The 25 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now

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The 25 Best Movies on Cinemax Right Now

HBO Max may have begun dominating the Max title among movie streaming apps since its release, but before it burst onto the scene, Max Go was one of the premium ways to watch movies. While its website is still active, the Cinemax streaming companion has since taken a backseat to the HBO parent streamer. That doesn’t mean, however, that Cinemax isn’t still offering up hundreds of great movies. From great action flicks, war movies, and westerns to comedy and drama, the premium channel still has the hits. In our curation efforts, we’ve skipped over Max After Dark options, so those after “Skinamax” offerings will have to venture into that territory on their own. Let us know whether Bikini Avengers or College Coeds vs. Zombie Housewives need to make the list.

This list covers the best on offer, up to date for May 2021.

Here are the 25 Best Movies on Cinemax and Max Go:

25. Ad Astra

Year: 2019
Director: James Gray

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Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut from a “future near to ours,” who, when we meet him, is somehow surviving an explosion from an international space station by using his preternatural ability to control his heart rate and his breathing, remaining calm in the face of mortal peril. The explosion was caused by a series of solar flares that, it’s learned, may be caused by an experiment years before led by Roy’s father, Griffin (Tommy Lee Jones), who was thought to have died but may be alive and in fact may have sabatoged the mission. Government officials, fearing the flares could end up destroying all life on planet Earth, want Roy to send a message to Griffin’s ship, hopefully persuading him to halt the flares and come back home. Roy, who hasn’t seen his father since he was a teenager, isn’t sure the mission’s going to work…but he’s haunted by his own demons, demons not entirely disconnected from his father. If this sounds like an exciting space yarn, know that director James Gray is in a much more meditative state here: The film is more about the mystery of the soul of man than it is about the mystery of the universe, or even about some big spaceship fights. The universe is the backdrop to the story of a man and his thwarted issues with his father, and his inability to connect with anyone else in the world because of it. Like many of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is about the depths one can find within oneself, how far down anyone can climb and hide. Pitt wouldn’t seem like the ideal actor for a part like that—charisma drips off him so effortlessly that it leaves a trail behind him wherever he goes—but he’s impressive at playing a man who doesn’t understand himself but suspects the answer to the riddle that has vexed him his whole life must be in this man who gave him life but whom he never really knew. There’s a reserve here that Pitt draws on that works well for him; it’s a serious performance, but it never feels showy. He is searching for something, knowing full well he probably won’t find it. Gray does provide some thrills on the journey of father to find son, and they are extremely well-crafted, particularly a battle with space pirates on the moon that takes place in a world without both gravity and sound. And in Pitt he has a solid emotional center that the audience will still follow anywhere, even if it’s to the ends of the solar system just to confront his daddy issues. —Will Leitch / Full Review

24. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Year: 2012
Director: Benh Zeitlin

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Fantasy meets reality in this apocalyptic coming-of-age fable whose art-imitating-life—or is that vice versa?—production put it in immediate contact with the BP Deepwater Horizon; the oil rig exploded the first day of filming just offshore of New Orleans, in Terrebonne Parish. Newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis—one of many cast members culled from bayou country—is extraordinary as 6-year-old Hushpuppy, a force of nature in the fictional, self-sustained fishing isle of “The Bathtub,” so named because of its below sea-level, levee-created geography. Her hard-drinking father Wink’s health is in rapid decline as a hurricane nears the community—along with prehistoric creatures newly unfrozen from Arctic waters. As Hushpuppy and her dad (played by fellow non-actor Dwight Henry, who like Wallis would later appear in 12 Years a Slave) face peril both internal and external, Beasts becomes surreal post-Katrina folklore, and unforgettably gorgeous lore at that. Director Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with playwright Lucy Alibar, offers a mythic observation on climate change and the disappearing coastal wetlands, a fast eroding natural barrier against storm surges that, along with levees in various states of disrepair and outright neglect, pose an ongoing threat to the state. But it’s hardly sociopolitical soap-boxing. Told through Hushpuppy’s POV of fright and awe, the film is a powerful testament to the abiding resilience of the region and its residents—joyous to live, defiant to return, proud to remain, home.—Amanda Schurr

23.Trick ‘r Treat

Year: 2007
Director: Michael Dougherty

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Where other horror films simply attempt to absorb a little bit of the holiday’s spookiness into themselves via osmosis, Trick ‘r Treat is a true veneration of all the things we horror geeks love about the holiday. It’s a pure distillation of the feeling so many of us possessed as children—the indescribable excitement of venturing out into the night when it felt like the world had become full of macabre mystery. For 82 minutes, you feel like a kid again. And to think, the world almost never had a chance to see the film at all. Due perhaps to its unorthodox, quasi-anthology structure and lack of big stars, a completed Trick ‘r Treat screened only at festivals for several years after its initial “release.” It was only after Anna Paquin became a bigger star via True Blood that the masses got a chance to see Trick ‘r Treat thanks to its first home video release in 2009, which effectively began the rise of this movie’s cult. A decade later, its status as a classic of the season has just about been established, with appearances at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights and regular airings on cable TV networks. It was just too charming a film to remain hidden forever. And that is probably the word for Trick ‘r Treat: It is truly charming, rather than outright “scary” most of the time, although there are a few moments that may make one jump, especially in its last 20 minutes. But from start to finish, it charms in its tale of the residents of a small Midwestern town, most of whom seem to take the traditions of Halloween fairly seriously. And it’s a good thing, too, with Sam—the adorable (but vicious), sack-headed avatar of the holiday stalking the streets, keeping an eye on the neighborhood. Disrespect the traditions of Halloween, and little Sam is liable to pay you a visit you won’t forget. Assuming you survive, of course.—Jim Vorel

22. Belly

belly--movie-poster.jpg Year: 1998
Director: Hype Williams

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Every hip-hop fan over the age of 25 has a particular era of rap that they consider to be untouchable, and for me it’s the late ‘90s/early 2000s. 1998, though, is an especially magical year: DMX dropped not one, but two great albums (his debut being a classic, and both going on to make him the first rapper to release two number one albums in one year). It’s also the year he starred in Belly alongside Nas and Method Man. The film’s soundtrack now stands not only as a great reflection of the gritty and simultaneously flashy Hype Williams movie, but also as one of the best examples of what hip-hop had become at the time. This was back when, for many of us, Roc-a-Fella records and the Ruff Ryders ruled the world. Putting DMX, Jay Z, Beanie Sigel and Ja Rule (before he started singing) all on one album would have been plenty, but when you throw in both a Wu-Tang track and a soulful and lyrically gangsta D’angelo favorite, along with one of the most intoxicating reggae/rap collaborations in history (I dare you to try and listen to “Top Shotter” just once), you have a classic. The Belly soundtrack (with production credits from the great Swizz Beatz, Poke & Tone, Diddy, Irv Gotti and others) functions like any great collection, in that it transports the listener back to the exact time and place it was created—it’s, like Williams’ film, timeless and, simultaneously, so specific to its time. At the risk of sounding like just another old head: We’ll never have something like this again, something, like the hip-hop that fills it, that will probably never be as brilliant, dark and untouchable as we got in Belly. —Shannon M. Houston

21. Before Sunset

Year: 2004
Director: Richard Linklater

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It’s not every day that a sequel earns its right to exist both in the context of and independent from its predecessor, but this human-scale little drama pulls it off. Richard Linklater’s meditation on romance and inspiration follows Ethan Hawke’s novelist Jesse on a European book tour, where he’s reading from the book inspired by his run-in with Celine (Julie Delpy) almost a decade ago-and spending one out-of-time day with her to try and figure out what might’ve been. Linklater makes intelligent use of languorous long takes to underscore how little time the characters have to find some kind of closure—how little time any of us have, really. It’s not easy to make a film that relies on things like idealism and emotional generosity. But I’m glad people still try. When it’s successful, the result can be kind of stunning. Before Sunset is wistful without schmaltz, thoughtful without ponderousness, and fundamentally kind. Not a given with films about writers! And kind of a treat.—Amy Glynn

20. Her Smell

Year: 2019
Director: Alex Ross Perry

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Her Smell chronicles the fall and rise of Elisabeth Moss’s Becky Something, a Courtney Love surrogate and frontwoman of the punk rock band Something She; Becky talks like a Wonderland character but acts like an uncaged animal. Moss being an actress whose greatest asset is her eyes, and Perry being a filmmaker who fixates on the human gaze, Becky spends the movie staring either at other characters or into the camera. Her eyes burn like toxic twin moons. The movie’s first three quarters light the match of her self-immolation. In the punk rock world there’s little more stultifying than commercial success; add in a poisonous personality and an enthusiastic drug habit and Becky’s unmaking—by her own hand—is assured. Yet, the film’s final act redeems her, such as Perry’s movies redeem anyone. In contrast to his other work, Her Smell is compassionate, even tender; Becky, later seen sober, washed up and repentant for her years as a monster fed on abusing her ex-husband (Dan Stevens), her bandmates (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin) and her mother (Virginia Madsen), sings a devastatingly moving cover of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her daughter in a moment equally as gentle as it is painful. Even in the recovery phase, Her Smell delicately walks a perilous tightrope and arrives on the other side as the masterpiece of Perry’s career. —Andy Crump

19. Bloodsport

bloodsport poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1988
Director: Newt Arnold

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There are tomes to be written and classes to be taught on the perplexing existence of Bloodsport, but perhaps the film is best summarized in one moment: the infamous Scream. Because in these 40 seconds or so, the heart and soul of Bloodsport is bared with little concern for taste, or purpose, or respect for the physically binding laws of reality—in this moment is a burgeoning movie star channeling his best attributes (astounding muscles; years of suppressed rage; the juxtaposition of grace and violence that is his well-oiled and cleanly shaven corporeal form) to make a go at real-live Hollywood acting. Although Bloodsport is the movie that announced Jean-Claude Van Damme and his impenetrable accent to the world—as well as serving as the crucible for (seriously) every single plot of every Van Damme movie to come—it’s also a defining film of the decade, positioning martial arts as certifiable blockbuster action cinema. Schwarzenegger and Stallone? These were beefy mooks that could believably be action stars. Van Damme set the bar higher: his body became a better and bloodier weapon than any hand-cannon that previous mumbling, ’80s box-office draws could ever wield. —D.S.

18. They Came Together

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Year: 2014
Director: David Wain

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They Came Together is director David Wain’s giddily absurd, brilliant dissection of romantic comedy tropes. Wain and co-screenwriter Michael Showalter take the baseline structure of a typical rom-com and intentionally fill it with inane, vague details to expose how so many similar movies pretty much only adhere to a paint-by-numbers formula, hoping to extract some degree of charm out of the “hot but accessible and quirky” casting. Their script requires our hapless but lovable leads (Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd, having a blast as they mug for the cameras) to be attracted to each other after the obligatory introduction in which they despise one another. Their mutual point of magnetism: They both like fiction books. This biting spoof is full of digs like this, from the obnoxious cliché of New York City being a third character in the story—repeated 20-something times—to the way the dialogue points out how each of the best friend characters fit certain strict archetypes. As opposed to Wain and Showalter’s ’80s camp movie parody Wet Hot American Summer, demonstrating the duo’s clear affinity for the films they skewered, one wonders just how much they hate the kinds of cookie-cutter rom-coms they go after, if they’re being mean-spirited or just honest about films of which they’ve obviously seen a lot. —Oktay Ege Kozak

17. The Return of the Living Dead

return of the living dead poster (Custom).jpg
Year: 1985
Director: Dan O’Bannon

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One of the greatest zombie films of all time, from the year that undoubtedly was the greatest year in zombie history, The Return of the Living Dead is a perennial classic that begs to be a late night selection for your Halloween party—likely after everyone has had a few drinks. This film was deeply influential on the genre in the ‘80s, for the first time establishing the idea that zombies specifically craved human brains, but it’s also just a blast in terms of its silly characters and outstanding practical effects. Even more so than in Night of the Demons, the camp value of the 1980s pop culture references and fashion is at its zenith here, but the campiness of these aspects is balanced by genuinely hilarious comedy and effects that are still appreciably gross all these years later. It’s even set to one of the most gloriously hard-rocking soundtracks of the era … and yes, there’s nudity. Lots of nudity. Don’t say you weren’t warned, but this is one of the most wildly entertaining films you can put on at any Halloween party.— Jim Vorel

16. The Station Agent

Year: 2003
Director: Thomas McCarthy

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One of the early breakout roles for Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage was this warm, funny story of a reclusive man who moves into an abandoned train depot. Director Thomas McCarthy has made a career of caring deeply for his characters in films like The Visitor and Win Win, and here it’s to slowly convince Dinklage’s Finbar McBride that his low view of humanity might just be wrong. It’s a contemplative, tender, hilarious film that feels both real and uplifting. If only George R.R. Martin would give Tyrion this kind of break.—Josh Jackson

15. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Year: 1974
Director: Michael Cimino

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Clint Eastwood was so impressed with filmmaker Michael Cimino’s talent, showcased in the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force, that he hired Cimino to make his directorial debut with the buddy crime movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, starring Jeff Bridges opposite Eastwood. It’s a solid, modest picture and features gorgeous widescreen cinematography of the Montana countryside. A charming bank heist film with lots of heart and a killer central relationship, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is almost as good as its wild title.—Derek Hil

14. The Talented Mr. Ripley

the-talented-mr-ripley-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Anthony Minghella

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Many doubted anyone could do justice to the Ripley novels on celluloid, but Anthony Minghella proved them wrong in spectacular fashion. Lushly photographed, exquisitely art-directed and impeccably timed (not a scene is a moment too long or too short), it intrigues and bewilders like Hitchcock’s best work. Career performances from Matt Damon and Jude Law, plus wonderful turns from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett—and the last time Gwenyth Paltrow was bearable. A frightful—and frightfully overlooked—film. —Michael Dunaway

13. Beginners

Year: 2010
Director: Mike Mills

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Beginners is a phenomenal film that delicately portrays relationships of all kinds in order to consider what it means to truly live. Ewan McGregor subtly plays Oliver, a man shocked by the announcement that his father Hal (Christopher Plummer, in his finest role) has come out as gay after the death of his mother, whom his father had been married to for several decades. The joy in Hal is palpable as he finally examines his true self for the first time in his life; so is the pain that has come with having to hide it for so long. Similarly, Oliver gets to see his father in a whole new light, realizing that he is a complex person just like everyone else. Their dynamic is a tender, miraculous thing. As both father and son become closer due to these new circumstances, Oliver finds himself falling in love with Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a vivacious actress who challenges Oliver to lust after life and all the experiences that come with it. Perhaps another manic pixie dream girl, Anna is anything but a fantasy, instead just as troubled by commitment as Oliver. Beginners, then, is about learning to recognize one’s truest self in and through love. A romantic comedy celebrating life and love hardly seems new, but to show that romance is the most difficult, but most successful route to satisfaction with oneself is a uniquely refreshing re-invention of the genre’s themes.—Blake Harper

12. Dressed to Kill

Year: 1980
Director: Brian De Palma

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Dressed to Kill is as much an over-the-top, transphobic, atonal mess of an attempt at putting a Hitchcockian twist on an ’80s erotic thriller as it is a compulsively watchable exercise in pure style and tension. Which means it might be the quintessential Brian De Palma joint. Sure, he may have practically parodied his own work in Raising Cain, but if you’re looking for a much earlier expression of his most iconic traits—in a more straightforward thriller, wrapping sensationalistic sexual content around a pulpy noir plot—this is the best place to start. Dressed to Kill is essentially two short films spliced into one, the first act concerning the sexual yearning of an unhappily married woman (Angie Dickinson), infused with enough unease to the film’s much more violent and explicit remainder. Considering De Palma’s obsession with remaking parts of Psycho during the ’70s and early ’80s (see: Sisters), one can easily guess what happens to the married woman before we find ourselves in a straight horror/thriller about a transgender murderer stalking a high-priced prostitute (Nancy Allen) with a razor. The fact that the killer is transgender isn’t a twist in the film, but his identity is, and if you keep following the Psycho connections, it’s very easy to guess. De Palma may have tried to dissuade his film from controversy by including a levelheaded interview with a trans war reporter on TV, watched by two characters during a split-screen sequence, but that hardly matters when De Palma has admitted to creating his own version of Jekyll and Hyde, essentially turning a trans person into a monster. Problematic but emblematic of a great director, this sleazy flick is still worth checking out. —Oktay Ege Kozak

11. Ready or Not

ready-or-not-poster.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

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Eat the rich—or at least defeat them with some good ole Judeo-Christian magic. Weird that Ready or Not made it through the right-wing cultural abattoir while The Hunt was taken apart—maybe the latter sacrificed itself for the former—because Ready or Not is very much about how rich people are all psychopaths when confronted with the limits of their money and power, willing to indulge in whatever games, traditions or ancient blood rites proscribed by Satan they have to in order to stay on top. We know the Le Domas family is a hive of grotesque villainy from the beginning, before the true nature of her in-laws is ever revealed to Grace (Samara Weaving) on her wedding night: Ready or Not begins with people in gowns and tuxedos engaged in a violent chase through lavish hallways and gilded passageways, offering a brief, brutal glimpse of this family’s past matrimonial gatherings. No matter how kind or protective her new husband Alex (Mark O’Brien) is, we know he’s still a part of the Le Domas clan. He’s always bound to disappoint us. —Dom Sinacola

10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher

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Though far from David Fincher’s best work, his typically painstaking attention to detail and shrewd decision to transplant the original F. Scott Fitzgerald short story from Baltimore to New Orleans nab this film—the second shot in the Crescent City after Hurricane Katrina (after the 2006 Denzel Washington vehicle Déjà Vu)—a spot on the list. Fincher was motivated to move the production thanks to Louisiana’s generous tax incentives for filmmakers—the state isn’t called “Hollywood South” for just its versatile locations. But by setting Brad Pitt’s aging-in-reverse timeline from November 1918 through the sirens blaring of the storm’s August 2005 landfall, he and screenwriter Eric Roth (in full Forrest Gump mode again) mine a fantastical metaphor of a city that’s as old as it is ageless. “The circumstances of my birth were… unusual,” Pitt’s Benjamin Button begins—the same fate could be said of New Orleans, and everything of both since. (Pitt has become something of an ambassador for the still-recovering town through his philanthropic foundation’s efforts to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.) The sprawling odyssey—Pitt called it a “love letter”—elegizes a city then barely three years removed from near destruction, its often sepia-cast vignettes showcasing the Garden District, Mid-City, the French Quarter and beyond.—Amanda Schurr

9. Midnight Cowboy

midnight-cowboy-poster.jpg Year: 1969
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 113 minutes

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In this film by British director John Schlesinger, Jon Voight plays a Texan with a troubled past who comes to the big city trying to make a career as a gigolo. Enter his pal, Ratso Rizzo, played by the great and grating Dustin Hoffman. Midnight Cowboy was rated X upon release for homosexual content that would hardly raise an eyebrow today, and remains the only film of that category to ever win an Oscar, much less the Best Picture award it captured in 1970. (The only other X-rated film to be nominated was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.) Second on the list of the decade’s greatest actors is Dustin Hoffman. Along with Midnight Cowboy, he starred in the seminal The Graduate, the western epic Little Big Man, Sam Peckinpah’s terrifying classic Straw Dogs, the controversial Lenny (a hopeless Best Picture nominee in the 1974 class with The Conversation and The Godfather, Part II), All the President’s Men, Marathon Man and Kramer vs. Kramer. But his incredible turn as Ratso Rizzo is still the greatest performance of his career, and the chemistry between him and his physical opposite is one of the best and most unusual friend dynamics in film history, hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking. —Shane Ryan

8. The Others

Year: 2001
Director: Alejandro Amenábar

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The Others is a stately ghost thriller that is classical in structure, sumptuous in appearance and somewhat familiar in its plotting. Borrowing heavily from the modus operandi of gothic horror literature and Hammer horror productions of the ’60s, it’s hard not to look at Nicole Kidman here and see her as doing an impersonation of Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, except playing a mother rather than “governess.” Still, The Others takes the bones of that kind of story, in the mold of The Turn of the Screw and adds a few more modern layers—an absent husband who mysteriously returns; a pair of servants who seem to know more than they let on; a few genuinely creepy scenes involving the children. It was rightly praised upon release as a stylish throwback in an era that was considerably more dominated by monsters and slashers, and its period piece setting gives it a certain timeless quality, 20 years later. The best ghost stories age well, and The Others is doing exactly that. —Jim Vorel

7. A Shot in the Dark

movie poster shot in the dark.jpg
Year: 1964
Director: Blake Edwards

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Amazing to think that when the first film in the Pink Panther series was made, it was intended as a vehicle for its top-billed star David Niven. Wisely, director Blake Edwards realized the true star of the show was the bumbling French policeman Inspector Clouseau, as embodied by the brilliant Peter Sellers. So, they rushed another film into production (it was released in the States a mere three months after The Pink Panther) and comedy greatness was born. Ever the sport, Sellers quite literally threw himself into the part, crashing and stumbling through his investigation of murder and mangling the English language each step of the way. Try as they might to recapture the fire of this first sequel, nothing quite matched the freewheeling spirit of A Shot in the Dark. —Robert Ham

6. Planet of the Apes

Year: 1968
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

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“What will he find out there, doctor?” “His destiny” That’s what the conservative ape scientist Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) tells compassionate ape “veterinarian” Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) sets out into the Forbidden Zone of this topsy-turvy planet—where intelligent, talking apes are the dominant species and humans are dumb beasts—in order to find out what really happened to his species. Unless you were living under a rock for the last 50 years, you know exactly what he will find. But why does Zaius call this literally earth-shattering revelation Taylor’s destiny, and not his past, which is technically the case? The answer for that lies within Zaius’s role in the ape society. Unlike all other apes, Zaius knows the history of the painful and complex relationship between apes and humans. He knows how humans’ natural attraction to war, persecution, prejudice and cruelty sealed their eventual doom, and is (perhaps vainly) attempting to keep that “intellectual virus” from spreading to his beloved apes. He knows that once an intelligent human like Taylor has a chance to restart yet another attempt at civilization for his species, the same ugliness and destruction that comes with his inner nature will certainly plague his descendants. Therefore, he knows that Taylor will find both his past and his future on that beach. Today, the Planet of the Apes franchise is still going strong. The timeless appeal of these films stems from the fact that they explore high-concept themes, like the inherent viciousness and frailty of human nature, with brutal clarity, told with a refreshing lack of condescension and philosophical hand-holding. By presenting a fable world where what we now consider to be animals are dominating humankind, they hold a mirror to our ugliness, arrogance and, just maybe, our chance for redemption. Co-written by Twilight Zone co-creator Rod Serling, the sci-fi fable structure of the novel’s adaptation fits Serling’s sensibilities so impeccably that the original Planet of the Apes might be the closest we’ll ever get to a single-story, feature-length Twilight Zone movie, creating a kind of balanced synergy between pure genre excitement and level-headed morality tale. —Oktay Ege Kozak

5. The Evil Dead

Year: 1982
Director: Sam Raimi

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola

4. La La Land

Year: 2016
Director: Damien Chazelle

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La La Land’s exhilarating and nearly unflagging energy strives to inspire in viewers an equally bold appreciation for all the things it celebrates: the thrill of romantic love, of dreams within reach, of what we call “movie magic.” In this, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash, an opening scene blooms into an ambitious song-and-dance number set in the midst of a Los Angeles traffic jam. It’s there our protagonists, Sebastian and Mia (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), will have a terse encounter foreshadowing their destiny as lovers, but not before a flurry of acrobatic dancing and joyful singing erupts around them, as if heralding their own flights of fancy to come. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s camera guides us through the excitement, weaving and spinning among drivers who’ve left their cars to execute a stunning sequence of choreography which appears to have been performed in a long, unbroken take. The combination of song and visual is how Chazelle renders the joy of being in love and the way love transforms the geography around those in its sway. —Anthony Salveggi

3. Punch-Drunk Love

Year: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

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It may be hard to recall now that we’ve all rallied around his talent—allowing him to transcend the stigma of his Netflix deal while he still profits ludicrously off it—but there was once a time when the world doubted Adam Sandler. Long before the Safdies or even Noah Baumbach got their time getting tight with the Sandman, we have P.T. Anderson to thank for inspiring such hope. Compared to the scope of There Will Be Blood, or the melancholy of Boogie Nights, or the inexorable fascination at the heart of The Master, or the obsession and obfuscation of Phantom Thread, Punch-Drunk Love—a breath of fresh, Technicolor air after the weight of Magnolia—comes off like something of a lark for Anderson, setting the stage for the kind of incisive comic chops the director would later epitomize, and complicate, with Inherent Vice. A simple love story between a squirmy milquetoast (Sandler) on the verge and the woman (Emily Watson) who yanks him back to life, Punch-Drunk Love is as confounding as it is a delight, an expression of unmitigated, sputtering passion—sad and febrile and, most importantly, optimistic about what anyone is truly capable of doing. This might be as sincere as Anderson gets. —Dom Sinacola

2. Munich

Year: 2005
Director: Steven Spielberg

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By far the most politically daring work in Steven Spielberg’s filmography, Munich must not have been an easy story to tell for the devout member of the Jewish faith and a defender of Israel’s right to exist. It tells of the crack team of Israeli assassins who took blind revenge for the Palestinian act of terrorism during the 1972 Munich Olympics, how they gradually lost their humanity and plunged both sides into an uncomfortable moral grey area. It’s one of the rare Spielberg films that ends on a clearly bleak tone, without a glimmer of the silver lining the die-hard optimist usually inserts into the finales of even his toughest stories, a believer in humanity’s eventual appeal to their better nature, but Spielberg also recognizes that optimism must come with an understanding that cycles of violence only, eventually lead to destruction. Of course the simple application of a brave moral standing doesn’t automatically make for a great movie, but it’s also hard to deny how pulse-poundingly effective Munich is as an old-school political thriller. For proof, look to the tense sequence wherein the team tries to abort a bombing mission at the last second.—Oktay Ege Kozak

1. Raising Arizona

Year: 1987
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

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Understated dramatic performances are all well and good, but it takes pinpoint control on behalf of both directors and cast to deliver the sustained overstated performances found throughout Raising Arizona. From its opening courtship sequence to the struggles of H.I. (Nicholas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) to form a family by borrowing an “extra” from a family with a surplus to the final battle with the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, the Coen brothers’ film remains an immensely beguiling and quotable farcical fable. —Michael Burgin

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