After all the noise, we’ve just had the best summer of movies in years

Popcorn at the cinema
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When was the last time we had six terrific, big, mainstream films in the same summer season? It’ll be a while til we see a summer like this again…

There were few better summers for blockbuster movies, to my eyes at least, than 1993. I sort of took it for granted in its aftermath that it was a given we’d get so many really good big movies in such a contracted space of time. Kicking off with Cliffhanger, by the time that particular summer season was done, we’d had In The Line Of Fire, The Firm, The Fugitive, Last Action Hero (yeah, I like it), a solid Hot Shots! sequel and the small matter of Jurassic Park. It was a terrific moviegoing time to live through.

Over time though, the number of summer blockbusters has dwindled a little, and the quality of them has, well, sometimes struggled. It’s got to a point where in the summer crop of films, I generally figure one or two of them will be really good, the rest a bit, well, less really good.

Last summer is a case in point. I thought Top Gun Maverick was absolutely spectacular, and one of the best blockbuster movies of that scale I’d seen in eons. I liked the Elvis movie too, but pretty much everything else was at best okay. That’s not an unusual pattern, I’d suggest.

There’s been a lot of bad news stories around movies in 2023. At the point this is being written, Hollywood actors and writers remain on strike. Cinema chains are struggling to stay in business again. The most successful movie studio of modern times – Disney – is paying billions just so it can’t show you films that it’s made and paid for. And this follows an extraordinary year where Warner Bros Discovery decided to entirely delete completed, unseen films to save on its tax bill.

It feels like a minor miracle therefore to report at the end of the summer season, we’ve had six – six! – very, very good movies. When was the last time we had anywhere near that number in one single summer season. Six! And then some interesting releases bubbling underneath those too.

Let’s start with the big six then, because each one of these justifies the cost of a ticket by distance…

BARBIE/OPPENHEIMERBarbie vs Oppenheimer

It’s now been passed as a cinematic bylaw that this particular pair of movies can no longer be mentioned independently of each other. One of them is a tale that sticks in your mind for eons afterwards, so haunting are one or two of the moments in it. The other? Ah, you can fill in the gag yourself.

Aside from the incredible fact that these two got bundled together into a genuine word of mouth phenomenon, what’s core to both Barbie and Oppenheimer is, well, they’re both bloody great.

Both too are examples of filmmakers operating in a studio environment – Greta Gerwig at Warner Bros, Christopher Nolan at Universal – and creating something that feels remarkably different. Furthermore, both were clearly backed to the hilt by their respective studios, who stuck to their high summer release dates even though both movies were landing the same day. Turns out that rather than being competitors, the pair fuelled each other, and both have significantly overperformed in terms of box office too.

To get one of those films in a summer would feel like a treat. To get two, on the same day? Well, that’s a very welcome success. But, as it turned out, they weren’t alone…


Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I

Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I

For two of the films going forward in this piece, I’m going to talk luck. In the case of the latest Mission: Impossible movie, it – for me – absolutely delivered, but then found itself squeezed out by the arrival of Barbie and Oppenheimer two weeks later. When the schedule was originally put together, nobody at Paramount could realistically have seen the scale of those two coming, and the result was that Dead Reckoning lost a lot of screen space sooner than expected.

And that’s a shame. Paramount’s one error here may have been not budging date when it became clear Oppenheimer had an incoming iron grip on IMAX screens. I saw Dead Reckoning on an IMAX screen and had an absolute blast. Not the absolute peak of the franchise, but as exciting an action film as I’ve seen since, well, Top Gun Maverick. Spectacle, energy and genuinely exciting sequences, to the point where everything from AI to chip fat is lugged at Tom Cruise. Two and a half hours flew by in no time. Can’t wait for Part II.

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSEspider-man across the spider-verse part one

And there’s another terrific film! The outstanding visual style of the new Spider-Man animated film may have dominated a fair amount of the conversation on its release, but there’s a heart-filled film and a half in the midst of it all too.

It’s frustrating only in that it’s one of three films this summer to effectively end on some kind of cliffhanger pending a further chapter, and in this case the next chapter has already been delayed. But years after Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, it’s interesting that nobody else is driving animated films into quite the bold direction as the Spider-Verse creatives. In a summer of generally middling superhero films too, this is the standout by a distance.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTANT MAYHEMTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

I confess this is the one I’ve not yet got to, but it’s also the film that those around me who’ve seen are absolutely raving about. Again, risks taken with an animation style, and a franchise that’s been explored so often on the big screen that there was scope for something a little riskier with it. I look forward to catching up on the film.

GREATEST DAYSThe cast of Take That musical Greatest Days.

The one you all missed.

Here’s a tough lesson in movie scheduling roulette. On paper, Greatest Days should have been a big hit. The two Mamma Mia! films had demonstrated that if you have the right music, the right film and the right release slot, box office gold awaits. Greatest Days – a project that’s been in gestation for years – based itself on the music of Take That, yet Coky Giedroyc’s feature also remembered to put a good story at the heart of it.

The resultant film is a heartwarming blast, that just happened to be released on the weekend of the first really hot weather in the UK all year. For nascent distributor Elysian, which didn’t have the marketing clout of a major studio, this was a major slice of bad luck for a film that deserved a whole lot more. Hopefully, the home release will help it find its crowd, as it’s a much, much better film that it was really given credit for.


Outside of that core six, there’s been other interesting stuff to feast on as well. Pixar’s Elemental for instance has half a really bold in it, and even the other bit – the slightly fudged romance – is perfectly decent. The concluding chapter of the Guardians Of The Galaxy saga also delivered, and gave Marvel its best film in years. In any other year, it might even make the top three summer films. Here, it’s got to be content with being in the top seven: a testament to the competition, rather than Guardians itself.

The Flash, I’d argue, had a very good hour in it, and at some point it’s a film I want to talk about a bit more.

The two films that perhaps disappointed me the most were the ones that hadn’t really grown to any great degree. Fast X was as jumbled as a $300m film that changed director days before filming was likely to be, but what’s frustrating about the Fast films is that the action from one could be put into any of the last two or three. They’re not evolving, but they do growl a lot.

Then there was Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny. Wasn’t a fan I’m afraid, but you don’t need me to waffle on about that. Just all a bit odd, really.

One of the by-products of there being so many interesting and good films to see is that there were ones I’ve missed. I’ve not got to studio movies Blue Beetle, The Blackening, Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts, Haunted Mansion or Strays. There are some I did that have come and gone from my head – The Little Mermaid, No Hard Feelings – but the quality quotient overall has been ridiculously high I think, and I believe that’s very much worth noting.

Hopefully, the forthcoming winter of movies matching the standards that have been set by the rest of the year so far. If so, lots of treats lie ahead. But I might just pop off and watch Barbie again while I wait for them…

Lead image: BigStock

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