10 Best Mind-blowing Movies On Max (HBO Max)

Staff & contributors

When it comes to entertainment, who doesn’t love to be awed? If you’re keen to rattle up your perspective on the world with revelations you could never imagine, surprise yourself with these mind-blowing movies and shows, now available to stream.

Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus. Originally codenamed “Olympic Games” by the people that fathered the worm, Stuxnet is a virus in the true sense of the word. It not only maliciously feeds off the host, but it also replicates itself as soon as it is implanted, which is exactly what it did when it was used by the US and Israeli secret services to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—making them spin out of control. All this is brilliantly unpacked by renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), who manages not only to detail the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative manner, but also to send out a well-researched alarm call about the future of war. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much part of our new shared reality. This film deserves to be seen by anyone who is even remotely concerned about global security in the 21st century.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Allison Cohn, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Sanger, Emad Kiyaei, Eric Chien, Eugene Kaspersky, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Joanne Tucker, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Sergey Ulasen, Tadashi Mitsui, Vitaly Kamluk, Yossi Melman

Director: Alex Gibney

Rating: PG-13

Director Jim Jarmusch audaciously combined the DNA of French noir classics with that of samurai and mafia movies to produce this utterly original film. As advised by the ancient Japanese manual it often quotes, though, Jarmusch’s movie also “makes the best” out of its own generation by adding hip-hop into its wry genre blend. The results are more than the sum of their parts, especially because the film is so eccentric: no matter how au fait with its inspirations you are, you still won’t see “Forest Whitaker plays a lonely hitman who wields and whooshes his silencer pistol like a samurai sword, lovingly tends pigeons, and can’t even speak the same language as his best friend” coming.

Ghost Dog’s strangeness is never jarring, though, thanks to Whitaker’s cool, collected performance, an atmospheric score by Wu-Tang Clan's RZA, and the cinematography’s tendency to use smooth double exposures for scene transitions. It almost feels like we’re in another world: Jarmusch zooms in on the Bushido code obsessions of Whitaker’s single-minded character and the mafiosos’ dying laws, blurring out everything else so the movie becomes a meditation on the impulse to moralize one’s misdoings by subscribing to rigid definitions of “honor.” Not an exercise in surface style, then, but a bone-deep reflective masterpiece.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Alfred Nittoli, Angel Caban, Camille Winbush, Chuck Jeffreys, Clebert Ford, Cliff Gorman, Damon Whitaker, Forest Whitaker, Frank Adonis, Frank Minucci, Gano Grills, Gary Farmer, Gene Ruffini, Harry Shearer, Henry Silva, Isaach De Bankolé, Jamie Hector, Jerry Todisco, John Tormey, Jonathan Teague Cook, José Rabelo, Joseph Rigano, Paul Diomede, Renee Bluestone, Richard Portnow, Roberto Lopez, RZA, Scott Bryce, Sharon Angela, Tony Rigo, Tracy Howe, Tricia Vessey, Victor Argo, Vince Viverito, Vinny Vella

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

Like so many pictures about the pictures, The Player is a biting satire of the biz. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a Hollywood executive who gives dinner speeches about movies being art but works at a studio where endings are unceremoniously tweaked for maximum audience approval ratings — and therefore maximum profits. The greedy corporate Tinseltown of The Player feels very close to the franchise-pumping Tinseltown of today, but there’s enough wit and irony here to keep it from feeling too depressing.

Legendary New Hollywood director Robert Altman packages his critique in familiar clothing: that of a film noir. After receiving threatening postcards from a disgruntled writer he never called back, Griffin takes matters into his own hands and soon finds himself living out the plot of a taut thriller. The Player gets even more deliciously meta than this: nearly every scene contains a winking reference to the movies, and it’d probably be easier to count which stars of past and present don’t show up for a cameo here. What’s more, Altman gives The Player the kind of “happy ending” that Griffin’s studio is always demanding from writers — only here, it’s spun into a bitter commentary on the whole industry. Simply masterful.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Simon, Alan Rudolph, Alexandra Powers, Althea Gibson, Andie MacDowell, Angela Hall, Anjelica Huston, Annie Ross, Bert Remsen, Brad Davis, Brian Brophy, Brian Tochi, Brion James, Bruce Willis, Buck Henry, Burt Reynolds, Cathy Lee Crosby, Charles Champlin, Cher, Cynthia Stevenson, David Alan Grier, Dean Stockwell, Dennis Franz, Derek Raser, Dina Merrill, Elliott Gould, Felicia Farr, Frank Barhydt, Fred Ward, Gary Busey, Gina Gershon, Greta Scacchi, Harry Belafonte, Jack Jason, Jack Kney, Jack Lemmon, Jack Riley, James Coburn, Jayne Meadows, Jeff Celentano, Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Piven, Jill St. John, Joan Tewkesbury, Joel Grey, John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Karen Black, Katarzyna Figura, Kathy Ireland, Kevin Scannell, Leah Ayres, Leeza Gibbons, Lily Tomlin, Louise Fletcher, Lyle Lovett, Malcolm McDowell, Marina Zenovich, Marlee Matlin, Martin Mull, Michael Bowen, Michael Tolkin, Mike Kaplan, Mimi Rogers, Natalie Strong, Ned Bellamy, Nick Nolte, Pamela Bowen, Patricia Resnick, Patrick Swayze, Paul Dooley, Paul Hewitt, Peter Falk, Peter Gallagher, Peter Koch, Randall Batinkoff, Ray Walston, Rene Auberjonois, Richard Anderson, Richard E. Grant, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Carradine, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Sally Kellerman, Sally Kirkland, Scott Glenn, Scott Shaw, Shari Belafonte, Stephen Tolkin, Steve Allen, Steve James, Susan Emshwiller, Susan Sarandon, Sydney Pollack, Ted Hartley, Teri Garr, Tim Robbins, Vincent D'Onofrio, Whoopi Goldberg

Director: Robert Altman

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show's eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who've already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It's a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anastasia Durasova, Heather Christian, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray, Niegel Smith, Taylor Mac

Director: Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein

Rating: PG-13

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.

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

A unique movie about a near-future society obsessed with couples; viewing couples as the norm, as opposed to single people who are viewed as unproductive and undesirable. In that way, the film shows David (Colin Farrell), a newly single person who is transferred to the Hotel, a place where single people have just 45 days to find a suitable mate, and if they fail, they would be transformed into animals of their choice. While the film’s original premise may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Lobster will prove a goldmine for people who are into a Kafkaesque, absurdist mentality, or anyone looking for an idea-driven experience.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aggeliki Papoulia, Angeliki Papoulia, Anthony Dougall, Ariane Labed, Ashley Jensen, Ben Whishaw, Colin Farrell, Degnan Geraghty, Emma O'Shea, Ewen MacIntosh, Garry Mountaine, Jacqueline Abrahams, Jessica Barden, John C. Reilly, Laoise Murphy, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Nancy Onu, Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rosanna Hoult, Sean Duggan

Director: Giorgos Lanthimos, Yorgos Lanthimos

Rating: R

, 2019

This crazy adventure thriller was Colombia's nomination for the 2020 Oscars. "Monos" translates to monkeys, the nom de guerre of a group of teenagers holding an American hostage in an isolated bunker. Other than the occasional visit from their supervisor, they're left to their devices, forming relationships, smoking weed, drinking, and eating psychedelic mushrooms. One day, on top of the hostage, they're also trusted with a milk cow, named Shakira. A party goes wrong and one of the Monos accidentally kills Shakira, triggering a series of events that sends them deep into the jungle, and deep into despair. 

Monos is not an action movie, it's more of a character study. It was loosely based on The Lord of the Flies.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller, War

Actor: Deibi Rueda, Jorge Román, Julián Giraldo, Julián Giraldo, Julianne Nicholson, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón, Moisés Arias, Moises Arias, Paul Cubides, Sneider Castro, Sofía Buenaventura, Sofia Buenaventura, Wilson Salazar

Director: Alejandro Landes

Rating: R

The question mark in the title represents the central idea of this fascinating documentary: what if worshipping Satan is the only way of ensuring religious freedom for everyone?

That's what a group of young members known as The Satanic Temple believe, led by a determined and well-spoken Harvard graduate. They embark on a journey across the U.S. to challenge corrupt officials and the prevalence of religious biases in government agencies. They always request that their belief system (Satanism) is given the same favorable treatment as Christianity, effectively proving that authorities will really only accept a show of religion if it's one religion: Christianity.

But their intoxicating energy comes with costs: divisions within the organization and growing pains. This documentary perfectly illustrates not only a misunderstood religion (in the documentary it's referred to as "post-religion") but the difficulties of establishing grassroots movements in general.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Anton LaVey, Bill O'Reilly, Billy Graham, Cecil B. DeMille, Chalice Blythe, Charlton Heston, Chris Hayes, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Geraldo Rivera, Greta Van Susteren, Jex Blackmore, Lucien Greaves, Malcolm Jarry, Mamie Eisenhower, Megyn Kelly, Mike Pence, Nicholas Crowe, Penny Lane, Rick Scott, Sal De Ciccio

Director: Penny Lane

Rating: R

Twisted yet deep. Sad yet interesting. Slow yet exhilarating. A Ghost Story is an incredible artistic achievement. With hardly any dialog, and breathtakingly long takes in its first half, it manages to bring you in its own creepy world and not let go until you feel completely lonely. Starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a loving couple who are hit with a horrible tragedy, the beginning is slow, and it's not a plot driven movie, but if you give it a chance it will blow your mind.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Afomia Hailemeskel, Augustine Frizzell, Barlow Jacobs, Brandi Price, Brea Grant, Carlos Bermudez, Casey Affleck, Chris Gardner, Constance Jones, Dagger Salazar, David Lowery, David Pink, Giovannie Cruz, Grover Coulson, Jonny Mars, Kenneisha Thompson, Kesha, Kesha Rose Sebert, Liz Cardenas, Liz Cardenas Franke, Liz Franke, McColm Cephas Jr., McColm Kona Cephas Jr., Nikita Patel, Rob Zabrecky, Rooney Mara, Sonia Acevedo, Will Oldham, Yasmina Gutierrez

Director: David Lowery

Rating: R

Probably the weirdest film you'll ever see. Paul Dano plays a borderline suicidal man who befriends a farting corpse that washed up from the sea as played by Daniel Radcliffe. It's an adventurous, witty and hilarious film yet it is filled with discreet and very deep lessons about society and norms. The soundtrack is so charmingly unique as well, it's a definite must-watch for anyone looking for a refreshing comedy.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Aaron Marshall, Andy Hull, Antonia Ribero, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Harbeck, Marika Casteel, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paul Dano, Richard Gross, Shane Carruth, Timothy Eulich

Director: Dan Kwan, Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Rating: R