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The 20 Best Movies Streaming on HBO Max Right Now

Jake Rossen
Pam Grier stars in Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown' (1997).
Pam Grier stars in Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown' (1997). / Miramax
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For $14.99 a month, HBO Max subscribers can browse a vast library of movies and television shows. If you’ve already made your way through their superhero selection and day-and-date theatrical releases, take a look at some of the best of the rest.

1. Elvis (2022)

Baz Luhrmann's big, loud, wild fever dream of the King is less a biopic than a frenzied fast-forward of his highs and lows. But that's all right: Anchored by a potent Austin Butler, who resists falling into a parody of Presley, the film is an adrenaline shot.

According to Luhrmann, Butler became a frontrunner for the role when he received a call from the actor's co-star on stage in The Iceman Cometh. The call was from Denzel Washington, who told Luhrmann that Butler had an incredible work ethic.

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. Gravity (2013)

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in this nail-biting thriller about two astronauts cast adrift who have to use every resource available to make it back home. A special effects rig dubbed “the light box” that projected LED lights onto Bullock to simulate space was named one of the 25 Best Inventions of 2013 by TIME.

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 is regularly found on 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. 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 Untouchables (1987)

Kevin Costner landed his breakout role in this loose adaptation of the 1960s Robert Stack television series. As Eliot Ness, Costner runs afoul of Al Capone (a menacing Robert De Niro) in 1930s Chicago. Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) was originally scheduled to play Capone. When producers opted for De Niro, Hopkins got a $300,000 payday as a consolation prize.

14. Inception (2010)

Leonardo DiCaprio finds himself in a dizzying world of stealing secrets from a person’s dreams in this twisty thriller from Christopher Nolan. Early on, Nolan envisioned it as a horror film.

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 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. Chef (2014)

Jon Favreau took a break from MCU and Star Wars duties with this small-scale charmer about a superstar chef who rediscovers his passion for food after downsizing to a food truck. Favreau requested cooking lessons from mobile food master Roy Choi for the film.

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.

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