So, you’ve got an HBO Max subscription. Maybe you got it to watch Wonder Woman 1984 and are gonna hold on to it until Godzilla vs. Kong comes out. Maybe you’ll keep it going until the fourth Matrix or the new Dune. But what can you watch in the meantime? Is there more than just all of HBO’s old shows and some upcoming movies? We’re here to tell you: Holy crap, yes there is.
HBO Max has an incredibly deep selection of movies new and old, and today we’re going to recommend to you the best of the best—the titles on the service that every single sci-fi and fantasy fan simply has to see. Movies that, if you scroll down and you haven’t seen, you should close your computer and watch immediately (unless you watch said movies on your computer, of course).
Because these are classic films, that also means most of you will have seen most of these already—but, if that’s the case, you’ll probably be impressed one streamer has all of these great stories in a single place.
2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick’s iconic space film is everything. Intellectually, technically, dramatically, it works in every way. You can take almost any aspect of it, break it down, and learn more about cinema as a whole. Truly an incredible movie. One of the best ever.
The Adventures of Robin Hood - You can take your Kevin Costners, Russell Crowes, Disney Foxes, put them all together, and they aren’t half the Robin Hood that Errol Flynn was. This 1938 film is not just the quintessential Robin Hood movie, it’s a swashbuckling adventure that’s so good, every adventure movie that follows carries some of its DNA.
Alien and Aliens - HBO Max has the whole series (Alien 3, Resurrection, vs. Predator) but we all know the truth. The Ridley Scott original and James Cameron sequel are the standard by which sci-fi horror and sci-fi action respectively are held. Each is a stone cold classic on its own, and together, maybe the best one-two punch in sci-fi history.
Batman - Because HBO Max is so densely populated with Warner Bros., and thereby DC films, basically it’s Batty for Batman. So that’s cool. But the best of all of those is the 1989 Tim Burton film, which basically relegitimized comic book films in Hollywood and got the whole ball rolling on them as more serious pieces of filmmaking.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi film starring Harrison Ford gained the clout to be on a list like this long after its release. It wasn’t until the film was finished the way Scott wanted it, and then perfected in this cut, that people began to see its brilliance. And as a result, appreciate just how stunningly gorgeous every frame is.
Eraserhead - Not many filmmakers are famous enough to have an adjective made out of their name. David Lynch is, though—and probably the most Lynchian of his career is this, his first feature. Eraserhead—which debuted in 1977—is audacious, weird, gross, and proof that original voices, when given free rein, can accomplish great things.
The Exorcist - Certainly one of the films on the Mount Rushmore of horror, this hugely successful 1973 film by William Friedkin has it all. It’s a great story of a family, scary as all hell, and incredibly gross. It’s stood the test of time and remains all of those things decades after its release. There honestly may not be a better horror movie ever. (Note: Be careful of that sequel.)
Godzilla - Everyone knows Godzilla. Even people who haven’t seen a Godzilla movie know Godzilla. And the most famous, influential of all the Godzilla movies is this 1954 original. The one that spawned dozens of sequels, reboots, and more (many of which are also on HBO Max). A quintessential piece of film history that’ll make you realize Godzilla isn’t just about big monsters, there’s deeper subtext at play too.
Jaws - Jaws is important to film history like water is important to sustaining life. It created the idea of a summer blockbuster. It launched the careers of people like Steven Spielberg and John Williams into the stratosphere. It scared you from going back into the water. Plus it’s an immensely entertaining film with humor, action, suspense, and heart. Basically, it’s the kind of film every other film aspires to be.
King Kong - In 2021, too many film fans don’t talk about movies that came out before, say, Jaws. But a movie that came out way before that and is equally as excellent is the original 1933 King Kong. Sure it’s black and white. Sure it’s small by today’s standards. But holy crap is it impressive even without that context. In fact, it’s more moving and exciting than 95% of movies made today. HBO Max has other Kong movies too but the original is the best.
The Matrix - Evert genre has its landmark films. Films that you can look at and say “Oh, that’s the one where everything changed again.” In sci-fi, one of those films is the Wachowski’s 1999 film The Matrix. Truly, it’s hard to overstate just how mind-blowing seeing The Matrix was when it came out. And that’s not just because of the effects. It’s the epic story, the incredible action, the original world. All of it. The Matrix is simply amazing.
Mad Max: Fury Road - It’s the newest movie on our list, but does anyone think it doesn’t belong here? There are other Mad Max movies on HBO Max too but none of them (even the good ones) hold a candle to this unfathomable piece of art. Art that just so happens to kick unspeakable amounts of ass along the way.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - All of Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies are on HBO Max, but if you have to pick just one, you have to go with the multiple Oscar winner, right? To be fair, the three Lord of the Rings movies complement each other perfectly. Any one by themselves is good...but together? They’re incredible. Especially The Return of the King for somehow wrapping it all up.
The Shining - That makes two films on the list for Stanley Kubrick, but can you blame us? The Shining might not be as groundbreaking as 2001 but in terms of quality, it’s right up there. Everything about the movie is so meticulous. So off-putting. So perfect. All of it adds to making the viewer uneasy and, eventually, scared out of their minds. The Shining is a master class in having every aspect of filmmaking working toward a single goal.
Superman: The Movie - Previously I said that Burton’s Batman changed the superhero game. And it did. But a decade before that, Richard Donner’s blockbuster vision of Superman basically defined it. The tag line was “You’ll believe a man can fly” and you did. The visual effects were outstanding, the performances and cast were even better, and the scope blew people away. It set the bar so high in 1978 that it took until Batman for anyone to even come close. Most superhero films still aspire to it today.
The Wizard of Oz - Most people grew up on 1939's The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum’s classic works. You’ve seen it a million times. Know every line. Every song. Every piece of trivia. You mom knows it, your grandpa knows it, everyone knows it. It takes a special movie to cross all boundaries in that way and this incredibly lush musical production filled with unforgettable visuals is exactly that. Everyone can relate to one of the characters, everyone has a favorite scene, everything about it has stood the test of time. And if you’re sore about the news that Hollywood is about to do a fresh retelling well, now’s a good time to revisit this classic.
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