8 Must Watch Movies on HBO MAX

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best movies on HBO

HBO offers subscribers a wide range of viewing choices, with over 2,000 movies from which to choose. But with all those streaming options, deciding what to watch can be a huge struggle.  Luckily we’re here to help! 

Below, you’ll find 8 movies available on HBO Now.

8 of the Best Movies on HBO Max

  1. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002)
  2. Sling Blade (1996)
  3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  4. And the Band Played On (1993)
  5. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
  6. 28 Days Later (2002)
  7. Life of Pi (2012)
  8. The Birdcage (1996)

1. City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
8.6/1091%Amazon Prime, AppleTV,
Google Play, Hulu, YouTube, Vudu

City of God was filmed in a Rio de Janeiro favela. Most of the actors are favela residents trained by directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund in improvisational workshops. The result is a gritty, realistic portrayal of life amidst the gang wars and grinding poverty in Brazil’s sprawling slums. 

Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), the film’s narrator, hopes to escape Cidade de Deus through his photography. He gives us the favela’s history from the 1960s, when Brazilian land developers drove the impoverished residents of Rio’s inner city to the suburban fringes, to the bloody gang battles of the 1970s and early 80s. 

Meirelles got his start in advertising. His inventive, fast-moving camera work and brilliant use of light and setting have been lauded by film critics like Roger Ebert and the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. City of God veers from tender romance and uproarious comedy to shocking violence and carnage within a single shot. 

The bloodshed in City of God is never glorified or sentimentalized. It’s rather an everyday occurrence in the characters’ lives. Its vision is unsparing but never despairing. City of God appears on many lists of the 21st century’s greatest films. See it, and you’ll understand why.

2. Sling Blade (1996)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
8.0/1096%Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Hulu, 
YouTube, Vudu

Sling Blade won an Oscar in 1997 for Billy Bob Thornton’s screenplay. Thornton was also nominated for Best Actor for his performance as Karl, a developmentally disabled man just released from an institution. Produced on a shoestring budget, Sling Blade is considered by many to be one of the finest independent films ever made.

Sling Blade owes a great deal to Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. Karl spends a great deal of time pondering moral questions. “I read the Bible quite a bit,” he explains. “I can’t understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it.” Karl’s simple goodness leads the story to a tragic yet inevitable conclusion. 

A uniformly strong supporting cast bolsters Thornton’s star turn. Lucas Black is especially moving as Frank, a troubled young boy whom Karl befriends. And Dwight Yoakam’s Doyle, a manipulative and brutal redneck living with Frank’s mother, is a suitable foil to Karl’s open-hearted innocence. 

Sling Blade is a movie that’ll stay with you long after the final credits roll. Thornton’s Karl is as heartbreaking and unforgettable as John Steinbeck’s gentle rabbit-killing giant Lenny in Of Mice and Men

3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
8.0/1085%Amazon (rent or buy), AppleTV,
Google Play, Hulu, Vudu

In 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner premiered to a mixed response, with many critics complaining the film was overlong and hard to follow. Today Blade Runner is considered one of Hollywood’s greatest science fiction films. It’s not that surprising, then, that Blade Runner 2049 opened in 2017 to similar disappointing sales and critical confusion.

K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant working as an LAPD blade runner, finds himself searching for a long-retired blade runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford) — and for his identity. His quest takes him through a film noir futuristic Western desert and conflicts with blind replicant-designing genius Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). 

While critics were again divided on the pacing, Blade Runner 2049 has received universal praise for its stunning cinematography and staging. In 2018, Blade Runner 2049 won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The Grammy-nominated soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish also includes a reprise of Vangelis’ famous “Tears in the Rain” from the original film.

Blade Runner 2049 gives us a serious reflection on memory, empathy, and the human condition. At two hours and 33 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a short film, but you’ll find it time well spent.

4. And the Band Played On (1993)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
7.8/10100%Amazon Prime, Apple TV,Google Play, Netflix, Vudu

And the Band Played On is one of HBO’s early attempts at movie-length features. The budget was considerably more limited than their later shows like Game of Thrones. But given the subject matter’s importance, many A-list stars like Richard Gere, Matthew Modine, Ian McKellan, and Alan Alda agreed to work on the project for union scale. 

Based on the 1987 bestseller by Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On gives an unflinching portrayal of the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic. In 1981 epidemiologist David Francis (Modine) noticed a spike in death rates among gay men. When his CDC supervisors showed little interest in the “gay plague,” Francis and a few others began researching this new disease on their own. 

And the Band Played On shows the resistance they encountered from politicians, bureaucrats, and gay leaders who accused them of “sexual Nazism” for calls to close the bathhouses.

Among the strongest performances are Alan Alda’s portrayal of controversial virologist Robert Gallo and Ian McKellan’s heartbreaking turn as early safe-sex advocate and AIDS casualty Bill Kraus. And the Band Played On reminds us of how far we’ve come and shows us the fires which forged the modern LGBT movement. 

5. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
7.5/1096%Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu

Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and his assassination at the hands of police. It also tells the story of William O’Neal, a petty criminal turned informant. O’Neal infiltrated the Illinois Black Panther Party and provided the FBI with the information they would later use to kill Hampton. 

It would be easy enough to portray O’Neal as a traitor with no redeeming qualities. But director Shaka King wisely avoids that temptation. O’Neal (Lakeith Stansfield) is conflicted throughout the film. He admires Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and sympathizes with the Panthers but fears the FBI’s prison sentence hanging over his head.

Daniel Kaluuya captures Hampton’s sincerity, conviction, and charisma. You can understand his appeal to the masses and understand why the government finds him so threatening. And while Kaluuya rose to fame in Jordan Peele’s horror hit Get Out, he’s never faced a villain quite so loathsome as Martin Sheen’s J. Edgar Hoover. 

Judas and the Black Messiah was produced with cooperation and consultation from Hampton’s widow (portrayed beautifully by Dominique Fishback). It brings history to life in all its hope, despair, and moral ambiguity. 

6. 28 Days Later (2002)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
7.6/1087%Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Hulu, 
YouTube, Vudu

Zombie movies are all the rage nowadays, and 28 Days Later helped spark the revival. This suspenseful, sophisticated film is equal parts zombie thriller, social commentary, and study of humanity under adversity. 

28 Days Later is less bloody than Dawn of the Dead and more heartfelt than The Walking Dead. Much of the fear comes from emptiness and silence. Cillian Murphy’s stumbling walk through a deserted London is one of zombie cinema’s most unnerving moments. The eerie guitar soundtrack, MISSING posters, and blowing newspapers will haunt you.

Today, movies that begin with lab-released epidemics have a special horror. Director Danny Boyle’s lovingly detailed and sometimes humorous images of survivors trying to maintain order in a crumbling world are as memorable as his earlier evocation of northern England junkies in Trainspotting. 

While the Rage virus creates convenient zombie armies, there are plenty of monsters lurking amongst the uninfected. The snarling zombie chained outside the military barracks is less frightening than Major Henry (Chris Eccleston) apologetically explaining, “I promised them women.” 

If you like your horror smart and prefer Hitchcockian suspense to video game jump scares, you’ll love 28 Days Later.

7. Life of Pi (2012)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
7.9/1086%Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube

You might think it difficult to adapt a novel that features a boy and a tiger left adrift at sea for 227 days. But in the hands of director Ang Lee, Life of Pi is a consciousness-altering visual spectacle that captures the magical realism of Yann Martel’s 2001 coming-of-age novel. 

Early CGI animation often left much to be desired. Life of Pi uses CGI’s uncanny valley to good advantage. Animals, fish, and birds are hyper-realistic and impossibly perfect. Instead of using CGI as a substitute for model effects, Lee treats it like animation. 

Life of Pi’s dreamlike quality is due in large part to its realism. Dreams and madness both function with their own precisely skewed order. Richard Parker, Pi’s sailing companion, is and behaves like a wild, dangerous tiger. They learn to respect and acknowledge each other, but there’s no Disney sentimentalism in their relationship. 

The phantasmagoric feeling continues to the end. Even as the credits roll, we’re left unsure as to what happened on that boat. We stand in awe before what Martel called, in a 2016 interview, “an alternate reading of reality, one in which you choose to believe that there’s more rather than less.”

8. The Birdcage (1996)

IMDb RatingRotten Tomatoes RatingWhere Else to Watch
7.1/1081%Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube

This remake of the French/Italian classic drag farce La Cage aux Folles gives us Broadway legend Nathan Lane and the incomparable Robin Williams as a gay couple living in Miami above their drag cabaret. 

Their fabulous life is suddenly upturned when Armand (Williams) gets a visit from his son, who plans to marry the daughter of a conservative senator (Gene Hackman). Wacky hijinks ensue as Armand and Alberto (Lane) find themselves back in a very ill-fitting closet.

Alas, the Senator is trying to dodge a scandal of his own. And when tabloid photographers track him down, Alberto’s feminization talents save the day and the Senator’s career. Love wins the day, and Armand and Alberto welcome their new daughter-in-law at a family wedding.

Today, some might raise an eyebrow at the lisping flamboyance of straight actors Robin Williams and Hank Azaria (who has a hilarious turn as their Guatemalan butler Agador Spartacus). However, in 1996, a year after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, GLAAD praised The Birdcage for “going beyond the stereotypes to see the characters’ depth and humanity.”

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