I see a lot of movies in theaters. Much like Christopher Nolan, I believe that movies are better on the big screen, and thanks to my local cinema offering unlimited tickets for a monthly fee of $20, I can usually be found at the movies at least once a week.
Throughout 2023, I’ve seen 79 movies in theaters, with that number set to rise even higher before the year is over. That total includes pretty much all of the biggest movies of the year from Barbie to Oppenheimer (yes, I watched them back-to-back), as well as smaller indie releases and a couple of high-profile foreign flicks for good measure.
Like many film enthusiasts, I diligently keep a ranked list of everything I see in theaters each year. And below you’ll find the 10 very best movies that I saw on the silver screen over the last 12 months, as well as 10 that had me eyeing an early exit.
My 10 favorite movies of 2023
10. Rye Lane
It’s pretty hard to make a romantic comedy feel fresh in 2023 but Rye Lane achieves that rare feat. This delightfully charming British movie will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling and have you smiling through its trim 82-minute runtime. Not only is its core cast seriously likable, but the smart screenplay is full of relatable musings on dating in the modern world.
Rye Lane follows two twenty-somethings living in South London, Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah), who spend an eventful day getting to know each other after a chance encounter in the toilets of an art exhibition. Both have recently been through bitter breakups, but the pair find solace in each other, and as you can probably guess romantic sparks fly.
Stream on Hulu
9. John Wick Chapter 4
The John Wick franchise has gone from strength to strength over the last decade morphing into one of the most consistently exhilarating action series in Hollywood history. After the explosive Chapter 3 - Parabellum, I had my doubts that the fourth John Wick flick could keep the momentum going, but I’m pleased to say director Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves proved my skepticism very wrong.
John Wick Chapter 4 gets a little bogged down in the series’ lore at times, but otherwise, it’s almost three hours of nearly non-stop gleefully over-the-top pulpy action. The grand climax set in the picturesque city of Paris took my breath away, and while I would be more than happy for the franchise to bow out on a high right here if the rumored in-development fifth John Wick movie does come to light, I have complete faith the consistent quality won’t drop.
Stream on Starz
8. Talk to Me
A seriously spooky chiller, Talk to Me is an Australian horror movie that follows a group of friends who discover a method of contacting the dead by gripping an embalmed hand and uttering the words “talk to me”. Naturally what starts as a novel party trick quickly becomes something much more sinister when the spirits they communicate with refuse to leave.
Not only does Talk to Me have some of the most toe-curlingly realistic practical effects I’ve seen in years, but it also does an excellent job balancing frighteningly effective scares with quieter more character-focused moments. I found myself caring for the ultimate fate of lead Mia (Sophie Wilde), and the movie’s brutal ending has stuck with me all these months later.
7. The Boy and the Heron
The latest movie from animation mastermind Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron is the filmmaker's most spellbinding movie since 2001’s Spirited Away. As a movie produced by the legendary anime house Studio Ghibli, this fantasy flick was always going to look downright gorgeous, but what impressed me the most was how heartfelt I found its narrative.
The film is set during the Pacific War and centers on a young boy, Mahito (voiced by Luca Padovan in the English dub), who moves from his home in Tokyo to a rural estate following the death of his mother and his father’s new marriage. As he settles into his new surroundings he uncovers an abandoned tower nearby and is drawn into a strange new world by a mysterious talking heron (Robert Pattinson). Heavily inspired by Miyazaki’s childhood, The Boy and the Heron is an emotional coming-of-age journey through a fantastical land.
6. Godzilla Minus One
I’ve never been much of a Godzilla fan. I even ranked Godzilla: King of the Monsters as one of the worst movies of its release year. So, it’s fair to say I went into Godzilla Minus One with fairly low expectations. And yet this stunning Japanese blockbuster blew me away with all the force of a gigantic kaiju stomping around a city. It’s easily my most pleasant surprise of the year.
What drew me into Godzilla Minus One was how much it made me care about its human cast. The film stars Ryunosuke Kamiki as Kōichi Shikishima, a World War II pilot dealing with immense survivor's guilt, and his plight was enough to hook me. Of course, it helps that when Godzilla does show up to wreck shop the effects are remarkable. Never has the skyscraper-sized monster seemed so intimidating and so capable of complete carnage.
5. Anatomy of a Fall
All I knew going into Anatomy of a Fall was that it’d won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and 152 minutes later I understood exactly why it was already an award-winner before the general public had even had the chance to see it.
A courtroom drama with a fascinating mother/son relationship at its core, Anatomy of a Fall hooked me more than most action-thrillers. The French film follows a successful novelist (Sandra Hüller) who is accused of murdering her husband (Samuel Theis) by pushing him out of a third-story window. While she protests her innocence, her blind son (Milo Machado-Graner) is caught in the middle, and the case could rest on his recollection of events as the sole witness. Anatomy of a Fall is an acting tour de force, and it’s one that I cannot wait to rewatch over the holidays.
4. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
It’s been a hell of a year for Spider-Man fans with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 on PS5 and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse both landing to deserved acclaim. This sequel to 2018’s utterly fantastic Into the Spider-Verse, sees Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) take a further step into the multiverse of Spider-People and face a new threat, the Spot (Jason Schwartzman).
What I love most about Across the Spider-Verse is how it successfully blends so many different elements into a satisfying whole. For example, there’s a large focus on Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), but it never comes at the expense of Miles’ story. Plus, new characters like Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac) are added to the already large cast with great results. And we can’t overlook that the animation quality is somehow even better than its predecessor. It’s just a shame that the wait for the follow-up looks set to be a long one.
Watch on Netflix
3. The Killer
I suspect this might be my most controversial pick as The Killer has proved to be a surprisingly divisive movie. However, in a year that saw the release of another excellent John Wick sequel, the fact that director David Fincher masterminded the most exhilarating action sequence of 2023 is reason alone for The Killer to earn a spot on my favorites list.
The Killer is a well-oiled vehicle for Fincher’s impeccably clean filmmaking, with its opening moments especially a marvel of laser-sharp editing. This action-thriller was criticized by some for its lack of warmth and an ending that fizzles out. However, I found its singular execution almost flawless, and the central performance from Michael Fassbender is captivating. The Killer shines brightest on the big screen, so it’s a shame most people likely saw it on Netflix.
Stream on Netflix
2. Past Lives
Past Lives is a movie that I’ve thought about pretty much every single day since I first saw it in August. This heart-achingly romantic drama follows two childhood friends, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae (Teo Yoo), over more than two decades, as they grow apart, come back together and reflect on the choices they’ve made (and didn’t make) over the course of a fateful week.
Writer/director Celine Song has described the plot as “semi-autobiographical” and it shows on screen. Watching Past Lives feels like reading the pages of somebody’s diary, and learning their innermost thoughts and feelings. The film is a masterclass in nearly all areas with the two central performances and extremely strong writing standing out most prominently. The whole movie is utterly enchanting, but it’s the melancholic ending that has stayed with me the most all these months later.
When I say that Oppenheimer is perhaps my favorite Christopher Nolan movie that is high praise indeed considering the caliber of his past work, but this stunning biopic impressed me on every level. The cast list is too stacked to recount here, but Cillian Murphy anchors the entire behemoth of a movie in a way that I genuinely believe that few actors could replicate. I need to also give credit to Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh who all managed to match him throughout.
Nolan’s direction has rarely been this inventive, and sequences like Oppenheimer’s post-bomb-dropping speech crackling with pure cinematic energy. Spinning a gripping but equally horrifying recount of the Manhattan Project that created the world’s first nuclear weapon, Oppenheimer isn’t going to be ranked as Nolan’s most purely entertaining movie anytime soon, but it represents a visionary director at the top of his game. It's a true masterpiece and the best movie I saw in theaters in 2023.
My 10 worst movies of 2023
10. Shazam! Fury of the Gods
I found the first Shazam! movie an enjoyable, albeit, fairly disposable superhero movie, and never really felt a sequel was necessary. It would seem that the general audience agreed with me as Shazam! Fury of the Gods was a verifiable box-office bomb back in March.
Without wanting to be too harsh to the filmmakers who undoubtedly worked hard on the movie, I can’t say that Fury of the Gods deserved a different fate either. Zachary Levi tries very hard in the titular role but Shazam is far from a compelling leading hero, while Lucy Liu and Helen Mirren as a villainous duo sounded like a hoot before release but on screen, the chemistry just wasn’t quite right. And I’ve not even talked about the now infamous cameo from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) which had me rolling my eyes and unintentionally laughing in equal measures.
9. Cocaine Bear
To give it some credit, Cocaine Bear doesn’t try and be anything that it’s not. This extremely silly action-comedy is a (very loose) retelling of the true story of an American black bear that ingested a large quantity of an illicit substance in northern Georgia after it was dropped by drug smugglers from a plane. In reality, the wild animal fatally overdosed, but in this flick, the bear goes on a bloody-thirsty rampage.
It would be unfair to expect much more than silly fun from a movie with a name like Cocaine Bear, but the fact it failed to even provide that makes it one of the blandest movies I watched in 2023. The nonsense plot is stretched well beyond its breaking point, and the needlessly large cast of characters constantly perform the most illogical actions which is often downright infuriating Cocaine Bear sounds more fun on paper than it turned out to be in practice.
Stream on Prime Video
8. Five Nights at Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s inclusion on this list may seem a little harsh to some. I'm aware it was somewhat warmly received by fans of the popular video game series, but it’s the wasted potential that disappointed me most. Five Night at Freddy’s could have been an enjoyably cheesy B-movie, but instead, we were served up the cinematic equivalent of half-baked pizza. All the components for greatness are here but they haven't been assembled correctly.
This tonally messy horror movie stars Josh Hutcherson as a newly hired security guard for an abandoned pizzeria. What should have been an easy gig becomes a lot more taxing when the restaurant’s animatronic mascots come to life with murderous intent. Lacking any genuine scares, and not funny enough to be classified as a true horror-comedy, Five Nights at Freddy’s is for the most dedicated fans only.
Stream on Peacock
7. The Flash
The Flash had a notoriously messy production, and it very much shows on screen. There was a surprising amount of pre-release buzz about this DC superhero flick, but it ultimately amounted to another comic book movie with ugly visual effects, a generic multiverse storyline and far too many cameos, references and attempts at setting up sequels.
Of course, The Flash isn’t helped by being awkwardly positioned within the now-defunct DC Extended Universe (DCEU). We know that James Gunn and Peter Safran are cleaning the house and rebooting the DC slate, which makes The Flash feel almost entirely pointless. At least the emotional core of Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) traveling back in time to prevent his mother’s death was easy to root for, but otherwise, The Flash was another generic superhero movie in a year with plenty of them.
6. Transformers Rise of the Beast
Perhaps the most damning thing I can say about Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is that I’m genuinely struggling to recall much of anything about it several months after its release. It’s most definitely one of the most forgettable blockbusters released in 2023, which is similarly damning considering this year was filled with tentpole movies that failed to hit the mark.
Pitched as both a sequel to the (very underrated) Bumblebee solo movie and a prequel to Michael Bay’s Transformers series, Rise of the Beast is two hours of messy metal-on-metal action sequences and thinly drawn human characters (Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback do what they can with weak material). At least it’s better than the last mainline Transformers movie, 2017’s The Last Knight, but that’s a very low bar to clear.
Stream on Paramount Plus
5. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
I was suffering from Marvel fatigue as early as 2021, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was the movie that turned my exhaustion with the increasingly unwieldy MCU into downright apathy. This painfully messy blockbuster is a horrible mix of unenjoyable action, bizarre plotting and thinly sketched characters.
Even the first proper appearance of Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror, who is supposed to be the next Thanos-level threat for the Avengers to face, couldn’t make this truly awful comic book movie even a little bit enjoyable. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was supposed to kick off a new phase for the Marvel universe, but instead, it left me asking if they shouldn’t have packed in it after the triumph of Avengers: Endgame.
Stream on Disney Plus
4. Fast X
The Fast and Furious franchise has been spinning its wheels for a while now, and Fast X is yet more evidence that this series needs to be taken to the scrapyard. The nonsensical plot sees Jason Momoa join the cast as a charismatic villain out for revenge on Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew for the events that transpired in 2011’s Fast Five.
Of course, directly linking this latest entry to the much-loved fifth Fast movie only serves to remind us of a time when this franchise felt fresh and exciting. Not to mention, F&F’s obsession with fan-service cameos and returning characters feels like a cheap trick that no longer washes. Momoa injects some energy, and some of the action sequences are well crafted, but Fast X’s cliffhanger ending had me rolling my eyes rather than getting hyped for what comes next.
Stream on Peacock
65 sees Adam Driver play a space pilot who crash lands on prehistoric Earth and must contend with Jurassic creatures and the planet’s hostile terrain while escorting a young survivor along the way. On paper, that’s a seriously cool idea for a movie, so it’s extremely frustrating that 65 never manages to capture the excitement its premise promises.
Driver appears bored for most of the merciful short runtime, which is a feeling I could relate to as I was trying to keep myself awake in my seat. Even in the third act when the duo square off against all manner of dinos including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, 65 does little to raise the pulse. It’s a movie that never comes close to living up to its potential and amounts to nothing more than a waste of a cool idea. I’d recommend watching the short-lived TV show Terra Nova instead.
Stream on Netflix
2. Insidious: The Red Door
It’s been a mixed bag of a year for the horror genre, there have been some standouts like Talk to Me and Beau is Afraid, but also a lot of spooky films that have missed the mark. No prizes for guessing which camp Insidious: The Red Door falls into.
I will give this fifth entry in the long-running franchise some credit for being a sequel to Insidious 2. After back-to-back prequels, moving the overall story forward helps The Red Door stand out. But apart from that very minor bit of praise there’s very little positive I can say about this one. Previous Insidious movies have been criticized for an overreliance on jump scares and cheap horror cliches, and The Red Door is no different. But its biggest crime is its bloated runtime. By the time the credits finally rolled the only truly scary thing was how much time I’d wasted watching this one.
Stream on Netflix
1. The Exorcist: Believer
The Exorcist: Believer is the first legacy sequel in a planned new trilogy of movies, but based on this first chapter, I can’t imagine there will be many people eager to see this ride through to the end. In short, The Exorcist: Believer is a truly wrenched way to kick off a new era for this iconic horror titan.
There are problems across the board, but among the most unforgivable are the flimsy plot, the abundance of cheap callbacks to the vastly superior original and the unadventurous filmmaking from director David Gordon Green. However, if there’s one fatal flaw that truly sinks this ship, it’s that The Exorcist: Believer lacks any genuine scares. The Exorcist is upheld as one of the most terrifying films ever made, but I can confidently say that Believer won’t be ranking alongside it anytime soon.
Stream on Peacock
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Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.
Why do all bloggers think they have to try to be experts on all subjects?? Stick to technical advice. I appreciate your technical advice, , , or at least I did until I read your movie comments. Now I am beginning to have doubts.admin said:I saw dozens of movies in theaters in 2023 — here are 5 that I can't wait to rewatch, and 5 that had me wanting to leave early.
I saw 75 movies in theaters this year — here’s the 5 best and 5 worst : Read more
the article is on the Opinion section. you do know you don't have to read all the article. but thanks for readingRufionn said:Why do all bloggers think they have to try to be experts on all subjects?? Stick to technical advice. I appreciate your technical advice, , , or at least I did until I read your movie comments. Now I am beginning to have doubts.
Thanks for the advice. I actually do know that I didn’t have to read any, part or all of the article - - - that wasn’t the point.rgd1101 said:the article is on the Opinion section. you do know you don't have to read all the article. but thanks for reading
I'm new and saw a link to this article somewhere. I hoped I'd find some hidden gems, but they are mostly just blockbusters. Oppenheimer could have been a great movie...I don't think it was great. What about The Holdovers? One of my favorites this year (but I don't see as many as you! You're lucky!) I just saw Ghibli's The Boy and the Heron and thought that was better than any recent superhero stuff. Those seem to be more of a money-grab than any "film making. " (I'm not against actions movies, but think we need some new vision for them instead of tight outfits, lens flares and explosions .)Reply
Why go see dramas or romance etc, at the movies? They are for spectacle, not something that's exactly the same on a phone screen.. lol Rating Godzilla minus One so low too! Yikes! Least you knew the disney crap, was crap..Reply
U don't like it, don't watch it, if u were to just at least try thinking for a second before hating on others for having opinions that don't fit ur opinion .Rufionn said:Why do all bloggers think they have to try to be experts on all subjects?? Stick to technical advice. I appreciate your technical advice, , , or at least I did until I read your movie comments. Now I am beginning to have doubts.
The list is actually a very accurate picture of some important names for 2023 movies and the success had with fans , I personally agree totally ,and user ratings across known review sites seems to share a close opinion.
I’m with you. I know the critics adored Oppenheimer, but I thought it was sleep-inducing from beginning to end.nanciejeanne said:I'm new and saw a link to this article somewhere. I hoped I'd find some hidden gems, but they are mostly just blockbusters. Oppenheimer could have been a great movie...I don't think it was great. What about The Holdovers? One of my favorites this year (but I don't see as many as you! You're lucky!) I just saw Ghibli's The Boy and the Heron and thought that was better than any recent superhero stuff. Those seem to be more of a money-grab than any "film making. " (I'm not against actions movies, but think we need some new vision for them instead of tight outfits, lens flares and explosions .)