In a world rapidly beginning to feel like there are even more streaming services than cable channels, it can be hard for a new one to break through. But in the sea of everyone’s beloved Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime subscriptions, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max is aiming to do just that. And with the new highly-anticipated platform, they just might succeed at pushing new patrons into a binge-watching hole for a few precious hours at a time.
For only $14.99 a month, people have the chance to take a stroll down memory lane with older, more nostalgic content (classic HBO series, like The Sopranos, The Wire, or Sex and the City), while also being able to access the newest releases from HBO (Like Game of Thrones or Watchmen). There’s a difference between HBO Max, HBO Go, and HBO Now, but don’t worry—it’s not as complicated as it seems. And if you already have Go or Now, there’s a decent chance you will get access to Max at no additional cost.
While the pandemic has essentially shut down the entertainment industry, HBO Max could be the newest answer to your television and movie prayers, with over ten thousand hours of accessible content. Here are some of the best shows and movies the service has to offer, so get a bowl of popcorn, plop yourself onto the couch and be sure to stream wisely.
HBO Max Originals
One of the first launch projects from HBO Max follows different people as they go through the span of their love lives—from their first loves to their final ones. With Anna Kendrick as Darby, the quirky headliner of the season, the show dropped its first three episodes on the streaming site’s launch day, with the next seven episodes premiering weekly. It’s like Sex and the City meets Amazon Prime’s Modern Love.
Set in New York City, the series follows four people in their 20s as they try to figure out what happens when a college friend of the group suddenly goes missing. Alia Shawkat—who you know and love from Arrested Development—leads the cast in a role that’s way different from her breakout role as Maeby. The show has had a major layover in the time since its first two seasons aired on TBS, but it’s found a great new home here in one of the most exciting new streaming services. New fans will have about a month to get all caught up, because HBO Max is debuting the long-awaited third season on June 25.
Bill Hader stars in the titular role, a hitman who moves to L.A. to kill someone, but instead joins an acting class and questions his life while dealing with various criminals. The series, which got renewed for a third season in April 2019, has received critical acclaim with a record 30 Primetime Emmy nominations—and wins for both Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. And who can resist the Fonz?
The 2013 series follows a group of journalists as they report on some of the pivotal moments in the early 2010s. Jeff Daniels leads a stellar cast that includes John Gallagher Jr. and Emily Mortimer, and The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin provides the fast-paced yet nuanced writing that he’s best known for.
Based on historical events and set in the first century B.C,, the show follows two soldiers who find themselves intertwined with pivotal events in Roman history. During the series’ two seasons, it received four Primetime Emmy awards and it featured real-life figures like Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, and Mark Antony.
Six Feet Under
Spanning five seasons and winning multiple awards, the series follows a family who inherits a funeral home after their father dies. What made the series stand apart was the way characters conversing with the dead at various points of the funeral process, and sometimes conversing with the patriarch himself—it’s a plot device that’s totally unique, and very, very memorable.
Oh, a classic HBO drama if you’ve ever seen one. Premiering in 1999, the series follows James Gandolfini as a mobster trying to figure out the right balance between his family and being the boss of the fictionalized Soprano family in New York City and New Jersey. It’s widely considered to be one of the best scripted television series of all time.
Created by former police reporter David Simon, the show follows the drug scene in Baltimore, showing both the law enforcement side, as well as the drug dealers/users. Although the show received mixed reviews at the time of its premiere, it’s now considered to be easily among the best television ever produced.
Initially premiering in 2001, the film follows Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle as they both try to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record (he had 60) during the New York Yankees’ 1961 season.
Angels in America
Based on the Tony Kushner play, the 6-episode miniseries follows six New York residents in the 1980s dealing with various elements of the AIDS epidemic. Its core story focuses on a gay man living with AIDS who has an angel visit him. This spurs the other stories to intersect, exploring themes of a changing social/political climate while trying to stay true to themselves.
Band of Brothers
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the miniseries follows the “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, as they go through fighting in World War II. With a cast that includes Damian Lewis, Donnie Wahlberg and David Schwimmer, it won multiple Emmy and Golden Globe Awards in 2001.
A dramatized re-telling of the 1986 nuclear disaster, the miniseries clearly entranced critics, as the show won two Golden Globes and nineteen Primetime Emmy nominations. With a cast that features Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris, the show finds most of its origins in Svetland Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl.
I Know This Much Is True
While the show may be the heaviest thing you watch all year (or, maybe, in your life), its dreariness is more than counterbalanced by the performance of its lead, Mark Ruffalo (who underwent a physical transformation to portray twin characters, Dominick and Thomas), as well as by the series’ artful composition. Stories about happy families are boring, anyway. Plus, it has origins in a novel, so you might want to pick that up before (or after) binge watching.
The Night Of
Another single-season project, The Night Of told a compelling murder mystery that evolves into a conversation about the legal system and the ramifications of spending time in prison. Showrunner Richard Price eventually re-teamed with HBO for the horror-mystery The Outsider (based on the Stephen King novel), but The Night Of shows Price at his full crime-drama power. Not to mention a star-making performance from Riz Ahmed and a career-best turn from John Turturro (which, in his case, really is saying a lot). Don’t miss this one.
The Normal Heart
Based on the 1985 Larry Kramer play, the 2014 film follows Ned Weeks as he and a group of friends establish the real-life Gay Men’s Health Crisis at the height of the AIDS epidemic. With a stellar cast (Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch and Julia Roberts play the leads) and Ryan Murphy as director, the movie was widely praised by critics, with Bomer winning a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Felix Turner.
A companion piece to Band of Brothers, the 2010 miniseries follows three Marines in different regiments of the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific during World War II. The cast featured then-unknown actors Rami Malek, James Badge Dale and Joe Mazzello (you might remember him as Tim, the kid in Jurassic Park) and it won multiple Emmy awards.
Gal Gadot breathed new life in her interpretation of the iconic female superhero, making fans of men and women alike. The 2017 film, also starring Chris Pine, quickly became one of the most-watched films that year, and it received multiple accolades. It also became the highest-grossing film ever helmed by a female director. And who doesn’t want to see a female superhero fly around?
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
While HBO Max is home to a number of exciting theatrical DC films—like Wonder Woman above, along with Justice League, the Tim Burton Batman movies, and eventual Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut—one of the most exciting things about the new platform is how many older animated series from the canon have found a new home. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was a TV movie that originally served as an entry point for the Batman Beyond series, which saw an older Bruce Wayne mentoring a new, young Batman. In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, we see an alternate reality to the Batman you might think you know. It’s dark, and it’s going to have you on the edge of your seat.
This single-season project from Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof is astounding. An adaptation that should please both die-hard fans of source material graphic novel and those who have never even read before, Watchmen is a vigilante/superhero story that feels timely and special in more ways than you can even imagine. The stellar cast is led by Regina King, Jeremy Irons, and Tim Blake Nelson, and you’ll be intensely bopping your head to the soundtrack—both carefully curated and originally produced by a certain Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
There have been quite a few entries into the superhero sub-genre of television over the last few years, and we’ve even got a few strong entries on this list (seriously—don’t miss Watchmen). That being said, Doom Patrol is way weirder than anything else you’ve seen. Coming from a fairly obscure DC Comics property, this series follows a rag-tag, superpowered crew (think Guardians of the Galaxy or Suicide Squad) who join together to protect the world from certain evil. The show previously lived only on the DC Universe platform, but now, thankfully, moves to HBO Max—and act fast, because Season 2 is already out next month. The dynamite cast includes Diane Guerrero, Alan Tudyk, Matt Bomer, and Brendan Fraser (Yes, that Brendan Fraser. Legend.).
Movies You’ll Love
A 1999 teen film following four guys who make a pact to lose their virginities before graduating high school. Sounds somewhat familiar, right? American Pie has since become a cult classic, with multiple sequels and spin-offs (the newest installment is due in October). And who can forget Blink-182 making a surprise cameo?
A Robin Williams deep cut, the 1999 movie follows a robot who slowly becomes a man over the course of two hundred years. Although the concept might seem a bit strange, it’s Williams’ subtle yet nuanced performance that shines throughout. And it’s directed by Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone director Chris Columbus, which might sway your interest.
The 2018 Spike Lee film follows an African-American detective in a 1970s Colorado Springs police department as he tries to expose the town’s KKK chapter. The movie received six Academy Award nominations, and it stars John David Washington (yes, Denzel’s son—also the star of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Tenet) and Adam Driver in the lead roles.
Casino Royale (2006)
The first Bond film to feature Daniel Craig in the iconic role, it follows 007 as he goes on an assignment to bankrupt a financier while playing a poker game at the famed casino in Montenegro. Until Skyfall was released in 2012, it was the highest-grossing Bond movie.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The newest film in the Harry Potter universe, it follows Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledore as they set out to defeat Grindelwald—all while facing developing threats to the wizarding world. Tthe film features fan favorites like Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Jude Law as part of the cast.
Friday Night Lights
Before the NBC series came to be, there was the 2004 movie. Based on the H.G. Bissinger novel and starring Billy Bob Thornton and Connie Britton, the story follows a high school football team in Odessa, Texas as they try to win the state championship. And a fun tidbit—Peter Berg (director of the television show) also directed this film.
You know this classic Steven Spielberg film—often deemed one of the scariest films of all time. The movie follows a man-eating shark that terrorizes a small beach town, leading to a police manhunt to try and kill it.
Little Shop of Horrors
The 1986 musical follows a florist who discovers one of his plants not only can speak, but terrorizes people in order to take its blood and thrive. With Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, and Bill Murray among the cast and iconic songs, the film quickly became a cult classic amongst musical theater lovers. Check it out before the remake starring Chris Evans comes out in a couple years.
The 1993 movie features Robin Williams in one of his most iconic roles. Who wouldn’t want to see a divorced voice actor dress up as an old housekeeper in order to try to spend time with his children? Sally Field, Matthew Lawrence, Pierce Brosnan and Harvey Fierstein star in the beloved film as well.
Based on the S.E. Hinton novel, the 1983 coming-of-age drama introduced the world to a group of misfits that would eventually become part of the Hollywood elite: Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio. The film quickly became beloved by audiences and continues to be a fan-favorite.
The 2010 neo-noir psychological thriller follows a group of U.S. marshals (led by Leonardo DiCaprio) as they investigate a psychiatric facility after one of the patients goes missing. Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley star as well, and a guy you may have heard of named Martin Scorsese directs. What could go wrong?
Chances are that you might have heard of this Japanese animated feature at some point or another. The story follows a young girl who discovers an amusement park for supernatural creatures looking to relax from the pressures of the outside world, leading to needing to free herself and her parents from staying there forever. This one could quickly become one of your favorite cartoon films.
Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey and Robert Downey Jr., the comedy-action movie follows a group of misfit actors who are dropped in the middle of a forest and have to use their very basic acting skills in order to survive.
The 2019 Jordan Peele-produced horror film follows a family who are terrorized and attacked by a group of doppelgangers. With Lupita N’yongo and Elisabeth Moss in its principal cast, the movie received critical acclaim, receiving two NAACP Awards and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award nomination.
Shows You’ll Love
If you want a childhood throwback, now’s your chance. The animated series follows a young boy hiding a secret laboratory from his family (including a sister trying to expose him), where he works on a number of wacky experiments.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
*Now this is the story all about…* how you re-discovered an iconic 90s show and now can watch it in one place. With Will Smith playing a dramatized version of himself, the series is an absolute classic—people wouldn’t be singing that catchy theme song so many years later if it wasn’t. And for a sitcom, it touched on real issues, including racism and monetary status.
America’s favorite sitcom is back to binge once again! The sitcom follows six New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s as they go through typical trials and tribulations of life in the 1990s. With a cast that uttered lines now part of the American lexicon, the show continues to be loved by generations of fans more than 25 years since its premiere.
Considered one of the essential teen dramas, the show follows a group of teenagers going through typical teenage angst while living in the titular California location (it stands for…Orange County…in case if you’re not fully with us). With a cast that includes Ben McKenzie and Adam Brody, the series ran for four seasons and became an instant classic for people who grew up in the early 2000s.
Rick and Morty
Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s Rick and Morty is an unruly philosophy recitation two bottles of wine in and reaching for a joint: what might appear juvenile and nihilistic from the outside is really a load of fun and, at times, a real emotional kick to the … *Rick Sanchez burp* … stomach.
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