15 Best Original Movies On Max (HBO Max)

Staff & contributors

Thanks to technological and artistic innovations, in the past couple of decades inventiveness in film has become truly limitless. From novel formats to unusual scripts and cinematography, here are the most original movies and shows to stream now.

Dorky kid Greg Gaines (played by the brilliant and unlikely named Thomas Mann) has severe issues with closeness (he calls his best friend a “co-worker”) and is instructed by his mother to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl recently diagnosed with cancer. Far from being an indie tear-jerker, though, “this isn't a touching romantic story”, as Greg's narration reminds us. This is not least to the quirky nature of the film and the third titular character Earl, Greg's closest co-worker, who acts as the moral glue between Greg and Rachel.

In addition to hilarious writing and amazing performances, the film is laced with pop-cultural references by way of the movies that Greg and his Earl shoot in their spare time – spoofy takes on cult movies with titles like Sockwork Orange. Moving without being melodramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a charmingly off-kilter fish-out-of-water plot about making friends, dealing with death, and enjoying life best as one can.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Chelsea Zhang, Connie Britton, Etta Cox, Hugh Jackman, Jeremy Long, Joe Fishel, Jon Bernthal, Katherine Hughes, Masam Holden, Matt Bennett, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Thomas Mann

Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Rating: PG-13

While billed as a “ramen western”, Tampopo satirizes plenty of other American genres, including, but not limited to: 1) the inspirational sports film, with Tampopo’s diligent training, 2) the erotic, arthouse drama through its egg yolk kiss, 3) the witty, social comedy pointing out the absurd in dinnertime tables, and 4) the melodramatic mafia romance with its room-serviced hotel getaway. But the film doesn’t buckle under the weight of carrying all these genres– instead, the customer vignettes are all delicately plated to balance out the hearty journey of a store owner learning about ramen and the bemused, yet cohesive contemplation about food. Tampopo is one of a kind.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Chōei Takahashi, Fukumi Kuroda, Gō Awazu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Takagi, Hyōe Enoki, Isao Hashizume, Izumi Hara, Ken Watanabe, Kenso Kato, Kinzō Sakura, Kōji Yakusho, Mariko Okada, Masahiko Tsugawa, Naritoshi Hayashi, Nobuko Miyamoto, Nobuo Nakamura, Rikiya Yasuoka, Ryutaro Otomo, Toshimune Kato, Toshiya Fujita, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yoshi Katō, Zenpaku Kato

Director: Jūzō Itami

Rating: NR

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

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: Not Rated

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

, 2015

Youth is a film about Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) a famous composer vacationing at a resort in the Swiss Alps with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), an accomplished filmmaker, and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz). While Fred shuns his work (including an opportunity to play for the Queen of England) and muddles himself in disillusionment, Mick works fervently on his final film, intended to be his life’s crowning achievement. Their remaining time is spent intermingling amongst the guests and reminiscing upon their lives, their achievements, their failures and their undying yearnings. From writer/director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty), Youth is another charming work offering an array of eccentric characters and quirky scenarios, while also serving as a touching examination of age, wisdom and ultimately personal reckoning.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Jackson-Smith, Aldo Ralli, Alex Beckett, Alex MacQueen, Alexander Seibt, Alice Bauer, Anabel Kutay, Anna Marie Cseh, Ashley Bryant, Beatrice Curnew, Beatrice Walker, Carolina Carlsson, Chloe Pirrie, Dominique Leidner, Ed Stoppard, Elizabeth Kinnear, Emilia Jones, Eugenia Caruso, Gabriela Belisario, Harvey Keitel, Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher, Ian Attard, Ian Keir Attard, Jane Fonda, Jasmin Barbara Mairhofer, Josie Taylor, Julia Danuser, Kaspar Weiss, Laura De Marchi, Loredana Cannata, Luna Mijović, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Mãdãlina Ghenea, Maria Letizia Gorga, Mark Gessner, Mark Kozelek, Melinda Bokor, Michael Caine, Nate Dern, Paloma Faith, Paul Dano, Poppy Corby-Tuech, Portia Reiners, Rachel Weisz, Rebecca Calder, Robert Seethaler, Roly Serrano, Sonia Gessner, Sumi Jo, Tatiana Luter, Tom Lipinski, Veronika Dash, Wolfgang Michael

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Rating: R

Biographical documentaries tend to depict exceptional people– people who are so great that everyone wants to know about them, and people who are so terrible that they serve as a warning. Great Photo, Lovely Life depicts a serial sexual abuser in photojournalist Amanda Mustard’s family, able to get away with nearly all his crimes each time he skips over state lines. It’s not an easy film. It’s deeply uncomfortable. There are certain interviews that will trigger anger, despair, and bewilderment over how someone so evil can remain out of bars all his life. Great Photo, Lovely Life doesn’t provide any easy, comforting sequence as a balm to sexual abuse survivors around the world, but it’s an urgent reminder of the consequences of maintaining silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Amanda Mustard

Director: Amanda Mustard, Rachel Beth Anderson

The Square is a peculiar movie about a respected contemporary art museum curator as he goes through a few very specific events. He loses his wallet, his children fight, the art he oversees is does not make sense to an interviewer... Each one of these events would usually require a precise response but all they do is bring out his insecurities and his illusions about life. These reactions lead him to very unusual situations. A thought-provoking and incredibly intelligent film that's just a treat to watch. If you liked Force Majeure by the same director, The Square is even better!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anna-Stina Malmborg, Annica Liljeblad, Christopher Læssø, Christopher Laesso, Claes Bang, Daniel Hallberg, Denise Wessman, Dominic West, Elijandro Edouard, Elisabeth Moss, Emelie Beckius, Geica Pruteanu, Jan Lindwall, Johan Jonason, John Nordling, Julia Sporre, Lilianne Mardon, Linda Anborg, Lise Stephenson Engström, Lise Stephenson Engström, Madeleine Barwén Trollvik, Marina Schiptjenko, Martin Sooder, Moa Enqvist Stefansdotter, Nicki Dar, Pauline Hansson, Peter Vitanen, Sarah Giercksky, Sofie Hamilton, Stefan Godicke, Terry Notary

Director: Ruben Östlund

Rating: R

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adiatou Massudi, Bernardo Montet, Dan Herzberg, Denis Lavant, Gianfranco Poddighe, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor, Mickael Ravovski, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Richard Courcet

Director: Claire Denis

Rating: Unrated

Is courage still courage when you have no choices left? What do you do when you're pressed to the wall and have no way to go? Maria, a pretty, modest and hardworking girl living in a small Colombian town, where the only career choice (thus not being a choice, really) is working in a floral plant, packing and distributing flowers - a dead-end job with killer hours and zero-tolerance boss. Yet, it's money. Until the day Maria gets pregnant and her choices become even more limited. By accident, she makes acquaintance with a guy who turns out to be her way out - and the way is out to become a drug mule, transporting drugs in your stomach across the border to the American soil. A job dangerous in many aspects, illegal and potentially deadly, but also paid well. Maria decides to take the only way out, a way that may be a one-way street. Maria Full of Grace is a gut-wrenching story about survival in a seemingly hopeless situation. It's about taking that one chance that has all the potential to go south, and investing in it all the hope you have left, and all the survival instinct you have in your heart and soul. And when everything that could go bad does, and everything turns from bad to worse beyond imagination, it's about standing strong and not giving up, no matter what. Though technically not a documentary, it's real beyond belief, and you can be sure Colombia is full of Marias - just hoping for a decent life, ready to sacrifice the very life itself to obtain it. It's a masterpiece of its genre and it also boasts one of the best posters in the history of the cinema. Highly recommended.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Charles Albert Patiño, Guilied Lopez, Jaime Osorio Gómez, Jhon Álex Toro, Johanna Andrea Mora, John Álex Toro, Orlando Tobón, Patricia Rae, Selenis Leyva, Victor Macias

Director: Joshua Marston

Rating: R

, 2022

It’s a bold move, centering a drama around a creature as docile as a donkey, but EO pulls it off without ever leaning on the crutch of CGI. Instead, the film makes ingenious use of a hundred-year-old film technique: the Kuleshov effect. By splicing the image of the titular donkey’s placid, expressionless face against visual stimulus, the illusion of a genuine reaction is produced.

But don’t be mistaken: this is no twee Disney-esque tale of anthropomorphism. Inspired by the classic Au Hasard Balthasar, EO tracks the haphazard journey of a former circus donkey across Europe — one that is often depicted in surreal psychedelic reds instead of idyllic picture-book tones, and punctured by more horrors than joys (though we do, thankfully, get to see him munch away on some well-deserved carrot treats). EO’s docility frames him as a kind of holy innocent, making the cruelty meted out to him feel all the more like a grave violation of something sacrosanct. Seeing the world through his oft-neglected perspective also makes this a movie about humans by proxy — a fresh, empathetic approach that, even in its obvious dramatic liberties, makes us meditate on both the depth of experience that may be unfolding in our animal neighbors and our role in shaping it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Isabelle Huppert, Kateřina Holánová, Lolita Chammah, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Sandra Drzymalska, Tomasz Organek, Waldemar Barwiński

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Rating: NR

C.R.A.Z.Y. is crazy good, so to speak. A portrait of a French-Canadian family in 70's Quebec that will knock your socks right off, it's the story of a boy struggling with his identity and his relationship with his father. Featuring a killer soundtrack (including but not limited to Bowie, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones), it received Best Canadian Film in 2005 at Toronto International Film Festival. There are many things I would like to say about C.R.A.Z.Y. but I fear it's one of those films you enjoy best when you go into them not knowing much.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Gravel, Anik Vermette, Claude Gagnon, Danielle Proulx, Denis Trudel, Élizabeth Adam, Francis Ducharme, Hélène Grégoire, Isabelle Pagé, Jean-Alexandre Létourneau, Jean-Louis Roux, Jean-Marc Vallée, Joël LeMay, Marc-André Grondin, Marie-Michelle Duchesne, Marie-Yong Godbout-Turgeon, Mariloup Wolfe, Maxime Le Flaguais, Maxime Tremblay, Michel Côté, Michel Laperrière, Mohamed Majd, Natacha Thompson, Natasha Thompson, Pierre-Luc Brillant

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Rating: Not Rated

Though it doesn't proceed like most animal/nature-centered documentaries that you've seen, the Oscar-nominated All That Breathes is instantly memorable in the way it de-centers the human perspective from its all-encompassing study of New Delhi, India. The wildlife rescue team that features prominently in this film still only becomes a vessel through which director Shaunak Sen explores the environmental and political hazards being faced by the nation today. It's a movie that definitely challenges you to think for yourself, as any talking heads or on-screen explanations are traded for truly stunning shots of New Delhi as a biome teeming with life among the dirt. For those who want their documentaries unconventional, this is excellent stuff.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Shaunak Sen

A documentary told entirely through animated avatars can be a hard sell, but instead of playing into the expected jokes, director Joe Hunting takes this digital environment extremely seriously, and that makes all the difference. He doesn't downplay how absurd it is to see what are essentially 3D characters going on dates and having bellydance classes together, and yet Hunting still takes time to emphasize how freeing this virtual existence is for all involved. It's disappointing that the film never addresses the many real concerns people have about purely online relationships (deception, exploitation, and abuse, among others), but as a positive and perhaps overly romanticized view of this new, 21st-century social space, the documentary remains fresh and vital.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: DragonHeart, Dust Bunny, DylanP, IsYourBoi, Jenny0629

Director: Joe Hunting

Rating: R

When it comes to darker subjects such as suicide, an emotionally resonant, minimalistic film like this leaves an impression. The film follows Mr. Badii, a middle-aged man contemplating suicide, as he drives around Tehran searching for someone willing to bury him. Abbas Kiarostami's meticulous framing creates a sense of intimacy and introspection, allowing the audience to delve into the profound existential questions raised. The sparse dialogue, breathtaking landscapes of Tehran, and the use of natural warm lighting enhance the visual beauty and contemplation of the film. Poignant and hopeful in just twenty-four hours and one car.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdolrahman Bagheri, Homayoun Ershadi

Director: Abbas Kiarostami