True to its name, HBO has always aimed to bring the box office into people’s homes. That is easier than ever thanks to the network’s twin streaming services — HBO Go and HBO Now. At any given time, the service offers hundreds of films, from obscure documentaries to summer blockbusters. However, not all of them necessarily qualify as “great.” If you feel like streaming a movie and don’t want to waste your time on dreck, we’ve rounded up the best movies on HBO.
If you don’t have HBO access, well, this probably isn’t the best resource for you. Still, we’re here to help, so we’ve compiled lists for the best movies on Netflix and the best movies on Hulu. If you’re in more of a TV mood, we’ve also got picks for the best shows on HBO, the best shows on Netflix, and the best shows on Hulu.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) has the task of adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief for the big screen. Unfortunately, Kaufman can’t find much to work with in the journalist’s investigation into flower poaching. Writer’s block is a common affliction, made worse in this case by Kaufman’s brother, Donald (Cage), who is living with Charlie and working on his own screenplay, one that is drawing interest from studios. Facing a deadline and afraid to talk to Orlean (Meryl Streep), Charlie works out a unique remedy: He starts writing himself into the screenplay. Written by the real Charlie Kaufman — who actually did have writer’s block trying to adapt The Orchid Thief — Adaptation is a funny, offbeat exploration of the creative process, centered on a pair of incredible performances from Cage.
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It’s easy to knock Shakespeare in Love, given its silly-sounding concept and Best Picture victory over Saving Private Ryan, but those who pass on this film are denying themselves a lovely, singular romantic comedy. Although the witty film stands on its own, depicting a fictional love affair between Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a young Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) while he’s writing Romeo and Juliet, it also functions as an ode to the aforementioned playwright’s sterling collection of works. Allusions abound in the form of passionate love and politics, both of which play on a fair share of topical references and screwball timing. It even showcases contemporary humor and solid performances — particularly Paltrow — along with more sweetness than a chocolate mocha from Starbucks.
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It is a testament to the quality of the writing in The Big Lebowski, and the stellar performances, that a movie with a plot so convoluted is nevertheless beloved by so many viewers. The story involves one Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), who, after a brief home invasion, gets involved in a ransom scheme. The plot plays out like a Raymond Chandler detective story, as The Dude swerves from one lead to another, and ultimately, the plot is not terribly important. What matters is how the plot gives The Dude an excuse to run into a variety of strange characters, with hilarious results. The Big Lebowski is far from the tightest comedy the Coen Brothers have made, but the sprawl is part of its charm.
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It seems improbable that a skit, however funny it is, could be stretched out to feature length and remain funny, but somehow, The Blues Brothers managed to do it. Based on an early Saturday Night Live skit, the film follows the titular brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd), a pair of blues musicians who want to save the orphanage where they grew up, which is now facing foreclosure. The two journey across America to gather the members of their old band for a charity concert. Along the way, they encounter numerous eccentric characters and obstacles, and the film is broken up by musical numbers. As expected of a film pairing Aykroyd and Belushi, The Blues Brothers is funny, but it also works remarkably well as a musical. Numerous musicians make appearances — including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin — and despite the humor, the songs pay authentic tribute to blues and soul music.
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Fast Times marked the big-screen debut for a litany of Hollywood superstars, earning itself a spot in the National Film Registry in the process. Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) wrote the film at the age of 22, going undercover at San Diego’s Clairemont High School for research purposes. The coming-of-age movie spans several storylines, from sophomore Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) exploring her burgeoning sexuality to seniors Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Spicoli (Sean Penn), who seek a measure of freedom from girlfriends and oppressive teachers alike. Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, and several other big-name actors have roles in Fast Times, which jump-started several careers and became a cultural touchstone for American cinema.
After the success of 7 Days in Hell, a mockumentary about a legendary tennis match between two fictional idiots, the Andy Samberg-led team earned a second go-round via HBO. The result? Tour de Pharmacy, a similar story that spoofs the Tour de France by focusing on competitors’ use of performance-enhancing substances in the early ’80s. Samberg returns to play Nigerian rider Marty Hass, while Orlando Bloom, Freddie Highmore, Daveed Diggs, and John Cena appear as the other made-up competitors upon whom the film is focused. Tour is filled with classic slapstick comedy, and the concept is bolstered by the inclusion of several veteran actors — including Jeff Goldblum and Danny Glover — who play the “modern-day” versions of the film’s protagonists. Lance Armstrong’s cameo doesn’t hurt, either.
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Action and sci-fi
Widely considered one of the best superhero movies ever made, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight combined intense, spectacular action scenes with gripping drama and one virtuoso performance from Heath Ledger (his last, as he died shortly before filming concluded). Christian Bale reprises his role from Batman Begins, picking up where he left off as billionaire playboy-slash-bat-themed-vigilante Bruce Wayne, who clashes against Ledger’s deranged Joker as Gotham’s future hangs in the balance. Little can be said about Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance that hasn’t been said already, but Bale and Aaron Eckhart — as frustrated district attorney Harvey Dent — provide excellent backdrops for the card-wielding carnie’s lunacy.
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Vietnam is one of the most documented wars in film history, and looms large over the generation that came of age during the war. Oliver Stone’s Platoon stands out as one of the most powerful depictions of life for troops in the war, one that never shies away from the gore or horror that has become synonymous with the conflict. The film begins with Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) leaving college to enlist in the army. Though initially enthusiastic to serve his country, Taylor quickly becomes horrified by life on the front lines. As the fighting drags on, Taylor and his comrades struggle to hold on to their souls. Platoon is harrowing, no doubt thanks to Stone’s personal touch and the fact that much of the screenplay was based on his own experiences during the war.
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