50 Best Must-watch Movies on HBO Max

Updated July 21, 2024 • Staff

Love it or hate it (the latter of which is understandable, considering its buggy interface), HBO Max is one of the best streaming platforms for cinephiles. Thanks to its affiliation with Warner Bros. Studios and Tuner Media, among other production studios, it has a vast collection of blockbusters and classics alike. It even has a hold of international gems, including the vast majority of the Studio Ghibli catalog. 

It's hard to go wrong when selecting from this platform, but if you're looking for the crème de la crème of cinema, then we have you covered. Below, we gather the very best, must-watch movies that are on right now, on-demand, on HBO Max.

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50.

Irma Vep (1996)

In this film-within-a-film, we and a fictional version of actress Maggie Cheung are brought through the disorienting experience of French filmmaking. The film’s washed-up director wants to remake the classic silent film Les Vampires to revive his career. But as with all plans, everything inevitably goes wrong. On top of depicting the regular chaos of a movie set, this film presents the anxieties of the modern-day French film industry—about how it may be past its prime, and how it can still compete on a global level. And through the steady, inscrutable face of Maggie Cheung, we remember the creative collaborations we've had ourselves—the energetic passion, the behind-the-scenes power dynamics, and the pure chaos of the process.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alex Descas, Antoine Basler, Arsinée Khanjian, Balthazar Clémenti, Bernard Nissile, Bulle Ogier, Dominique Faysse, Estelle Larrivaz, François-Renaud Labarthe, Françoise Clavel, Françoise Guglielmi, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Jacques Fieschi, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Laurent Jacquet, Lou Castel, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Nathalie Boutefeu, Nathalie Richard, Nicolas Giraudi, Olivier Torres, Philippe Landoulsi, Pierre Amzallag, Smaïl Mekki, Valerie Guy
Director: Olivier Assayas
Rating: Not Rated
Go to HBO Max
49.

Denial (2016)

Here’s a based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama that transcends the limits of its genre by virtue of an incisive and unexpectedly prescient script. Twenty years before 2016 sent us hurtling through the looking glass and into a post-truth era, the idea that you could deny the facts as you pleased teetered terrifyingly on the brink of legitimacy when author David Irving (a suitably odious Timothy Spall) brought a UK libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an academic whom he claimed had defamed him for calling him exactly what he was: a Holocaust denier.

The case was complicated by the fact that, at the time, the UK placed the burden of proof on the defendant — in other words, Lipstadt’s hotshot legal team needed to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving had wilfully misrepresented evidence demonstrating this. Denial captures that terrifying farcicality and the defense’s cleverly counterintuitive strategy: not allowing Lipstadt or Holocaust survivors to speak. If that sounds unsatisfying — this is the rare courtroom drama with no grandstanding speech from the protagonist — that’s the point, something the film’s title cleverly alludes to. Perhaps unexpectedly, Denial’s relevance has ballooned since its release, a fact that might hobble its hopeful ending but that only makes the rest all the more powerful.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Abigail Cruttenden, Alex Jennings, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Deck, Andrew Scott, Caren Pistorius, Daniel Cerqueira, Edward Franklin, Elliot Levey, Harriet Walter, Helen Bradbury, Hilton McRae, Ian Bartholomew, Jack Lowden, Jackie Clune, Jeremy Paxman, John Sessions, Lachele Carl, Laura Evelyn, Mark Gatiss, Max Befort, Mick Jackson, Nicholas Tennant, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul Bailey, Paul Hunter, Pip Carter, Rachel Weisz, Sally Messham, Sara Powell, Sean Power, Timothy Spall, Todd Boyce, Tom Clarke Hill, Tom Wilkinson, Will Attenborough, Ziggy Heath
Director: Mick Jackson
Rating: PG-13
Go to HBO Max
48.

Breaking the Waves (1996)

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, Romance
Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier
Director: Lars von Trier
Rating: R
Go to HBO Max
47.

Still Alice (2015)

Still Alice is a drama about a renowned linguistics professor (Julianne Moore) who slowly begins to lose words and find herself lost in familiar places, leading to an unexpected diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. Alice’s husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children subsequently struggle to maintain balance as her condition deteriorates, even as she steadfastly strives to maintain her self-composure. Interestingly, Alice uses her professional skills in communication to employ innovative ways to maintain her language and memory as well as possible, despite her ongoing decline. It’s a melancholy yet wonderfully touching film that feels thoroughly honest and real every step of the way. Julianne Moore is superb throughout—a role that earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alec Baldwin, Daniel Gerroll, Eha Urbsalu, Erin Darke, Hunter Parrish, José Báez, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, Kristen Stewart, Maxine Prescott, Orlagh Cassidy, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Rosa Arredondo, Seth Gilliam, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken, Victoria Cartagena, Zillah Glory
Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Rating: PG-13
Go to HBO Max
46.

Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (2017)

Fun and whimsical to its core, this animated film takes viewers on a visually captivating, surreal, and enchanting journey through a single night in Kyoto. The movie immerses you in an entertaining and eccentric world with its vibrant animation, characters, and offbeat humor following two unnamed characters only referred to as "The Girl with Black Hair" and "Senpai." The narrative weaves together various quirky encounters, love interests, and strange events, keeping you engaged and curious. Blending romance, comedy, and coming-of-age themes, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is a joyous celebration of youth, adventure, and the unpredictable nature of life's unexpected twists and turns.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Aoi Yuki, Chikara Honda, Gen Hoshino, Hiroshi Kamiya, Hiroyuki Yoshino, Junichi Suwabe, Kana Hanazawa, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Kazuya Nakai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mugihito, Nobuyuki Hiyama, Ryuji Akiyama, Seiko Niizuma, Yuhko Kaida
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Rating: PG-13
Go to HBO Max
45.

The Florida Project (2017)

Every once in a while there are movies that expand the definition of quality film-making. This is one of those movies.

Here is an incredible, yet delicate film that follows three children from poor families who are stuck living in subpar motels. Their lives and friendships are portrayed with honesty and precise aesthetics. It’s a story that at first seems as plot-free as life itself.

It succeeds in capturing an innocence that is usually reserved to a child’s imagination: a precarious living condition full of adventures and fun. It’s hard to describe it beyond that; it’s the kind of film that must be seen to be fully understood.

And it ends on a very high note.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aiden Malik, Andrew Romano, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Caleb Landry Jones, Cecilia Quinan, Christopher Rivera, Edward Pagan, Gary B. Gross, Giovanni Rodriguez, Hannah Peterson, Jim R. Coleman, Josie Olivo, Karren Karagulian, Lauren O'Quinn, Macon Blair, Marisol Rivera, Mela Murder, Sabina Friedman-Seitz, Shih-Ching Tsou, Valeria Cotto, Willem Dafoe
Director: Sean Baker
Rating: R
Go to HBO Max
44.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Studio Ghibli has brought us moving, remarkable animated films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke. One of Studio Ghibli’s most overlooked movies is Yoshifumi Kondou’s Whisper of the Heart, which finds magic in the ordinary every day. Shizuku is a young girl with great aspirations to become a writer—the only thing stopping her is herself. When she comes across a curious antique shop, she befriends a mysterious boy and his grandfather, who are just the push she needs to look inward and discover her own artistic capabilities.

If you have ever wanted to create something bigger and better than yourself—a story, a song, a poem, a painting, a work of art—then Whisper of the Heart will excite you, will call to you, will remind you to answer your heart’s calling.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Animation, Drama, Family
Actor: Issey Takahashi, Kazuo Takahashi, Keiju Kobayashi, Maiko Kayama, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Minami Takayama, Mitsuaki Ogawa, Naohisa Inoue, Shigeru Muroi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Shiro Kishibe, Takashi Tachibana, Tatsuya Okada, Toshio Suzuki, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshifumi Kondo, Yoshimi Nakajima
Director: Yoshifumi Kondô, Yoshifumi Kondou
Rating: G
Go to HBO Max
43.

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Sisters Martine and Filippa, daughters of a founder of a religious sect, live a simple and quiet life in a remote coastal village in Denmark. Throughout the course of their lives, they reject possible romances and fame as part of their commitment to deny earthly attachments. This is upended by the sudden arrival of a French immigrant named Babette, who served as their house help to escape the civil war raging in her country.

Babette’s Feast is an inquiry into simplicity and kindness, and whether these would be sufficient to achieve a life of contentment. The religious undertones perfectly fit with the film’s parable-like structure, where bodily and spiritual appetites are satisfied through a sumptuous feast of love, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Asta Esper Hagen Andersen, Axel Strøbye, Bendt Rothe, Bibi Andersson, Birgitte Federspiel, Bodil Kjer, Cay Kristiansen, Ebba With, Ebbe Rode, Else Petersen, Finn Nielsen, Gert Bastian, Ghita Nørby, Ghita Nørby, Holger Perfort, Jarl Kulle, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Lars Lohmann, Lisbeth Movin, Pouel Kern, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Stéphane Audran, Stéphane Audran, Therese Hojgaard Christensen, Thomas Antoni, Vibeke Hastrup, Viggo Bentzon
Director: Gabriel Axel
Rating: G
Go to HBO Max
42.

Moonage Daydream (2022)

Forget everything you know about the music biopic. One-on-one interviews, chronological storytelling, silent moments with the subjects—Moonage Daydream isn’t that kind of movie. Just as David Bowie isn’t your typical pop star, this documentary about him, directed by Brett Morgen, forgoes the usual beats for something extraordinary and fun.

Moonage Daydream is a concert, a light show, and a masterclass in collage editing. It's a feast for the senses, a fantastic neon fever dream that paints a picture of Bowie in his own words, drawn from archival footage, interviews, and concerts past.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music
Actor: Bing Crosby, Brian Eno, Catherine Deneuve, Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie, Dick Cavett, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Iman, Jeff Beck, Keanu Reeves, Lou Reed, Maria Falconetti, Max Schreck, Max von Sydow, Mick Ronson, Mick Woodmansey, Mike Garson, Russell Harty, Tina Turner, Trevor Bolder
Director: Brett Morgen
Rating: PG-13
Go to HBO Max
41.

Rosetta (1999)

Rosetta begins fiercely, with a shaky handheld camera chasing the eponymous teenager (Émilie Dequenne) as she storms across a factory floor and bursts into a room to confront the person she believes has just lost her her job. The film seldom relents from this tone of desperate fury, as we watch Rosetta — whose mother is a barely functioning alcoholic — fight to find the job that she needs to keep the two alive.

As tough as their situation is, though, Rosetta’s fierce sense of dignity refuses to allow her to accept any charity. A stranger to kindness and vulnerability, her abject desperation leads her to mistake these qualities for opportunities to exploit, leading her to make a gutting decision. But for all her apparent unlikeability, the movie (an early film from empathy endurance testers the Dardenne brothers) slots in slivers of startling vulnerability amongst the grimness so that we never lose sight of Rosetta’s ultimate blamelessness. Its profound emotional effect is corroborated by two things: that it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and that it helped usher in a law protecting the rights of teenage employees in its setting of Belgium.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Anne Yernaux, Bernard Marbaix, Émilie Dequenne, Fabrizio Rongione, Frédéric Bodson, Mireille Bailly, Olivier Gourmet
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Rating: R
Go to HBO Max

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