The Best Pre-1970s Movies on HBO Max
Black Narcissus (1947)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made beautiful films together including The Red Shoes (1948) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and in between those two classics came this gorgeous piece of cinema. Forget the recent miniseries remake of Blak Narcissus, this late ’40s original remains a feast for the senses with its tale of nuns living and struggling from atop a Himalayan mountain.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in a screwball comedy from Howard Hawks? You absolutely can’t go wrong watching or rewatching this one. Grant plays a mildly silly scientist who falls in with a majorly wacky heiress played by Hepburn, and a sharp script keeps the film and the lovebirds moving wickedly fast across your funny bone.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Elia Kazan’s prescient late ’50s drama has been referenced more than a few times during the current presidential administration, but even without that direct line, the film remains an ever timely tale of ambition and gullibility. Andy Griffith goes against type with a terrifying performance highlighting how easily a population succumbs to charisma and attitude.
Lord of the Flies (1963)
I remain a fan of the adaptation from 1990, but there’s no getting around the raw power and artistry of Peter Brook’s film. He captures the shift from proper schoolboys to bullies to pure monsters — ie adults — with an eye for nature’s thin line between beauty and fury, and while it’s artistic in its styling at times, the human element is never forgotten.
Rio Bravo (1959)
John Ford’s filmography is filled with classic Westerns, but his most entertaining and endlessly rewatchable remains this bonafide classic. John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, and Angie Dickinson make one hell of a quintet, and their various characters come together in fun, engaging ways on their path to a final fight against some very bad men.
— Rob Hunter
The Best Non-English-Language Movies on HBO Max
Birds of Passage (2018, Wayuu & Spanish)
Cinema fans are familiar enough with epic tales of crime and drug empires, but the vast majority of those films come from Western perspectives. This Colombian movie turns expectations on their head as it charts an indigenous culture’s involvement and demise in the face of greed, violence, and the march of civilization. It’s a devastating journey.
House (1977, Japanese)
You’ve never seen anything like Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, and I hesitate to even say much of what you should expect from a watch. I’ll keep it simple: a girl and her friends head to her aunt’s home in the country, and all manner of bonkers hell breaks loose. Endlessly creative, visually inspired, thrilling, haunting, and surprisingly funny, House is an unforgettable gem.
Ikiru (1952, Japanese)
I’ve written elsewhere on this site about the power of this film in the face of a world that just doesn’t stop delivering bad news and heartache, but in short form, Akira Kurosawa delivers a balm for the soul here. A man discovers he’s dying and spends his last days looking for justification for his life, and the quest will break your heart even as it strengthens it.
Man Bites Dog (1992, French)
We’ve gotten faux-docs before about killers and madmen, but this Dutch slice of black comedy and horrifying violence tops them all. A documentary crew follows a killer, but what starts as a hands-free recording slowly shifts to see the witnesses take part in the evil deeds. It’s a sharp commentary on society that also happens to be mordantly funny.
Revanche (2008, German)
An act of violence ties people together — perpetrator, victim, witness, and so on — and after it occurs, the ripples move outward. This Academy Award-nominated film follows one criminal whose latest misstep, slathered in bad luck, leads to a slow, simmering tale of revenge. The film is a slow-burn, but the tension and emotion run high.
— Rob Hunter
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