Max has gone through quite a transformation since the days of its initial launch in 2020. Following the unprecedented day-and-date release of the studio’s entire film slate in 2021, Max’s reach has continued to grow thanks to its direct-to-streaming releases and ongoing TV series like House of the Dragon, Succession, Westworld, The Rehearsal. And, thanks to the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, it’s also courted controversy.
But at the end of the day, Max is a service brimming with great movies, from pop culture mainstays like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Matrix series to canonical classics like Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and The Shining. there are a ton of awesome titles to choose from across the service as more and more continued to be added each month. With that said, there’s a lot to choose from and only so many hours in the day.
Don’t sweat it, we’ve got you covered: Here are the best movies on Max to stream so you can finally start whittling down that watchlist.
Editor’s pick: La Ronde
Image: Films Sacha Gordine via Everett Collection
Genre: Romantic comedy anthology
Director: Max Ophüls
Cast: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Simone Simon
I challenge you to find a more joyous time at the movies than La Ronde. But, like, really — if there is any, I’d love to know about it, because I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better time than watching La Ronde.
The incomparable Anton Walbrook (The Red Shoes) is your master of ceremonies, taking the audience on a merry-go-round of love and affairs, bouncing from one romance to another in a dizzying array of passionate connections. It’s a joyous and infectious anthology story the likes of which we haven’t seen since (you can safely ignore the 1964 remake).
Despite being nominated for two Oscars (Best Writing and Best Art Direction), La Ronde was banned in 1953 from screening in New York, on the grounds that it was “immoral.” But producers appealed to the Supreme Court, including screening it for the justices (oh, to be a fly on that particular wall), and it was approved for screening in the state in 1954. Catch up with some movie history and a delightful, lost style of filmmaking and watch La Ronde. You won’t regret this stop on your own merry-go-round of life. —Pete Volk
2001: A Space Odyssey
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
2001: A Space Odyssey is an unassailable classic of science-fiction cinema, a work of stunning visual achievement and operatic scale whose legacy looms as far and wide over the expanse of film history as the shadow of one of its iconic monoliths. Co-written by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 1968 film follows the epic voyage of the Discovery One from Earth to Jupiter following the discovery of a mysterious artifact on the surface of the Moon. As humanity attempts to grasp after an understanding of an inscrutable alien intelligence far older and vast than their own, the journey is complicated when the onboard AI in charge of Discovery One gains sentience and attempts to imperil the lives of its crew. From the film’s opening flashback to the dawn of human evolution to its dazzling and iconic “star gate” sequence, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an absolute must-watch for any serious sci-fi fan. —Toussaint Egan
Image: The Archers
Genre: Psychological melodrama
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Sabu Dastagir, David Farrar
Centered on a cloister of nuns attempting to establish a convent in the Himalayas, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1947 film Black Narcissus is a sensuous, psychological melodrama of the effects of isolation and mortal temptation, the harrowing of the elements, the nature of faith, madness, and sin. Heralded as one of the greatest achievements of cinema, the film won two Oscars for best art direction and cinematography at the 20th Academy Awards. —TE
Image: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac
Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s landmark sci-fi novel stars Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) as Paul Atreides, the scion of a noble house who is plagued by mysterious visions involving a desert planet known as Arrakis and a galaxy-spanning war to come. When his father, Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac) is betrayed in a plot orchestrated by their family’s long-time enemy Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), Paul and his mother Jessica (Ferguson) must flee into desert and seek refuge from the planet’s local inhabitants, all while Paul comes into his newfound power as a messianic warrior and the soon-to-be future ruler of humanity. A sweeping sci-fi epic packed with beautiful, minimalist vistas accompanied by a thunderous orchestral score, Dune is a spectacle well worth witnessing — and Part II can’t come soon enough. —TE
F for Fake
Image: Les Films de l’Astrophore/SACI
Director: Orson Welles; François Reichenbach, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar (uncredited)
Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory
One of the last films completed before his death, Orson Welles’ 1973 experiment docudrama on the lives and legacies of two of history’s greatest “fakes”: The world-renowned art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer Clifford Irving, is a whimsical and mischievous work of sleight-of-hand filmmaking. Welles’ film inevitably circles back on the subject the filmmaker himself through its examination of both Hory and Irving’s lives, transforming into an irreverently charming and gleefully farcical meta-treatise on the nature of performance, illusion, and art. —TE
The Hidden Fortress
Image: Toho Company
Genre: Historical adventure
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki
Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 adventure film The Hidden Fortress is perhaps best known by contemporary audiences for its role as one of the key inspirations behind George Lucas’ 1977 sci-fi juggernaut Star Wars. The similarities are clear from the film’s premise alone: following a princess (Misa Uehara) disguised as a mute farmer who is led through enemy territory by her loyal general and bodyguard (Toshiro Mifune) to retrieve a secret cache of gold with the gold of rebuilding her kingdom. The two are led by a pair of comical peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) who, unbeknownst to their companion’s true identity, lead them through danger in hopes of sharing in the gold as a reward. The Hidden Fortress ranks among the very best of Kurosawa’s oeuvre; a grand-scale adventure filled with moments of gripping excitement, action, and disarming levity. —TE
Image: Fine Line Features
Director: Steve James
Cast: William Gates, Arthur Agee
One of the great American documentaries, Hoop Dreams follows two high school basketball stars as they inch closer to their goal: to breakthrough into the NBA. If you’re not all that interested in basketball, don’t let that keep you away — it’s a moving, incisive depiction of American life that uses basketball as a way in to talk about all sorts of broader issues that still face our society today. —PV
Image: PSC/Toho Company
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Oba
Watching Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is like watching a live-action cartoon. The bonkers cult horror classic bursts off of the screen with bold experimentalism and charming surrealism from the first frame and at no point ever lets up. The film follows a group of eccentric schoolgirls who travelled to the haunted country home of one of their ailing aunts, only to be menaced by preternatural forces and apparitions as the house gradually begins to take on a life of its own. Oddball comedy meets architectural horror in what is likely to be one of the most hilarious and memorable movie experiences you’ll ever have. —TE
Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx
Image: Katsu Production/Toho Company
Director: Kenji Misumi
Cast: Tomisaburō Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa
Based on Kazuo Koike’s popular manga series of the same name, The Lone Wolf and Cub series is an undisputed classic of Japanese cinema. Tomisaburo Wakayama, in his most iconic role, inhabits the assassin-turned-itinerant-ronin-warrior Ittō Ogami, who travels the countryside of feudal Japan righting wrongs, felling foes, and raising his young son Daigorō. You honestly can’t go wrong with any installment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series (they’re held up as classics for a reason, after all), though most fans and film scholars would hold up 1972’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx as the high-water mark for the series, with Ogami tasked with assassinate a Shogunate rogue while pursued by a formidable clan of relentless female assassins. If you’re a fan of either Samurai Jack or the Wu-Tang Clan, you owe it to yourself to sit down and watch the Lone Wolf and Cub series. —TE
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Image: New Line Home Entertainment
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen
Director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy remains one of the most peerless cinematic works of our time. Though there’s no choosing one favorite out of the bunch, The Fellowship of the Ring, which kicks things off as hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) begins his quest to save Middle Earth, is perhaps the most evenly built. Fellowship is certainly the most light-hearted, as its characters diving into trouble rather than being caught in the middle of it. If you haven’t watched the series recently, give it a whirl, then dive into our year-long tribute to the Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens’ series, which we call “Year of the Ring.”
The Matrix series
Image: Warner Home Video
Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski (The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions); Lana Wachowski (The Matrix Resurrections)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s sci-fi action film series is nothing short of revolutionary. The original trilogy of films, along with the 2021 sequel The Matrix Resurrections, follows the story of Neo (Reeves), a computer hacker living in 1999 who awakens to the realization that the world is not what it seems. Recruited by Trinity (Anne-Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne), rebel fighters in a post-apocalyptic world where human beings have been mentally enslaved inside a computer program known as the Matrix, Neo must accept his role as “The One” — a messianic figure capable of bending the Matrix to his whim — if he has any hope of securing humanity’s future.
A fusion of dystopian cyberpunk sci-fi, wuxia wire-fu martial arts, and anime-inspired spectacle, there was nothing quite like the Matrix series before it first premiered and there honestly hasn’t been anything quite like it since. If you’ve somehow never experienced Wachowski’s magnum opus, brace yourself for one hell of a ride. —TE
Mikey and Nicky
Image: Paramount Pictures
Director: Elaine May
Cast: John Cassavetes, Peter Falk
In the 1970s, Elaine May was known for laughs. Much like her Nichols and May partner Mike Nichols, May leveraged her sketch comedy career into a life of acting, writing, and directing. She starred in her own directorial debut, 1971’s A New Leaf, opposite Walter Matthau, and soon found commercial success with the Neil Simon adaptation The Heartbreak Kid. So there’s reason to think 1976’s Mikey and Nicky, which pairs longtime collaborators John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, would be a romp across a seedy mob setting. Nope! May’s film is a nuclear attack on toxic masculinity, and among the more challenging films I’ve ever watched.
In the middle of the night, Nicky (Cassavetes) calls Mikey (Falk) and begs for his help. He’s stolen money from a mob boss, and now he’s convinced he’s as good as dead. And he’s right — in fact, Mikey is actually assisting the hitman (Ned Beatty) assigned to take out his best bud by coaxing Nicky out of a barricaded apartment. Something of a coward, Mikey won’t pull the trigger himself, so the two wind up cavorting around Philadelphia for the night. Their exploits are a maelstrom of rancid, brutal, paranoid behavior. A stop at a bar in a predominantly Black part of town immediately gets ugly. A bus driver winds up a target of their misplaced aggression. A meetup with Nicky’s girlfriend turns to sexual violence, even from Mikey, who is, in theory, the clear-headed of the two. It’s a nightmare, and May traps viewers inside it.
Mikey and Nicky is hard to recommend — it’s not enjoyable — but like great art, the film peers into the shadows of everyday life that we all know exist, but rarely see in mainstream storytelling. The film was shot in 1973, around the time Mean Streets hit theaters, and it now feels like the ultimate condemnation of how Martin Scorsese’s films (perhaps unintentionally) glamorized mob violence and life. These are terrible men doing terrible things. They are familiar, and the women in their orbit are trapped. That’s not the kind of character study most people want out of a laid-back night at the movies. But it’s necessary. Seeing is believing. —Matt Patches
Image: GKIDS/Studio Ghibli
Genre: Animated historical fantasy
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Yōji Matsuda, Yuirko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka
Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli’s best films. The lush, dark fairy tale follows cursed Prince Ashitaka as he leaves his village seeking a cure. In his quest, he finds himself in Irontown, a village of outcasts led by Lady Eboshi, whose deforestation techniques put the town at odds with the local forest spirits, including San, a wild girl raised by wolves. Like many Ghibli movies, there is an environmentalist message at the movie’s core, as modernity and progress duel with nature and preservation. Unlike many Ghibli movies, it actually gets pretty gory in order to emphasize its message and doesn’t hold back in the consequences the characters face for some devastating actions. Powerful and movie, Princess Mononoke lingers in the way many Ghibli films do, with the same sort of bittersweet poignance. — Petrana Radulovic
To Be or Not to Be
Image: United Artists
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack
This one’s on my short list of favorite movies of all time. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny star as a pair of well-known actors in war-time Poland using their skills to deceive the invading Nazis (unless their egos get in the way). Lubitsch was always able to nail a seemingly impossible balance between humor and pathos, and To Be or Not to Be remains one of the funniest movies you will ever see. It’s also a moving portrayal of wartime resistance. Can’t go wrong with that! —PV
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