Summer 2023 was an unprecedented time for the film industry. It was home to some of the wildest box-office successes of all time and some of the biggest box-office bombs of all time (Looking at you, Flash). But this article is not about money; it is about quality. Out of the many, many films that were released this summer, what were the best? Now, that is all subjective – a couple of films on this list probably are not on many others – but in any sense, it gives credence to how there was really something for everyone in this historic summer. So without further ado, here are the top 10 films of summer 2023!
10. ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ (dir. Stephen Caple, Jr.)
Set in the 90’s and fueled by a soundtrack of East Coast hip-hop classics, ‘Rise of the Beasts’ is a reboot that brings an element that the previous mainline ‘Transformers’ films have been sorely lacking: heart. While Caple lacks the same explosive panache as previous franchise director Michael Bay, the film’s solid script and well-paced action sequences still spring to life with a sense of undemanding fun. The film’s cast brings their A-game as well- Emmy nominees Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback lead the human cast, while veteran Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen lends his gravelly tones to the Autobot leader once more. The film’s biggest surprise is SNL alum Pete Davidson as Mirage, who does far more than just cash a check- he ends up being the soul of the film. Overall, ‘Rise of the Beasts’ is a tight, wildly fun installment in this oft-bloated saga.
9. ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (dir. James Mangold)
“It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.” In this grand finale, our titular hero has both the years AND the mileage, but thanks to the efforts of the evergreen Harrison Ford and the delightful Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the story of Indiana Jones comes to a thrilling end that mostly sticks the landing. ‘Dial of Destiny’ is an entertaining journey across the world (and across time) that never reaches the highs of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ but never touches the lows of ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ either. And really, seeing Ford smack the kraut out of some Nazis never gets old. In fact, it might even get better with age.
8. ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ (dir. Jeff Rowe)
‘Mutant Mayhem’ is the seventh film adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but only the second good one, and maybe the first truly great one. With a visual style that evokes a more punk-rock version of ‘Spider-Verse,’ this iteration of the Turtles leans more into the “teenage” aspect than ever before, thanks to a script co-written by ‘Superbad scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, alongside Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, and director Rowe. Instead of the nightmarish pseudo-Hulks of the most recent live-action installments, these Turtles are gangly, awkward kids that we get to see come into their own as heroes and members of society in a funny, emotionally satisfying way.
7. ‘Joy Ride’ (dir. Adele Lim)
This side-splitting road comedy from first-time director Adele Lim assembles an impressive cast led by Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Sabrina Wu, and Academy Award nominee Stephanie Hsu on a wildly raunchy journey across China that finds some serious emotion between its prolonged sequences of boofing cocaine and tattooed vulvas. Park’s character, Audrey, goes on a journey of self-realization that is both culturally unique and universally relatable and plays a brilliant straight man to the more wacky antics of her cohorts. ‘Joy Ride’ was criminally overlooked this summer and absolutely deserves a streaming renaissance.
6. ‘Talk To Me’ (dir. Michael and Danny Phillipou)
This horror film, from YouTube filmmaking duo ‘RackaRacka,’ is undeniably the most unsettling film of the year. The fear generated by ‘Talk to Me’ doesn’t come from cheap jump scares or gratuitous gore. Instead, it takes a much more insidious approach of making you care deeply about each character and then raising the stakes in such a shocking way that even looking at the screen becomes a skin-crawling experience. The film’s ending, which would be bleak under any other circumstances, is almost a sigh of relief here. It’s terrifying, well-acted and emotionally satisfying in a lot of unexpected ways.
5. ‘Nimona’ (dir. Troy Quane and Nick Bruno)
Before Blue Sky Studios was shuttered, they were nearing completion of ‘Nimona,’ an adaptation of JD Stevenson’s graphic novel of the same name, but it was ultimately canceled following their closure at the hands of Disney. Thankfully, Netflix ended up acquiring and finishing the film, and it’s a blessing that they did, because it’s one of the best films Blue Sky, Netflix, or Annapurna have ever produced. Beautiful animation paired with a knockout voice cast makes for a brilliantly well-rounded action comedy that has amazing LGBTQ+ representation, both in its subtext and just straight-up text. It’s unfortunate the film didn’t get a theatrical release, but audiences are still beyond lucky to have it at all.
4. ‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One’ (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
Despite having 12 syllables in its title and 163 minutes in its runtime, ‘Dead Reckoning’ is one of the tightest, most thrilling action movies of the year. Star Tom Cruise and writer/director McQuarrie are at the top of their game here, delivering a heart-pounding, poignant and timely stunt showcase, making it clearer than ever that Tom Cruise would not hesitate to die in the name of cinema (He rode a motorcycle off a cliff and parachuted onto a train. During a pandemic). Not to mention, despite the ‘Part One’ moniker in its title, the ending of the film feels less like a soul-crushing cliffhanger, and instead like a proper ending with another thrill ride teed up. Which is a pretty great transition into number 3 on this list…
3. ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ (dir. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson)
The soul-crushing cliffhanger at the end of ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ makes it hard to judge the film solely on its own merits, however, it cannot be denied that it is one of the sharpest, smartest, most well-crafted blockbusters of the year. In the incredibly unlikely event that ‘Beyond the Spider-Verse’ does not stick the landing, audiences will still be left with a first half that tackles young love, heartbreak, betrayal, destiny and forging your own path. Plus, it gave us “canon event” as a term for the lexicon. What’s not to love?
2. ‘Oppenheimer’ (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Anyone reading this list undeniably knew what the endgame would be. Picking between these top two films was a struggle, but ultimately came down to personal preference and overall cultural impact. That being said, ‘Oppenheimer’ is the artistic zenith of Christopher Nolan; a lengthy, fast-paced, timeline-jumping thriller that brings the story of one of the most important figures in human history to life with an unexpected sense of spectacle. Cillian Murphy delivers the most brilliant performance of his career here, but giving any other actors a shoutout would be worthy of its own article because every single performance in this film is tuned to perfection. Admittedly, the film has a sour moment here and there (Oppenheimer gets his own Avengers-style suit up scene, and John F. Kennedy gets a similarly Marvel-esque name drop) but on the whole, ‘Oppenheimer’ is one of the best directors alive at the height of his style and craft. But one cannot mention ‘Oppenheimer’ without also mentioning…
1. ‘Barbie’ (dir. Greta Gerwig)
‘Barbie’ is the definitive film of summer 2023. Maybe the definitive film of 2023 as a whole. Maybe the definitive film of the decade. Only time will tell on the latter two, but no other film this summer had multiplexes swimming in pink the way ‘Barbie’ did. Gerwig took on the Herculean task of taking such a divisive icon and building a story that strengthened the brand image without cow-towing Mattel and made it look easy. Margot Robbie delivers a typically smashing performance, wearing her heart on her sleeve and bringing Barbie to life in a vibrant and vulnerable manner. Ryan Gosling, as Ken is about as pitch-perfect as casting, can get, letting the Kenergy flow in ways that were previously thought impossible. And clearly, the storytelling has resonated with audiences in a myriad of ways. Women feel seen by the film’s feminist themes, and men find themselves comforted by the idea they are Kenough. ‘Barbie’ is lightning in a bottle that studios will be chasing the success of for years to come, but until the concept has been run into the ground, we can revel in its freshness.