The 50 Best Movies on Paramount+

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible.
Photo: Moviestore/Shutterstock

This post will be updated frequently as movies enter and leave the service. New titles are indicated with an asterisk.

On March 4, 2021, CBS All Access rebranded with the name Paramount+, reflecting the history of the legendary film and TV company with that nifty little mathematical sign that all the streaming companies seem to love these days. The name Paramount brings a deep catalogue of feature films, and the streaming service also includes titles from the Miramax and MGM libraries. They have additionally promised a more robust original selection than at launch, which includes the long-delayed SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.

For now, Paramount+ can’t compare to the depth of a catalogue like HBO Max’s or the award-winning original works at other streamers, but it has a solid library with at least 40 films you should see.

One of the best documentaries of the last couple years is also one of the least seen, so it’s great that a service like Paramount+ can bring it to a wider audience. Premiering at Tribeca in 2019, this is the story of the Sanford family, a clan in northern D.C. who filmed themselves over 20 years. The title comes from the family’s proximity to the White House, even though their lives couldn’t be more different from the people who live there.

Eddie Murphy made his big-screen debut in this successful 1982 buddy cop comedy/action movie directed by the great Walter Hill. Murphy plays a convict who teams up with Nick Nolte’s irascible cop to catch a pair of cop killers. Some of this one is very dated but it’s also a great reminder of how much Murphy had that perfect comedy timing for film right from the very beginning. (The sequel is also available on Paramount+).

When it was released in 2001, audiences were divided over Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project started by Stanley Kubrick about the nature of human existence. History has come around to recognize it as a visually daring, often brilliant film. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, an android child who learns about the meaning of life and human nature. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious piece of work that you should revisit if you haven’t seen it since it came out.

Cameron Crowe wrote and directed this 2000 masterpiece about a young man (Patrick Fugit) who ends up on tour with a rock band known as Stillwater. With incredible supporting performances from Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this is one of the richest films of its era.

It’s hard to overstate how much Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s romantic comedy took over pop culture in 2001, becoming such an international hit that it grossed over $170 million worldwide and was nominated for Best Picture. The delightful Audrey Tautou stars as the title character, a waitress who works to better the lives of those around her but struggles to find her own happiness.

Incredibly controversial when it was released, Alan Parker’s 1987 thriller has aged very well thanks in large part to great performances from Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a private investigator who is hired to solve a disappearance that leads him to New Orleans at the behest of a devilish man named Louis Cypher (Get it!?!?). Explicitly sexual and violent, it’s the kind of movie for adults that doesn’t get made anymore.

Before Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu directed this highly acclaimed Oscar nominee in 2006 about intersecting lives in a moving narrative that takes place around the world. The remarkable ensemble includes Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Adriana Barraza, and Rinko Kikuchi.

After his failed attempt to go mainstream in Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong and found fame bigger than he could have imagined in a string of films that started with 1971’s The Big Boss. Directed by Lo Wei, it makes perfect use of Lee’s athleticism and charisma in the story of a young man who crosses paths with a crime lord. Guess who wins?

Co-directed by two men known mostly for their acting — Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci — Big Night is a tender movie about a pair of Italian brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) who own a restaurant in ’50s New York. As they struggle to keep it afloat, Big Night becomes a heartfelt movie about the immigrant experience and the American Dream.

Long before he played Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. notched his first Oscar nomination for Chaplin, the 1992 biopic of the life of one of the most influential movie stars of all time, Charlie Chaplin. Another legend, Richard Attenborough, directed what turned out to be a legitimately great performance from RDJ.

In between the first two Godfather movies, Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed a drama that’s arguably even better (yes, we said it), a stunning story of a surveillance expert who believes he has uncovered a murder plot. Gene Hackman leads an incredible cast in a film that’s about paranoia, privacy, and power. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to, well, The Godfather Part II.

Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman star in an excellent action film from director Tony Scott about conflict on a nuclear submarine. Hackman plays the veteran and Washington the new executive officer who questions orders to launch their missiles. The two master actors are perfectly cast in one of the smartest action flicks of the ‘90s.

There was a time, young readers, when Eddie Murphy was the biggest stand-up comedian in the world. He is one of the few in history whose stand-up comedy was so incredible that a recording of it could turn into a blockbuster comedy. Take this film, which is the highest-grossing stand-up-comedy concert movie of all time and one of the funniest that will ever be made.

There are rumors that a remake of this John Woo classic is on the horizon, so you owe it to yourself to go back and see the very high standard that project will have to meet. This is one of the best action movies of the ‘90s, a wonderfully staged blockbuster by one of the genre’s best filmmakers. And John Travolta and Nicolas Cage were near the peaks of their screen charismas as an FBI agent and terrorist who end up, well, switching faces. It’s a blast.

One of the most popular comedies of its era turned its title character into a household name. The pitch is so beautifully simple: the most popular kid in high school takes the day off and gets into trouble in Chicago while driving his sister and principal insane. Great physical sequences mix with a very hip ‘80s sensibility to create a classic comedy that could be a hit if it came out today.

Jiayan Shi directed and produced this heartbreaking documentary about the disappearance and death of Yingying Zhang in 2017. Shi has unique access to the story in that she knew Yingying, and so her film has an incredible you-are-there quality as Shi captures the investigation and grief that would emerge from this horrific crime. Paramount+ deserves credit for bringing smaller projects like this to their subscribers, ones that other major streamers might ignore.

Largely ignored by audiences, this critical darling took some time to find viewers, and it’s possible it slipped under your radar. This is a fantastic 1994 drama about a young man named Fresh (Sean Nelson), who ends up running drugs for gangsters, including one played memorably by the great Giancarlo Esposito. Samuel L. Jackson is excellent as Fresh’s alcoholic father, who also happens to be a chess master.

Todd Field’s drama is the kind of adult-driven film that doesn’t get made as often as it used to, featuring incredible performances from its Oscar-nominated cast. In particular, Sissy Spacek does some of the best work of her career as a mother dealing with an unimaginable tragedy. Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei are also stellar — all three actors earned Oscar nominations, along with the film landing one for Best Picture.

The entire franchise featuring one of the world’s most famous action heroes is finally back on Paramount+, including the divisive fourth and final (for now) chapter. Of course, the first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, remains the best of the bunch but there’s some value and fun in Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade too (and even parts of Crystal Skull. Yeah, we said it).

No one else makes movies like Christopher Nolan, a man who took his superhero success and used it to get gigantic budgets to bring his wildest dreams to the big screen. Who else could make this sprawling, emotional, complicated film about an astronaut (Matthew McConaughey) searching for a new home for humanity? It’s divisive among some Nolan fans for its deep emotions, but those who love it really love it.

There’s a reason this tale of people taken over by an alien invasion has been remade again and again. The ’70s version remains the best, but the 1956 original is definitely worth a look, a taut and smart sci-fi action movie from the great Don Siegel. Adapted from the 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, no one involved could have guessed how much this movie would change the genre forever.

F. Gary Gray directed this remake of the 1969 action-movie classic and really made the most of his incredibly charismatic cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Ed Norton, Jason Statham, and Donald Sutherland. The truth is that this remake has little to do with the original film, focusing more on a planned heist to steal gold than the vehicle-based caper of the first movie. It’s well-shot and the stunt work is strong, giving action fans what they need in a streaming library thin on this particular genre.

Believe it or not, they’re currently making a fourth Jackass film right now, but you can watch the whole series exclusively on Paramount+ right now. (That includes even the “alternate” ones, like Jackass 3.5). Go back to the heyday of Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, and the rest of the dangerous idiots. These movies are often derided as being dumb but they’re a glorious, infectious kind of dumb that wants nothing more than to make you laugh.

It wouldn’t be a streaming service without a Quentin Tarantino movie or two, and HBO Max has one of the Oscar winner’s best in this adaptation of the Elmore Leonard book. The only time that Tarantino explicitly worked from someone else’s material results in a film that beautifully blends both his and Leonard’s voices, anchored by great performances from Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Looking for a good thriller that history has kind of forgotten? Check out this 1992 mystery starring Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, and John Malkovich. Garcia plays a detective who discovers that a serial killer is terrorizing blind women in the area around San Diego, which leads him to cross paths with Thurman’s blind music student. It’s a little hacky at times but has a great cast.

He may have won awards for Green Book, but Peter Farrelly’s best film remains this 1996 comedy starring Woody Harrelson as a grifting bowler and Randy Quaid as the Amish prodigy he exploits and then befriends. All you need to know about this movie is that it’s laugh-out-loud funny from beginning to end and also features one of Bill Murray’s best supporting performances.

Director Brad Silberling adapted the massively successful Lemony Snicket books by Daniel Handler, taking the first three novels and combining them for this 2004 smash hit. Jim Carrey plays the villainous Count Olaf, who obtains legal custody of two children named Violet and Klaus, along with their baby sister, in an effort to steal their fortune. This is darker and more creative than family entertainment is often allowed to be.

Over four decades after the wildly influential original film, Jonathan Demme returned to the Richard Condon 1959 novel and delivered a movie that was widely underrated. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, and Liev Schreiber star in the 2004 story of a sleeper agent, a film that played a lot differently in a scary post-9/11 world.

One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is his adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime that he has no intent of committing in a fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted. It’s timely and probably always will be.

The whole series is finally here! For some reason, parts 1 to 3 and parts 4 to 6 have alternated residence on a lot of streaming services, but Paramount+ currently hosts the entire thing from De Palma’s first movie to Fallout. While we wait for Mission: Impossible 7, revisit the whole arc of the saga of Ethan Hunt to date.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau changed comedy history with this film adaptation of the massive-hit 1965 play by Neil Simon about two divorced men trying to navigate the next chapter of their lives. Lemmon and Matthau defined these character types in comedy with Lemmon capturing the neat freak Felix Unger and Matthau embodying the roommate who drives him crazy, Oscar Madison.

History has been a little cruel to this 1980 drama because it won Best Picture over Martin Scorsese’s masterful Raging Bull, but this is a better movie than its reputation would suggest, an empathetic family saga about grief and trauma. Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton star in ax film that also won Robert Redford an Oscar for Best Director.

Spike Lee directed one of the best stand-up movies of all time when he helmed this look at a tour featuring sets by Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, and a movie-stealing Bernie Mac. Shot over two nights of the tour, Lee focuses mostly on the stand-up, but we also get some nice behind-the-scenes footage on a magical event.

Sometimes the success of a comedy just comes down to finding the right people for the right parts. Such was the case with this John Hughes hit, which perfectly balances Steve Martin’s anal-retentive persona with John Candy’s average guy demeanor. The two play a perfect odd couple, sent on a problem-filled journey across the country as they try to get home for the holidays. Candy’s work here is particularly moving and underrated.

Jane Campion directed this acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1881 novel of the same name. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, a young woman manipulated by the other women in her life, including Madame Serena Merle (Barbara Hershey) and Henrietta Stackpole (Mary-Louise Parker). It can be a little stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a great performance piece, especially for Kidman and Hershey, who landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the ‘10s? You’ve probably already seen this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its tight, taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. Plus, Paramount+ recently added the sequel, so: double feature time!

Sam Mendes directed this adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates that reunited Titanic stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in a very different kind of drama. The two Oscar winners play a couple in the mid-‘50s who are struggling through a dissolving marriage. It landed three Oscar nominations, including one for a great supporting turn from Michael Shannon.

Gore Verbinski broke the pattern in which remakes of Asian horror films are usually a total waste of time with this update of the incredible Ringu. Instead of just repeating the beats of a story of a VHS tape that kills people after seven days, Verbinski made his own film and grounded it with a great central performance by Naomi Watts.

Forget that Queen nonsense, Rocketman is the best rock biopic in recent memory. Taron Egerton plays Elton John, whose life story unfolds in vibrant musical numbers actually sung by the leading man in this case. Energetic and emotional, Rocketman works by embracing the creative passion of its subject and trying to express it cinematically.

Paramount+ doesn’t have the classic movie depth of Criterion Channel or HBO Max, but they do have this 1953 gem from William Wyler, an all-time rom-com classic. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn have so much chemistry and charisma that it’s blinding in this story of a princess who goes to Rome and meets a handsome reporter. Hepburn is so great here that she won the Oscar for Best Actress.

Franco Zeffirelli directed and co-wrote this controversial adaptation of the William Shakespeare classic, which spoke to a new generation of young people when it was released in 1968. Notable for being the first film version of this story that cast young people in the lead roles, it was nominated for the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director.

Writer/director Wes Anderson’s best film is arguably still his second work, a brilliant coming-of-age comedy about a teenager named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and the love triangle that forms (at least in his mind) between him, a teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), and a wealthy man named Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Charming, eccentric, and hysterical, this is a modern classic.

Rose Glass’s terrifying horror film is one of the best movies of 2021 and it’s already on Paramount+. Reminiscent of psychological nightmares of the ‘70s like Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, this is the tale of a hospice nurse named Maud (a fearless performance from Morfydd Clark) who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of one of her patients (Jennifer Ehle). It’s unforgettable.

Richard Linklater directed Jack Black to the best comedy of his career in this 2003 movie about a guitarist who become a substitute teacher at a prep school and teaches the stuck-up kids there how to rock. It’s a smart, funny family comedy with a huge heart and one of Black’s most lovable performances.

Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino teamed up on this stylish version of Miller’s beloved graphic novel about violent men and femme fatales. The star power here is one draw (the cast includes Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, and Elijah Wood), but the best reason to watch this is that there’s never been anything else quite like it.

The 23rd official James Bond film is also one of the best. Daniel Craig’s third film as the world’s most famous spy, and it plays as a much more complex film than most 007 action flicks thanks to serious direction from Sam Mendes and gorgeous cinematography from Richard Deakins. Watch it before you close out the saga of Craig’s tenure with No Time for Die, finally in theaters.

Paramount’s most famous brand (sorry, SpongeBob) will likely always be Gene Roddenberry’s universe of space travelers. So, of course, the Star Trek movies are on Paramount+ alongside all of the old and new series, from the Shatner iteration to Discovery and Picard. Strap in and watch all the voyages of the Starship Enterprise you can handle.

There’s not much Hitchcock on Paramount+, so take the opportunity to watch 1955’s To Catch a Thief, a great flick that doesn’t get the attention that other, more commonly beloved Hitch do. Based on the novel of the same name by David Dodge, this one features the amazing Cary Grant as a retired cat burglar who is drawn back into the criminal world when he discovers that someone is posing as him on the French Riviera. Grace Kelly co-stars.

Danny Boyle really broke through with his second film, a beloved adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel about addiction. Ewan McGregor plays Mark Renton, the most charismatic member of a group of friends who became instantly iconic, including Spud (Ewan Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd), and the sociopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Plus, it’s got one of the best soundtracks of the ’90s.

Brian De Palma directed one of the best movies of his notable career in this 1987 action epic that won Sean Connery an overdue Oscar. Connery co-stars with Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness and Robert De Niro as Al Capone in this story of how Ness took down one of the most famous criminals of all time. Tense and riveting, it’s a great action movie that’s anchored by phenomenal performances and De Palma’s unique eye.

The 50 Best Movies on Paramount+

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