As the birthplace of prestige TV shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, HBO—and, by extension, Max (aka the streamer formerly known as HBO Max)—is best known for its impressive lineup of original series. The network has also been upping the ante with feature-length content that is the stuff of Oscar dreams. However, because Max is not (yet) a production powerhouse like, say, Netflix, hundreds of great movies come and go each month. So if you see something you want to watch, don’t let it linger in your queue for too long.
Below is a list of some of our favorite films streaming on Max—from iconic horror flicks to piercing documentaries you’ll see near the top of any “Best Movies of the Year” list. If you decide you’re in more of a TV mood, head over to our picks for the best shows on Max. If you’re looking for even more recommendations, check out our lists of the best movies on Netflix, the best movies on Amazon Prime, and the best movies on Disney+.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Everyone wondered what Barry Jenkins would do following the success of his Oscar-winning film Moonlight. When it turned out to be a gorgeous adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk, film- and book-lovers alike relished the results. Set in 1970s Harlem, Beale tells the story of a young couple, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), who dream of building a life together but get torn apart when Fonny is falsely imprisoned. The movie scored Regina King her first, and long overdue, Academy Award, and solidified Jenkins as a cinematic force.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a lot of the Fast & Furious movies start to run together. Car chase, fistfight, street race, big booms, Corona, “family”—the end. But this one is special. For starters, it’s the one where the gang parachutes a bunch of souped-up cars out of the back of a cargo plane. For another, it marks Paul Walker’s final appearance in a Fast movie. (He died in a car accident in 2013.) It’s a bittersweet film, and also one of the franchise’s best.
Looking to live every week like it’s Shark Week? Kick it off with The Meg, which sees Jason Statham facing off against a 75-foot prehistoric shark. The eponymous fish is the one with oversized teeth and appetite for human flesh, but it’s Statham who chews the bulk of the scenery. Is it goofy? Of course. Which is why is spawned a sequel, which is in theaters now.
Meg 2: The Trench
If one hour and 53 minutes of watching Jason Statham attempt to kick a prehistoric shark’s ass wasn’t enough for you in The Meg, behold: Meg 2. Less than two months after arriving in theaters, this hotly (albeit somewhat ironically) awaited sequel is already streaming on Max. If you’re looking for a campy creature feature that requires zero amount of thinking, but plenty of giant sharks, ass-kickings, and Statham one-liners, you’re in for a treat.
It’s HEE-EERE! Before It caused an uptick in cases of coulrophobia, there was Poltergeist—Tobe Hooper’s (or was it Steven Spielberg’s?) 1982 paranormal horror flick that had kids, and their parents, terrified of not just clowns, but trees and television sets, too. When weird things start happening to the Freeling family, the truth about their home—and what lies under it—is revealed.
When we talk about Scream today, it’s typically as a franchise boasting six films (soon-to-be seven) and an MTV series. Which all feels somewhat ironic, given that the original Wes Craven film—from a script penned by Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson—was a sendup of the horror series that Scream itself eventually became. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) plays a new kind of Final Girl as she struggles with the death of her mother, teenage romance, and a masked serial killer who seems intent on making her his next victim. While it may feel somewhat dated with its severe mid-’90s fashions, there’s no denying its cleverness. And it’s clear that its makers are devoted fans of the genre.
The Lost Boys
Come for the vampires, stay for the Sexy Sax Man. Joel Schumacher assembled a who’s who of mid-’80s heartthrobs, including The Two Coreys, for this tale of a recent divorcee who moves with her two sons to a seemingly charming beach town, only to discover that it’s overrun by vampires. When her older son (Jason Patric) is partially turned into a bloodsucker himself, the family must use all the help they can get to halt his transformation.
“What an excellent day for an exorcism.” In addition to being one of this horror classic’s most famous quotes, it’s also an evergreen statement on the best time to give The Exorcist a watch—or likely, a rewatch. The late William Friedkin changed the game for the genre in many ways with this adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, particularly from a critical perspective, as it’s often touted as the first horror movie to earn a Best Picture Oscar nod. Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is the 12-year-old daughter of a movie star (Ellen Burstyn). Both are doing their best to live a normal life, but all hell breaks loose, literally, when young Regan starts randomly levitating, turning her head a full 360 degrees, acting very unladylike with a crucifix, and projectile vomiting in the faces of the priests who are attempting to help her. The movie was so disturbing at the time of its release, with widespread instances of people fainting and even one reported miscarriage, that movie theaters began keeping ambulances on hand during screenings.
Four directors have attempted to mine Stephen King’s debut novel for cinematic inspiration, which ultimately seems pointless after Brian De Palma’s 1976 original. Nearly 50 years after its debut, the film still manages to scare the pants off audiences. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a shy, sheltered, and, yeah, kinda weird teen who is a favorite target of her high school’s clique of mean girls. When one of said mean girls (Nancy Allen) is barred from attending her own senior prom because of her tortuous behavior, she and her boyfriend make a plan to get revenge on poor ol’ Carrie. But Carrie has the last laugh when, after being doused by a bucket full of pig’s blood, she shows a gymnasium full of prom-goers why her “Creepy Carrie” nickname is well earned. The film also features an ending that can still make audiences quite literally jump out of their seats.
Little Shop of Horrors
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more stellar cast of ’80s comedy stars than the roll call in this Frank Oz musical, which is an update of an old Roger Corman movie. Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is a soft-spoken employee at a flower shop, where—when he’s not harboring a major crush on his coworker Audrey (Ellen Greene)—he is desperately trying to keep his bloodthirsty plant Audrey II thriving. Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray, and Christopher Guest all have memorable roles.
In his 1981 review of Mommie Dearest, The Washington Post film critic Gary Arnold described the film as “wretched excess.” While that’s obviously not meant to be a compliment, the film’s over-the-topness turned what was presumably supposed to be a straightforward Joan Crawford biopic into a beloved two-hour campfest that sees Faye Dunaway chomping away on every last bit of scenery. The movie, about Crawford’s alleged abusive relationship toward Christina and her brother Christopher, paints a picture of a monster—and has been publicly denounced by Crawford’s other children. Veracity aside, this two-hour-long campfest has become a cult classic that is often seen on midnight movie marquees, and it very well may have killed the wire hanger industry.
If you’re a movie buff, chances are you’ve already seen Quentin Tarantino’s seminal Pulp Fiction. But, if you’re a movie buff, you’re also probably the kind of person who likes to revisit it often. But be warned: If you think this might inspire you to indulge in a Tarantino marathon, you’re out of luck. It’s one of the only Tarantino flicks on Max. (This depends a lot on whether you count the director’s appearance in From Dusk Till Dawn.) Still, enjoy your time with Jules and Vincent (and Honey Bunny and the gimp and Marsellus Wallace and Butch) while you can.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Before Freddy Krueger became a wise-cracking horror icon who eventually faced off against Jason Voorhees, he was a legitimately terrifying horror villain. His first appearance in this gritty, 1984 Wes Craven classic still has the ability to send shivers up the spine of even the most seasoned horror fan.
Edge of Tomorrow
Has the one-two punch of Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One left you jonesing for a quick Tom Cruise marathon? Well, no playlist of Tom Cruise Running is complete without Edge of Tomorrow. This alien-invasion flick from director Doug Liman remains as fun today as it was when it came out nearly a decade ago. And it’s still the best video game you can never play.
Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron’s Avatar sequel felt like a movie centuries in the making. In reality, just over a dozen years passed between the original 2009 movie and last year’s The Way of the Water. That timeline adds up: The second in a scheduled series of five films takes place 16 years after the events of the original and catches up with Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña)—now married with children, and still blue. Though the movie didn’t seem to make as loud as a splash as its predecessor, it managed to wipe Cameron’s own Titanic out of the water—plus all the Star Wars movies—to become the third-highest-grossing movie of all time (with Avatar in the top spot, followed by Avengers: Endgame—though they all might want to watch out for Barbie).
Magic Mike’s Last Dance
Way back in 1989, few could have predicted that Steven Soderbergh—the new indie auteur setting Sundance ablaze with Sex, Lies, and Videotape—would one day direct a dramedy about a group of male strippers with names like Tarzan and Big Dick Richie. Channing Tatum certainly wouldn’t have guessed it (then again, he was only 9 years old at the time). Still, what sounded like a bizarre collaboration turned into a very good movie, which then morphed into a full-on franchise. Now, Tatum—upon whom the eponymous dancer is loosely based—is ready to pop, lock, and rock a pair of rip-away pants once more in the third entry in the Magic Mike saga. This one moves the action to London, when a hot rich lady (Salma Hayek Pinault) asks him to bring his moves across the pond. Scheming and secret agendas ensue, but Mike, as always, prevails.
In 2017, an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election was leaked anonymously. One year later, former NSA translator Reality Winner (yes, that’s her real name) was sentenced to more than five years in prison for the crime—the longest sentence ever received by a government whistleblower. HBO’s reigning muse, Sydney Sweeney, (Euphoria, The White Lotus) shines in this gripping true story, which plays out mostly in real time as the FBI knocks on the 25-year-old’s door and spends more than an hour questioning her.
A revolutionary artist like David Bowie deserves nothing short of a revolutionary documentary, which is exactly what Brett Morgen delivers. Really, to call it a “documentary” doesn’t even feel quite right—which might be why it’s referred to as a “cinematic experience” right there in the credits. Bowie diehards and neophytes alike will find plenty to be enthralled by, whether it’s the psychedelic spectacle of it all, the never-before-seen footage and interviews, or the 40 Bowie songs that were remastered specifically for the movie—the first to receive a blessing from the Bowie estate.
Even if you don’t care about awards, the fact that Parasite is the first—and still only—non-English-language movie to win a Best Picture Oscar should tell you something about the universality of its themes. The Kims, a family struggling to make ends meet, set their scheming sights on the Parks, a well-to-do family with plenty of problems of their own, but also plenty of money to muffle their dysfunction. At least for a time. Just when you think you know how class warfare is playing out in this black comedy, it changes course to reach an unexpected conclusion. As always, Bong Joon-ho knows just how to lead his audience down one path, only to open a trapdoor into another.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Finding success in one’s lifetime might seem like the dream of every artist, but Nan Goldin has bigger ambitions. Though she’s a photographer by trade, she’s an activist by calling and has long used her camera to capture painfully intimate moments of America in crisis, including extensive work focused on the HIV/AIDS and opioid epidemics. But All the Beauty and the Bloodshed reveals the artist in conflict: Should she allow her work to be showcased in one of the prominent museums or galleries that have received endowments from the Sackler family—the Big Pharma family many blame for America’s opioid crisis? It’s a moving portrait of an artist willing to risk it all for her beliefs.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson—reuniting after playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008)—play longtime best friends who have an unexpected falling out when Gleeson’s Colm suddenly decides to cut Farrell’s Pádraic out of his life. When Pádraic seeks an explanation for why, Colm begins cutting off a lot more. McDonagh is a virtuoso of absurdist comedy, and The Banshees of Inisherin might be his masterpiece. Though it walked away empty-handed at the Oscars, the movie was deservedly nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and nominations for Farrell, Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon. (Farrell’s day will come.)
“This ain’t no nostalgia show,” says Austin Butler, as the King, in Elvis. “We’re going to do something different.” Butler might as well have been talking about the movie itself, which is certainly not your typical Presley biopic. Then again, in the hands of director Baz Luhrmann, would one expect anything different? Told from the deathbed perspective of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s (shady) longtime manager, Luhrmann does away with the musical deity angle so often seen to paint a much more vulnerable picture of Presley. Of course he does it all with the same frenetic energy, wild pacing, and over-the-top style that have become hallmarks of Luhrmann’s work.
Empire of Light
At its summary level, Empire of Light is a 1980s-set historical romance about an overwrought movie theater manager (Olivia Colman) who takes a shine to a new employee (Micheal Ward) and manages to find a slice of happiness in a time of political unrest in the UK. But the movie, directed by Sam Mendes, is also a labor of love and partly autobiographical. At its heart, it’s really an appreciation of cinema, and of the connections we can find with people in the dark—both literally and figuratively. Though it’s far from a perfect movie, Colman’s masterful performance is worth the price of admission alone, and yet again proves why she is one of the most in-demand actors working today.
A small group of overprivileged foodies (including Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travel to an island in the middle of nowhere in order to be placed at the culinary mercy of world-renowned master Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), and pay top dollar for the privilege. But during the dinner service in which The Menu takes place, Slowik has plans that go beyond an eight-course tasting menu. It’s probably best to go in knowing as little as you can about where this weird little black-comedy-horror flick is going, but be warned that it’s nowhere nice.
Whether anyone realizes it or not, collaborative consumption has forced a lot of people to continually put our trust in total strangers (think: Uber drivers) without a second thought. Writer-director Zach Cregger’s Barbarian may cause you to reconsider. When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Airbnb, she discovers the place has already been rented. Good thing the guy (Bill Skarsgård) who’s staying there seems so sweet, soft-spoken, and accommodating.
The Dark Knight
First things first: All three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are currently on HBO Max, and binge-watching all of them in a row is certainly one way to spend an evening. But if you’re opting to watch just one, the second film in the series is the one to beat. Though Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader gets top billing, it’s Heath Ledger’s now-iconic performance as The Joker that makes The Dark Knight the most compulsively watchable Batman movie (even beyond Nolan’s entries). Though Ledger tragically passed away six months before the film’s release, he posthumously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his villainous turn, in which he managed to find the perfect balance between dark humor and outright insanity.
Ari Aster made a splash—and one memorable splat—with his directorial debut, which took psychological horror to new heights. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is a miniature artist living a seemingly contented life with her psychiatrist husband (Gabriel Byrne) and their two teenagers, Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). But any sense of normalcy disappears almost immediately following the death of Annie’s mom, with whom she had a challenging relationship. Is Annie crazy? Is her husband a terrible shrink? Is Peter a terrible person? Why does Charlie make that clicking noise? What’s that in the backseat of the car? These are all valid questions that are answered by Aster, whose deft directorial style has made him an instant Hollywood icon.