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HBO Max: The Best Movies To Watch At Launch

Welcome to the streaming party, HBO Max.

WarnerMedia's brand-spanking-new streaming service is finally here, and the more we've got plenty of reasons to be excited. Oh, sure, there's definitely something to be said for having access to all of the fantastic original content HBO has produced over the years, from The Sopranos to Silicon Valley, from Westworld to Game of Thrones. There will also be a huge vault stuff from Warner's affiliated networks, which include the likes of the CW, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and more.

Throw in a massive library of TV favorites like the entirety of Friends and The Big Bang Theory, and you've got a formidable catalog that should keep streaming audiences happy as clams. There are also movies — just an absolute ton of movies. To whet our appetite for the thousands of titles available on HBO Max at launch, WarnerMedia recently released a list of over 600 movies available on the new service (via The Verge).

We've taken it upon ourselves to peruse that list for you and curate a nice mix of flicks from a wide array of genres that all have one thing in common: they're freakin' awesome. Here are the very best superhero epics, gut-busting comedies, riveting dramas, and more — all available to stream on HBO Max at launch on May 27, 2020.

Wonder Woman is an undisputed highlight of the DCEU

The DC Extended Universe got off to a rocky start, as not all audiences were totally on board with the dark 'n gritty course director Zack Snyder was charting with 2013's Man of Steel and 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. David Ayer's Suicide Squad, also released in 2016, attempted a partial course-correction by injecting a little levity into the proceedings mid-production, but that simply resulted in a tonal mishmash that divided fans.

Enter 2017's Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot reprising the role of the mighty Diana of Themyscira, who was introduced in Dawn of Justice. Directed by Patty Jenkins, the film was an absolute breath of fresh air, and it changed the entire direction of the DCEU, which began to shift its focus away from universe-building and toward standalone, filmmaker-driven pictures after its success. Tonally reminiscent of a Phase 1 Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, Wonder Woman was a crowd-pleasing hit that firmly established Gadot as the torch-bearer for the character — a feat that had proven difficult ever since Lynda Carter completely owned the role in the '70s and '80s TV series.

Since the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. and DC Films have taken a sort of case-by-case approach, with some entries falling outside the main continuity established by Snyder and company. The films that comprise that initial main continuity are definitely a mixed bag — but of them, Wonder Woman is the best, and it's an excellent superhero picture in its own right.

Raising Arizona is one of the funniest movies ever made

Today, Joel and Ethan Coen are widely recognized among the greatest filmmakers of their generation — but in 1987, they were just a pair of brothers who had made a minor splash with a well-made if little-seen thriller titled Blood Simple. Nothing about that film even remotely suggested what the pair would do next: cast a relatively unknown Nicolas Cage in the lead of a gonzo comedy about a poor, childless couple who decide to steal a newborn from a local celebrity whose wife just had quintuplets.

Although it didn't necessarily serve as their big break-out hit, Raising Arizona went a long way toward announcing just how talented and visionary the Coens really were (and still are). Their script featured intensely mannered dialogue that somehow sounded right coming out of the mouths of these characters, who were so strongly drawn that their desires and motivations never needed to be spelled out (although Cage's deadpan narration often helped out in that regard anyway). The story just gets more and more jaw-droppingly weird as it goes along, and the ability of the Coens to bring their camera in on the action — swooping, sliding, pursuing, crawling like a baby, or whatever the scene called for — was something that modern cinema had not yet seen.

Raising Arizona is a lot of things: expertly written, shot, acted — an announcement of some major talent. It's also one of the most hysterically funny movies of a decade packed with those, and is in fact (in our humble opinion) one of the greatest comedies of all time.

A Star is Born is a great updated take on a classic tale

A Star is Born may be the quintessential Hollywood tale. The story of an aging star who finds, mentors, and falls in love with a talented young apprentice has been told many times, beginning all the way back in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the main roles. 1954 brought a new version starring Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976, yet another version gave us Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the leads. Each version has its own particular charms, but the 2018 edition — featuring a revelatory Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the main roles — was a massive hit, and received no fewer than eight Academy Award nominations.

Cooper co-wrote and directed the film (in his directorial debut), and he acquitted himself pretty well. A Star is Born raked in over $430 million at the worldwide box office, picked up one of those Oscars (for the original song "Shallow"), and became a genuine cultural phenomenon. It's one of the best flicks of 2018 — and, as an added bonus, the 1954 and 1976 versions will also be part of the HBO Max catalog.

Shazam! is one fun superhero movie

We've already sung the praises of Wonder Woman, but there is one DCEU canon movie that's almost as good, albeit in a completely different way. Shazam! stars Zachary Levi as the muscle-bound alter ego of Billy Batson, the troubled young boy who encounters an ancient wizard who gives him the password to awesome superpowers — powers which his young friend Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer of It), is all too happy to help him explore.

Shazam! is simply a great time at the movies. There's nothing narratively earth-shaking here, and the flick's villain Doctor Sivana, played by Mark Strong, just wasn't the Black Adam that many fans were hoping for (not to worry; he's on the way). But the film succeeds smashingly where so many more serious-minded superhero films fail: it's incredibly fun and often hilarious, and Levi plays the heck out of the role of a kid suddenly gifted the superpowered, chiseled body of a god. If you're having trouble deciding between a comic book epic and a screwball comedy, this is the flick for you.

Monterey Pop is a vital historical document (and is packed with great music)

Anybody who has any sort of appreciation for rock music should see the iconic documentary Monterey Pop, shot by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, at least once. It's a document of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which sported a list of performers comprised almost entirely of current and future legends — and it's also a vital document of the period in which it was made, shot during the Summer of Love in a you-are-there style.

The graininess of the film stock (it was shot on 16mm film) adds to the cinema verite feel of the whole thing, and just check out this list of performers and songs: The Mamas and the Papas, "California Dreamin'"; Canned Heat, "Rollin' and Tumblin'"; Simon & Garfunkel, "The 59th Street Bridge Song"; Jefferson Airplane, "High Flying Bird" and "Today"; Big Brother and the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin on vocal), "Ball and Chain"; Eric Burdon and the Animals, "Paint It Black"; The Who, "My Generation"; Country Joe and the Fish, "Section 43"; Otis Redding with Booker T and the M.G.'s, "Shake" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long"; The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Wild Thing"; The Mamas and the Papas again, with "Got a Feelin'"; and Ravi Shankar, George Harrison's guru, with "Dhun."

Bridesmaids is one of the best comedies in years

Upon its release in 2011, director Paul Feig's Bridesmaids touched off a lot of discussion. You see, there's this stubborn, prevailing notion in Hollywood and show business in general that women are not as funny as men, and in particular, that a woman can't carry a mainstream comedy. Technically, we suppose you could say that Bridesmaids wasn't carried by "a woman," though; it was carried by six of them, all of whom happen to be among the funniest performers in the business.

The Judd Apatow-produced flick stars Kristen Wiig as Annie, a down-on-her-luck woman invited to be the maid of honor for her friend Lillian, portrayed by Maya Rudolph. The pair convene with the rest of the bridesmaids — played by Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Ellie Kemper — to attempt to plan the wedding and shower, and well, everything goes wrong.

The movie isn't afraid to rely on gross, raunchy humor, but it's also clever, deftly plotted, and surprisingly heartfelt. It's the kind of flick you're not sure if you should watch with your parents — but we say go for it, because Bridesmaids is easily one of the funniest movies of the last decade.

The Lego Movie will delight your entire family

If you're in the market for family-friendly chuckles, HBO Max has you covered there, too — and for our money, the streamer will offer no better choice at launch than The Lego Movie, the 2014 animated feature that was not only leagues better than it had any right to be, but was actually one of the very best films of its year.

The movie takes place in the Lego universe, where a ubiquitous theme song informs us (and all of the citizens) all the time that "Everything is Awesome." Of course, this turns out not to be exactly true; a plot to freeze the universe in place using a mysterious device called a "Kragle" by the evil President Business is stumbled upon by a construction worker named Emmet, who attempts to defuse the plot with the help of a few friends. The movie's central conceit, which doesn't reveal itself until near the end, is a stroke of genius — and for a film that endured criticism for simply existing (due to its obvious marketing angle), it packs an amazingly humanistic message.

The Lego Movie's stellar voice cast includes the likes of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Liam Neeson, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, and the great Morgan Freeman. If you haven't seen it, you'll want to give it a shot — and if you have, well, you're gonna want to watch it again.

Us is the second horror masterpiece in a row from Jordan Peele

Fans of the sketch comedy series Key and Peele have long known that Jordan Peele, along with his partner in crime Keegan-Michael Key, is a very funny man. However, it would eventually become clear that this isn't all he is. He's a mega-fan and astute student of the horror genre, and an extremely talented feature filmmaker with a veteran's innate knack for pacing, composition, and drawing the audience's eye exactly where he wants it to go.

This became apparent when Peele's debut directorial feature, 2017's Get Out, blew audiences away and became an instant horror classic. Observers could be forgiven for being skeptical that Peele could even come close to duplicating that feat with his second film, but in 2019, he dropped Us, and anyone still skeptical had their minds changed in a hurry.

The film centers on a young couple, portrayed by Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke, who head off for a weekend at their beach house with their children. Their vacation is interrupted by the appearance of four red-robed strangers, standing in their driveway late at night... and the less said about what transpires from that point, the better. Us is involving, confounding, thought-provoking, and ridiculously scary — all of the things that we are quickly coming to associate with Peele. It also features a performance for the ages by Nyong'o; the fact that she wasn't so much as nominated for a Best Actress Oscar is nothing short of stupefying.

Aliens may be the greatest sci-fi action flick of all time

If you've never seen James Cameron's 1986 masterpiece Aliens, then come with us, dear reader, and let us introduce you to the father of the modern genre film. But wait, you may ask: which genre are we talking about here? Well, roughly all of them. Sci-fi, horror, action, drama, even superhero movies — they all owe a profound debt of gratitude to Aliens, which practically invented the way that modern blockbusters are shot, edited, and paced.

The film is, of course, the sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 horror flick Alien, a brilliant, iconic film in its own right — but Aliens is its own thing entirely. Decades after narrowly surviving the events of the first film, Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley is rescued from stasis by her employers at the corrupt Weyland-Yutani corporation. They inform her that the site at which she and her ill-fated crew discovered alien eggs in the first movie has become the site of a research colony — and they've just lost contact.

Ripley suggests nuking the site from orbit, which is the most practical suggestion anyone makes in the entire film. It is not followed, and Ripley and a team of space marines (the prototypes for every such character to follow in movies, TV, and video games) descend to the planet's surface to check it out. To say it doesn't go well would be a bit of an understatement.

Aliens is one of the most absolutely relentless films of all time; it's like riding a roller coaster through a terrifying haunted house for two hours. Buckle up, and don't say we didn't warn you.

Joker is one of the most talked-about films of 2019

Much has been written about Joker, the solo vehicle for one of DC's most iconic villains, and a stand-alone story that falls squarely outside the continuity of the DCEU. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a troubled man who works as a clown for hire and has a bit of an obsession with an acerbic local talk show host (Robert De Niro). One day, Arthur is beaten up by a group of young hooligans, and soon thereafter, he loses his job — setting in motion a slide which will see Arthur try to deny, then succumb to, then fully embrace the darker side of his nature.

Joker was famously inspired by the early works of Martin Scorsese, such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (with which it shares more than a few similarities). It's a true character study of the sort that we don't see much anymore, and making it represented a huge gamble for Warner Bros. and DC — a gamble which paid off thanks to the well-defined vision of writer-director Todd Phillips and his co-writer Scott Silver. Driving it all home is the incendiary, masterful performance by Phoenix, who became the second actor in 11 years (behind the late Heath Ledger) to win an Academy Award for portraying the Clown Prince of Crime.

Heck, you don't even have to be a fan of comic book films to appreciate this one; Joker is simply an intense, disturbing, excellent film, one of the very best of 2019, and its legacy will be debated for years to come.