If you ask someone for their favourite HBO show, chances are they’ll know what you’re talking about. Even though the storied cable network doesn’t operate in the UK, their reputation for producing great serialised TV is unparalleled. Since they started producing hour-long dramas in the 1990s, they’ve pumped out ground-breaking shows one after another.
The Sopranos is widely considered to be one of the finest shows ever made, telling the story of a New Jersey mobster and his family (both literal and figurative). More recently, Game of Thrones has become an international phenomenon despite its 18-certificate nudity and violence. Factor in shows like The Wire, Six Feet Under and Band of Brothers and you’ll see how HBO has earned its unparalleled reputation for quality.
But if there’s one part of the HBO back-catalogue that UK audiences might not be so familiar with, it’s their library of acclaimed movies. Specialising in true stories, HBO Films has won hundreds of Emmys over the past few decades, courting the services of film stars who wouldn’t otherwise work in television.
If you’re a fan of their TV series, you’re going to love their feature length films. Here are just a few of our favourites:
1. Temple Grandin (2010)
Before she returned to the public spotlight with her current role on TV’s Homeland, Claire Danes won an Emmy for her lead performance in this 2010 biography. She plays Temple Grandin, a woman born with severe autism who overcame prejudice and disability to become a college professor. Credited with revolutionising both the welfare of livestock and the treatment of autism, Grandin’s story is nothing short of inspiring.
2. Too Big to Fail (2011)
The story of the 2009 financial crash, centring on US treasury secretary Henry Paulson (Oscar-winner William Hurt). While you might not think a film about ‘toxic debt’ starring characters like ‘Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’ would be your cup of tea, writer Peter Gould (of Breaking Bad) and director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential) turn this fiscal drama into a Shakespearean battle of wills. The cast is overloaded with great actors the likes of Paul Giamatti, Bill Pullman and Ed Asner, making this a must-see for film fans and inquisitive minds alike.
3. Gia (1998)
As a serious actress, Angelina Jolie’s breakout role came in this 1998 film about the life of Gia Carangi, the woman often described as ‘America’s first supermodel’. Chronicling her rise into the world of fashion and her descent into drugs hell, Jolie displays the charisma and beauty that would go on to make her one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Watch out for an early appearance from a 14 year-old Mila Kunis playing young Gia!
4. Grey Gardens (2009)
Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore play the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy. A deeply eccentric mother/daughter combo, they live in a dilapidated mansion and even share the same name: Edith Bouvier Beale. Their life story plays out like some Bizarro-version of Keeping Up Appearances as the pair of them maintain their posh New England airs amongst the domestic squalor. Based in part on a 1975 documentary of the same name, this film takes a wider look at how this American family went from riches to rags.
5. Phil Spector (2013)
Hoo-ha! Al Pacino brings his big acting skills to his portrayal of controversial music producer Phil Spector. Starring Helen Mirren as his defence attorney, the film centres on Spector’s two trials for the murder of an actress in 2003. While music aficionados may have preferred to see a film about his collaboration with The Beatles, they’ll have to make do with these performances from two top-notch actors. Premiering earlier this year, this film was written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet of Glengarry Glen Ross fame.
6. Recount (2008)
Set in the aftermath of the 2000 US presidential election, this political drama focuses specifically on Republican politician Katherine Harris (played here by Laura Dern). As Secretary of State for Florida at the time, she was responsible for purging a disproportional amount of eligible African-American voters from the election. In addition, her efforts to hamper the recount post-election have been cited as a defining moment that may have won the presidency for George W Bush. Co-starring Kevin Spacey, this film will completely infuriate anyone who’s ever been frustrated by the state of modern democratic. This one’s a cracker.
7. You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
Oh, HBO Films! With all this Pacino, you really are spoiling us! Directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) this tells the story of Jack Kevorkian, the controversial American doctor who made headlines as an advocate of physician-assisted suicide. Detailing his work with terminal patients, Levinson deftly navigates the moral and legal minefield surrounding Kevorkian’s life. Pacino won an Emmy for his performance as the so-called ‘Dr Death’ in this funny and thought-provoking film.
For more great choices, go ahead and check out our HBO Films Collection