The 16 Best Movies of 2023 So Far
We're more than halfway through the year, and the first eight months of 2023 have brought moviegoers some real cinematic delights. There have been action-adventure pictures like "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," horror movies like "Scream 6," "The Boogeyman," and "The Blackening," and iconic animated adventures like "Nimona" and "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse." For romance fans, movies like "Past Lives" and "Rye Lane" have been knockouts. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reunited for April's "Air," and Halle Bailey brought Ariel to a new generation of children in May's live-action "The Little Mermaid."
July brought some absolute heavy hitters, including "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer." We're also looking forward to a lot of movies that are currently scheduled for the end of the year, including "Killers of the Flower Moon," but studios have been delaying release dates in response to the ongoing actors' and writers' strikes. Though some of our moviegoing future for the rest of the year is up in the air, we want to celebrate all the best that cinema has had to offer us so far in 2023.
Ahead, these are POPSUGAR's 16 favorite movies of the year so far, ranked.
"Scream 6" is the sixth film in the storied franchise — and the first not to feature Neve Campbell as Sydney. Despite that, it's still a worthy addition to the story. In the film, Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Chad (Mason Gooding), and Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) have moved to New York to try to put Ghostface's reign of terror behind them, but of course, the phone-wielding, knife-slashing villain has found them again. The movie brings back not just Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers, but also sees Hayden Panettiere reprise her role as Kirby from "Scream 4" for the first time. The twists in this are truly gasp-worthy, but it's all undergirded by the general affection between the core four.
"The Blackening" enters the canon of meta-horror films with guns blazing. The movie pokes fun at the idea that Black people always die in horror movies, sending a group of Black friends to a cabin in the woods where they quickly become targets of a new slasher villain. The movie is buoyed by breakout, hilarious performances from Dewayne Perkins (who wrote the film with Tracy Oliver) and X Mayo. "The Blackening" is a riot that signals exciting futures for everyone involved.
"Polite Society" is part action film, part comedy, part family drama — and director/writer Nida Manzoor mixes it all together into a very delightful film. Priya Kansara plays Ria, a British-Pakistani teen who dreams of being a stunt woman one day. For now, she settles for getting into drag-out fights with her schoolmates. When her older sister makes the uncharacteristic choice to tie the knot, Ria becomes convinced there's something deeper afoot, turning her into the action hero both she and her sister need to save the day. The action is dramatic, but with a real sense of humor, and the bond between the two sisters seals the deal.
"You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah"
It's a good year to be a girl at the movies. August's "You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah," directed by Sammi Cohen from a script by Alison Peck, first got attention because it stars Adam Sandler's daughters, Sunny and Sadie. Sunny plays Stacy, our lead, who has the perfect vision for her Bat Mitzvah. Sadie plays older sister Ronnie, and Adam and Idina Menzel play their parents.
But Stacy's single-minded focus on the perfect bat mitzvah — which includes having her crush on her arm at the party — tears her apart from her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), leaving both girls to struggle with the indignities of middle school on their own. "You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah" is not afraid to lean into those indignities — the truly gross moments that can make adolescence so, so painful. And ultimately, the friendship between Sunny and Lydia feels deep and earned; I fully cried at the end of the film.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret"
Judy Blume published "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" way back in 1970. 53 years later, director Kelly Fremon Craig adapts the story into this gorgeously fun, bright, and heartfelt film. Abby Ryder Fortson navigates Margaret's life with wide eyes that see and judge everything, and Rachel McAdams seems effortlessly wonderful as Margaret's mom, who's struggling to find her own identity as her only child grows up right in front of her eyes. It's heartwarming but not overly sweet, and still leaves in all the sticky, complicated questions that Margaret will spend a lifetime trying to wrap her head around.
"Nimona," released on Netflix on June 30, just barely makes the cut for the first half of the year. This animated feature follows Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) in a futuristic kingdom where he's on the verge of being made a knight. He's supported by his dreamy boyfriend, fellow knight Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang). But when things go wrong and everyone thinks Ballister is a villain, the only one who'll stand by him is the shape-shifting Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), who knows a thing or two about being called a villain. Together the pair try to clear his name and save the kingdom as the mysteries of Nimona's true nature unfold. "Nimona" is one of the most emotional movies of the year as it explores what it really means to call someone your enemy.
"Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One"
"Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" surely has the longest, most grammatically complex title of the year. But underneath the colons and em-dashes is the seventh Mission: Impossible film, and it's excellent. Every movie stars Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, and sometimes the movies have felt a little too heavy when they try to give Ethan too much depth (Ethan doesn't wear sadness well). But "Dead Reckoning Part One" figures out how to give Ethan deep emotional connections without weighing him down. "Mission: Impossible 7" is, in a weird way, about found family, about fighting back despite the odds, about what we owe each other in an ever-changing world. And yes, the stunts are excellent.
"How to Blow Up a Pipeline"
"How to Blow Up a Pipeline" is maybe one of the strangest book-to-movie adaptations of all time. The 2021 book "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" is a leftist pamphlet that argues for climate activists to utilize sabotage — like blowing up pipelines (though the book does not actually include instructions). The film follows an unlikely group of climate activists as they come together and plan to do just that. "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" plays out like a heist movie, full of twists, turns, and bait-and-switch moves that will leave you surprised, but with an important, complicated message at its center. There are no happy endings or easy answers here.
Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" is, on its surface, about a strange, desert town that makes brief and bizarre contact with an alien. But dig a little deeper, and it's about things like grief, performance, the purpose of stories and science, and why we all long for human connection — even amid confusing, earth-shaking quarantines. It's gorgeous to look at and quite funny, with strong performances from Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks and the rest of the movie's sprawling ensemble cast.
"Talk to Me"
"Talk to Me" is absolutely terrifying. Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou from a script by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman, it follows a group of Australian teenagers who use an embalmed hand to hold seances. It's jarring to see people commune with terrifying spirits for TikTok likes, but when things go horrifyingly wrong, things get very gory, very fast. The horror flick is anchored by an incredible starring performance from Sophie Wilde. "Talk to Me" is the Philippous' directorial debut, and we can't wait to see what they do next.
"Bottoms" — an R-rated comedy about teen lesbians who are so desperate to have sex that they start a fight club — is a bit polarizing. But that's the point. "Bottoms" could have been a simple parody of other teen movies, a commentary on the gross out comedies that tend to star teen boys and the personal dramas that tend to star teen girls. But "Bottoms" somehow combines both. It is really weird, never afraid to keep upping the stakes until it reaches its bizarre, bloody, thrilling conclusion.
What keeps it from flying off the rails? Ayo Edebiri's performance as Josie is both touching enough to ground the film and weird enough to leave you in stitches (and she improvised one of the "Bottom"'s funniest moments, when Josie imagines her future life). But the whole cast is stacked with heavy hitters, including Rachel Sennott as the totally deranged PJ, Ruby Cruz (who starred in the canceled but never forgotten "Willow" series) as their long-suffering friend Hazel, Havana Rose Liu as Josie's cheerleader crush Isabel, and "Red, White & Royal Blue"'s Nicholas Galitzine as an absolute jock nightmare. In director Emma Seligman's hands, this film secures its place in the canon of teen comedy classics.
"Theater Camp" is for theater kids, current and former. The movie follows teachers and campers at a fictional theater camp where everything is falling apart, and an original musical about the camp's ailing founder needs to save everything. Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman from a script written by them, Ben Platt, and Noah Galvin (plus tons of improv from the cast), "Theater Camp" is alive with magic. It's over-the-top and silly. The campers are absurdly talented. And I still cried at the end.
"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse"
"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" had big shoes to film. It's the sequel to the much-beloved "Into the Spider-Verse," released in 2018, which ended up winning best animated film at the Oscars. But "Across the Spider-Verse" clears that high bar as it sends Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) on another adventure where he meets countless other spider heroes, but wonders if he'll ever really belong among them. Hailee Steinfeld's Gwen Stacy goes on her emotional journey as the two teens try to find their way in the Spider-Verse. We're optimistic that the third film, "Beyond the Spider-Verse," will give this tale the fitting finale it deserves.
In the days before "Barbie" was released, viewers online began to worry: Had it been over-hyped? Could the movie possibly live up to the promise of all the promotion and merch and wild Ryan Gosling quotes that came before it? But the movie, directed by Greta Gerwig from a script she wrote with partner Noah Baumbach, does. Gosling's off-the-walls performance as Ken has gotten a lot of praise, but the movie wouldn't work without Margot Robbie's performance as the main Barbie. As she moves from Barbieland to womanhood, Robbie brings Barbie literally to life.
Writer and director Celine Song made her directorial debut with "Past Lives." In the semi-autobiographical film, Greta Lee plays Nora, whose family left Korea when she was a young girl and moved to the US. In the process, she lost touch with her childhood friend (and crush) Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). Years later, he finds her online, and they connect again in a series of long-distance calls before they lose track of each other again. The next time they link back up, Nora is married to Arthur (John Magaro). "Past Lives" is a story about fate, adulthood, growing up, and what it really takes to become who you are.
"Rye Lane," a breakout from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, follows two lovesick 20-somethings, Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), as they connect while rambling around South London on a very memorable day. As they share their romantic successes and failures and their fears for the future, they start to fall for each other (and get into some over-the-top hijinks). "Rye Lane" manages to pay tribute to some of the best rom-coms of the past (especially its British forebearers) while still standing on its own as an iconic, worthy romance with tons of laughs.