50 Classic Movies to Watch on HBO Max

Brute Force (1947)
Before he became the Birdman of Alcatraz, Burt Lancaster played a convict who’s fresh out of a long stretch in the hole. He only has three things on his mind: his wife’s operation (she refuses medical help unless he’s by her side); revenge on the guy who sent him into solitary confinement; and escape. Not in that order, either. A perfectly flinty, tough-as-nails prison drama from director Jules Dassin (The Naked City, Rififi), featuring a livewire performance from a babyfaced Burt and a treat for Cocoon fans who only know Hume Cronyn as a friendly old codger. His turn as a manipulative guard is a masterclass in squeaky-voiced sadism. DFCarnival of Souls (1962)
Why is Mary Henry (Candace Hilligloss) acting so strange? Who is the mysterious figure who seems to be pursuing her? What, exactly, is his agenda? And how come she keeps feeling compelled to return to that old pavillion by the lake? Herk Hervey’s lo-fi horror movie is a prime example of milking a tiny budget for all of its worth, and slowly transforming the chintzy into the genuinely chilling. Its stark black-and-white cinematography was a huge influence on Night of the Living Dead, and even if you can see the end coming, it’s the way it gets you there that makes it a Twilight Zone-worthy creepfest. DF
Casablanca (1942)Here’s looking at you, kid. I am shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on on here! Round up the usual suspects! This looks the beginning of a beautiful friendship. No movie has ever been more quotable than Michael Curtiz’s World War II romantic thriller about an American expatriate (Humphrey Bogart) discovering that his ex (Ingrid Bergman) is back in town. No studio movie in history may be more satisfying from beginning to end. You must remember this. AS

Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ masterpiece has long been held as the greatest American movie ever made — and it’s not hard to see why, given all the brilliant technique on display in this time-bending biography of a fictional media mogul in the vein of William Randolph Hearst (played by Welles himself). Even if you know the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s final word — “Rosebud” — going in, the film is dazzling from the first shot to the last. AS
Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962)
Agnes Varda’s film starts with a pop singer (Corinne Marchand) receiving a rather distressing tarot-card reading; it ends with a long, leisurely stroll with a soldier (Antoine Bourseiller) on leave from the Algierian front. In between those two scenes, the legendary French filmmaker gives us joy, sorrow, music, existential angst, crying jags in cafes, and a potent reminder that, in the right hands, something as simple as a conversation can be the single most compelling thing to watch onscreen. Richard Linklater has namechecked it as a perpetual inspiration, and it’s easy to see why: The film’s power lies in its extraordinary powers of observation. Essential viewing. DF
Daisies (1966)
Two women (Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) declare that they are the an-ti-christ, they are an-arrrrr-chisssts! Food fights, frolicking, nightclub rioting, the occasional political sloganeering and much unabashed silliness occurs. Any attempt to describe Czech writer-director Vera Chytilová’s masterpiece in a linear, logical fashion simply can’t do it justice. Imagine a radical feminist Monty Python mooning various repressive Eastern European regimes at once. You’re almost there. DF
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
How much blacker could Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear-Armageddon comedy be? To quote a wise man: None. None more black. Sterling Hayden decides that, in order to stop people from stealing his precious bodily fluids, he has to start World War III. Fair enough. Peter Sellers plays the three roles, including the Nazi-saluting title doc, though you can easily picture him playing all of them (including George C. Scott’s bikini-clad secretary). Giving your character names like General Jack D. Ripper and Colonel “Bat” Guano isn’t exactly subtle, but then again, neither is the apocalypse or our species’ consistent, perpetual death wish. We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…. DF

The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
Jewelry means nothing if it’s come from someone you’ve stopped loving — and given that a countess (Danielle Darrieux) and her husband (Charles Boyer) are resigned to living in affection-less marriage, why wouldn’t she sell the formerly prized earrings he bought her as a gift? It’s a small thing she does, really; as with many tiny gestures in the movies of French filmmaker Max Ophuls, this one will end up having massive, earth-shattering consequences. To say more would be unfair. It is swooning, lush, lavish, and absolutely heartbreaking. DF
8 1/2 (1963)
The title comes from Federico Fellini’s own filmography: He was six features into his career as a director, along with one movie he co-directed (Variety Lights) and contributions to two anthology films. But really, this is his ground zero, a highly personal, creatively unbound exploration of…writer’s block. His screen counterpart — we should all be so lucky to have Marcello Mastrioianni be our cinematic avatar! —  has lost the plot regarding his next work. As he tries to search for inspiration, our hero is visited by the ghosts of his past, as well as ex-mistresses, producers, priests and clowns, both literally and figuratively. From the moment Mastrioianni floats out of his car and above traffic, you feel like the Italian filmmaker has untethered something in the art form. DF
Freaks (1932)
Ah yes, it’s the old two-timing-lady-marries-rich-member-of-circus-sideshow-and-ends-up-being-attacked-by-outcast-carnies chestnut. A former circus hand himself, Todd Browning — he of Dracula fame — notoriously decided to use actual big-top “freaks” for this thriller; the test screenings were so disastrous and provoked such disturbed reactions that the movie was severely cut and then straight-up banned for years. The fact that Browning actually humanizes these disabled performers was lost on audiences, who were too busy recoiling from the horror elements, which are indeed plentiful. And nearly 90 years later, that final image has not lost the power to shock. Sing along if you know the words: Gooba gabba, gooba gobble, one of us, one of us. DF
Gimme Shelter (1970)
To cap off their ’69 tour, the Rolling Stones wanted to play a free show in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Instead, their idea of  a “west coast Woodstock” would end up at Altamont Speedway, and the rest is history. Charlotte Zwerin and the Maysles brothers’ document of the day that ended the dream of the 1960s may be an incomplete time capsule (the Stones’ set ran longer than the few numbers leading up to Meredith Hunter’s murder). But it’s also an invaluable look at how the various elements surrounding the notion of tuning in, turning on and dropping out were curdling into toxicity. That look that the Hell’s Angel at the side of the stage as Jagger vamps still gives us chills. DF

Godzilla (1954)
The original King of the Monsters, accept no substitutes. We can imagine the casting ad: Wanted, giant lizard. Must have strong hatred of power lines and commuter trains, be willing to stomp on certain metropolitan areas surrounding Tokyo and ok with having Raymond Burr commentary occasionally inserted into rampages. Earth-shaking roar a bonus. Should be willing to sign a contract for potential sequels. DF
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
Most folks usually head straight to 42nd Street (which is also streaming here) for their Depression-era-musical fix; we’d recommend this as either an alternative or the second half of a perfect double-feature. A quartet of actresses on the make (including Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell and Ginger Rogers), a Broadway show, a desperate producer, singin’ Dick Powell, hoofers galore — whaddaya need, a road map? You get the pure, uncut Busby Berkeley buzz here, from “We’re in the Money” to this risqué, mass-makeout number. DF
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)The Beatles hit the big screen with all the force of the title song’s opening chord. Richard Lester follows the Fab Four through a couple of days of a tour through England, giving each member of the band a distinct personality that would define them for the rest of the Sixties. The whole film is bursting with energy, no sequence more than the performance of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which essentially invented the concept of the modern music video. AS

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
Long live Cosmo Vittelli, nightclub owner, burlesque enthusiast and last of a dying breed. John Cassavetes’ ode to artistic integrity is a gangster film, a character study, a backstage drama, the perfect showcase for longtime collaborator Ben Gazzara (who based his performance on the passionate indie-film maverick), a great look at the underbelly of mid-’70s L.A., a dessert topping, and a floor wax. If you’ve never seen any of Cassavetes’ work, this is the one to start with. If you have, you already know this one’s an endlessly rewatchable diamond in the rough. DF
Klute (1971)
A prostitute (Jane Fonda) may be connected to the disappearance of a prominent businessman. A detective (Donald Sutherland) is on the case. A romance develops, a killer is at large and director Alan J. Pakula’s NYC noir gives you one of the most paranoid looks at Horror City ever committed to celluloid. Speaking of which: If you thought Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis’ nickname “the Prince of Darkness” wasn’t well-earned, take a look at his magnificently murky work here. DF
The Last Waltz (1978)
The Band and Bill Graham throw a Thanksgiving farewell concert in San Francisco, a few of the pioneering rock group’s friends show up — a Dylan, a Joni, some Neils (Young and Diamond) — and a hyperactive filmmaker with a beard records the whole thing for posterity. Is this greatest concert movie of all time? All we know is, you have to play it loud. DF

Late Spring (1949)
When anyone namechecks Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, Tokyo Story is usually the first title to get mentioned. (It is a classic, and will properly clean out your tear ducts, and also available to stream here.) But this tale of an elderly father (Chishu Ryu), his adult daughter (Setsuko Hara) and the art of saying goodbye is equally as great, and a perfect encapsulation of the filmmaker’s style, grace, wit, compassion, and uncanny way of capturing human behavior. This PSA has been brought to you by Kleenex tissues, as you’ll need several boxes of them around upon viewing. DF
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Easily the strangest onscreen depiction of iconic hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe, and arguably the best. Robert Altman’s film casts Elliott Gould as a mumbling Marlowe who seems hopelessly out of step with the times — he spends much of the film simply looking for his lost cat (the movie, and Gould’s performance, were big inspirations for Russian Doll). Until, of course, he turns out to be just the man for the dirty, morally murky job at hand. AS
Mildred Pierce (1945)
What do you get when you combine a noirish James M. Cain novel, Joan Crawford, the director of Casablanca, the full powers of the Warner Brothers studio system and one of greatest melodramatic stories about sacrificing mothers ever penned? This. See it with someone you love, preferably a friend or partner who won’t interfere with your Southern California restaurant empire, suffers from serious social-status envy or is likely to commit murder. DF
Monterey Pop (1968)
Joplin belting out “Ball and Chain.” The Who destroying their instruments, and Jimi Hendrix one-upping them courtesy of a Stratocaster, a light and a can of lighter fluid. Otis Redding going full metal soul man. Simon and Garfunkel, feelin’ groovy. Mickey Dolenz bopping along in the crowd to Ravi Shankar’s sitar breakdown. Watch rock culture get it together, Cali-style, right before your very eyes. DF

My Dinner With Andre (1981)
Famously saved from obscurity by film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, this is a feature-length conversation between writer/stars Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. There is no action, and much of the discussion is about avant-garde theater pieces that Gregory has either staged or witnessed, yet the performances and the staging by director Louis Malle make the whole meal absolutely riveting. AS
Network (1976)
In the Fifties and Sixties, Paddy Chayefsky was one of the most important writers behind TV’s first Golden Age. By the Seventies, his opinion of the medium had curdled into the inspiration for this brutal, eerily prescient satire — in which Chayefsky predicted the rise of Fox News, reality TV, and a whole lot more — about an anchorman (Oscar winner Peter Finch) going crazy on air. Naturally, he becomes a bigger star than ever as a result. Say it with us: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore! AS
North by Northwest (1959)
Perhaps the most purely fun film directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock (it’s this or Rear Window), this thriller about a slick businessman (Cary Grant) who stumbles into an espionage plot plays now as a precursor not only to the James Bond and Mission: Impossible franchises, but to any action movie where the story is really an excuse for one jaw-dropping set piece after another. AS
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Fresh off his “Dollars Trilogy” run with Clint Eastwood, spaghetti-Western godhead Sergio Leone returned to the dusty, amoral landscapes of the genre he helped popularize; just for kicks, he also brought along two of his original choices for “the Man With No Name,” Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson. Like the title suggests, it’s an epic, and a beautifully brutal, bloody one at that. If Leone had made nothing beside this Euro-oater’s dialogueless opening sequence (right before Bronson shows up and reminds you that a harmonica tune is worth a thousand words), he’d still be Pantheon-worthy. DF

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Cary Grant runs an airmail service in South America. His pilots know that death potentially awaits them after every lift-off and every route over the Andes…but when you take pride in being an ace, and your fellow daredevils depend on you, what are you going to do? Rita Hayworth and Jean Arthur show up to add some estrogen to an atmosphere that is so thick with testosterone you could cut it with a machete. Howard Hawks often unfairly gets labeled a “tough-guy” director (yes, the man was an adventurer, but he also made Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Here, however, his reputation for prizing professionalism and affection for your fellow macho man is earned. Also, Jules Furthman’s screenplay is peerless. “Who’s Joe?” DF
Persona (1966)
It’s the Ingmar Bergman film to end all Ingmar Bergman films (no offense, chess-playing Death), and the one most likely to have you asking: Did someone slip something into my drink? Liv Ullman is an actress in a catatonic state; Bibi Andersson is hired to be her nurse. Quicker than you can say Single White Female, however, their personalities began to meld, and you’re unsure who is who, or what exactly is happening. Not even the film itself can contain the psychological breakdowns, with Bergman replicating a celluloid strip burning and melting while caught in the camera gate. Not unlike your mind by the end of this, actually. DF
Point Blank (1967)
You don’t double-cross a man like Walker. He’ll hunt you down, and not even death can slow his pace. Based on the “Parker” crime novels by Richard Stark (a pseudonym for author Donald E. Westlake), John Boorman’s thriller is the pitch-perfect blend of pulp and psychedelia, as well as great snapshot of a sunny, slow-roasted Los Angeles circa ’67. Just when you thought Lee Marvin could not be tougher than he was in The Dirty Dozen, he takes a car salesman for a “ride” and proves you wrong. DF

Rio Bravo (1959)
Howard Hawks found High Noon distasteful for showing Gary Cooper’s lawman wandering around town begging for help to fight some outlaws. So he made this John Wayne Western as a retort, with gunslingers Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson holing up inside the local jail to prepare for a showdown with a small army of bad men. Few cinematic clapbacks are more fun or have been more frequently imitated than this one, even if you’re not a fan of Martin and Nelson’s duet. AS
Salesman (1969)
Four traveling salesman try to pitch bibles to suburbanites and households across this fine nation of ours. That’s it — and as this extraordinary documentary proves, that’s more than enough. A Cinéma Vérité, USA landmark. DF
The Searchers (1956)
John Wayne had played roles that explored the shadier side of his cowpoke persona before (see: Red River), but John Ford’s tale of a Civil War veteran trying to rescue — or rather, “rescue” — his abducted niece (Natalie Wood) from her Native American captors is one long, dark night of the frontiersman’s soul. It’s arguably Ford’s best movie (the competition is stiff), and almost certainly the best performance he got out of the Duke. You’ve seen that final shot copied a million times, and when it hits at the end of this sagebrush saga, it still knock you out. Even people who have claimed not to love Westerns have been awed by this film. DF

Seven Samurai (1954)
One of several films by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in HBO Max’s slate, this one’s the most populist and arguably the most famous — if for no other reason than inspiring its American remake, The Magnificent Seven (and various ensuing riffs like The Three Amigos and A Bug’s Life). In 16th century Japan, a septet of ronin (masterless, directionless samurai) are hired to defend a poor village from bandits who steal the annual harvest. The action sequences are stunning, but the performances — particularly by a swaggering Toshiro Mifune as the most prideful of the title group — and the discussions of class, duty, and destiny are just as memorable. AS
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Sure, we could have gone with The 400 Blows for a Francois Truffaut pick — it’s one of HBO Max’s Criterion titles. But we’re going to stump for his second film, an adaptation of a David Goodis novel that finds Charles  Aznavour tickling the ivories and trying to outrun his past. Of course, just when you’re think you’re done with certain underworld types, they drag you right back in. Pulpy, puckish, pugnacious and proof that Truffaut was more than just a flash in the pan. DF
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
At the time, it was considered something of a disappointing follow-up to star/co-director Gene Kelly’s previous film, An American in Paris. Today, it’s the gold standard for both Hollywood musicals and movies about the movie business itself, with some of the most iconic song-and-dance numbers ever set to celluloid: a damp Kelly sashaying to the title tune; Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor dancing through “Good Morning” until, in real life, their feet bled; or the astonishing physical comedy of O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh.” AS

Solaris (1972)
In space, no one can hear you scream — but a person can hear your endless existential angst and sorrow, especially when a mysterious force is causing folks to breakdown. Not even the psychologist (Donatas Banionis) who’s been sent to investigate why a ship’s crew went into crisis mode is immune. Andrei Tarkovsky’s cosmic headscratcher is the science fiction at its most cerebral — we give props to Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney’s 2002 recipe, but for sheer mindfuckery, you simply can’t beat the original. DF
The 39 Steps (1935)
The portly British director had a few characteristic works under his substantial belt (Murder!, Blackmail, the original Man Who Knew Too Much) before he made this adventure — but this is the movie where Alfred Hitchcock becomes “Alfred Hitchock,” the filmmaker-as-brand-name you know and love. Robert Donat is an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, with spies, assassins, the Scottish highlands, planes, trains and Madeline Carroll all playing a part. You can see so much of what lay ahead for the big man (and movies in general) right here. DF
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Humphrey Bogart, at his most unshaven and sweaty, is convinced there’s gold in them thar Sierra Madre hills. The trouble is, he’s not the only one who thinks that he’s one lucky prospecting outing away from striking it rich. And greed has a way of making even the nicest folks plum crazy. Everyone remembers the “stinkin’ badges” line from John Huston’s woozy tale of dishonor among men, but what really sticks with you is how doggedly pessimistic this postwar film is. It’s also a tribute to its lead ability to go deep with the proper director. When the Kinks sang, “Par-a-noia, they destroy ya’,” they could have been talking about Bogie’s descent into ruin. DF

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“Open the pod door, HAL.” “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.” The ultimate head trip, Kubrick-style. Incidentally, we’ve tried throwing hundreds of bones up in the air, and none of them have come plummeting back down to Earth as spaceships. Not one. Zilch. Zero. DF
Wattstax (1973)
It was billed as the “black Woodstock,” a massive concert held in L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum put together by Stax Records and featuring a who’s who of the label’s roster: Carla and Rufus Thomas, the Bar-Kays, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes. Jesse Jackson spoke at event, held to commemorate the Watts riots. Mel Stuart — yes, the same Mel Stuart who made Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — made sure cameras were rolling, and dropped a smattering of Richard Pryor segments shot after the concert into the mix. Yes, you most certainly can dig it. DF
The Wild Bunch (1969)
The goriest of the many revisionist Westerns that came into vogue in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Sam Peckinpah’s seminal film follows a crew of aging bandits, led by William Holden, on one last caper. Meanwhile, former colleague Robert Ryan is helping the posse that has formed to bring them home, dead or alive. There will be blood — lots of it. AS
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It’s been more than 80 years since Judy Garland headed somewhere over the rainbow in this classic, oft-imitated but never duplicated adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy series. Iconic tunes, vibrant use of color, and scenes that you’ll recognize as coded into your DNA even if you’ve never watched it before. If we only had the time, we’d watch it again and again. AS

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