Streaming on Max: The 24 Absolute Best Movies to Watch
The most highly rated films on Max (the new HBO Max), plus the new releases for September.
Meara IsenbergAssociate 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.
Former HBO Max subscribers aren't missing out on anything with Warner Bros. Discovery's revamped streaming service. Max streams all of HBO Max, from Warner Bros. movies like Dune to HBO originals like Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.
Here are the titles you should check out, plus new releases for this month. And here's more on Max, which unites the HBO Max and Discovery Plus libraries.
Carrie (1976): Adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel. It hit Max along with other spooky options, including Doctor Sleep (2019), The Exorcist (1973), Friday the 13th (1980) and It (2017).
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011): Romantic comedy starring Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. After he learns his wife has cheated on him and wants a divorce, 40-something Cal Weaver (Carell) is taken on as protégé to 30-something player Jacob Palmer (Gosling).
Spy (2015): Action comedy starring Melissa McCarthy. Deskbound CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy) volunteers to go deep undercover and bring down a deadly arms dealer.
Donyale Luna: Supermodel (2023): Documentary. It chronicles the remarkable life and career of Donyale Luna, the first Black model to grace the cover of both Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
American Sniper (2014): War drama starring Bradley Cooper. US Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Cooper) is sent to Iraq with only one mission: to protect his brothers-in-arms.
Sam Jay: Salute Me or Shoot Me (2014): Comedy special. Comedian and writer Sam Jay takes the stage at Brooklyn Steel for a hilariously frank discussion on embracing our differences, the stresses of long-term relationships and the power of empathy.
Catch these films before they leave Max on Sept. 30: Last Night In Soho (2021), Ingrid Goes West (2017), The Iron Giant (1999), Juno (2007) and Little Miss Sunshine (2006).
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.
Last Night in Soho (2021)
Dreaming of a great movie night? Last Night in Soho, the latest movie from Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead) is here to provide. The film begins in the present day, where a style-loving Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) sets out for the London College of Fashion. Eventually, sleep transports her to the '60s, where she encounters an aspiring singer named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Get ready for mystery, horror and dazzling neon lights.
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.
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.
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.)
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. Farrell and Gleeson also starred together in director Martin McDonagh's debut feature, In Bruges.
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.
The French Dispatch (2021)
Settle in for another eccentric, fantastic-looking feature from director Wes Anderson. The auteur behind Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel this time sets his sights on an alluring story -- or rather, three. The French Dispatch, dubbed a "love letter to journalists," takes viewers through a triad of separate tales, straight from the pages of a fictional magazine. If you missed this highly original installment when it hit theaters, now's the time to get in on its captivating story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
20th Century Studios
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 terrifying 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.
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.
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