The ever-multiplying streaming platforms have brought with them a confusing tangle of rights issues for countless movies and shows. Tracking what’s streaming and what isn’t at any given time can be a daunting task. With studios pulling back the rights to their most famous properties to launch their own unique streaming platforms, outlets like Hulu and Netflix are prioritizing their premium original content more than ever before. Outlets like the Criterion Channel cater specifically to underseen classics, but these can be a bit harder to find on more mainstream platforms. HBO Max has the deep library of Warner Bros. to draw from, but it also has much more to offer. Some of the greatest movies ever made are available to stream right at your fingertips – if you know where to look.
To that end, here are ten classic movies now available on HBO Max.
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
The first of many of Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman‘s films to be set on the island of Fårö, Through a Glass Darkly follows the schizophrenic Karin (Harriet Andersson), and her relationship with her family. Taking place over the course of twenty-four hours, Karin arrives home with her doctor husband, Martin (Max Von Sydow), who gives her father, David (Gunnar Björnstrand), a grim prognosis of her condition. Meanwhile, Karin becomes fixated on her younger brother, to the point of teasing and then seducing him.
Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Persona, and The Seventh Seal are more famous, but this one is an underrated gem. Intimate and disturbing, Through a Glass Darkly examines the nature of perception and attachment, and ends on a hopeful note that Bergman did not often allow.
Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris in 2002 with George Clooney, but the dream-like atmosphere of Russian genius Andrei Tarkovsky‘s original cannot be replicated. Psychiatrist Kris Kelvin journeys to a space station orbiting the remote planet, Solaris, which seems to be responding to the station’s probes with some of its own. Kelvin’s dead wife appears as an intelligent duplicate, lacking only her memories.
The Soderbergh remake streamlines the story but ignores Tarkovsky’s deliberately slow, meditative style. A lot of backstory and side plots are missing from the remake, and with them, the extra texture that makes the original Solaris so immersive. Tarkovsky designed his films as experiences that are meant to take the viewer out of the stream of their lives and slow down enough to internalize the story in front of them. Both versions of Solaris examine the effects of grief, but the original sinks in much slower, taking its time, reflecting the way in which such heavy and complex emotions affect us in our daily lives.
The Japanese master Akira Kurosawa is famous for epics like Ran, The Seven Samurai, and Rashomon, but Ikiru (“to live”) is a very different kind of film. Ikiru focuses on Mr. Watanabe, who has been a bureaucrat in Tokyo City Hall for the past thirty years. He has barely lived a life at all, but when he learns he has cancer, he is finally inspired to have the life experiences he has spent years avoiding.
Ikiru‘s stakes are intensely personal. After a series of misadventures, Mr. Watanabe learns that a group of citizens keep getting the bureaucratic runaround as they simply try to seal up an open sewage cesspool and build a children’s playground. Mr. Watanabe takes up this mission. This is just a plot summary, and cannot replicate the profound experience of watching a man wake up from a long, waking slumber to look at, and come to adore, the life around him.
The famous quote “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” is popularly attributed to French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, but he insisted the phrase wasn’t his. It still stuck, becoming shorthand both for what movies can offer, and what audiences expect. Godard simultaneously delivers and shreds these expectations with Breathless.
A wandering small-time hood named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) styles himself after Humphrey Bogart. After he steals a car and then shoots a police officer, he goes on the run and eventually hooks up with an American student, Patricia (Jean Seberg). Godard never tries to hide or improve the generic plot, instead, he uses techniques like jump cuts and fourth-wall-breaking to challenge the audience. When Michel talks directly to the camera, he suddenly makes the viewer complicit in his aimless crimes. Is Godard asking us why we’re even watching?
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
François Truffaut followed up his instant-classic debut, The 400 Blows, with this 1960 gangster film. He throws everything he loves about American genre pictures into Shoot the Piano Player: crime melodrama, slapstick, singalong musical numbers, and references to directors like Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause) and Samuel Fuller (The Big Red One).
He fuses these with French New Wave techniques like jump cuts and extended almost self-aware voiceovers. The plot (such as it is) follows Charlie, a down-and-out piano player on the run from his tragic past. Truffaut cared mostly about crafting an entertaining batch of scenes that, in terms of style, mark a 180-degree turn away from the gritty realism of The 400 Blows. Like Martin Scorsese (a major fan of the Frenchman), Truffaut embraces the artifice of film, finding power and an ironic earnestness even when he’s reminding viewers that we’re watching a movie.
Belle de Jour (1967)
Directed by Luis Buñuel, Belle de Jour stars Catherine Deneuve as Severine, a sexually repressed housewife who routinely retreats into elaborate fantasies to deal with her unfulfilling marriage. When she begins living a double life as a high-class prostitute, she is able to fulfill her sexual appetites. As the Belle de Jour (“woman of the day”) of the high-end brothel run by the demanding Madame Anais (Geneviève Page), Severine’s disconnect between her fantasy life and her home life seems to slowly recover.
Violence erupts when both lives collide, and the ambiguous ending leaves the audience questioning what was real and what wasn’t. It wouldn’t be a Buñuel film without a touch of the surreal, but Belle de Jour’s ending challenges the audience to rethink their own relationships with daydreaming: Can you tell where life ends and a daydream begins?
La Strada (1954)
Before Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2 made him a legend, La Strada merely lionized him as a master Italian director. Traveling circus strongman, Zampanó (Anthony Quinn), buys the apparently simple-minded Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) from her impoverished mother, and she joins him in his act. An abusive brute, Zampanó drags Gelsomina across the Italian countryside, finding an audience wherever they go. He’s the worst type of boss, but she is either too sweet or too simple to wander away for long.
With its episodic structure, La Strada inspired a particular sub-genre of episodic road movies. By the end, Zampanó and Gelsomina have formed a bond neither can fully acknowledge nor understand. The term “Felliniesque” refers to this kind of tragic lack of self-awareness in his characters: they reject what they could have in another person in pursuit of something unattainable in the larger world that they cannot articulate.
“A legend is entitled to be beyond time and space. Interpret it as you will…” Written and directed by the French poet, Jean Cocteau (a friend and collaborator of fellow Surrealists Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel), Orpheus transplants the Greek myth to 1950s Paris. A poet named Orphée (Jean Marais) gains passage into the underworld, where he unexpectedly ends up in a bizarre love triangle (or perhaps even quadrangle) between himself, his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa), and the Princess (María Casare), who reveals herself to be Death.
Cocteau was also a musician, novelist, playwright, and visual artist, whose highly imaginative 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most influential versions of the fairy tale. His Orpheus features simple, convincing effects to track Orphée’s journeys to the underworld as the film explores the age-old dilemma of what an artist will sacrifice to see their work fully realized.
Black Narcissus (1947)
The directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made some of the greatest films of all time and were at the peak of their powers with 1947’s Black Narcissus. A group of nuns led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) set up a convent high in the Himalayas, but find themselves tempted by the presence of the dashing Mr. Dean, the English agent for the general controlling the territory.
Black Narcissus slowly gathers into a powerful examination of desire, temptation, and loss. Modern audiences will rightfully take issue with whitewashed casting, such as Jean Simmons as the Indian girl, Kanchi. This was the norm during this era, unfortunately. Still, the performances stand out, especially Kerr as the tougher-than-she-seems Clodagh, as does Jack Cardiff’s vibrant, Oscar-winning cinematography.
Le Samouraï (1967)
French star Alain Delon plays Jef Costello, a hired killer. In his fedora and trenchcoat, with his gun and cigarette, he is every inch the classic film noir anti-hero. Director Jean-Pierre Melville follows Costello as he sets up an alibi before killing a nightclub owner, then makes it through a police line-up only to be betrayed by his bosses. The plot of Le Samouraï is assembled from any number of genre pictures, but Melville examines Costello’s life in the type of cold, detached detail you might find in a David Cronenberg film.
The title itself references a fictitious “Book of Bushido”, a collection of samurai codes that Melville made up for the film. Like Truffaut or Godard, Melville examines one of the most American of film genres through an almost impressionist lens. As Costello, Delon rarely betrays much in the way of emotion, even in the face of life-threatening events. Le Samourai becomes more than a crime thriller potboiler as it examines a life of solitude and danger.