Summer is almost over, folks, which means it’s time to reflect on the season and the blockbusters that dominated cinemas from May to August. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible summer, but there wasn’t exactly a slew of memorable content presented to audiences. Instead, we were bombarded with sequels, bland remakes, and only a tiny dash of original content.
At any rate, here’s my ranking of the 2023 blockbuster movie season. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments!
15. Meg 2: The Trench
Eh, I didn’t have high expectations for this unnecessary sequel to the bloated 2018 Jason Stratham blockbuster. Still, even graded on a curve, Meg 2: The Trench sucks and turns what should have been a schlocky B-movie extravaganza in the vein of Piranha 3D or Sharknado into a clunky, disjointed affair that ends just as it gets interesting.
14. The Flash
The DCEU was already in shambles before The Flash, but the speedster’s first solo outing on the big screen is the final nail in the coffin of the once-promising franchise. The biggest problem with this bloated mess is the lack of creativity put into it. Michael Keaton shows up for a bit of overt fan service but has nothing to do other than regurgitate lines from previous films. Sasha Calle provides a bit of spark as Supergirl in her limited screen time but can’t quite fill the massive void left over by Henry Cavill.
Really, The Flash plays like a hodgepodge of half-assed ideas and lacks a proper direction, veering from zany comedy to intense drama with all the grace of a drunk ice skater. Ezra Miller carries himself well as the Flash but is nearly insufferable as a young Barry Allen who zips around the screen like a YouTuber on crack.
Fans of Zack Snyder should steer clear of this mess.
13. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Another pointless sequel, Indy V, wastes a talented cast on a mostly joyless adventure that adds nothing to the franchise and seems to have been made solely to create spinoffs for Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Harrison Ford grumbles through a bland and convoluted storyline and looks nothing like the iconic hero that graced cinemas throughout the 1980s. Admittedly, there are a few flashes of fun, but director James Mangold fails to capture the magic that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas conjured in the original trilogy. Even those who proclaim to love it claim it’s slightly better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.
On a positive note, Dial of Destiny makes me appreciate Spielberg even more. Anyone can make a blockbuster, but it takes an exceptional talent to make a good blockbuster, let alone classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade.
12. The Little Mermaid
There’s nothing wrong with Disney’s remake of The Little Mermaid, but it’s also not very memorable. Halle Bailey delivers the goods as Ariel, Melissa McCarthy predictably chews the scenery as Ursula, and the songs are as catchy as ever. Unfortunately, director Rob Marshall’s lifeless direction lets all down, along with a script that hits all the same beats as the animated classic without offering anything fresh to the material save for a few bizarre new musical numbers. Why is Javier Bardem in this?
11. No Hard Feelings
Jennifer Lawrence takes a shot at raunchy comedy and kinda sorta delivers with No Hard Feelings, even if the movie falls far short of something like Superbad. The film has its highlights and puts in a concerted effort to push boundaries (including Lawrence’s much-publicized full-frontal fight scene), but regrettably, it frequently reverts to safer territory. Still, considering the current era, finding comedies of this ilk can be challenging, so credit is due to all those involved for attempting to rejuvenate a stagnant genre.
Adorable, bursting with color, and oozing sweetness, Elemental finally brings back that nostalgic Pixar charm we’ve been yearning for. Don’t get me wrong, this latest animated feature is not on the level of all-time greats like Inside Out, Coco, Ratatouille, or Finding Nemo. And yes, it might get a tad too wacky and predictable, but let’s be honest, after the mixed bag we’ve been handed lately — remember Lightyear, Turning Red, Luca, Soul, Onward, and Toy Story 4? — I’ll gladly embrace a solid dose of Pixar magic any day of the week.
9. Haunted Mansion
Disney’s Haunted Mansion feels like the sort of film the studio would’ve unveiled in the mid-90s — a safe, predictable family adventure that doesn’t usurp the genre but is still fun enough to keep the kids entertained. I still prefer the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion from 2003, but I have a feeling the 2023 iteration will serve as a Halloween staple in the years to come.
Visually appealing and entertaining, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie starts well enough but eventually descends into a series of conflicting lectures that tarnish the positive vibes established in the first half. The film unquestionably struck a chord in pop culture, crossing the billion-dollar threshold at the box office. Yet, it also conceals a not-so-subtle streak of cynicism beneath its vibrant pink exteriors and sugary-sweet production design. It is a product designed for a particular audience. All others need not apply.
Here we have the culmination of the last ten years of cinema, a politically charged romp more intent on delivering a message than providing an escape. It’s not my kind of film, but clearly, others enjoy it well enough, so it’s good to see such varied experiences reinvigorating theatergoing.
7. Fast X
Dumb as a brick but also intermittently thrilling, Fast X takes the long-running action franchise to preposterous new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view) and delivers the kind of nonsensical chaos moviegoers crave from big-budget popcorn fare. Vin Diesel returns as Dom, the burly, Corona-chugging lad who, quite unbelievably, evolved from a down-and-out street racer/criminal into a veritable superhero boasting remarkable superhuman strength and invulnerability. This guy takes down helicopters with his bare hands! Also in tow is the ever-expanding supporting cast that now includes a scene-chomping Jason Momoa and the always kick-ass Michelle Rodriguez.
There’s action aplenty, including a wild chase through Rome, all of it expertly staged by director Louis Leterrier, and enough testosterone to fill two diesel trucks. None of it makes a lick of sense, but at least the franchise has finally embraced the absurdity with a wink and a smile.
6. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
Perhaps the most disappointing summer entry, Dead Reckoning Part One, fails to live up to the lofty heights of its predecessors, notably Rogue Nation and Fallout, but still provides enough solid thrills to warrant your attention. Marred by a contrived story centered around artificial intelligence, the seventh Mission: Impossible entry sees Tom Cruise once again risking life and limb for our entertainment. He sometimes succeeds in his quest to prove himself the last great movie star, notably during an impeccably crafted car chase through Rome and a train sequence ripped straight out of the Uncharted video game series. Too often, though, Dead Reckoning is marred by endless exposition, a curious lack of drama, and a convoluted plot that bends credibility to its breaking point.
Hayley Atwell steals the show as Grace, a thief caught up in the film’s events, while Cruise delivers another earnest performance as the elusive Ethan Hunt. My opinion of Dead Reckoning Part One might change if Part Two delivers the goods. As it stands, I expected a lot more from Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie — or maybe I’m just spoiled.
5. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Did we need another Transformers movie? Probably not, but director Steven Caple Jr. at least infuses this latest outing — the seventh in the franchise — with enough action and heart to make it worth your while. The special effects are better than ever, and the set pieces are appropriately larger than life, while newcomers Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are plucky enough to hold one’s attention. Honestly, there’s nothing remarkable about this latest offering — that tease at the end feels more like a desperate attempt to keep the series afloat. Still, Rise of the Beasts feels like a nice step in the right direction for a brand that has struggled to remain relevant for the last decade.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The heroes in a half-shell return to the big screen in this animated feature from director Jeff Rowe and co-writer Seth Rogen with spectacular results. Sure, the new take on the popular franchise might rub some viewers the wrong way. I mean, seeing Splinter portrayed as this quirky, almost jittery parent who’s fed up with society — it’s a curveball for sure. But once you get past that initial shock, prepare for a unique experience that dazzles the eye and tickles the heart.
While the nonstop pop culture references grow tiresome (and will likely date the movie by next year), the pic posits Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo on a unique new path that promises thrilling future adventures. I can’t wait!
3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
At long last, Marvel delivers a movie that’s worth watching! Guardians 3 might be a bit of a mess, but that’s what adds to its irresistible charm. Director James Gunn unleashes a whirlwind of zany visuals, exhilarating set pieces, and a vibrant cast of characters in this culmination of his Guardians saga, taking viewers through a series of unexpected twists and turns, ultimately leading to a satisfying conclusion.
Granted, it does stretch on a tad longer than needed and ambitiously bites off more than it can chew. No matter. The cast retains their charisma, and the stakes are palpably higher. This is clearly the Guardians film Gunn always envisioned making. As we bid farewell to this motley crew of misfits — namely Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) — their final escapade thankfully offers a delightful throwback to the golden days of Marvel, which now seems so long ago.
2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Undeniably thrilling, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the Empire Strikes Back of animated sequels, a dark, complex journey that expands the universe, dives deeper into its characters, and culminates in a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that leaves you craving more. The animation is impeccable, and the voice performances shine brightly in this next chapter of the Miles Morales saga. A wickedly cool new villain, The Spot (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), who poses a dire threat to the Spider-Verse, is just the icing on the cake.
Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson pull out all the stops, delivering the same wild thrills that made Into the Spider-Verse a hit, yet infuse it with enough fresh twists to keep the experience invigorating. Whether a two-part story is necessary remains to be seen, but I’m more than willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to this franchise. Across the Spider-Verse rules!
Little did I realize that a 3-hour, R-rated biopic would become the most exhilarating cinematic journey of the summer. In Oppenheimer, writer/director Christopher Nolan fires on all cylinders, crafting an intricate exploration of a complex individual whose brilliant madness may have set in motion a chain of events leading to humanity’s very demise. It’s cerebral material, far from the standard popcorn entertainment, yet it remains as riveting, spellbinding, and engrossing as ever.
Led by the magnetic performance of Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer stands as a visual masterpiece, an overwhelming sensory spectacle that hurtles forward at a frenzied pace, challenging the audience at every turn. In many ways, it represents the culmination of Nolan’s entire body of work up to this point — a cinematic creation that reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place. Amidst the sea of superhero blockbusters, uninspiring sequels, and interconnected universes, it turns out what viewers truly yearned for was a film that delves deeply into the core of our humanity. Oppenheimer is far and away the best film of the year. So far.
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