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The Best HBO Max Movies Of 2021

Even before it got into the streaming game, HBO always positioned itself as the network for high-quality movies. It's called "Home Box Office" for a reason, after all. And even though streaming services like Netflix and Hulu boast a huge amount of content, HBO Max is still seen as a premiere option, both for prestige television shows and a better selection of critically acclaimed and crowd-pleasing movies. Even more significant, Warner Brothers' decision to release their biggest movies of 2021 on the platform simultaneous with their in-theater releases makes HBO Max a no-brainer for any movie fan.

But which films are the best of the best? Well, if you're looking for a solid film to watch on HBO Max, then you're definitely in the right place. We've looked over the site and compiled the cream of the cinematic crop. From epic kaiju battles to energetic, upbeat musicals, these are the very best HBO Max movies of 2021.

Godzilla vs. Kong

Ever since Marvel made all the money in the world with the MCU, every film studio has been trying to build their own connected cinematic universe. Cue the Monsterverse, which features the Toho Titan, Godzilla, and the "Eighth Wonder of the World," King Kong. Released in 2014, "Godzilla" was the first film in this interconnected franchise, and the big ape first appeared in 2017's "Kong: Skull Island." And the year 2021 finally brought these beasties together to battle in "Godzilla vs. Kong."

"Godzilla vs. Kong" also brought in some big name actors, but the stars of the show were definitely our titular Titans. The human characters still had plenty to do, but spectacle was the name of the game here, and it paid off well. Reviewers like Film Companion's Anupama Chopra praised the film's incredible action sequences and over-the-top battles, calling it "exactly the escapist movie high you need in the middle of a pandemic."

Alexander Skarsgard and Millie Bobby Brown probably aren't going to take home Academy Awards for this one, but there aren't that many films out there featuring a 200-foot-tall ape swinging a lightning axe into a nuclear-powered dinosaur. Dim the lights, crank up the volume, and enjoy the showdown.

Judas and the Black Messiah

It isn't just massive blockbuster movies that make their way to HBO Max release. In fact, there are more than a handful of award-hopefuls that have made the leap to the streaming service on the same day they hit theaters. One of the most notable is "Judas and the Black Messiah," which was released to rave reviews, despite the fact that the Academy Awards couldn't decide which of the two lead actors was a lead. So, naturally, they settled on "neither," giving both nods for Best Supporting Actor instead.

"Judas and the Black Messiah" is the true story of an FBI informant who infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to report on its leader, Chairman Fred Hampton. LaKeith Stanfield plays the informant, William O'Neil, in a subdued and brilliant way, though he's a bit overshadowed by the powerful, Oscar-winning performance of Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Hampton. These two lead the way, but the rest of the cast — which features big names like Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback, and more — is absolutely dynamite.

"Judas and the Black Messiah" feels like one of those "it's the perfect time for this movie" movies. It's powerful, gut-wrenching, and thrilling, and it absolutely deserves its place as one of the year's best films.

Zack Snyder's Justice League

"Justice League" was a strange beast on its original release in 2017. It was supposed to be DC's answer to Marvel's "The Avengers," bringing together a collection of huge actors and separate films into one massive cinematic event. However, director Zack Snyder, who was also pulling all the strings for the DC Extended Universe, had to step away from the film. Warner Bros. then brought in Joss Whedon to bring it home and, well ... he didn't really stick the landing.

Fans began clamoring for Zack Snyder to get his chance at the film, and that swell grew loud enough to make it happen. Zack Snyder's version of "Justice League" hit HBO Max in 2021, clocking in at over four hours long and turning out to be much more than a simple recut of the film.

Snyder's "Justice League" features massive storylines and even entire characters that were cut from the original release, and it manages to be a much more coherent and enjoyable film (even with its absurd runtime). It has raised some questions about the future of the DCEU as well, though what happens there moving forward is still to be seen. But even on its own, "Zack Snyder's Justice League" is a pretty incredible achievement, bound to impress DC fans and skeptics alike.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

One major star can cover up a lot of bruises in a movie, and "Those Who Wish Me Dead" is a great example. On the surface, it's a fairly by-the-book action flick about a smokejumper with a haunted past who's trying to survive ridiculous odds. Put Angelina Jolie in there, and it turns into something much more impressive.

Alongside her incredible action work, Jolie has always been able to do some heavy lifting as an actor, and she really elevates "Those Who Wish Me Dead" from a bare cinematic spark to a roaring action-thriller. The film follows her trying to protect a young boy from both a raging wildfire and a pair of contract killers who are trying to tie up loose ends. There's a strong supporting cast (Jon Bernthal, Aidan Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, and a scene-stealing Medina Senghore), some incredible and thrilling sequences, and enough plot holes to drive a fire truck through. Even so, Jolie brings it all together in a really impressive performance.

Reviews for the film praise Jolie's character as the film's emotional and physical core, alongside the impressive disaster effects. It's a great popcorn flick, and if you've got a spare evening and need a fiery action flick, it's definitely worth a watch.

Mortal Kombat

Few children of the 1990s can hear the phrase "Mortal Kombat" without instantly having their nostalgia levels flipping into overdrive. The 1995 film is viewed by many as a perfect example of a "guilty pleasure" type of film, and the idea of rebooting the franchise has long lingered in Hollywood. It was actually somewhat surprising that Warner Brothers' 2021 release was as much fun as it turned out to be, as it featured some great fight scenes, fan service, and laid the groundwork for more films to come.

There's a labyrinth of mythology to "Mortal Kombat," but here are the basics. There are multiple worlds fighting for supremacy of the universe in a tournament, and Earth recruits some classic "chosen one" fighters as a last ditch effort to keep out the baddies. There are soul-sucking sorcerers, ice ninjas, four-armed dragon people, a dude with cybernetic/magical arms ... it's a lot. And the film has a lot of great action set-pieces and spectacular, gory callbacks to the video games, and it's tough to not enjoy "Mortal Kombat," with the silliness only adding to it. Also, Josh Lawson, who plays foul-mouthed Aussie warrior Kano, is hilarious and ridiculous.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Few horror movies remain as polished and must-see as "The Conjuring" franchise. They don't necessarily push the envelope quite to the level that major crossover hits like "Get Out" and "Hereditary" do, but these films regularly attract big names and big audiences to accompany their big scares. And "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" is just the latest in the franchise to do so.

Like many horror films, "The Devil Made Me Do It" loosely draws on a real-world investigation. A 1981 murder trial saw the defendant, Arne Cheyenne Johnson, try to claim no personal responsibility because he was possessed by a demonic force and not acting of his own free will when he committed the crime. If you're familiar with "The Conjuring" franchise, you know director Michael Chaves uses this backdrop for plenty of jump scares and disturbing imagery.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are back in action as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" will definitely get under your skin. Maybe keep the lights on for this one.

In the Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda took the world by storm with "Hamilton," essentially giving him free rein for the foreseeable future. This means his pre-"Hamilton" Broadway smash, "In the Heights," has gotten the Hollywood treatment, and it's shaping up to be one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

"In the Heights" is based on the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City and, like many classic musicals, focuses on a group of characters just trying to live their best lives and overcome adversity. It features an impressive cast and some infectious, show-stopping numbers, though it plays much more like a traditional Broadway musical than "Hamilton." Equally impressive is the direction by Jon M. Chu ("Crazy Rich Asians"), who brings his eye for color and spectacle to life in some dazzling ways throughout the big musical numbers of "In the Heights."

It's hard to imagine any musical reaching cultural saturation quite like "Hamilton," but "In the Heights" is a great reminder that Miranda is far from a one-trick pony. Get your microphones ready — there's plenty of karaoke fodder for you to work with here.