HBO Max: 20 of the Best Movies to Watch Tonight
February has brought us groundhogs, chocolates and a new batch of movies. Let’s look at what’s hitting HBO Max each week, as well as the service’s handful of best originals, which you can peruse below. If you’re still searching for something to watch, the platform also offers loads of classics from the Criterion Collection.
What’s new this week (Feb. 21 to Feb. 27)
Here are this week’s highlights.
- Free Guy (2021) — Action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds. A bank teller discovers that he’s actually a nonplayer character, or NPC, inside a brutal, open-world video game.
- The French Dispatch (2021) — Comedy directed by Wes Anderson. A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in The French Dispatch magazine.
Best HBO Max originals and blockbusters
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” sets his sights on an alluring new 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 last October, now’s the time to get in on its captivating story.
Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this surprising rom-com heist film from Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity). The film was written and shot during lockdown, and the pandemic actually features in the film’s backdrop. Hathaway and Ejiofor play a couple planning to rob a jewelry store in London while most of the stores are shut. Their relationship has struggled in the lockdown, and they reevaluate a thing or two amid their crazy caper. It’s not the most polished flick, but you’re mainly in it for the charisma of Hathaway and Ejiofor. The inclusion of the pandemic will either intrigue you or turn you away.
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.
Whether you like this or not probably hinges on how much you like Seth Rogen. You’re getting a lot of him — he stars in two roles in An American Pickle, first playing Herschel Greenbaum, a struggling Jewish laborer who emigrates to America in 1919. He finds work at a pickle factory — and this is where things get weird — falls into a vat of pickles that preserves him for 100 years. He wakes up in 2019 Brooklyn and hangs out with his great-grandson Ben, also played by Seth Rogen. If you embrace this creative premise, then this is a great low-key comedy for the smaller screen with some impressive chemistry between Rogen and Rogen.
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.
The Last Duel (2021)
The Last Duel notably didn’t win a lot of eyeballs when it debuted in theaters last October. But it’s on HBO Max now, where audiences can watch from the comfort of their couch as Adam Driver and Matt Damon battle it out. Directed by Ridley Scott, The Last Duel is a historical drama set in the Middle Ages with an A-list cast that also includes Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck. If any of these details pique your interest, and you’re prepared to sit through its two and half hour runtime, pull out some popcorn and put on this flick.
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.
A coming-of-age drama featuring motorbikes. Charm City Kings stars a fresh young cast, including Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Mouse, a 14-year-old swept up in the biking world of Baltimore, much to his mother’s dismay. The film’s strengths lie in its impressive young talent and strong direction of scenes involving motorbike action. Plus WandaVision fans will spot Teyonah Parris in a supporting role. Not perfect, but plenty to admire.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)
Jessica Chastain stars in this biopic of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, who, along with her husband, Jim, created and helmed the massively popular religious broadcasting network PTL in the ’70s and ’80s. Chastain’s committed performance brings Tammy Faye’s outsize and magnetic personality to life. You’ll find yourself drawn into her world, with all its ridiculous makeup choices, weirdly timed prayers and bubbling scandals. It’s unclear how long The Eyes of Tammy Faye will remain on the HBO streamer, so we recommend you reserve an evening with Bakker while you can.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Warner Bros. Pictures
Judas and the Black Messiah made waves at the Oscars, earning a best supporting actor win for Daniel Kaluuya, among its many nominations. It was much deserved. Kaluuya is mesmerizing as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther chapter in Illinois, lighting up the screen alongside Lakeith Stanfield, who plays an FBI informant sent to infiltrate the party. The biopic, dramatizing real-life events in the late ’60s, is riveting, shocking and sizzles with themes about racial injustice. A big, hefty film that demands your full attention.
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.
This is a sweet little gem on HBO Max. Unpregnant stars Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira as a buddy duo crossing states to where pregnant teen Veronica (Richardson) can get an abortion. Yes, it’s about the issue of pro-choice, with Veronica’s parents refusing to give her permission to have the abortion. But it also slots into the key gear of all road-trip movies, depicting a beautiful friendship between the two leads.
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.
In the Heights (2021)
Macall Polay/Warner Bros.
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 town, 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 an examination of wealth disparity, immigration, classism and the importance of culture.
No Sudden Move (2021)
A new Steven Soderbergh movie? Aka 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.
If ever there was a movie that improves with multiple rewatches, it’s Tenet. Thanks to its release on HBO Max, you can now understand the plot that goes with its spectacular visuals. John David Washington stars as the Protagonist, whose name is a subtle hint to his James Bond mission to prevent a world-destroying attack — from the future. The Protagonist learns to manipulate the flow of time with the help of Robert Pattinson’s debonair Neil. Possibly the most Christopher Nolan of Christopher Nolan movies, Tenet is as entertaining as it is cerebral.
Aka The Snyder Cut. This one’s for the droves of Zack Snyder fans who campaigned for the director to get a second shot at finishing Justice League, after he was forced to leave before completion due to personal tragedy. In stepped Joss Whedon, but the 2017 theatrical version was a critical and box office failure. Now, a four-hour Snyder director’s cut is ready on HBO Max, with a ton of new scenes, a couple of new villains and the spectacular epilogue. If you’re on board with Snyder’s slo-mo style, it’s worth checking out his remarkably different original vision.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Fan of the ’80s? Including that filmmaking style? The sequel to Wonder Woman leans hard into its inspirations, which will either take you back to pleasingly simple versions of adventure and heroism, or really annoy you with a nonsensical plot and slow pace. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince hasn’t moved on from Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) death, working at the Smithsonian where an ancient artifact kicks off a world of trouble and forces her to make a few hard decisions. Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are new additions to the cast. Colorful, lightweight escapism.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Warner Bros. Pictures
This violent, R-rated superhero entry explodes with color, amid the shocking leg breaks courtesy of one Harley Quinn. Margot Robbie and director Cathy Yan teamed up for this unique standalone film featuring the titular supervillain. Its non-linear plot and loosely assembled anti-heroes — including Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s The Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary, Rosie Perez’s alcoholic detective Renee Montoya and Ella Jay Basco’s pickpocket Cassandra Cain — might put off some who’re after a neater package. But if you let the stylish visuals, creative action scenes and Harley Quinn’s charisma take center stage, you’ll be in for a delicious superhero treat.
This one’s a bit of a novelty inclusion. See what Robert Zemeckis (director of Back to the Future) and Anne Hathaway did with their retelling of the Roald Dahl classic. Jahzir Kadeem Bruno is Hero Boy, a young boy who is turned into a mouse by Hathaway’s occasionally CGI’d Grand High Witch. No one’s saying it comes close to the 1990 Anjelica Huston original, but it’s intriguing enough to take a little look at.