In the expansive world of streaming services, there are loads of different options when it comes to what to watch. In our continued quest to refine your potential movie picks to only the best possible choices, it is time to turn our attention to Paramount Plus.
Paramount Plus has something many of its streaming rivals do not: a deep back catalog from one of the most storied production companies in the history of Hollywood, boasting classics from just about every era of American movie making.
We’ve pulled our favorites from their extensive selection of movies, with a mix of all-time classics and new gems from a variety of eras. Take a stroll through a history of great movies, in chronological order of release.
David Fincher’s 2007 mystery thriller Zodiac may be the celebrated director’s greatest accomplishment. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., the movie follows the manhunt surrounding the notorious Zodiac Killer, a serial murderer known for terrorizing the San Francisco Bay Area with a string of gruesome killings throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, all while taunting the police with a slew of esoteric ciphers and newspaper letters. Dark, cerebral, and thoroughly engrossing, Zodiac is David Fincher’s answer to Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder; a masterful murder thriller inspired by a real-life nightmare. —Toussaint Egan
There Will be Blood
For a while, Paul Thomas Anderson’s mesmerizing story about the rise and fall of an oil baron was best known for an unfortunate milkshake meme. But it’s been 14 years since its release, so surely by now we can let go of that particular gag and get back to appreciating Daniel Day-Lewis’ typically intense performance and the film’s particularly uncompromising severity. It’s a severe-looking film, all cracked, dry surfaces and angry desperation, and the clash between Day-Lewis’ viciously competitive oilman and a struggling young preacher (Paul Dano) is just as severe. This is not a film about moderation or kindness, and the end is pure Grand Guignol, but it’s a hell of a ride to get there. —Tasha Robinson
Night of the Living Dead
The starting point for the modern zombie film in the United States, George A. Romero wrote, directed, photographed, and edited this masterpiece on a shoestring budget, which only adds to the eerie atmosphere and grounded terror. A group of survivors hide out in an abandoned house in western Pennsylvania at the start of a zombie apocalypse. Led by the level-headed Ben (Duane Jones), the group not only has to deal with the conflict of zombies trying to break in, but internal conflicts stemming from disagreements on how to handle their precarious predicament.
Night of the Living Dead is the first example of Romero’s typical blend of jaw-dropping, stomach-churning practical effects and astute social commentary. Fun fact: This movie came out a month before the MPAA film rating system, which meant a heaping amount of controversy when children were allowed to see it in theaters. And another fun fact: Night of the Living Dead was never copyrighted because of an error by the original theatrical distributor (who accidentally deleted the copyright notice from the official copy of the movie), leaving it in the public domain. —Pete Volk
The Mission: Impossible movies
Arguably the most consistent modern blockbuster franchise, the Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible series started with a bang, with the first entry directed by the legendary Brian de Palma. That first movie was instantly iconic, with unforgettable scenes still etched permanently into the memory of our popular culture (who can ever forget the scene where Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hangs from a ceiling and has to catch his own sweat to prevent an alarm going off?).
The series has continued strong from there, bringing in John Woo for the unfairly maligned second entry, and returning back to form in the two most recent entries, Rogue Nation and Fallout, both directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who previously worked with Cruise on Jack Reacher). All but the third movie (directed by J.J. Abrams, and mostly a poor one besides a legendary villain turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman) are available to Paramount Plus subscribers, and the third one is available to Paramount Plus subscribers who have Showtime. —PV
With iconic quotes (“Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘ensembly challenged’?”), iconic lead performances (Paul Rudd’s smile!), and iconic fashions, Clueless is simply that: iconic. Writer-director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) delivered this all-timer high school movie set in Beverly Hills. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the movie stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, a rich and popular student who takes the “tragically unhip” new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under her wing.
To be honest, I really doubt there are many people reading this who have not seen Clueless. This entry is more of a reminder that you should watch Clueless again. You’re welcome. —PV
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1970s — The Godfather (also on Paramount Plus!), The Conversation, The Godfather Part 2, and Apocalypse Now — is one of the finest runs of form of any film director. The least famous of these four movies might even be the best of them. It’s certainly the most disciplined and chilling.
1974’s The Conversation is a paranoid conspiracy thriller that’s more interested in the form the protagonist’s paranoia takes, and the effects it has, than the machinations of the conspiracy he uncovers. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is an alienated surveillance expert who is hired to record a conversation between a young couple in San Francisco’s crowded Union Square. Caul obsesses over the ambiguous, fragmentary recording he creates, fearing that he is putting the couple’s — or someone’s — life in danger, and his meticulously compartmentalized life begins to unravel.
The film has a powerful narrative pull, and it revels in the details of the strangely humdrum world of professional surveillance. But what stays with you is its ambivalent, detached, brooding atmosphere, evoked in Hackman’s fiercely internalized performance, David Shire’s delicate piano theme (recently heavily quoted by Apple TV’s Severance), and the haunting, incessant loops of the taped recording itself. —Oli Welsh
Charlie Chaplin’s first feature film as a director was a massive hit, making his co-star Jackie Coogan (later known as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family) one of the first child stars in Hollywood.
In the movie, Chaplin’s character The Tramp finds an abandoned child and cares for him as a variety of bad luck and poor circumstances threaten to get in their way. Filled with Chaplin’s trademark combination of uproarious slapstick gigs (at one point Coogan’s Kid gets into a scuffle with another child, evolving into a sequence straight out of a boxing movie, with Chaplin as his ring man), and a deep, pervasive sense of the trials and tribulations of humanity, it’s one of the best movies from one of the best filmmakers to ever grace our planet. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll love it. —PV
John Woo’s third Hollywood movie (following Hard Target and Broken Arrow) is the first of his American movies that really feels like a John Woo movie. Featuring huge gun fights, strained depictions of masculinity, and, of course, doves, Face/Off is a delightfully over-the-top ’90s action movie that thrives on Woo’s direction and the two leading performances.
John Travolta is FBI agent Sean Archer, whose son was killed by Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), a terrorist who intended to kill the older Archer. In his quest for vengeance, Archer decides to undergo an experimental face transplant surgery, “becoming” Troy. Of course, Troy does the same in return, “becoming” Archer. The set-up is a perfect stage for both actors to have fun in this playground, although Cage has joked that Travolta got the better end of the deal, spending most of the running time playing the much more eccentric of the two characters.
Fun fact: Face/Off writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary had Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in mind when they wrote the script. I can see it, but I’m glad we got this one. —PV
Perhaps best known by contemporary audiences as one of the movies that inspired Silent Hill, the 1990 psychological horror thriller Jacob’s Ladder stars Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer, a former U.S. Infantryman working as a postal clerk in New York. Plagued by terrifying dreams of his time in Vietnam, Singer begins to question the nature of his past when he finds himself stalked by writhing demonic phantoms and ghoulish visions. As his quest for the truth becomes ever more harrowing, Jacob descends into a phantasmagorical hell of his own sins, a place where the only way out is through. Inspired by the works of Francis Bacon and H. R. Giger and utilizing jarring fast motion in-camera special effects, Jacob’s Ladder is a hallucinatory body-horror thriller that’ll have you gripped to your seat. —TE
Addams Family Values
We once described Addams Family Values as, “The Borscht belt comedy version of Fatal Attraction,” and truthfully, that’s a perfectly succinct and accurate description of Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1993 follow-up to his 1991 black comedy film The Addams Family. The Addams have welcomed an adorable new addition to the family in the form of baby Pubert, and Uncle Fester has been romantically ensnared in the machinations of the baby’s new nanny (Joan Cusack). Filled with inventively morbid one-liners, terrific comedic performances, and even more delightfully macabre gags, Addams Family Values is a hilariously mischievous film and worthy follow-up to Sonnenfeld’s original. —TE
The Wachowskis’ scintillating feature debut stands up to everything else in their filmography. Bound is a sexy erotic thriller about two women (Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, both outstanding in this) irresistibly drawn to each other. Together, they conceive a scheme to reach a semblance of financial stability, and to get away from a mafioso boyfriend (frequent Wachowski collaborator Joe Pantoliano). When you’re done, be sure to read this excellent piece from 2019 revisiting the film with the two stars. —PV
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Don Siegel’s classic sci-fi film noir story of a California town whose residents are slowly taken over by emotionless copies of themselves has been remade many times (including the also-excellent 1978 version with Donald Sutherland), but few have the tension and emotional heart of the bone-chilling original. A local doctor (Kevin McCarthy) and his ex-girlfriend (Dana Wynter) are among the first to suspect what is happening, but it’s a struggle to convince anyone else of the madness that is occurring (or to know who to trust). At a crisp 80 minutes, you’re going to have a great time, but beware the pod people! — PV
Gore Verbinski’s American remake of Hideo Nakata 1998 supernatural horror classic The Ring was a runaway pop culture phenomenon when it first released in 2002, introducing Western audiences to the wonderful world of J-horror cinema and going on to be parodied in everything from Scary Movie 3 to Family Guy. Naomi Watts stars as Rachel Keller, a journalist who goes undercover to uncover the strange connection between the unexplainable deaths of her niece and three friends and a mysterious videotape they watched one week prior. But when Rachel views the tape herself, she finds herself caught in a race against time to solve the mystery and put to rest the vengeful spirit now fixated on claiming the lives of her and all else who watch it. —TE
Planet of the Vampires
Italian horror master Mario Bava made many iconic low-budget genre movies, including the legendary Black Sunday and the heist movie Danger: Diabolik.
Made on a budget of about $200,000, Planet of the Vampires follows a crew of space explorers who crash land on… well, you know. It hits just about every conceivable aesthetic note you would want from such a venture. Bava claimed the set of the planet was created from two plastic rocks and whole lot of smoke, which is simply remarkable when you consider how tangible the planet feels — the image above gives you a clue, but there’s nothing like seeing it in action. —PV
“Is it safe?”
Director John Schlesinger drilled this simple yet menacing question into the minds of movie-goers worldwide with his 1976 thriller Marathon Man. Adapted from William Goldman’s 1974 novel of the same name and starring Dustin Hoffman, the film centers on the story of Thomas “Babe” Levy, a history Ph.D student at Columbia University working on a dissertation on McCarthyism with the aim of exonerating his disgraced father.
When Babe’s brother Henry (Roy Scheider), a government agent posing as an oil executive, dies on his doorstep one night, Babe inexplicably finds himself drawn into a web of conspiracies woven by Dr. Christian Szell, a Nazi war criminal willing to do anything to track down a hidden cache of diamonds. Electrifying in its intensity and bracing in its violence, Marathon Man is a thriller par excellence. —TE
The late, great Philip Baker Hall stars in the feature film debut of Paul Thomas Anderson, a crime movie about a professional gambler (Hall) who takes a down-on-his-luck drifter (John C. Reilly) under his wing. Adapted from a short film Anderson made with Hall, it’s a preview of some of what made the director one of the most distinct filmmakers of his generation. More than anything, however, it’s a display of the singular greatness of Hall as a performer. —PV
Edgar G. Ulmer was a prolific director in the Classic Hollywood era, and directed The Black Cat starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It was the first movie starring both horror legends, and is considered to be one of the first examples of the psychological horror film. It was a huge hit for Universal. Unfortunately, Ulmer was blacklisted from the studio (and the other major Hollywood studios) shortly after, when his affair with the wife of Universal studio head Carl Laemmle’s nephew turned into a divorce and remarriage.
This is all necessary context for Detour, one of many micro-budget movies Ulmer made for Producers Releasing Corporation, the smallest of the Hollywood studios at the time. It’s also a standout example of film noir aesthetics and low-budget moviemaking.
Detour is about a down-on-his luck young man hitchhiking from New York to Los Angeles to meet up with his love, who moved to Hollywood with the hopes of making it big. Along the way, he meets a mysterious stranger who upends everything.
Detour’s tiny budget gives the 66-minute film an odd aura, with sparse sets and back projection that is inconsistent at best. But the thing undoubtedly works — it’s a haunting movie about the unluckiest man in the universe, and Ulmer’s striking images (and an unforgettable performance by Ann Savage) through his evocative use of lighting paint a stark picturing of an uncaring world. —PV
From our list of the best comedies on streaming:
This delightful and raunchy romantic comedy stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen as a group of best friends who have been a part of a long-standing book club. Each of them, though successful in their careers, are dealing with crises of life or love. When one of them picks Fifty Shades of Grey as the next book they’ll all read together, it opens the group up in a lovely story of personal acceptance and self-realization, no matter what stage of life you find yourself in.
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie’s latest collaboration with Jason Statham is equal parts heist and revenge thriller. H (Statham), a new security guard at a cash truck company in Los Angeles, surprises his co-workers during a heist attempt with an efficient and skillful display of violence. As H comes into clearer focus for viewers and his co-workers alike, we learn the real reason he has decided to ply his trade at this particular business. With a supporting cast that includes Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett (playing a character named “Boy Sweat”), and Scott Eastwood, Wrath of Man is a fun two hour thrill ride. —PV