The Max catalogue is deep. Seriously deep. Deep enough to drown in, if humans could drown in movies. Luckily, we can’t. We can only watch them! Ain’t life fun! But before you open up the massive Max library and faint from decision paralysis, take a breath. We’ve got you. And we know what you’re looking for.
You don’t need help picking a big blockbuster for a rewatch, you’re in the mood for a hidden gem. A diamond in the rough. A movie you can recommend to your friends, and they won’t go, “Yeah, Carl, we all know you like Aquaman. Enough already.” These are the under-the-radar winners, the ones with smaller budgets, the foreign hits, or the ones that simply had abysmal marketing campaigns. Each makes for a pleasant surprise and a solid pick on movie night on Max.
1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
One of Miyazaki’s best films.
Credit: Dentsu / NTV / Studio Ghibli / Kobal / Shutterstock
When you think of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, you probably think of Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. But Miyazaki has been telling visually stunning stories for decades, and since almost all of his works are now streaming on Max, it’s time to dive a little deeper into the Ghibli catalogue. Start with Princess Mononoke, the story of a leader determined to protect her lands from human consumption. Though she may align ideologically with Pocahontas, Princess Mononoke is far more ruthless, stopping at nothing to defend her fantastical home. Caught in the middle of this fight is a young prince, Ashitaka, hoping to help both sides achieve peace before a demon’s curse eventually kills him.
Mononoke has all the markings of a Ghibli classic — wood spirits, gorgeous animation, ruminative landscapes — but boasts a more adult tone than many of Miyazaki’s other pieces. There is blood and war and pain in this whimsical world, and the story is more complex and engaging because of it. For an added treat, the script for the English dub was written by sci fi/fantasy legend Neil Gaiman, so you can watch the English version confident nothing is lost in translation.
2. Everything Is Copy (2016)
Everything Is Copy is the best kind of love letter: one that’s effusive in its admiration of its subject, but also clear-eyed about her quirks and imperfections. Journalist Jacob Bernstein explores the life, career, and 2012 death of Nora Ephron — known to us as the writer and filmmaker behind such hit rom-coms as Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia, and to Bernstein as his mother.
Interviews with family members and famous friends (including Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Mike Nichols), along with archival interviews and excerpts from Ephron’s own work, paint a portrait of a brilliant and ambitious spirit who lived by the motto stated in the title: “Everything is copy,” meaning everything that happens in life can be fodder for a story later on. Though you wouldn’t mistake Bernstein’s documentary for a work by Ephron herself, the film’s warmth, candor, and humor make it a fitting tribute to the icon she was.* — Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor
3. Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
You’re about to be able to impress film snobs at parties. Au Revoir Les Enfants is a gorgeous and startling film about friendship, and one of the most respected movies in cinema history. Famed french filmmaker Louis Malle wrote, directed, and produced this autobiographical film about his childhood in Nazi-occupied France. The main character Julien, based on Malle himself, is a young student at a boarding school who discovers the headmaster is sheltering three Jewish boys among the student population. Julien forms a bond with one of the boys, Jean Bonnet, and the two navigate an increasingly dangerous world. Au Revoir Les Enfants is a WWII film without any battles. We are confined to the limited landscape of the boarding school and its surrounding town, yet the horrors of war are ever present. It is both subtle and deeply moving and will stick with you after viewing.
4. Time Bandits (1981)
If you remember Time Bandits, then we are happy for you, for you truly know the meaning of joy. This insane and amazing fantasy, written by Monty Python–veterans Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, is a one-of-a-kind adventure. Eleven-year-old Kevin is asleep in his bedroom when a man on horseback bursts out of his wardrobe and rides off into a forest that disappears behind him. The following night, five small bandits tumble out of the wardrobe and take Kevin on an adventure through history, stopping by the Napoleonic Wars, Ancient Greece, and even the Titanic. John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, and Ian Holm sparkle as their historical counterparts, adding wit and gravitas to the whimsical plot. This is a film that needs to be seen to be believed — but once seen, it will quickly be beloved.
5. Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)
If you’ve ever wanted to watch Angelina Jolie fight fire, this movie’s for you.
Credit: Emerson Miller
It’s a safe bet that you haven’t seen Those Who Wish Me Dead, because almost no one did. A June 2021 debut (a very hesitant time for moviegoers) and a rushed marketing campaign earned this Angelina Jolie-led thriller the honor of being the second-worst opening of all time for a film in more than 3,000 theaters. But don’t let that sway you. This exhilarating, and somewhat insane, movie is a propulsive 100 minutes of action and suspense against the most lethal backdrop of all — the wildfires of the American West. Jolie stars as Hannah, a veteran forest firefighter spending the summer in an isolated, Montana firewatch tower, trying to get her head right after the tragedies of the previous year’s fire season. Suddenly, she finds herself in a very different film, as her path crosses with a child being chased by a pair of assassins (Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen), and she’s the only adult who can protect him. The human elements of the film are comically light in explanation and backstory, but that forces us to focus our fear on the true and ultimate threat here: an unforgiving wall of fire.
6. 61* (2001)
This critically-loved sports drama (directed by Billy Crystal!) flew under the radar because it was made for HBO in 2001 — a time when TV movies were not as respected as their silver-screen counterparts. However, 61* is just as riveting and affecting as any bigger-budget sports flick, if not more so. This is both the story of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris attempting to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961 and of an unlikely friendship. The charismatic, partying Mantle and the reserved, quiet Maris make for an unusual pair, with each Yankee earning different treatment from the press while the pressure of the season takes its toll. Led adeptly by Thomas Jane and Berry Pepper, 61* is a winning film in any year.
How to watch: 61* is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
7. The Normal Heart (2014)
Directed by Ryan Murphy, The Normal Heart is a searing emotional drama that lacks the signature camp of most Murphy vehicles — and here, that’s a good thing. Adapted from the play of the same name, Heart follows Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks, an openly gay writer in the ‘80s who watches the growing HIV/AIDS crisis ravage his community. What sets The Normal Heart apart from other movies on the same topic is its intimacy. We witness the crisis through Ned’s eyes, as his friends, neighbors, and lovers are ripped from him. Ned visits hospitals, writes stories, and fights tirelessly with the help of Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) to bring more attention and funds to the cause, only to be met with bigotry and silence. A strong and deeply charismatic supporting cast (Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello, Jonathan Groff) will make you fall in love, and then break your heart. Do not be intimidated: this is a film that will leave you feeling cleaved in two, but will also impart a quiet, warm optimism. A rare combination.
8. Shiva Baby (2021)
Worlds collide in this 2020 cringe comedy that’s been widely hailed by critics. When a Jewish college student (Rachel Sennott) dutifully attends a shiva alongside her parents, she’s prepared to field questions about her unimpressive job prospects and lack of a boyfriend. However, she’s not ready for her secret sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari) to show up, much less with his beautiful blonde wife (Dianna Agron) and their rosy-cheeked baby. Making matters even more fraught, her former best friend is slinging her serious side-eye. Something has got to give. In her remarkable debut feature, writer/director Emma Seligman creates laughs and suspense with an electrifying tapestry of observational humor, social awkwardness, jolting humiliation, and sexual tension. You’ve heard of feel-good comedies? Well, this is a feel-anxious-as-hell comedy, dragging us through each embarrassment with our harried heroine. And yet, we can’t recommend the experience highly enough.* — Kristy Puchko, Film Editor
How to watch: Shiva Baby is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
9. Tampopo (1985)
A treat of a movie
Credit: Apic / Getty Images
A spirited spoof tipping its hat to the Spaghetti Western, this 1985 Japanese comedy was promoted as a “ramen Western.” Its central story is about a cowboy hat-wearing truck driver (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who comes across a humble ramen shop where the food is truly “terrible.” Damsel in distress Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) begs this hardened hero to save her family’s business by teaching her to do right by ramen. So of course, he rounds up a posse to perfect her recipe. Full of physical comedy, giddy silliness, quirky characters, and charming performances, this film is a delectable delight. But writer/director Jûzô Itami brings even more to the table, spicing up this culinary tale with fantastical vignettes about the love of food. Though often ridiculous — and sometimes salacious — none of the laughs are lost in translation. But be warned: This funny film will make you hungry. The loving shots of ramen and the various speeches about its richness and wonders are ruthlessly mouth-watering. Maybe order dinner before digging in.* — K.P.
How to watch: Tampopo is now streaming on Max.(opens in a new tab)
10. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Like many a great film noir, this 1941 thriller begins with a hard-nosed detective (Humphrey Bogart) and a gorgeous dame in distress (Mary Astor). Based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Maltese Falcon follows private investigator Sam Spade as he seeks not only to solve the mystery of who murdered his business partner, but also the whereabouts of the titular — and hotly sought — statuette. Along the way, he’ll meet suspicious characters, uncover horrid clues, and tango with a femme fatale as dazzling as she is deceitful. Crackling with biting banter, shocking reveals, and old-fashioned star power, John Huston’s directorial debut still hits harder than a shot of whiskey. — K.P.
* denotes that the writeup comes from a previous Mashable list.
UPDATE: Jun. 27, 2023, 5:20 p.m. EDT This article has been updated to reflect the latest streaming options.