The 41 best HBO original movies of all time, according to critics

HBOAngelina Jolie as model Gia Carangi in the HBO film ‘Gia.’

Decades before Netflix original films existed, HBO transformed the critical perception of what a “TV movie” could be.

For years, HBO cornered the market on quality original films for at-home consumption, routinely cranking out critically acclaimed documentaries and biopics or dramas with notable Hollywood names.

The cable network has had its fair share of misfires as well, including its most recent feature, a critically panned adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

But altogether, with biopics like “Gia,” starring Angelina Jolie as the heroin-addicted supermodel Gia Carangi, or Claire Danes’ role as the revolutionary autistic scientist “Temple Grandin,” HBO has produced many acclaimed films and performances since it released its first original movie, “The Deadly Game,” in 1982. And now thanks to on-demand streaming, if you are an HBO subscriber you can watch the whole back catalogue through either HBO Go or HBO Now.

To figure out which HBO original films are worth seeking out, we turned to the reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and compiled every HBO film that had above a 70% “fresh” rating on the site. We excluded HBO coproductions that were distributed in theatres by other studios.

Here are the 41 best HBO original movies of all time, according to critics:


41. “Barbarians at the Gate” (1993)

HBO

Critic score: 71%

Audience score: 73%

Summary:“CEO F. Ross Johnson has just been burned by a failed product and begins drawing up plans to buy the company outright so he’ll have no one to answer to but himself. Unfortunately for Johnson, his company is being coveted by a sharkish ‘buyout king.'”


40. “Hysterical Blindness” (2002)

HBO

Critic score: 73%

Audience score: 62%

Summary:“Two ageing single women in 1980s New Jersey enact a routine of deluded barroom romance.”


39. “The Wizard of Lies” (2017)

HBO

Critic score: 73%

Audience score: 63%

Summary:“In 2008, stockbroker, investment advisor and financier Bernie Madoff made headlines around the world when he was arrested for perpetrating perhaps the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.”


38. “Everyday People” (2004)

HBO

Critic score: 75%

Audience score: 37%

Summary:“A group of racially diverse New Yorkers rub elbows at a venerable Brooklyn diner that is about to close its doors.”


37. “Paterno” (2018)

HBO

Critic score: 75%

Audience score: 55%

Summary:“Centres on Penn State’s Joe Paterno (played by Al Pacino) in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.”


36. “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” (2004)

HBO

Critic score: 75%

Audience score: 72%

Summary: “The true story of the comedian who immortalised the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the ‘Pink Panther’ series. From his beginnings in show business as a variety performer to his ultimate success as a movie star, Peter Sellers was a man of many faces.”


35. “Lackawanna Blues” (2005)

HBO

Critic score: 75%

Audience score: 91%

Summary: “Based on the acclaimed autobiographical one-man show by Ruben Santiago, this warm and vibrant drama is an inspiring story of a mother and son’s love that transcends biological ties, and of an extraordinary woman who built a community and circumvented segregation in her own determined way.”


34. “Recount” (2008)

HBO

Critic score: 78%

Audience score: 81%

Summary:“The story of the 2000 presidential election of Geroge W. Bush and Al Gore, ‘Recount’ pulls back the veil on the headlines to explore the human drama surrounding the controversial Florida recount.”


33. “Angel Rodriguez” (2005)

HBO

Critic score: 80%

Audience score: 11%

Summary:“The story of a seventeen-year old boy living in New York City. Thrown out of his father’s house for his violent behaviour, he is just steps away from homelessness. His counselor at the youth center he attends reaches out to him, but her efforts may be too late to help.”


32. “Cheaters” (2000)

HBO

Critic score: 80%

Audience score: 60%

Summary:“About a group of high school students who, with the encouragement of a teacher, cheat in an academic decathlon to increase their odds against their cross-town rivals in the hopes of securing a better future.”


31. “The Jack Bull” (1999)

HBO

Critic score: 80%

Audience score: 74%

Summary:“John Cusack stars as honest Wyoming horse rancher Myrl Redding, who sacrifices it all in a quest for justice. When a land baron (L.Q. Jones) erects a tollgate to keep Redding’s horses from getting to market, he leaves behind two stallions in lieu of payment.”


30. “A Lesson Before Dying” (1999)

HBO

Critic score: 80%

Audience score: 76%

Summary: “Based on Ernest J Gaines’ best-selling novel, this film is set in late ’40’s rural town of Louisiana where a 21-year old plantation worker, Jefferson, is wrongly accused of killing a store owner.”


29. “Nightingale” (2015)

HBO

Critic score: 81%

Audience score: 60%

Summary: “David Oyelowo delivers a powerhouse performance as a troubled war veteran who comes unravelled … after admitting he has snapped and killed his mother.”


28. “Confirmation” (2016)

HBO

Critic score: 81%

Audience score: 74%

Summary: “Pulls back the curtain on the explosive 1991 Supreme Court nomination hearings of Clarence Thomas–a man whose nomination came under fire when a former employee, Anita Hill, accused him of sexual harassment.”


27. “61*” (2001)

HBO

Critic score: 81%

Audience score: 90%

Summary:“In 1927, Babe Ruth made baseball history by batting 60 home runs in a single season. But in the summer of ’61, New York Yankee Roger Maris and fellow swinger and friend Mickey Mantle are hoping to beat that untouchable record and etch their names in the baseball hall of fame.”


26. “Beware the Slenderman” (2016)

HBO

Critic score: 82%

Audience score: 51%

Summary: “Two 12-year-old American girls lured a friend into the Wisconsin woods and stabbed her 19 times in an effort to appease a faceless mythical entity known online as Slenderman. … Delving deep into this shocking crime, the sobering documentary examines how an urban myth could take root in impressionable young minds, leading to an unspeakable act.”


25. “Winchell” (1998)

HBO

Critic score: 83%

Audience score: 67%

Summary:“This biographical drama from HBO recounts the rise and fall of Walter Winchell, a gossip columnist and reporter who changed the face of news reporting.”


24. “The Gathering Storm” (2002)

HBO

Critic score: 83%

Audience score: 81%

Summary: “Winston Churchill has theories that see a Nazi invasion of Europe. Delving into the mind of mass murderer, Adolf Hitler, he predicts the coming of the Second World War. The trouble is, no one believes him.”


23. “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” (1999)

HBO

Critic score: 83%

Audience score: 82%

Summary: “Based on an autobiography of Dorothy Dandridge — the first African-American woman to win a Best Actress nomination in 1954 for her role in ‘Carmen Jones.'”


22. “The Special Relationship” (2010)

HBO

Critic score: 86%

Audience score: 63%

Summary: “A behind-the-scenes look at the unique and sometimes turbulent political relationship between newly-installed British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton as the two dynamic leaders become co-stars on the world stage.”


21. “Citizen X” (1995)

HBO

Critic score: 86%

Audience score: 86%

Summary:“What happens when a bloodthirsty, death-by-numbers John Doe stalks the Soviet streets taking out innocent young drifters? A slow, bureaucratic investigation that in itself is murder.”


20. “If These Walls Could Talk” (1996)

HBO

Critic score: 88%

Audience score: 73%

Summary:“Covering 40 years, this anthology is about three disparate women coping with unexpected pregnancies.”


19. “Truman” (1995)

HBO

Critic score: 88%

Audience score: 74%

Summary:“Tells the story of American President Harry S.Truman and his role in the second World War. Gary Sinese stars in the title role of this biographical account.”


18. “The Tuskegee Airman” (1995)

HBO

Critic score: 88%

Audience score: 78%

Summary:“During the Second World War, a special project is begun by the US Army Air Corps to integrate African American pilots into the Fighter Pilot Program. Known as the Tuskegee Airman for the name of the airbase at which they were trained, these men were forced to constantly endure harassement, prejudice, and much behind the scenes politics.”


17. “All the Way” (2016)

HBO

Critic score: 88%

Audience score: 83%

Summary:“A riveting behind-the scenes look at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s tumultuous first year in office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Staking his presidency on what would be an historic unprecedented Civil Rights Act, Johnson finds himself caught between the moral imperative of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the expectations of the southern Democratic Party leaders who brought Johnson to power.”


16. “Live from Baghdad” (2002)

HBO

Critic score: 88%

Audience score: 84%

Summary: “Based on a true story. Brash CNN producer, Robert Wiener, and his resourceful team make and report history during the onset of the 1991 Gulf War.”


15. “Bessie” (2015)

HBO

Critic score: 89%

Audience score: 67%

Summary:“Queen Latifah stars as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith in this HBO Films presentation, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Dee Rees from a screenplay by Dee Rees and Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois.”


14. “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mum” (1993)

HBO

Critic score: 90%

Audience score: 47%

Summary: “Wanda and Verna both want their daughters to join the high school cheerleading team. Since Verna’s child seems more likely to win, Wanda plans to distract the child by murdering Verna!”


13. “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010)

HBO

Critic score: 91%

Audience score: 83%

Summary:“Former pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian begins offering ‘death counseling’ services to a grateful and burgeoning clientele, earning the support of Hemlock Society activist Janet Good – and the wrath of the county prosecutor’s office.”


12. “The Laramie Project” (2002)

HBO

Critic score: 92%

Audience score: 80%

Summary: “What happens to an American town when a terrible crime rips it apart and thrusts it into the national spotlight? That is the question that led a New York City theatre troupe to the town of Laramie, Wyoming, to seek out residents whose lives were changed after a gay college student named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead off a rural road.”


11. “Gia” (1998)

HBO

Critic score: 92%

Audience score: 82%

Summary:“Angelina Jolie stars in this drama based on the tragic true story of Gia Carangi, the supermodel who dominated the international fashion scene of the late ’70s until her drug-fuelled lifestyle and unhappiness caught up with her.”


10. “RKO 281” (1999)

HBO

Critic score: 93%

Audience score: 75%

Summary:“After touching gold on Broadway and radio, 24-year old wunderkind Orson Wells (Liev Schreiber) takes to Tinstletown to make his first and greatest film – Citizen Kane, originally known as studio production RKO 281.”


9. “The Normal Heart” (2014)

HBO

Critic score: 94%

Audience score: 87%

Summary:“To win a war, you have to start one. At the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s, gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic to a city and nation in denial.”


8. “Behind the Candelabra” (2013)

HBO

Critic score: 95%

Audience score: 71%

Summary:“Before Elvis, before Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Liberace: virtuoso pianist, outrageous entertainer and flamboyant star of stage and television. In summer 1977, handsome young stranger Scott Thorson walked into his dressing room and, despite their age difference and seemingly different worlds, the two embarked on a secretive five-year love affair.”


7. “The Crash Reel” (2013)

HBO

Critic score: 96%

Audience score: 94%

Summary:“In 2009, American snowboarding champion Kevin Pearce was enjoying the most successful competitive season of his career, winning several events and challenging the dominance of his friend-turned-rival, the legendary Shaun White.”


6. “The Tale” (2018)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: TBD

Summary:“Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) faces a host of life-altering questions after a short story from her middle school days forces her to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.”


5. “Normal” (2003)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 75%

Summary:“After 25 years of marriage, Roy Applewood (Tom Wilkinson) surprises his wife, Irma (Jessica Lange), by announcing that he’d rather be a woman, and in fact has felt like a woman for most of his adult life.”


4. “Grey Gardens” (2009)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 78%

Summary:“In 1973, filmmakers Albert and David Maysles entered the strange world of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, two charming eccentrics who were relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Thirty-five years later, using the documentary as a framework, director-writer Michael Sucsy’s original story for ‘Grey Gardens’offers a wry, behind-the-scenes look at the Beales and their unique mother-daughter bond.”


3. “Longford” (2007)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 85%

Summary:“Profiles one of the 20th Century’s most unusual and magnetic public personalities: Frank Aungier Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford.”


2. “And the Band Played On” (1993)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 88%

Summary:“Matthew Modine stars in this medical thriller as a young doctor tracking a deadly epidemic halfway around the world and across two continents – and whose work is thwarted at every turn by fear, official indifference and bitter medical rivalries.”


1. “Temple Grandin” (2010)

HBO

Critic score: 100%

Audience score: 94%

Summary:“Autism gave her a vision. She gave it a voice. ‘Temple Grandin’ follows a young woman’s perseverance and determination while struggling with the isolating challenges of autism at a time when it was still unknown. The film chronicles Temple Grandin’s early diagnosis, turbulent growth and development – and emergence as a woman with an innate sensitivity and understanding of animal behaviour.”

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