HBO Max is now available on Roku. Which is a big deal considering the fact that they’re about to drop Wonder Woman 1984 on the service on Christmas Day.
To celebrate, we here at FSR have been working on a little guide to help you get to know HBO Max. Within its catalog are deep reservoirs of great cinema — from the films of Studio Ghibli to the collection of Turner Classic Movies. There’s also plenty of good shows, some interesting originals, and the entire catalog of HBO’s prestige TV machine.
To help you navigate, we’ve assembled our team and identified eighteen different categories of things to watch — some straightforward, some fun. Within each category, we recommend five titles that we think will get you started on the right path toward getting the most out of your shiny new HBO Max subscription.
The Best Action Movies on HBO Max
Die Hard (1988)
Don’t worry, I’m not here to reignite the debate regarding Die Hard being a Christmas movie. That’s up for you to decide. What’s not up for debate, though, is the pure brilliance of John McTiernan’s film as an action movie masterpiece. The set pieces, the action choreography, the characters — Die Hard isn’t just one of the best action movies on HBO Max, it’s one of the best action movies of all time.
The Gauntlet (1977)
Clint Eastwood’s directorial filmography runs the gamut from award winners to blockbusters to utter garbage, but this is one that belongs in a category all its own. It’s essentially one long chase as Eastwood’s shoddy cop escorts a witness with bad guys in pursuit, and its third act sees the pair turn a Greyhound bus into an armored war machine with the intent of driving it straight into a Las Vegas courthouse. It’s as silly and as mean as it is thrilling.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Edgar Wright’s best film — yeah, I said it — is as entertaining on a tenth watch as it is on the first. It’s perfectly cast with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, and more delivering pitch-perfect comedic performances, and it is funny as all hell. It makes the cut here, though, because Wright’s love of action movies ensures he delivers a fantastic one himself. The fight scenes, gunplay, and action set pieces are crafted with equal parts precision, beauty, and energy.
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Jet Li has been an international action star for decades, but for a brief time in the 2000s, he was one in Hollywood, too. Hits like Romeo Must Die (2000) and The One (2001) made his name in the US, and this Luc Besson-produced gem was sandwiched right between them. He plays an agent on the run from a frame-up, and the movie takes fantastic advantage of its Paris-setting to deliver plenty of hard-hitting action with his mad skills front and center at all times.
Police Story (1985)
Look, if you love action movies, then you love Jackie Chan movies. Not all of them, certainly not most of the ones from this century, but ’80s and ’90s Jackie Chan? Yeah, it really doesn’t get better, and one of his absolute best — one of action cinema’s best — is Police Story. Fantastic, blistering fight action shares the screen with big, dangerous, wince-inducing stunts, and this being a Chan film, there’s also plenty of humor along the way. Watch it now if you’ve never seen it… and then watch it again.
— Rob Hunter
The Studio Ghibli Starter Kit
Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki’s most notable film, not only for its numerous awards and accolades but also because of its absolutely stunning hand-drawn animation. It’s a tale about a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro coming into her own and upset that she has to move to a new town. On the way to her new house, she and her parents stumble into the spirit world. Chihiro encounters a world of wonders here, from the transformation of her parents into pigs to a spirit with never-ending hunger. Every character, no matter how long they are on screen, is breathtaking, created with painstaking attention to detail. Paired with the aesthetic is a touching and relatable story about growing up. If you’re just starting to dive into Studio Ghibli, then Spirited Away is the perfect place to start.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
If you’ve ever seen images of a large and round gray creature with big eyes, then you’ve met Totoro, a giant and friendly spirit from Miyazaki’s 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro. While much of Miyazaki’s filmography is fantastical, My Neighbor Totoro is the most kid-friendly as two young girls discover a world of wonder with the spirits that live in the woods. While it’s an overall sweet film, Miyazaki isn’t afraid to address serious subject matter, such as the death of a parent. He strikes a balance between whimsy and reality, creating a film that both children and adults can enjoy.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Many of the works of Miyazaki are known for their anti-war message, and one of the best examples is Howl’s Moving Castle. What starts as a story of both romantic and platonic love between a woman and an attractive wizard evolves into a harrowing tale about the dangers of war and what it can turn people into. Sophie, a young hatmaker, is turned into an old woman by a jealous witch. In her journey to try and get her youth back, she meets the wizard Howl and his giant, mechanical castle. Again, Howl’s Moving Castle is a gorgeous display of Miyazaki’s artwork, which oscillates between fantasy and horror.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
A violent critique of colonialism, Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki’s most violent film. Prince Ashitaka is banished from his village after a battle with an evil spirit, leaving him scarred and cursed. He must travel to the home of the spirit to find a cure, and discovers Iron Town, run by the powerful Lady Eboshi. But her industrialization of the woods isn’t taken very well by the spirits, and the human San, with her giant wolves, launches constant attacks over the destruction of their home. The beheadings and blood flowing from animals may seem off-putting, but, as is constantly demonstrated, the animation style makes even the more upsetting moments gorgeous. Plus, Princess Mononoke’s score is perhaps one of the best out there.
Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
The titular Nausicaa lives in a post-apocalyptic world where the air is poison and giant insects called Ohms roam the Earth. It is a desolate world split into warring nations that desperately want control. With the discovery of an ancient being, one of these nations believes they can gain political control. It is up to Nausicca, whose empathy and ability to communicate with the Ohms make her the only hope for world peace. Nausicaa follows Miyazaki’s pattern of young women in extraordinary circumstances growing up and discovering the power that lives within. What sets this film apart is the complex characterization of Nausicaa and the stark apocalyptic landscape.
— Mary Beth McAndrews