Cinemax is a premium cable network launched in August 1980, which HBO owns as a "sister company", that specializes in airing movies. Much like HBO, it has a bouquet of multiplex networks (previously promoted under the name MultiMax); these include ActionMax, 5StarMax, etc. Unlike its rivals Showtime and Starz, Cinemax has not really focused on original programming throughout its history in prime time outside of documentary programming, music programs and some shows picked up from other networks, including The Max Headroom Show and the final season of SCTV in the early 80s after NBC dropped it. The network was conceived as a "movie junkie's" service first, and accordingly in comparison to HBO has focused less on blockbusters and big films and more on older, cult, and foreign films, much like The Movie Channel. In the 80s it maintained an image of basically being HBO's irreverent kid brother, with their music programs and the "Cinemax Comedy Experiment" contrasting with HBO's higher-profile lineup of specials. However, what it aired late at night turned it into the stuff of legend for a whole generation.
You see, Cinemax had a block called Max After Dark that started after its last prime time movie had ended (usually between 11 and midnight). Max After Dark was one of the only places on American television that aired softcore pornographic films and original series, usually with such names as Erotic Confessions, Co-Ed Confidential, The Best Sex Ever and Zane's Sex Chronicles. In The '90s, this gave Cinemax a reputation as one of the edgiest and most risque networks on cable, earning it the Fan Nickname "Skinemax" — a reputation that still holds, to some extent, even now that the internet provides much more explicit content and its premium cable rivals have started pushing the envelope of what's permissible in prime time. Back in the day, adolescent boys would frequently stay up late at night in order to catch the skin flicks that would air then — telling your friends in school that you caught late-night Cinemax was an easy way to establish yourself as one of the "cool" kids. It was far from hardcore pornography, and much of it was Bowdlerised compared to your average Jenna Jameson skin flick, but for most kids back then, just seeing naked ladies on TV was enough. (Sister network HBO Zone also aired some of this content, as did most of the MultiMax networks.)
Cinemax was happy to cultivate this reputation. A quick glance at their website at the time showed heavy promotion for their late-night series, complete with cast interviews, behind-the-scenes stuff, and more, just as one would expect from any other TV series... except it was porn. The shows also usually made an attempt at actually looking like TV shows complete with intricate plots for what they can do with No Budget and lesser-known actors, instead of cheapo skin flicks, so you have to give them credit for that.
After years of declining ratings, however, the internet finally put Max After Dark out of business. The last such original program was broadcast in 2013, and the programming blocks were phased out over the next few years until Home Box Office, Inc. (the WarnerMedia subsidiary that operates Cinemax and HBO) dropped all softcore adult programming from its channels around the time of its 2018 acquisition by AT&T. Today there is no sign of Cinemax's infamous original programming, and it is essentially just another premium cable channel, though the old "Skinemax" nickname remains (mildly) in the public consciousness.
Cinemax has seven sister channels:
- MoreMax: Launched in 1991. This channel airs a movie schedule similar to that of the flagship Cinemax channel, and also airs independent, foreign, and art house films. Known as Cinemax 2 until 1998.
- ActionMax: Airs, well, action movies. Known as Cinemax 3 from 1995 to 1998.
- ThrillerMax: Launched in 1998. Airs suspense, horror, and mystery films.
- 5StarMax: Launched in 2001. Airs modern-day classics, including award-winning classics and timeless classics.
- Cinemáx: A Spanish-language version of the flagship Cinemax channel.
- MovieMax: Launched in 2001. Airs movie aimed at audiences aged 18-34. Formerly known as W-Max (focusing on female-oriented pictures) and, as Moviemax, was originally a family-oriented channel.
- OuterMax: Launched in 2001. Airs science-fiction, fantasy, and horror films.
In 2011, Cinemax would began airing more "mainstream" original programming to complement the shows on HBO. They began with action series, such as the British import Strike Back and Banshee. They've since ventured into more Darker and Edgier territory with shows like The Knick, Outcast, and Quarry.
In 2020, WarnerMedia announced that Cinemax would stop commissioning originals altogether due to the upcoming launch of HBO Max; they further announced that Cinemax's originals would not be part of the HBO Max selection at launch. Cinemax had secured the US rights to the Sky drama Gangs of London, but the series changed hands to another new service, AMC+, after the news broke. In January 2021, Warrior became the first Cinemax show to migrate to HBO and Max, shortly after its second season concluded, with Banshee following.
Shows that air or have aired on Cinemax
- Banshee (2013-16)
- The Knick (2014-15)
- The Max Headroom Show (1985-86) note
- Outcast (2016, 2018)
- Reign of the Gargoyles (2007) note
- Rellik (2018) note
- SCTV (1983-84) note
- Strike Back (2011-15, 2018-20) note
- Tales From The Tour Bus (2017-18)
- Warrior (2019-20) note