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It's probably the understatement of the millennia, but 2021 has been a weird, sometimes fascinating year for film. But! It was also a great time if you decided to skip movie theaters for streaming (aka, your couch) and an unprecedented opportunity to watch new movies the second they came out. A whole bunch of those movies came out on HBO Max: The premiere streaming service usually has some highly anticipated releases, and this year was no exception. Warner Bros. decided to put its biggest hits on HBO Max, sometimes simultaneously, and that made us movie-lovers very, very happy. But some of the big releases (like The Suicide Squad) subsequently left, so which ones are still around for your viewing pleasure—and which ones should you prioritize? I'm 100 percent here for you, dw.
From absolutely can't-miss documentaries to the best damn action movie around (I'm talking about Godzilla vs. Kong, obv, which one did you think I meant?) to the first Dune movie, you've got a ton of very bingeable content at your fingertips. Obviously, we've got some classic movies on here, but there are also a few surprises that you might have missed when they were initially released. And, since the holidays mean a ton of family gatherings and time off, you couldn't have picked a better time to make an HBO Max movie watchlist. In order of release date, here's a look back at a very good year for streaming films—and 2021's not even over yet, so stay tuned.
Judas and the Black Messiah
This is based on a true story about Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton and the man who betrayed him. LaKeith Stanfield (who plays the FBI informant, William O'Neal) and Daniel Kaluuya (Hampton) have never been better, which is a perfect reason to catch up if you haven't seen it. But it's also an important watch, so seek it out before the year is over.
Zack Snyder's Justice League
Woof, this movie had a rough couple of years (relatable!!). And this version of the superhero film is...superlong at four hours. But that makes it the perf streaming movie because you can have it on while doing other things. Plus, it's apparently way better than the original theatrical release. Before you watch, catch up on all the off-screen drama so you can see how this movie came about.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Even though you might have skipped this when it came out ("Another Kong movie? No thx," I hear you saying), this one is actually a wildly fun time. Unlike some of those other creature features, the movie just kinda sits back and lets the monsters fight it out while we watch. It's very fun and surprisingly funny, TBH. Spoilers at this link, but one of our entertainment writers can tell you who won and why you should still watch.
With a whole bunch of never-before-seen content, it's the legendary superstar at her most vulnerable as she heads into retirement and breaks all of our hearts. The heartbreaking-then-uplifting story will prob make you cry a whole bunch, but also, that music! That voice! That triumph after so much struggle! You must watch it if you love Tina, her music, or happiness.
Those Who Wish Me Dead
This made our best movies-based-on-books list, even though, *kinda spoiler alert*, the movie takes a pretty hard left turn away from Michael Koryta's novel. A young boy witnesses a murder, two very scary hitmen come after him, and a smokejumper firefighter (Angelina Jolie, back starring in movies in person!) tries to help him survive. It's for sure a straight action movie, but still an effective one!
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
K, yes, this pick requires you to like horror films. But the Conjuringverse has given us a ton of satisfyingly terrifying content, and the third Conjuring installment with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga is no exception. The true story of the Warrens is up for debate—after all, you know, some people think they made everything up!—but if you like to snuggle up and sit through some jump scares, you could do way worse.
In the Heights
If you never had the fun of watching Lin-Manuel Miranda's pre-Hamilton Broadway hit, now's the time to fall in love. Director Jon M. Chu took the gorge source material, shot a bunch of scenes in New York City, and made the whole thing a love letter to the characters. Featuring a bunch of up-and-comers as well as some familiar faces (hey Jimmy Smits!!), it'll put you in a good mood for a week.
No Sudden Move
The latest from Steven Soderbergh channels a classic crime thriller with Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, sooooo have I sold you on it yet? If not, check out the plot: Two criminals are hired to steal a document, it goes really badly, and a secrets-betrayal plot ensues! There are a bunch of cameos and a couple of intriguing twists, so grab the popcorn and settle in.
The Price of Freedom
A revealing look at the price of gun violence and the evolution of the NRA, this award-winning film (that will prob get an Oscar nod, tbh) will shock you even if you think you know a lot about the subject. It's got a lot to say about gun culture in America and all the terrible consequences it has. Considering what's at stake, it's a tough but essential watch.
It's got a gorgeous and v talented cast. It's wildly inventive and stunning. It's already got a sequel lined up (yay Dune: Part 2!). This was probably the most anticipated movie on this list, and the COVID-19 delays only made people more excited. Mildly spoilery note: Maybe keep your expectations low if you were hoping this movie would feature Zendaya heavily, and put it in your calendar to watch her in the second one when it comes out.
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