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Streaming on Max: The 23 Absolute Best Movies to Watch

Here are some highly rated films to check out, plus a look at what's new in January.

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Meara Isenberg Writer
Meara covers streaming service news for CNET. She recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she wrote for her college newspaper, The Daily Texan, as well as for state and local magazines. When she's not writing, she likes to dote over her cat, sip black coffee and try out new horror movies.
Meara Isenberg
8 min read
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling ride in a pink boat in a scene from Barbie.

On Max, you can catch Barbie and Ken's adventures in the real world in the blockbuster movie Barbie.

Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

Wondering what you should watch on the Max streaming service?

Here are the titles you should check out, plus new releases for this month. And here's more about Max, which last year united the HBO Max and Discovery Plus libraries. The revamped service streams everything from Warner Bros. movies like Dune to HBO originals like Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off. 

New releases for January

Here are the highlights.

Jan. 1

  • The Breakfast Club (1985): Comedy. Five students with nothing in common face spending a Saturday detention together in their high school library.
  • Robocop (1987): Sci-fi. When a good cop gets blown away by ruthless criminals, innovative doctors piece him back together as a crime-fighting cyborg. Robocop 2 (1990), Robocop 3 (1993) and the 2014 remake are also on Max.
  • It Comes At Night (2017): Horror film. It centers on a teenager as he grapples with mounting terrors in the aftermath of an unnamed cataclysm.

Jan. 8

  • Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (2023): Documentary. It reveals the enduring influence of Nikki Giovanni, one of America's greatest living artists and social commentators.

Jan. 11

  • Chowchilla (2023): Documentary. It's about an infamous mass kidnapping in Chowchilla, California, in 1976.

Read more: Best TV Shows to Watch on Max

The best movies to watch

The films below consist of notable new releases and blockbusters, HBO and Max originals and Warner Bros. films made exclusively for HBO Max. All score around 65 or higher on Metacritic.

Comedy

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Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros.

Barbie (2023)

Unless you've been living in Barbie Land (or another place that isn't the real world), chances are you're very familiar with this pink-coated comedy already. Warner Bros.' highest-grossing global release of all time, Barbie brings a long list of stars together for a hilarious, creative and colorful adventure. Greta Gerwig directs, Margot Robbie plays the titular role and Ryan Gosling belts out an incredible power ballad as Ken.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson laugh while riding a wagon in the movie The Banshees of Inisherin.
Searchlight

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, Banshees is a darkly funny and heartbreaking drama that's consistently stunning to look at. It's about what happens after Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly decides to cut off lifelong friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell). Farrell and Gleeson also starred together in director Martin McDonagh's debut feature, In Bruges.

Father of the bride

Father of the Bride (2022)

Max's Father of the Bride introduces a Cuban American family that includes patriarch Billy, a traditional guy who struggles to digest surprising news from his eldest daughter: She's met a guy, and she wants to marry and move away with him. The third film adaptation of a 1949 novel of the same name by Edward Streeter, the movie is an enjoyable iteration that includes stars like Andy Garcia and singer Gloria Estefan.

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Warner Bros.

8-Bit Christmas (2021)

A playful comedy set in the '80s, 8-bit Christmas follows the story of a young Jake Doyle, a dedicated 10-year-old who desperately seeks a Nintendo. The film is delightfully narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, an older Jake reminiscing on his past quest to secure the gaming console. Yes, there's a Christmas backdrop to the story, but Jake's unyielding commitment to his mission, and what he learns along the way, make this cheery feature a must-watch even after the holiday season. 

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HBO Max

Let Them All Talk (2020)

Meryl Streep playing an eccentric author in a Steven Soderbergh comedy. What more do you need to know? If you do want to know more: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Hughes (Streep) is struggling to finish her next book, chased by her literary agent (Gemma Chan). She boards a cruise ship with old friends, who inspired her best-known work. Tensions are strong. It looks great -- Soderbergh uses crisp, natural light -- and most of the dialogue is improvised. See how Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen, Lucas Hedges and the rest of the impeccable cast have fun with that.

Drama

Jake Sully flies over Pandora's waters on a winged creature's back in Avatar: The Way of Water
20th Century Studios

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water reintroduced audiences to James Cameron's film franchise after 13 years and won an Oscar for best visual effects. The sequel centers on the Sully family -- Jake, Neytiri and their kids -- and is brimming with adventure and heart. It'll be at least a couple of years until Avatar 3 arrives, but you can pass the time by rewatching this on Max.

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Warner Bros.

Elvis (2022)

Want to see Austin Butler rock out in a pink suit? How about one of the 89 other costumes the actor dons in the dazzling, jam-packed film that runs 2 hours and 40 minutes? Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby), Elvis is a grand, exhilarating biopic that's all about the King of Rock 'n' Roll. If you didn't catch it in theaters, now's your chance to find a spot in the crowd.

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HBO Max

Kimi (2022)

Steven Soderbergh directs this engaging tech thriller set during the COVID-19 pandemic. Angela, a Seattle tech worker played by a neon blue-haired Zoë Kravitz, has agoraphobia, a fear that prevents her from making it past the front door of her apartment. But when she uncovers an unsettling recording while doing her job, she's pushed to make the leap. Kimi is a stylish thriller complete with eye-catching cinematography, a solid score and a protagonist you'll be rooting for.

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Warner Bros.

The Fallout (2022)

After a shooting occurs at her high school, 16-year-old Vada Cavell must navigate friendships, school and her relationship with her family. The Fallout skillfully approaches serious subject matter with realistic dialogue and compassion for its characters. With strong performances from stars Jenna Ortega, as Vada, and Maddie Ziegler, as her new friend Mia Reed, the feature will keep you glued to the screen for the entirety of its 90-minute runtime.

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Janus Films

Drive My Car (2021)

What can we say about acclaimed Japanese drama Drive My Car? Well, it snagged an Oscar for best international feature film at the 2022 Academy Awards. It's also a three-hour movie that people are sitting and watching all the way through, which, to me, speaks volumes. But seriously, Drive My Car is a powerful film that explores loss and letting go. If you missed it before the Oscars, stream it now.

Dune
Warner Bros.

Dune (2021)

Remember 2021, when Warner Bros. movies hit HBO Max on the same day they premiered in theaters? That exciting period may be over, but at least we'll always have the memory of watching Denis Villeneuve's stunning sci-fier Dune at home. If you've never seen the film or need to brush up on what "the spice" is before Part Two arrives later this year, stream Dune now.

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Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

King Richard (2021)

King Richard is a feel-good biopic about the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. The film winds back the clock to before the sisters became household names, giving us a glimpse of their upbringing in Compton and time spent practicing on run-down courts with their father, Richard Williams (Will Smith). Convinced his daughters are going to be successful, Richard works tirelessly to get their star potential noticed by professional coaches. A complicated man with a tremendous personality, Richard is fascinating to get to know, and his unwavering belief in Venus and Serena is inspiring. 

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Imaginal Disc

Son of Monarchs (2020)

A rare (nowadays) 90-minute film, American Mexican drama Son of Monarchs will stay with you long after the end credits roll. This deep character study follows two brothers who are changed in markedly different ways by the trauma they suffered in childhood. This story, folding in magical realism, follows how they move forward in life -- the butterfly metaphors are strong, with biologist Mendel returning to his hometown surrounded by majestic monarch butterfly forests.

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HBO/Screenshot by CNET

Bad Education (2019)

Based on a magazine article by journalist Robert Kolker, this tale about a public school embezzlement scandal and the student journalists who broke the news is captivating from start to finish. Allison Janney and Hugh Jackman are great in their roles as the school officials who took part in the scheme. The drama also won the 2020 Emmy award for Outstanding Television Movie. 

Documentary

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HBO

All That Breathes (2022)

This captivating documentary is filled with images that will stick with you. It centers on two brothers in New Delhi who run a bird hospital dedicated to black kites -- birds of prey that are a staple of the sky. It was a contender for best documentary feature at the 2023 Oscars.

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HBO

Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022)

Tune into this HBO doc for the gravity-defying skateboard stunts, a time capsule of the '80s skateboarding scene, and a version of Hawk you've probably never seen. We get to know the renowned athlete as a lanky, stubborn but determined kid who adopted his own skateboarding style. Hawk's persistence is something to marvel at, along with all the stunning skateboard moves this film packs in. Hang on for a memorable ride.

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CNN/Focus Features

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021)

This film about beloved author, chef and globe-traveling TV host Anthony Bourdain comes from documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville, who also directed 2018's Won't You Be My Neighbor? and the Oscar-winning film Twenty Feet from Stardom. In interviews with people who knew Bourdain, like his friends, former partners and longtime colleagues, the doc tracks his career path, relationships and personal struggles. Bourdain fans and those less acquainted with the star will likely appreciate this two-hour look at his life.

Superhero

The Batman
Jonathan Olley/DC

The Batman (2022)

Robert Pattinson steps out as Batman in this superhero flick directed by Matt Reeves. The movie takes place in a perpetually gray and rain-soaked Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne starts to seek out a murderer with an affinity for riddles. Along the way, he meets Catwoman, played by a swaggering Zoë Kravitz. Great scene-setting and storytelling make this a satisfying dark mystery. 

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Warner Bros.

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Over-the-top violence abounds in this DC film about supervillains who agree to help the US government in exchange for some time off their prison sentences. Their mission is to destroy something alluded to as Project Starfish, harbored in the fictional island country of Corto Maltese. With a notable cast that includes Margot Robbie, Idris Elba and John Cena, 2021's The Suicide Squad is a wickedly entertaining, darkly funny bloodbath that differs from what you usually see in superhero movies. (Peacemaker, a spinoff TV series, is also available on Max.)

Horror

the menu
Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures

The Menu (2022)

A dinner at an exclusive restaurant turns from something to savor to something to survive in this shocking horror satire. Viewers learn about the privileged guests dining at Hawthorne as Ralph Fiennes' experienced chef unveils his fateful menu. Find your seat for this delectable experience, which also stars Anya Taylor-Joy.

Georgina Campbell in Barbarian
20th Century Studios

Barbarian (2022)

In Barbarian, a young woman (Georgina Campbell) travels to Detroit for a job interview and discovers her Airbnb has been double-booked. She doesn't immediately trust the other person in the house (and, fair -- the actor, Bill Skarsgård, appears as scary murder clown Pennywise in the It movies). But you definitely won't predict what happens next. Barbarian can be found on lists of best horror movies of 2022.

Thriller

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HBO Max

No Sudden Move (2021)

A movie from Steven Soderbergh, the great director behind Erin Brockovich, Ocean's Eleven and, more recently, Logan Lucky? Twists, thrills and desperate characters populate this crime thriller set in 1950s Detroit. When a seemingly simple job gets out of hand, a group of criminals must work together to uncover what's really going on. Take in the incredible cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm and Amy Seimetz. While the plot can be a little convoluted and some won't be able to get past the fish-eye lens cinematography, Soderbergh's sense of humor and immersive direction make this crime caper an entertaining night in.

Musical drama

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Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

In the Heights (2021)

In the Heights stars Anthony Ramos (whom you might recognize as John Laurens in Hamilton) playing Usnavi, a bodega owner struggling to keep his business afloat while a heatwave strikes Washington Heights. Secretly in love with his neighbor Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of getting out of the salon and out of the neighborhood, Usnavi serves the people of Washington Heights with a whole lot of love, lottery tickets and cafe con leche. Between the choreographed twirls and fireworks, In the Heights is an examination of wealth disparity, immigration, classism and the importance of culture.