Streaming services are all the rage at the moment, but as more and more new streaming services launch, the movies and TV shows we most hold dear appear to be spreading thinner and thinner. Over the last 12 months or so, we’ve seen the launch of a number of proprietary streaming services that aim to rival the established brands like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and with those launches various films and shows have moved off “the big 3” to these new streaming services.
Of course Disney+ launched last year, and its whole thing is basically being a one-stop shop for anything and everything Disney-related. On brand and smart for the family marketplace. And most recently NBCUniversal launched Peacock, which offers a free and paid option as well as various iconic NBC shows – and it’ll be the exclusive streaming home of The Office, one of the most rewatched shows in history, starting in 2021.
This year also saw the launch of HBO Max from WarnerMedia, which as its name suggests includes every HBO program known to man along with a bunch of Warner Bros. titles. But HBO Max also quietly has one of the best film libraries of any streaming service – yes, better than Netflix or Amazon or Hulu.
I’d like to stress at this point that this article is not a sponsored post. I genuinely think HBO Max lowkey has one of the best film libraries in all of streaming and I take advantage of it often. And it’s a little strange that people aren’t talking about it more!
One growing trend we saw with the rise of Netflix as a giant in the content space was the streamer’s change of focus. When Netflix first launched, it relied on its library of movies and shows – both old and newer release – to keep people engaged. But as it grew out its original content, first in TV and over the past couple years in film, Netflix has really narrowed down its library selection and focused more on highlighting its originals. It’s almost impossible to find more than two or three movies made before the year 1985 on the streamer, and even then the library of titles available is a mix of constantly in-and-out rotations and some hidden gems here and there.
HBO Max, however, has the best classic film selection in the streaming realm aside from the Criterion Channel, but also has a host of genuinely great new releases, beloved films from the 2000s and 90s, animated titles, and more.
HBO Max’s partnership with Turner Classic Movies has brought in a bevy of genuinely great classic films like The 400 Blows, Citizen Kane, Top Hat, The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Seven Samurai, and Klute – films that are not only iconic in their own right, but essential to the education of any burgeoning cinephile. Films like these are few and far between on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu – a fact that serious film lovers have been decrying for years — so their ready availability on HBO Max is a welcome change of pace. And a necessary one – if young film fans don’t have something like Criterion Channel but do have HBO Max, the ability to check out something like North by Northwest right alongside something like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an entry-point to expanding one’s film horizons.
But HBO Max isn’t only classic film. It’s also just got a wonderfully diverse (and robust) selection of great movies full-stop. Comedies like Dumb and Dumber, Raising Arizona and Bridesmaids; dramas like La La Land, Saving Private Ryan, and The Assassination of Jesse James; thrillers like Die Hard, The Fugitive, and The Road Warrior. Blockbusters too: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter films (for now), X-Men: First Class and the Alien movies are all available, and of course Warner Bros.’ robust library of DC movies keeps a hearty rotation of Batman and Superman movies in rotation, as well as some of the lesser-beloved titles that remain curiosities like Green Lantern or X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
And while Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have had some really great originals (watch Palm Springs on Hulu ASAP), the new release library on HBO Max is pretty unparalleled. Of course, because this library pulls from titles that are premiering on HBO the window of availability is sometimes shorter, but you’re not gonna find Joker or Ford v Ferrari or Doctor Sleep on another streaming service for a good while. And they’re all on HBO Max right now.
And of course the family film selection is swell also, from the entire library of Studio Ghibli movies to films like The LEGO Movie to Babe to the Home Alone series (though I don’t know why anyone would watch past Lost in New York).
This is all to say nothing of HBO Max’s TV lineup, which as previously mentioned includes all of HBO’s programming which on the whole is pretty darn fantastic. Of course, the big hitch in HBO Max’s step right now is that it’s not compatible with Roku or Amazon Fire Stick yet, which many people use to watch all their things. And that’s a problem! But pound-for-pound, I’m hard-pressed to find a better library selection of movies out there right now.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia in me, but HBO Max feels like the closest thing to a Blockbuster that we’ve had since the early days of Netflix. Browsing the titles doesn’t just bring up a bunch of random VOD movies or original films that were created using an algorithm (ahem). It’s full of “real” movies for lack of a better word – films you loved as a kid, films you return to all the time, new releases you’ve been meaning to check out, and classics that help further an appreciation of cinema.
I still maintain physical media is the king of home content – licensing deals mean library availability is unpredictable, and you’ll never own anything you watch on Netflix or HBO Max. But in terms of streaming services that offer a selection of movies you don’t own but still want to watch (or rewatch) regularly, HBO Max is tops.