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.
2) The Blues Brothers
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd brought the Blues Brothers to Saturday Night Live as a musical sketch long before they starred in this cult classic about the brothers’ quest to try and raise enough money to save the Catholic orphanage where they grew up from being foreclosed. Between run-ins with the police, neo-Nazis, and a mystery woman (Carrie Fisher) who’s set on killing them, the Blues Brothers truly have something to sing about. —Michelle Jaworski
3) The NeverEnding Story
The NeverEnding Story created a magical world that we wanted to be real. Follow Atreyu and Falkor’s journey to find a cure for the Empress alongside Bastian, the boy who discovered their book. Plus there’s an HBO show that pretty much used one of this film’s biggest scenes as inspiration. —M.J.
4) 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.
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) The Brothers Bloom
Before he made the leap to directing movies in a galaxy far, far way, Rian Johnson charmed audiences with films like The Brothers Bloom, a movie about two con men brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody) and their eccentric mark (Rachel Weisz). All three leads are a delight here, and the globetrotting story never loses its focus. Between this, the noir Brick, and the sci-fi Looper, Johnson has a knack for absorbing a genre and coming up with a story that nods at its influences while remaining wholly original. —E.S.
7) Central Intelligence
Pairing up Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, two of the most likable stars going, with the director of Dodgeball is about as easy as it gets for a comedy. As you might expect, the movie gets a lot of mileage out of easy jokes because the Johnson and Hart can sell almost anything, but the pair have obvious chemistry that’s easy and fun to watch. Action, comedy, the Rock, Hart: what more does a movie need? —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) 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.
10) A Bigger Splash
Director Luca Guadagnino isn’t familiar to mainstream American audiences yet, but his new film Call Me by Your Name is a possible Oscar contender this year. Consider this a chance to get ahead of the curve and see his last movie. Set in Italy, the film covers a vacation between four people, played by Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts, connected by friendship and familial ties. Soak in the luscious cinematography and let the actors draw you in. The simmering tension eventually boils over into something a tad formulaic, but A Bigger Splash is more about the journey than the destination. —E.S.
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11) 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.
12) Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s magnum opus remains as vital today as it was in 1989. It’s a masterclass in human observation and social commentary, and every other compliment you’ve ever heard about the movie still holds true. Lee’s finest joint puts a community’s differences in a pot and cranks up the heat until Mookie, Radio Raheem, Sal, Buggin’ Out, and everyone else reaches their boiling point. Aside from being an iconic film, it’s also really entertaining and it encapsulates everything that makes Spike Lee an all-timer, even if his more recent joints aren’t as potent. —E.S.
13) 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.
14) The Breakfast Club
A Saturday detention turns into something deeper and meaningful as five students who didn’t know one another bond, form friendships, and push one another in-between messing around with the vice principal. It’s not so much about why they’re all in detention—though that’s covered in the film—but how one day together can change how you see others. —M.J.
15) Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Neighbors 2 represents the tiny overlap in the Venn Diagram of “Sequels We Didn’t Need” and “Sequels We Didn’t Know We Needed.” It more or less copies the blueprint of the first one, even down to pitting Zac Efron’s lovable frat-bro Teddy against Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s married couple. While watching the three lock horns again is a lot of fun, the movie’s real success comes when the three team up to take down the sorority of awkward young women led by Chloe Grace Moretz. Rose Byrne and Zac Efron steal the show again, but the generous script gives everyone a moment to shine. On top of all the high jinks, the film even offers some social commentary that sticks. Judging from the box office numbers, a lot of people that liked the first Neighbors skipped this one, but now it’s time to rectify that mistake. —E.S.
16) Straight Outta Compton
The early career of the rap group N.W.A. is explored in the biopic (which had support from some of its members behind the scenes) as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and MC Ren form the group and try to make it in the music industry, but not without huge obstacles in their path. —M.J.
17) Crimson Peak
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance the first time I watched it, but I’ve caught random chunks on TV enough to make me reconsider. Even after a proper rewatch, I’m still not sure if it’s good, but I am convinced that it has enough interesting ideas and there’s enough going on to make it worthwhile. This is one that’s best enjoyed with a group of friends, as the film’s campy elements will certainly play better to a crowd than a solitary viewer. —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.
20) The Nice Guys
Shane Black can write action comedies in his sleep at this point in his career. His latest concoction is pure pulp and a ton of fun. Two grimy detectives (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe), an oil and water duo, team up to solve the murder of a porn star and a girl’s disappearance. The plot gets convoluted in the way that many classic noirs do, but Gosling and Crowe have great comedic chemistry, whether they’re working together or busting each other’s balls. By the time all the cards are on the table, the only mystery left unanswered is why this movie tanked at the box office.
22) 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.
23) The Peanuts Movie
It was inevitable that Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang would make its way to the big screen. It was also inevitable that it would be done with spiffier animation instead of the comparatively crude 2D style we’ve always had. But it was not inevitable that The Peanuts Movie would turn out to be as good as it is. It’s the kind of movie made with so much obvious affection for Charles Schulz’s work that it quickly endears itself to the audience. Purists may scoff, but for everyone else, The Peanuts Movie is a delight. —E.S.
24) Snow Angels
Writer-director David Gordon Green has had a fascinating career arc over the last 15 years. He started as an indie darling, with a Criterion-certified debut (George Washington), then left the realm of critical acclaim for hit (Pineapple Express) or miss (Your Highness) comedies. His next project is the latest Halloween. Snow Angels is from the early days. It’s a bleaker than bleak drama set in a small town. Everything that made Gordon Green a name to watch is on full display, from the assured direction to strong performances from a cast headlined by Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. —E.S.
25) 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.
28) 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.
29) 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.
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.
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.
32) 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.
33) 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 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 uptempo pacing. It’s Affleck’s best performance, for my money, and Jackson’s work ranks high on his resume too.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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