As always, summer is over too soon (the mentality at least, personally I welcome the incoming cooler fall temperatures), and with it the end of the summer movie season. This year was probably the closest we've had to a normal summer at the movies since 2020, with plenty of new releases premiering on the big screen, from action-packed adventures to laugh-out-loud comedies.
At the start of the summer, we previewed what we thought were going to be the biggest blockbuster movies of the summer and a number of indie movies that we thought would be some good counter-programming. So, now that we're approaching the end of summer I think it's time to look back at what movies stood out amongst the rest.
Below you'll find my five best movies of the summer and five other movies that may have flown a bit under the radar but are definitely worth catching up on, including where you can watch them.
No need for a lot of preamble, let's kick things off with my five best movies of summer 2023.
Michael Balderston's best movies of summer 2023
5. Joy Ride
2023 brought the R-rated comedy back to the big screen in a big way, with movies like No Hard Feelings and Strays coming out over the summer. But the best of the bunch of these comedies was without a doubt Joy Ride. Telling the story of a group of friends traveling across Asia to try and find one of their birth moms, Joy Ride had me laughing like few movies had in a long time. The main quartet of Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu and Sabrina Wu were fantastic, with each of them getting their moment to shine. But beyond the laughs and shock moments, Joy Ride has a beautiful heart to it about coming to terms with who you are and the people that truly matter to you.
Joy Ride is currently available via digital on-demand in the US; it is playing in movie theaters in the UK.
Please don't take Barbie coming in at No. 4 for me as any slight against Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling's incredibly original and wholly surprising movie. I had a blast watching Barbie — it's meta commentary, colorfulness, biting sense of humor and show-stopping moments like "I'm Just Ken" and, in particular, the great performances from Robbie and Gosling. Barbie created a moment like few movies have in recent years (including being one half of the zeitgeist event Barbenheimer). It was a rush of pure enjoyment in the theater, but the following movies just stuck with me a bit more.
Barbie is currently playing exclusively in movie theaters.
3. Past Lives
The indie darling of the summer movie season was definitely Celine Song's Past Lives. The movie centers on Nora (Greta Lee) and the decade-long connection she had with a boy in Korea, Hae Sung (Teo Yoo), who comes to visit her in New York when they are adults. However, things are complicated as she is married to Arthur (John Magaro). I won't go too much more into the details of the plot (though you can read our Past Lives ending explained piece if you want that), but just know there may not be a more emotionally touching movie this year. Past Lives is a truly unique love story, but with a standout performance from Lee, the movie will resonate with everyone who sees it.
Past Lives is now available via digital on-demand in the US; it releases September 8 in UK cinemas.
The other half of Barbenehimer was Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, a biopic about the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy in the movie. It should be no surprise Nolan made a big, epic movie, but Oppenheimer is his magnum opus, the best bit of directing he has done to date. He is able to make an event that we know the outcome of, the testing and use of the first atomic bomb, so riveting and intense. And of course, the recreation of the Trinity test is a jaw-dropping moment that may forever be seared in my brain. As of right now, Oppenheimer would be my pick to win Best Picture. The only reason it is not my best movie of the summer is because I left the theater on more of a down note than I did for my top pick.
Oppenheimer is currently playing exclusively in movie theaters.
1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
I am definitely feeling superhero fatigue, but if they kept churning out movies like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, I'd be more than happy to keep watching them. The sequel to the Oscar-winning animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Across the Spider-Verse raises the bar to a whole other level. The varying animation styles make the movie a feast for the eyes, it's one of the funnier movies of the summer and features some great set pieces. But most importantly, it takes the Spider-Man mythos in a fun and interesting direction. This is just part one of two that is expected to conclude the story of Miles Morales, and I'll be waiting with bated breath until the next one comes out, with probably another few watches of Across the Spider-Verse in between.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now available via digital on-demand in the US and UK.
Michael Balderston’s hidden gems of summer 2023
No rankings for these movies, just wanted to highlight them in case you missed them on the first go around this summer:
Theater Camp is a riot and I'm shocked it was not a bigger hit. Though not as off the walls as Wet Hot American Summer, I can see Theater Camp finding a similar kind of cult fandom in the near future. The ensemble of Ben Platt, Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Ayo Edebiri, Patti Harrison and more are hysterical. You definitely don't need to be a theater kid to enjoy this one.
Theater Camp is still playing in movie theaters in the US, but is premiering on Hulu September 14. It releases in UK cinemas on August 25.
The Deepest Breath
This Netflix original documentary has actually found a pretty solid audience on the streaming service already, but in case you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend that you do. It tells the story of how freediving brought two people together, a dedicated competitor and an expert safety diver, and the risks they both take in this dangerous extreme sport. The easiest comparison for The Deepest Breath is the Oscar-winning doc Free Solo, but it is the relationship at the center of the movie that gives The Deepest Breath it's standout quality.
The Deepest Breath is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
You Hurt My Feelings
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicole Holofcener proved that they are a winning combination with You Hurt My Feelings, 10 years after they first worked together on Enough Said. The movie is a look at the little lies that we tell our loved ones and whether or not those ultimately help or hurt the relationship. You Hurt My Feelings is the "mature" comedy of the summer and may not work as well for everyone, but the movie is pretty funny for anyone who has ever been in a committed relationship.
You Hurt My Feelings is available via digital on-demand in the US; it is streaming on Prime Video in the UK.
At first glance, hearing there is a movie about Flamin' Hot Cheetos sounds like a bad version of what they tried to do with Barbie. However, Flamin' Hot, which was the directorial debut of Eva Longoria, is actually based on the true story of how Richard Montañez, Frito Lay janitor, invented the now iconic snack. Longoria and star Jesse Garcia infuse Flamin' Hot with a passion for their Mexican heritage that is inspiring and makes for an entertaining watch.
Flamin' Hot is streaming exclusively on Hulu in the US; it is streaming on Disney Plus in the UK.
OK, I'm cheating a bit with this one as I haven't seen Bottoms yet, but the advanced buzz on the movie is great (as of publication it has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes) and considering we missed it in our initial summer roundup of movies, it certainly qualifies as a hidden gem. Originally titled Gay High School Fight Club, the follow-up from the Shiva Baby duo of Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott tells the story of two LGBTQ+ teens who, in an attempt to lose their virginity, organize a girls' self-defense class to get closer to the cheerleaders they have crushes on. Some are calling the movie an "instant high school comedy classic."
Bottoms releases in limited movie theaters in the US on August 25 before expanding to more markets. At this time there is no UK release date.