecognized by the Academy and audiences. It’s a quiet, measured film based on the relationship of Richard and Mildred Loving. The Lovings went to the Supreme Court in their fight against the prohibition of interracial marriages. Writer-director Jeff Nichols has built his career on strong characters and intense examinations of family dynamics. Loving gets that same treatment. The film could’ve easily been a “rah-rah” history lesson, but Nichols keeps the focus on the everyday lives of the Lovings.
29) The Conjuring 2
People are still quick to dismiss sequels—especially horror sequels. But The Conjuring 2 surpasses its well-received predecessor, which was praised as director James Wan’s best film to date. The sequel goes abroad, bringing paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) to London. The film is intensely unsettling and its character-based approach allows the scares to flow naturally. Through both films, Wan has established himself as a more mature storyteller and craftsman than the guy best known for Saw and Furious 7. Given the box office success, a third is surely on the way.
30) Changing Lanes
This is one of the more underrated films of the 2000s. Changing Lanes stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson as a lawyer and businessman, respectively, who start their day by getting in a traffic accident. What starts as a fairly common occurrence escalates throughout the day as each man lets his temper get the better of him. It’s a morality play with compelling characters and up-tempo pacing. It’s Affleck’s best performance, for my money, and Jackson’s work ranks high on his résumé too.
31) Nocturnal Animals
Fashion icon turned acclaimed filmmaker Tom Ford’s second film, Nocturnal Animals, is pure pulp. It’s a surprise given the higher ambitions of his debut, A Single Man. Nocturnal Animals stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal in dual roles. In real life they are exes, but they also represent the characters in a novel written by Gyllenhaal’s character. It’s a film that lives down in the slop, and the messier the narrative gets, the more interesting the movie becomes.
32) Dumb & Dumber
It’s been awhile since Jim Carrey and/or the Farrelly brothers made something worth remembering, so it’s a good time to revisit the classic that will live forever. Lloyd (Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) generate enough laughs and facepalms for a lifetime in Dumb & Dumber. The band got back together for the 2014 sequel, which isn’t the disaster most long-gestating sequels turn out to be, but that movie mainly goes to show how special the magic they captured in 1994 was and still is.
33) Lights Out
This is low-budget horror done right. Lights Out is a supernatural spookfest about things going bump in night—or dark in this case. Teresa Palmer stars as Rebecca, a young woman whose family is being terrorized by something that attacks in the dark. The film gets good mileage out of the light gimmick, if you’re on board with it. At 80 minutes, Lights Out doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it keeps the scares coming. It’s better than you’d expect, and it’s a pretty fun ride. —E.S.
34) Kong: Skull Island
Kong: Skull Island is a movie that prioritizes fun and is all the better for it. The story is nonsense and hardly worth paying attention to. All you need to know is that people are on Skull Island and they have to get off it before Kong and a litany of creatures rip them apart. There’s a shot where a gas mask-clad Tom Hiddleston runs through a green gas cloud while swinging a machete. What more do you need?
35) The Strangers
Bryan Bertino’s breakthrough horror hit is a brutal and brutally efficient home invasion thriller. The premise is simple: A married couple (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) are terrorized at their semi-secluded home by a group of mask-wearing assailants. Bertino slow plays a lot of the scares, which builds tension to an almost unbearable level. —E.S.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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