Memorial Day weekend serves as the unofficial start of summer, which means ‘tis the season for summer movies. With the pandemic in the rearview, this year’s slate is jam-packed with big titles, from Disney’s Little Mermaid remake to Indiana Jones’ long-awaited next adventure and Tom Cruise’s latest death-defying Mission:Impossible outing.
The 2023 crop of summer movies also feature superheroes like Spider-Man, The Flash and Blue Beetle saving the day. Barbie’s ready to party, while auteurs Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan do their usual thing (quirky dramedy and thrilling spectacle, respectively) with their usual ensembles.
Dozens of titles will be released over the next few months, in theaters and on streaming services. Here are our picks for the 15 summer movies not to miss.
The Little Mermaid (May 26, in theaters)
Disney’s nostalgia machine revs up with yet another live-action remake of one of their animated classics. This time, The Little Mermaid gets the treatment, following in the footsteps of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Mulan. Like those remakes, this one has its naysayers, though the high level of vitriol is disturbing (some people are up in arms that Ariel is played by Black actress Halle Bailey).
Of course, a fictional cartoon mermaid doesn’t have to look a certain way, nor does any remake need to be 100% faithful to its predecessor. As Ariel, Bailey is an utterly charming screen presence with a powerful voice. The story of an outsider yearning for a different life is as familiar and comforting as ever. Plus, the ubiquitous Lin-Manuel Miranda adds new music to make this IP-plumbing cash grab a little more interesting. — Kelly Woo
Past Lives (June 2, in theaters)
The last two Best Picture Oscar winners, Everything Everywhere All at Once and CODA, were indies that premiered at early festivals. I’m not saying Past Lives will make it a hat trick, but the romantic drama has received rave reviews and could be a strong contender come awards season. At the very least, it’s a welcome countermeasure to all the big-budget summer fare.
Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) were childhood friends in South Korea separated when Nora’s family moved to the United States. Two decades later, they reunite when Hae Sung visits New York. As they reconnect, they confront the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” of their lives. Nora is married, but does destiny have some other outcome in mind for them? - KW
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (June 2, in theaters)
Finally, this summer brings the long-awaited sequel to the best Spider-Man movie ever (fight me) and one of the best animated films of the past several decades. Personally, I thought it should’ve been nominated for the 2018 Best Picture Oscar — and won (instead, the Best Animated Feature trophy was its consolation prize).
One year after the events of the first movie, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) learns from Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) that all the Spider-verses are in danger of collapsing. Interdimensional villain the Spot (Jason Schwartzman). Miles and Gwen journey into the multiverse, where they meet protectors known as the Spider-Society. But its leader, Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), clashes with Miles over the best way to take out the Spot. — KW
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (June 9, in theaters)
While the Transformers movie franchise had seemingly dried up during its Michael Bay era, they're back (possibly thanks to the success of the Hailee Steinfeld-led Bumblebee). Now, though, Transformers fans are finally getting the characters many have begged for: the Maximals and Predacons of Beast Wars.
This chapter, a sequel to Bumblebee and a prequel to Bay's 2007 movie, takes place in the ‘90s, when Noah (Anthony Ramos) and Elena (Dominique Fishback) are pulled into the intergalactic conflict. The voice cast here is excellent, with Ron Perlman, Michelle Yeoh and Peter Dinklage joining up. If the Bay films soured you on the idea of another Transformers movie, go watch Bumblebee (currently one of the best Paramount Plus movies), to see how the films about robots in disguise are more entertaining than ever. — Henry T. Casey
Flamin’ Hot (June 9, Hulu and Disney Plus)
Biopics about corporate employees and their culture-changing ideas are all the rage. See: Air (about the creation of Michael Jordan’s signature shoe line), Blackberry (about the smartphone the iPhone killed) and Tetris (about the distribution of the classic video game). The latest chronicles how the world was blessed with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
In his memoir, Richard Montañez claims to have invented the spicy take on Cheetos. The movie follows the lowly Frito-Lay janitor (Jesse Garcia), whose Mexican heritage serves as inspiration for an exciting new snack that becomes a global phenomenon. It’s the kind of heartwarming underdog story that will leave a tear in your eye — and red dust all over your fingers. — KW
Asteroid City (June 16, in theaters)
Decades after Independence Day blew up the box office, Wes Anderson telling his own tale of an alien sighting. And, unsurprisingly, it's also a personal story about a father Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) who isn't ready to tell his children that their mother passed away.
Augie's processing this all with the help of his father-in-law (Tom Hanks), but he also finds time to strike up a connection with a starlet (Scarlett Johansson). It all takes place in a quaint small town that looks to be little more than a gas station and other facilities. Naturally, Asteroid City bears a very particular visual style, and it's filled with beloved actors that you've seen in previous Anderson movies. Those include Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Jeffrey Wright, while Bryan Cranston joins the fold. — HTC
The Flash (June 16, in theaters)
A movie many people thought would never arrive races into theaters this year — half a decade after it was originally supposed to be released. The Flash sees the titular hero (Ezra Miller) go back in time to prevent his mother's murder.
In the process, Barry Allen creates a world without superheroes and puts humanity at risk from the now-not-dead General Zod (Michael Shannon). Barry's only hope of defeating the mad Kryptonian is to team up with this world's Batman (Michael Keaton), with a little help from Supergirl (Sasha Calle) and his alternate self (also Miller). Expect some multiverse-shattering consequences to this one, folks. – Tom Pritchard
No Hard Feelings (June 23, in theaters)
Ever since Jennifer Lawrence broke out as a star in the grim Winter’s Bone, she’s mostly shuffled between making dramas and action movies (with a couple of dark comedies sprinkled into the mix). Over the last few years, she’s dialed her career way, way back, focusing on having a family. Now, she’s back on the big screen doing something new: a screwball comedy.
Maddie’s car was just repossessed, making it impossible to keep working as an Uber driver. Facing bankruptcy and needing money, she finds an unusual job listing posted by rich helicopter parents who are seeking someone to "date-date" their awkward, introverted son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). Though she vows to “date his brains out,” Maddie discovers Percy is no easy catch. — KW
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (June 30, in theaters)
Dr. Jones' final ride with the series is coming to truly erase memories of the Shia LaBeouf-filled previous edition. Harrison Ford's hero is back to stop a Nazi named Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) from getting his hands on the titular dial, the Antikythera. But Indiana Jones has help from the next generation, as his granddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) plays a pivotal role.
Critical response to the film, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival, has been mixed. Ford's performance got strong votes, but notes on poor CGI abound. Still, the film has been declared as entertaining, which is what matters in the end. – HTC
Joy Ride (July 7, in theaters)
This road trip comedy featuring four Asian-American women is everything I’ve been wanting for years. Adele Lim, the screenwriter behind Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, takes the director’s chair for the first time. Her cast is stacked with some of the brightest rising stars in the biz, led by Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu and Ashley Park.
When Audrey (Park) decides to go to China to find her birth mother, she enlists the support of her best friends: irreverent hot mess Lolo (Sherry Cola); Chinese soap star Kat (Hsu); and Lolo’s eccentric cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). Their trip is filled with both hijinks and emotional moments as their American upbringing and their Asian heritage collide. - KW
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (July 12, in theaters)
Tom Cruise, Mr. Box Office himself, is back for more mind-blowing stunts that will look best on the biggest screen in town. This time, they include jumping a motorbike off a massive cliff into an abyss, as the first half of the final Mission: Impossible movie (call it Mission: Impossible 7 if you want) arrives.
While we don't exactly go to Mission: Impossible movies for the plot, this one does sound interesting. While trying to stop a dangerous weapon from falling into the wrong hands, Ethan Hunt's past is coming back to bite him, as former IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) recurs. Questions about the value of the overall "mission" are thrown into question, as Hunt's told that nobody's lives on his team are more important than the cause they're working towards. — HTC
Barbie (July 21, in theaters)
Come on, Barbie, let’s go party! Greta Gerwig’s fever dream of a film has already spawned two major memes (the ticket-buying one and the poster-inspired “she’s everything”). So, we’re on pins and needles (and extremely high-heeled shoes) to see the fanfare around the release.
A Barbie-themed movie could’ve gone in any number of directions, but Gerwig decided for surreal, cheeky and giddy-yet-slightly-menacing. Barbie (Margot Robbie) has the perfect life, with her dream house and dream boyfriend Ken (Ryan Gosling). Yes, he’s kind of a doofus, but he's handsome as hell. Then, an existential crisis sends Barbie to the outside world to find true happiness. — KW
Oppenheimer (July 21, in theaters)
Christopher Nolan is back with another summer blockbuster, and this one is a historical biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy), one of the major figures behind the Manhattan Project and the so-called “father of the atomic bomb”.
While nuclear physics is no simple topic, the movie’s real-world setting should make it a heck of a lot easier to understand than some of Nolan’s previous work. The story takes place during World War II during the Manhattan Project itself, and the United States’ race to successfully develop a nuclear weapon before the Nazis. So the stakes are pretty high, and so should the drama. Even if most of us already know how this particular story ends. — TP
Gran Turismo (August 11, in theaters)
Video games and auto racing are both tremendously popular right now, so why not combine them in the most literal way? A Gran Turismo gamer (Archie Madekwe) struggles to convince his parents that he can make a living in racing, but things get real when he wins a competition to become an actual driver.
And, yes, this is all somewhat based on the real story of British gamer Jann Mardenborough, who won a seat through the GT Academy. The racing action looks both fast and furious, and the ultra charismatic David Harbour and Orlando Bloom both co-star. – HTC
Blue Beetle (August 18, in theaters)
The DC movie-verse’s first Latino superhero in Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña). While not part of the James Gunn-created film slate, he previously declared that Blue Beetle “fits directly into our DCU.” Unlike that Batgirl movie that WBD shelved for tax purposes.
The story follows Jaime, a recent college grad with big dreams. His future takes an unexpected turn when he comes into possession of an ancient relic of alien biotechnology called the Scarab. It chooses him to be its symbiotic host, granting him an exoskeleton armor with extraordinary (but unpredictable) powers. As he becomes a superhero, he relies on his family for support. But an unscrupulous businesswoman (Susan Sarandon) schemes to steal the Scarab from him. - KW
Other notable 2023 summer movies
- You Hurt My Feelings (May 26, in theaters)
- About My Father (May 26, in theaters)
- The Blackening (June 16, in theaters)
- Elemental (June 16, in theaters)
- Extraction 2 (June 16, Netflix)
- Nimona (June 30, Netflix)
- Biosphere (July 7, in theaters)
- Insidious: The Red Door (July 7, in theaters)
- They Cloned Tyrone (July 21, Netflix)
- Haunted Mansion (July 28, in theaters)
- Meg 2: The Trench (August 4, in theaters)
- The Last Voyage of the Demeter (August 11, in theaters)
- Back on the Strip (August 18, in theaters)
- Strays (August 18, in theaters)
- Bottoms (August 25, in theaters)
- The Equalizer 3 (September 1, in theaters)