As the streaming platform's new adult channel arrives with a whopping 276 films in tow, we highlight some of the best additions
This week saw the launch of the “Star” channel on Disney+ and, with it, the addition of dozens of “mature” films and TV series, many unexpected. The main takeaway is just how eclectic the new selection is, which includes 276 films. Curated it is not. Martin Scorsese has a couple of entries, as does Tony Scott, and also Wes Anderson. Frankly, it’s about as random a list of movies as you’ll find under one banner on any streaming platform – made stranger still by the notable (if unsurprising) omission of Scorsese’s Disney epic Kundun.
Yet as with all of the algorithm-centred streamers, actually finding the best of the latest additions is no easy feat. Here are 20 of the most interesting picks to get you started…
Planet of the Apes (1968)
An absolute wildcard in the Disney+ Star deck, this 1968 classic made sci-fi great again before A Space Odyssey or Star Wars came along. It was also the subject of a memorable scene in Mad Men. Come for the eerie dystopia, stay for Charlton Heston making a famously terrible discovery on a beach right at the end of the movie.
French Connection II (1975)
If William Friedkin’s first entry to the most unlikely of film franchises was a little too rough and ready for some of those who saw it, John Frankenheimer's sequel offers a more accessible look at Hackman’s detective Popeye Doyle. There’s less edge or moral ambiguity this time around, but as sequels go it’s rightly seen as one of the best. The brilliant first film is, thankfully, also here.
The Color of Money (1986)
One of a small handful of films on which Martin Scorsese worked ad a director for hire, The Color of Money is an underrated example of his unique zeal. Although predominantly a star vehicle for Paul Newman, who won an Oscar at long last for his turn here, it retains flashes of Scorsese’s grittier edge. Most notable, however, is Thelma Schoonmaker’s unrivalled editing, which turns the pool table into a mirror for the chaos and conflict of the players’ lives.
Broadcast News (1987)
James L. Brooks’ 1987 romantic comedy continues to inspire utter devotion among those who live by it – myself included – and it’s easy to see why. Holly Hunter’s overworked producer Jane Craig is one of the most compelling and endearing characters in movies. Albert Brooks and a dashing William Hurt co-star as the men fighting for her attention. This heartwarming and heartbreaking window into the way we all live has aged like a fine wine. Back to the studio.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
The Coen brothers’ debut Blood Simple is predictably cited as the first glimpse at their specific idiosyncrasy, but Miller’s Crossing may be the better candidate. The pair’s 1990 neo-noir gangster film was just their third, but showed much of the black comedy brilliance which, alongside Fargo, would finally make them household names.
Quiz Show (1994)
Robert Redford directed and produced this acclaimed period drama about, you guessed it, the TV quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Shot by legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, it proved an unlikely flop for Disney in the mid-90s, though its continued reverence among viewers and critics lives on.
Crimson Tide (1995)
Put Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington on a submarine with nuclear weapons and you’ve got yourself a movie. Tony Scott’s claustrophobic thriller may have been made in the wake of the Cold War’s end, but the conflicts between Washington and Hackman are as philosophical as they are personal. The Top Gun director doesn’t go cheap on the action, either. A pinnacle of “Dad Cinema.”
The Thin Red Line (1998)
A strong candidate for the outright best film on Disney+, Terrence Malick’s masterpiece illustrated the cosmic futility of war with the backdrop of one of World War II's bloodiest battles. Malick’s signature style and philosophy abound even at Guadalcanal, where the ensemble cast (including Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Jim Caviezel) come together and come apart.
Enemy of the State (1998)
Gene Hackman is one of the best represented actors on Disney’s new platform (to me, at least, that’s worth the entry price alone). His late-career turn in this strong Tony Scott action flick led by a dynamic Will Smith is heavily inspired by the enigmatic surveillance buff he played in The Conversation. Scott’s take on the espionage genre is more of a caper, and all the more enjoyable for it.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Kimberly Peirce remains amazed that their 1999 docudrama about trans martyr Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) even got made, and that’s no surprise. Teena’s moving real-life story was appropriately and brilliantly told by the filmmaker, with this movie marking a seminal chapter in the story of trans cinema.
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
When Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader collaborate, sit up and pay attention. The pair’s most recent collaboration has shades of Taxi Driver, their first, even if Nicolas Cage’s world-weary ambulance driver Frank Pierce is no Travis Bickle. Made in between Kundun and Gangs of New York, it is often lost in that transitional phase of Scorsese’s career. It shouldn’t be.
Office Space (1999)
An aggressively nineties look at working life under capitalism, Mike Judge’s quirky hit inspired a generation of memes in the early years of the internet. Beyond that aspect of historical importance, Office Space is good enough that it might even make you miss the office. Well, maybe.
High Fidelity (2000)
The first flame in the inferno of Jack Black’s movie career (he plays a small but unforgettable role), High Fidelity – based on Nick Hornby's bestselling novel about a record store owner – had just the right mix of offbeat comedy and sincere charm to secure a romcom legacy. Its resonance inspired a mildly successful remake starring Zoe Kravitz.
Steven Soderbergh’s take on the 1961 sci-fi novel that was also adapted more famously by Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Solaris was the third of the director’s collaborations with George Clooney and the first to lose money. But it is one of the most interesting works of either’s career, a brisk 90-minute journey in and out of the human soul.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
David Frankel’s formidable comedy-drama about journalism and high fashion, starring Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep, was one of the most culturally influential films of the 2000s. As a portrait of workplace and personal politics, few films are better, even if Miranda Priestly’s real-life inspiration continues to rise up the shiny greasy pole.
Not a movie most of us ever expected to see on a Disney-owned streaming platform, Sacha Baron Cohen’s transgressive comedy remains at the cutting edge after fourteen years (not to mention the recent, unexpectedly strong sequel). Hopefully the Biden era will not come to resemble the Bush years that Borat so memorably skewered, though if we miss out on satire like this that might just be a bit of a shame.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Star offers a mini-Wes Anderson archive: alongside this one, you get Rushmore, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Following three brothers’ quest across India to find their mother after the death of their father, Darjeeling might be the most interesting of the bunch. Don’t let the foreign setting mislead you: this is as close to Anderson’s trademark shtick as it gets, with fine performances from the Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman.
Martha Mary May Marlene (2011)
Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t always Scarlet Witch. The former Disney child star made her feature debut alongside Sarah Paulson in this mouthful-of-a-title thriller written and directed by Sean Durkin. The Sundance hit is centred around a young woman’s escape from a dangerous cult, and proved an ideal springboard for its talented lead (Her best performance is still Wind River, but that’s an argument for another day).
“Sprawling” and “intimate character study” are film critic terms rarely used in the same sentence, but Margaret isn’t like most movies. Anna Paquin stars as Lisa Cohen, a well-off teenager who plays a part in a woman’s accidental death, and whose life is infinitely transformed by the experience. Like most of Lonergan’s work, it is much funnier than it has any right to be. A must-watch on the new platform.
The Favourite (2018)
Though we know The Favourite represented director Yorgos Lanthimos at his very best, we’re still not quite sure what that is. This revisionist period romp starred a holy trinity of Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, who effortlessly grapple with Lanthimos’ singular absurdity and biting wit.
Star is now available as part of Disney+.