We're only at the year's halfway mark, but July is quickly shaping up to be the best moviegoing month of 2017: There are blockbusters lighthearted (Spidey's back yet again, and Sony swears they've cracked the formula this time) and solemn (Chris Nolan goes to war with Harry Styles in tow). Do you like your sci-fi weird (monkey in a tank!) or extra-weird (sentient brains!)? Indie types can check out an urgent new doc on Syria, a groundbreaking Yiddish-language drama or a British period piece-cum-feminist revenge thriller metaphysical drama. See, there is more out there in the heat of summer than just the freakin' Emoji Movie! Here's what you'll need to catch at a theater near you this month.
Atomic Blonde (July 28th)
After they gave action cinema a jolt with John Wick, co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch went their separate ways. Stahelski returned for John Wick 2; Leitch has given us this adrenaline-charged I-Heart-the-1980s punchfest, with Charlize Theron playing an MI6 spy with MI6 in Berlin for a highly classified mission. Teaming with a coarse local liaison (James McAvoy, cheeky) on the eve of the Wall coming down, she beats a black-and-blue path through the city's criminal underground to foil a counter-intelligence ring. In the event that Wonder Woman did not fully sate your hunger for tall women in peak physical form reducing men to bloodied pulps, this should do the trick.
City of Ghosts (July 7th)
The guerrilla journalists in media activism group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently regularly risk life and limb to report on the brutal ISIS campaigns of ISIS in Syria. Documentarian Matthew Heineman (last seen dissecting the Mexican drug war in 2015's Cartel Land) tagged along and ended up chronicling a real-life game of cat and mouse more terrifying than any horror film. A thunderous declaration of journalism's utter necessity in an age of alternative facts and fake news, it's a prime example of documentary filmmaking doubling as a meaningful act of public good.
Dunkirk (July 21st)
After singlehandedly creating the blueprint for the current superhero boom, staging memory heisst in the contours of the human mind and traveling to the farthest reaches of existence, Christopher Nolan is back with a much modest project: completely re-staging WWII's Operation Dynamo, the desperate Allied mission to escape from the Dunkirk beaches while surrounded by Axis forces. The filmmaker tracks the situation from three fronts – balancing individual plot strands set on land, sea, and air – to create a colossal portrait of the bravery and noble sacrifice that war demands. Oh yeah, and Harry Styles is in it, too.
A Ghost Story (July 7th)
One afternoon, a man (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash. He reawakens later that day as a Charlie Brown-style bedsheet ghost, and what follows can be accurately described as any of the following: a bedtime fable about mortality; a heartbreaking conceptual romance; filmmaker David Lowery's personal statement of purpose as an artist; and a headscratching, heartrending mediation on the concept of time itself. Spelling out much more will only detract from its wounding sentimental power, but it's safe to praise Rooney Mara's turn as the man's grieving, pie-scarfing wife and the Pete's Dragon director's ability to conjure deep feeling from just a little audio cue or slight movement of the camera. Feel free to bring your own ghost sheet, if only to dab at your damp eyes when, er, the air gets dusty.
Girls Trip (July 21st)
For those viewers who found last month's Rough Night a touch too white, Queen Latifah's got your back. She leads a quartet of galpals (an ensemble including Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish) who make the trip down to New Orleans to take in some music and chug hand grenades at the Essence Festival. As the estranged besties reconnect, they stumble into a series of randy hijinks involving dimebags hidden in booty-holes, Bourbon Street ziplining and plenty of well-heeled, well-hung suitors. Your ladies' night just found the perfect movie to sneak canned rosé into.
Lady Macbeth (July 14th)
In this 19th-century period piece imported from Britain, Florence Pugh does not play the bloodstained schemer of Shakespearean legend. She's Katherine, an unwilling teen wife to an abusive older man – though the young actor plays her with the title character's same ruthlessly manipulative sense of righteousness and go-for-broke fury. It's a chilling tale of revenge, the announcement of a major filmmaking talent in theater-director-turned-filmmaker William Oldroyd and the perfect hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-repressed showcase for its fiery lead.
Menashe (July 28th)
Joshua Weinstein's new indie drama offers a glimpse into the insular Orthodox Jewish community that calls the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn home, with a script in the Yiddish language and a cast made up entirely of bona fide Hassidim. Lonely widower Menashe (Menashe Lustig) must find a new wife if he hopes to retain custody of his young child, but the poor mensch can barely scrape each month's rent together from his supermarket job. It's a story of fathers and sons pairing a universal emotional foundation with a specific, eye-opening cultural context – and a mitzvah for summer audiences in search of blockbuster counterprogramming.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7th)
This is not your grandfather's Spider-Man, your father's Spider-Man or even your slightly older brother's Spider-Man. The latest actor to slap on the red-and-blue spandex is Tom Holland, and he's bringing a more youthful edge to the friendly neighborhood web-slinger. When not squaring off against the villainous Vulture (Michael Keaton), millennial Spidey grumbles through high school, snaps selfies and hangs out with fellow Marvel intellectual property Iron Man. While there's plenty of action to go around, director Jon Watts modeled his take on Peter Parker after teen comedies like The Breakfast Club and Can't Hardly Wait; to out it in cross-genre terms, it's the superhero story about every nerd who magically transformed themselves into a jock.
War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14th)
The eternal battle between humankind and our hyperintelligent primate foes rages on, as director Matt Reeves returns to complete the rebooted Monkey v. Man trilogy. Two years have passed since the events of the last installment, and a megalomaniacal war hawk (a cue-balled Woody Harrelson) intends on wiping out the simian menace once and for all. Homo sapiens and their hairy genetic ancestors hurtle towards a final reckoning, and as goofy as all this sounds on paper, you simply won't see a better metaphor for an imperialist power fighting a pacifistic native tribe this summer. Also Andy Serkis is a motion-capture god.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21st)
He unlocked the full potential of ScarJo's brain in the metaphysical mindblower Lucy; now Luc Besson's back to make sci-fi extra-weird again. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne report for duty as a pair of intergalactic peace-keepers tasked with protecting a hyper-advanced galactic mecca. Things go FUBAR, as they must, but the real draw here is the French director's far-out world-building. Skyscraper-sized motherboards bustling with maintenance-bots, Rihanna is a sexy shapeshifting cabaret performer and alien beasts of every shape, size, and color mark this as a cult object in the making. Call it The Sixth Element, if you like.