Mental Floss
ENTERTAINMENT

The 20 Best Movies Streaming on HBO Max Right Now

Jake Rossen
Carey Mulligan stars in 'Promising Young Woman' (2020).
Carey Mulligan stars in 'Promising Young Woman' (2020). / Focus Features
facebooktwitterreddit

HBO Max is the premium streaming service from the Warner-owned media giant. For $14.99 a month, subscribers can choose from a vast library of movies and television shows. If you’ve already made your way through their superhero slate and simultaneous day-and-date theatrical releases, take a look at some of the best movies currently available on the service.

1. The Green Mile (1999)

Tom Hanks stars in this adaptation of the 1996 Stephen King novel, which was serialized and released in six published installments. Assigned duty on death row, a guard (Hanks) grapples with the otherworldly abilities of an inmate (Michael Clarke Duncan) who may or may not be innocent—and gifted with paranormal powers. To reinforce Duncan's physical presence, filmmakers sometimes used camera tricks to make him appear even taller than his co-stars.

2. The Last Duel (2021)

Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver, and Matt Damon star in Ridley Scott's drama based on a true story. In 14th century France, two rivals (Damon and Driver) find themselves at odds after Comer's character accuses Driver's character of sexually assaulting her. According to author Eric Jager, who wrote 2004's The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, the film is roughly 75 percent accurate to history—including those unfortunate haircuts.

3. Blood Simple (1984)

Joel and Ethan Coen's debut feature is a spare film noir about a bar owner (Dan Hedaya) who enlists a private detective to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz). Naturally, things don’t go as planned. That was mirrored off-screen, too, when the Coens went looking to raise money for production and accidentally hit the car of one potential investor.

4. Caddyshack (1980)

Chevy Chase and Bill Murray lead a motley crew of misfits who cause trouble at a swank country club. A lot of the source material came from Murray's brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, who worked at a golf club as a caddy growing up.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Despite advances in special effects, few films have come close to the grandeur and visual impact of director Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Co-written with Arthur C. Clarke, the film takes viewers on a psychedelic journey through space in the guise of a manned mission to Jupiter that’s soon thrown off-balance by the sentient HAL—a computer with plans of its own. Kubrick and Clarke went through a few prospective titles, including Project: Space and Tunnel to the Stars.

6. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

A seemingly mundane story of a blue-collar Italian worker (Lamberto Maggiorani) who finds his job in jeopardy when his only mode of transportation—a bicycle—is stolen turns into a mediation on the challenges of morality and ethics in the face of desperation. The film frequently makes lists ranking the best films of all time.

7. Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix followed in the oversized footsteps of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger with his own distinctive take on the infamous Batman villain. This time, performance clown Arthur Fleck finds himself in a seedy metropolis and drawn to the darker side of life. The result was a critical winner, albeit one that became the first Batman film to receive an R rating.

8. Promising Young Woman (2021)

Carey Mulligan stunned audiences and critics as Cassie Thomas, an enigmatic woman who opts to challenge toxic masculinity with violence. For the film's climax, in which Cassie dresses as a nurse to infiltrate a party, costume designers said they were after a look reminiscent of Chucky, the murderous doll from the Child's Play franchise.

9. Gremlins (1984)

The true horror of pet ownership is the focus of this '80s classic: When Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is gifted a curious little Mogwai by his father, he quickly learns that the "rules" of care are best followed. When he fumbles, the adorable Gizmo births a crude invasive species that terrorizes his tiny town. Writer Chris Columbus said the film was partly inspired by the mice that scrambled around his New York City apartment while he was attending college.

10. Goodfellas (1990)

Martin Scorsese directed this classic based on real-life criminal Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) who comes under the tutelage of mobsters Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and hopes he lives long enough to regret it. But despite its reputation for ultra-violence, only five onscreen murders take place in Goodfellas.

11. Breaking the Waves (1996)

A nuanced story of love in a time of crisis, Breaking the Waves features Emily Watson as Bess McNeil, a Scottish woman who falls for an oil rig worker named Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård). When tragedy befalls Jan, Bess must navigate their relationship through uncharted emotional waters. Helena Bonham Carter was slated to play Bess but backed out before filming again, reportedly due to the intensity of the sex scenes.

12. Jackie Brown (1997)

Quentin Tarantino's follow-up to Pulp Fiction is a more meditative but no less thrilling crime drama. When flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) crosses small-time arms dealer Ordell Robie (Samuel L. Jackson), she sets into motion a Byzantine series of often-bloody events. The role of supporting hood Louis Gara (De Niro) was originally offered to Sylvester Stallone, who turned it down.

13. The Grifters (1990)

John Cusack headlines this darkly funny crime caper about a family held together by their illegal pursuits. Angelica Huston and Annette Bening co-star. The film was produced by Martin Scorsese, who also provides the opening narration.

14. Presumed Innocent (1990)

Harrison Ford stars as attorney Rusty Sabich, who finds himself in hot water when his co-worker/mistress (Greta Scacchi) is found dead and he's charged with doing her in. The suspense film was based on author Scott Turow's 1987 legal thriller. A made-for-television sequel starring Bull Pullman in the Sabich role aired in 2011.

15. The Wages of Fear (1953)

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot offers a riveting example of sustained suspense in this fascinating story of four men who volunteer to drive two trucks of volatile nitroglycerine to the site of an oil field fire in South America. One bump in the road too many and they’ll explode. Consider it a predecessor to 1994’s Speed—only far more stressful to watch. The film suffered from edits during its initial U.S. release because distributors felt it was too long and that some scenes were anti-American. It was restored in 1992.

16. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Director Ingmar Bergman received great acclaim for this enchanting story of two children (Pernilla Allwin and Bertil Guve) who find their happy home in ruins after their father dies and their mother remarries. Only their sibling bond and an indomitable will to survive can help them endure the upheaval. Bergman originally conceived of the project as a television production and edited a 320-minute version down to 188 minutes for the theatrical release available on HBO Max.

17. North by Northwest (1959)

Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock teamed up for this classic thriller about everyman Roger Thornhill (Grant), an advertising executive mistaken for a man caught up in the spy trade. Thornhill's race to clear his name is bolstered by some legendary scenes, including the famous cropduster chase, and a riveting Bernard Herrmann score. While Grant is unforgettable in the role, Hitchcock first had to rebuff Jimmy Stewart, who really wanted to play Thornhill.

18. Speed (1994)

Keanu Reeves solidified himself as action hero material in this classic about a cop (Reeves) who must find a way to stop a bus wired to explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. He's aided in this task by a bus passenger (Sandra Bullock). Speed director Jan de Bont cast Reeves after seeing him in 1991's Point Break.

19. Eyes Without a Face (1960)

This unsettling French film about a surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) who kidnaps young women with the hope that he can restore the beauty of his daughter (Édith Scob), who was in a disfiguring car accident, by grafting their faces to hers is a study in restraint. There’s little gore but plenty of unease in what amounts to a highbrow take on the mad scientist genre. The film inspired Billy Idol to record a song with the same title in 1983.

20. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Joe Pesci is disarming lawyer Vinny Gambini, who attempts to defend two college kids (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) from a murder rap. While it's undoubtedly a comedy, the film has often been praised in the legal community for being accurate in how it portrays the nuances of law. 

A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.

facebooktwitterreddit