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
A couple is ambushed, leaving a woman dead and the man a quadriplegic. That man, Grey, has no reason to live until he’s offered a chance for revenge if he’ll allow himself to have an experimental chip implanted in his head. That technology, named STEM takes over Grey’s body, allowing him to walk, think, and fight with brutal efficiency. But revenge comes with a price and soon Grey is caught up in a rapidly deteriorating lose-lose situation. Upgrade has a renegade spirit to it, and it’s the rare movie you wish were longer just so you can watch more of STEM and Grey in action.
Blindspotting is a movie about people and places in transition. Collin (Daveed Diggs), is three days away from getting off probation and worried about his future. His best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) is increasingly concerned about the gentrification of their home and his behavior is increasingly erratic. As the societal pressures mount, Collin and Miles are forced into a reckoning that will change their lives and friendship forever. Co-written by Diggs and Rasal, Blindspotting is a sharply observed and timely film.
While Detective Pikachu may push the boundaries of what even diehard Pokémon fans can reasonably keep up with, it never forgets that its main mission is illustrating a fantasy world that only feels just the slightest bit out of reach. It’s a world where someone could, in fact, go from sleeping in a Pikachu bed surrounded by poké-battle posters, to working a dead-end job selling insurance, and back to a meaningful relationship with a sentient ball of fuzz. Though Detective Pikachu may be more of a kids film than I hoped for, the film wins by finding the heart of the video game. —Joseph Knoop
4) 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
5) Unfriended: Dark Web
The haters don’t want to admit this, but the Unfriended films are legit great bits of new-age techno-horror. The premise is as simple as it gets: a group of friends are chatting online when someone hijacks the convo and forces the friends to reveal their darkest secrets. Anyone who fails to meet the demands of the mysterious online presence gets unfriended from life. What makes Unfriended: Dark Web so good is how unapologetically nasty it is. Combine that with a get punch of an ending and you’ll be clamoring for a third film ASAP. -Eddie Strait
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
Violence begets more violence, just as John Wick begets more John Wicks. Picking up minutes after Chapter 2, the legendary John Wick has $14 million price tag on his head. As John Wick (you can just call him “John” or “Wick”) runs and runs, he must work his way through scores of the world’s top killers. The story grows more nonsensical with each new bit of information, but that’s hardly the point. Keanu Reeves continues to kick ass, literally and figuratively, as John Wick and with the action set pieces continuing to impress, John Wick’s reign as a top-tier action series will continue. —E.S.
10) Punch Drunk Love
Between this film and Judd Apatow’s Funny People, Adam Sandler has delivered two performances that deconstruct the comic persona honed on Saturday Night Live and his ‘90s comedies. For director Paul Thomas Anderson, Sandler plays Barry Egan, a socially awkward man prone to violent outbursts. A chance encounter with a woman in need of a favor (a terrific Emily Watson) helps bring Barry out of his shell. Anderson mixes the dark and absurd parts of the film with humor in that way only he can, and the result is pretty special.
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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) War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg’s take on H.G. Wells’ classic story is one of his most underrated great films. The story is so simple, aliens come to Earth and we follow one family’s struggle to survive the chaos, that it allows Spielberg to focus on the spectacle of it all. And what a spectacle it is. The setpieces here, be they huge like the initial alien attack, or as small scale as the basement scene, are uniformly thrilling. While most of the movie is unimpeachable entertainment, Spielberg delivers one of his patented schmaltzy endings that still draws mockery. But after staring down the end of the world and surviving, Spielberg is entitled to that indulgence.
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) Out of Sight
Elmore Leonard and Steven Soderberg go together as well as George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez. That one movie can contain all four and still have room for Don Cheadle and a stellar supporting cast is patently unfair. Soderbergh is a master of easy coolness, which this movie exudes. Between the bursts of violence and the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez it’s hard to not get lured into Out of Sight whenever it’s on. —E.S.
15) 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.
16) Apocalypse Now
1970s Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola is like Jordan in his prime. The excellence of their collaborations is second to none. While Apocalypse Now will always play little brother to The Godfather and The Godfather Part ll, it’s still a masterpiece. Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is brimming with madness, just like Brando’s performance as Colonel Kurtz. The film’s vision of Vietnam is horrifying, thrilling, and essential. —E.S.
17) Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s ballerina drama is a Grade-A mindgame. Natalie Portman (who won an Oscar for her performance) stars as Nina, a fiercely competitive dancer who is set to play the Swan Queen in the “Swan Lake.” The intensity of Nina’s preparation, combined with the presence of her rival and friend Lily (Mila Kunis), messes with Nina’s psyche. Calling an Aronofsky movie intense is a bit redundant, but Aronofsky’s style of filmmaking is too skilled and engaging to shy away. Between Aronofsky, Portman, and Clint Mansell’s excellent score, Black Swan is a potent psychological thriller.
18) Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik’s Ozark-set noir is a remarkably economical bit of filmmaking. It’s about a young woman, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), struggling to keep her family together. She goes out looking for her deadbeat, drug-dealing father, but every step closer brings Ree deeper into a web of crime. Winter’s Bone is lean and mean, and Lawrence really is great as Ree. Between this and the excellent Leave No Trace, Granik has a sharp eye for the lives of people living on the margins.
19) Happy Death Day
College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) gets murdered on her birthday…only to wake up and have to relive the day over and over until she solves her own murder. Happy Death Day is an energetic and highly entertaining horror thriller, anchored by a killer performance from Rothe. The script is pretty clever, and has plenty of fun with countless horror and time travel tropes (of course Groundhog Day gets a shout out). Happy Death Day is the kind of horror movie more intent on delivering a good time than nightmares, which makes it light, breezy fun that you’ll want to revisit.
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Some satires apply only to the time in which they were made while others become more prescient every year. Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, from 1987, is set in a futuristic Detroit where the city has nearly collapsed (too real), everything is owned by massive corporations (too real), and controlled by a militarized police force (way too real). Peter Weller plays an injured officer that police force brings back from the brink of death to protect the city as a weaponized cyborg. RoboCop has a lot of cheesy effects and some seriously campy moments, but its mix of Frankenstein-like philosophy and politically charged themes ensure it holds up, debatably even better than the 2014 remake. —Chris Osterndorf
21) 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.
22) The Others
The Others may have been slapped with lazy The Sixth Sense comparisons when it first came out, but it stands on its own as a superior ghost story. I kept waiting for general audiences to give The Others the credit it deserves. I don’t know if it ever happened, which is a shame. Nicole Kidman stars as a mother protecting her family in a post-World War II society. They’re sequestered away in their home, but as it usually goes in a lonely house, things go bump in the night. It’s a slowburn film that comes to a devastating climax. —E.S.
23) 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
24) Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese gets to play around in the B-movie sandbox with this twisty thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo play U.S. Marshals sent to the titular island to investigate the escape of a murderer. Every bit of new information creates more confusion for the Marshals and the audience. Shutter Island is the kind of movie that is one step ahead at every turn, but even astute viewers who figure out what’s coming will still be entertained watching the pieces fit into place. —E.S.
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Us will, of course, be compared to Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut Get Out, which arrived at just the right time and sparked countless thinkpieces, theories, and conversations. As with Get Out, Us plays with the idea of privilege and domesticity, and trades out the trauma of the Sunken Place for a shadow world, “as above so below” writ large. Peele said in an interview this movie was bigger than just race. Us is about “this country” right now. “We’re in a time where we fear the other,” he said, citing the “mysterious invader” we think will take our jobs or people with different political views than us. The “monster,” he suggests, “has our face.” This is us.
26) 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.
27) Long Shot
Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron star as an unlikely, but very charming pair of old friends who reconnect after a long time apart. Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a recently-fired journalist, and Theron plays Charlotte Field, a diplomat gearing up to run for president. Charlotte hires Fred as a speechwriter, but as they spend more time together the professional relationship isn’t the only thing taking off. The script by Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling tackles plenty of romcom cliches, but they forge enough new territory to make Long Shot succeed.
28) A Star is Born
Despite being the fourth film version of this story, Bradley Cooper’s Star soars on the strength of the chemistry between himself and Lady Gaga. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a musician on the down slope of his career. A chance meeting with Gaga’s Aly revitalizes Jackson and launches Aly to pop music stardom. The first hour of Star is particularly great, and shows what Cooper (who also directs and co-wrote the script) is capable of doing. The second half doesn’t quite hold up, but it still works. –E.S.
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Fourteen-year-old Billy Batson’s chance encounter with a wizard transforms him into a buff and caped superhero named Shazam (Zachary Levi). He and superhero fanboy Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) begin to test what Billy is capable of doing, which Freddy films and posts online to launch Shazam into viral fame. Shazam! wears its heart unabashedly on the sleeve of its hero’s over-the-top superhero suit and embraces some of the sillier aspects of the genre. And although that journey of self-discovery gets repetitive at times, it culminates in a fun and kid-friendly debut for DC Comics’ latest hero—and an even better story about found family.
Glass closes out the superhero trilogy M Night Shyamalan started back with 2000’s Unbreakable. He brings together Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) and Split’s Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy). While the three men at the center of the story are formidable, they find a capable adversary in Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who works with the men after they all end up in a mental hospital. Glass isn’t up to Unbreakable’s standard, but Shyamalan knows how to work an audience and keep viewers engaged.
31) Fight Club
I will spare you the lame joke about breaking the first (and second) rule of Fight Club, because we gotta talk about Fight Club. Aside from dude-bros co-opting and misreading David Fincher’s darkly hilarious, hyper-violent takedown of masculinity and consumer culture, the shenanigans of a milquetoast office worker (Edward Norton) and the anarchic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) still resonate today. Whether you find Fight Club to be subversive and incisive, or just Incels for Dummies, it’s a movie that is worth reckoning with. —E.S.
Life is good when you’re playing dodgeball, but it’s even better when you’re watching Dodgeball. In a last ditch attempt to save his boutique gym Average Joes, Peter LeFleur (Vince Vaughn) and his team of scrappy misfits set their sights on an annual dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, villainous White Goodman (Ben Stiller) and his team of meatheads wants to take over Peter’s gym and will do whatever it takes to keep the Joes from reaching dodgeball’s highest apex. Dodgeball is silly, sweet, and absolutely hilarious. —E.S.
33) The Favourite
Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos brings his trademark dark sense of humor to this period piece about the power struggle between two women angling to get close to Queen Anne. While the humor is the first thing that stands out about The Favourite, there is a sneaky emotional depth that gives the film its real power. With Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone doing career best work (all three received Oscar nominations with Colman winning Best Actress), The Favourite is a savagely funny delight.
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
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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