Summer’s here, and the time is right for … top-flight popcorn entertainment along with some of the year’s most unexpected indie counter-programming. Check out the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s itty-bittiest defender! Or bask in the glory that is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, doing his best John McClane (sans one leg to boot)! There’s a paraplegic alcoholic’s unlikely quest to get clean, courtesy of Gus Van Sant and Joaquin Phoenix! And the musical stylings of ABBA via Streepness! And a Whitney Houston doc! And another Purge! So many exclamation points!
Here are your 10 best bets for what to catch at the multiplex and beyond this month. Remember, theaters offer you a communal experience and a big-screen rush that you simply can’t get at home. Also they have kick-ass air-conditioning. Go to the movies already.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6th)
Sooner or later, the Marvel movies are going to have to start opening with “Previously On…” segments. It helps to remember that Earth’s tiniest superhero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) was put on house arrest following some mischief back in Civil War; this sequel picks up with his earnest attempts to go full good-guy. He shares top billing with distaff counterpart the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) as the two insect-themed heroes go against the high-tech villainess Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and expose some shocking secrets from their shared history. Director Peyton Reed promises the same healthy dose of levity that made Ant-Man’s introduction an exceptionally enjoyable romp through the MCU.
Blindspotting (July 20th)
Set against the backdrop of an Oakland infected by gentrification, the tangled fates of two lifelong friends place them both in a volatile society’s crosshairs. The film’s co-writers star as Collin (Daveed Diggs), a former felon trying his best to stay on the straight and narrow, and Miles (Rafael Casal), a hooligan who makes trouble the way a bird flies or a fish swims. They’re close as can be, and yet the difference in their races creates a certain space between them ripped wide open when Collin glimpses a white police officer shooting a black civilian. The fallout from that haunting moment changes the course of both men’s lives forever, in a furiously bellowed commentary on America’s culture of racialized violence taking cues from Do the Right Thing.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (July 13th)
John Callahan loved life, the ladies and liquor – then a grisly car crash left him quadriplegic and on the fast track to alcoholism. So he found a support group and channeled his dark sense of humor into crude, taboo-busting toons. Joaquin Phoenix takes the lead role in Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of the comic-strip artist’s memoir, which marks a return to form for the Portland-based filmmaker. And Phoenix – who’s in the middle of a very good year – is joined by a stacked supporting cast, including a critically lauded turn from Jonah Hill as Callahan’s partner in sobriety.
Eighth Grade (July 13th)
Truly, there’s no crueler time in life than middle school: ruthless pre-teens are ruthless, savage Instagram critiques, class-conscious cliques. And Kayla (Elsie Fisher) Is just a kindhearted 13-year-old with few friends and a motivational YouTube channel – she earns the year-end of honor of the class’s “Quietest” – who has to navigate these shark-filled waters before high school begins. All the gore-festooned horror movies in the world aren’t quite as painful as the pubescent awkwardness conjured by novice director Bo Burnham, who turns this underdog story into a genuine traeasure.
The First Purge (July 4th)
Four installments in, and the horror franchise most perilously close to real life is going prequel. We travel back to the inaugural night of anything-goes lawlessness citizens refer to as “the Purge,” when the program was first proposed by a political action group and a blond Marisa Tomei. (Because of course.) As per usual, there will be no shortage of creepy masks, town-square-style executions and wicked commentary on the evil id of American culture. Happy purging, everybody.
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! (July 20th)
It’s been 10 years since we last checked in on everygirl Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried), and there’s trouble in paradise. On the idyllic Greek island of Kalokairi, she’s expecting her first child and worried she won’t be able to handle the responsibility without her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) around to help. Cue flashbacks, when Mom (played by Lily James) first blazed a path for herself in love and in life with the help of her own parent, Ruby (Cher!). Another handful of hit singles from ABBA fill out the soundtrack to this sequel to the original, luxurious cinema-du-jukebox-musical. Did we mention freakin’ Cher is in this?
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (July 27th)
When he last took up the mantle of secret agent Ethan Hunt in 2015’s Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise found himself clinging to the side of a plane in liftoff. So to top himself time around, he’s going to fall; early promotion for the sixth film in the series has teased the star undertaking a HALO jump, a form of high-stakes skydiving that required custom-made equipment to catch it all on camera. That’s the centerpiece of the latest adrenaline-charged adventure, in which our hero is beset on all sides by enemies old and new after a mission goes belly-up, yadda yadda yadda. After five entries, audiences know just what to expect from this series: international intrigue, mind-blowing feats of physical derring-do and at least one scene in which Cruise sprints at top speed.
Skyscraper (July 13th)
Armed with a state-of-the-art prosthesis, an irresistible grin, and a superhuman ability to leap off of tall objects without getting hurt, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays FBI-agent-turned-security-expert Will Sawyer, who’s making sure everything is safe and sound at an ultra-sophisticated tower in Hong Kong. Then along comes a gang of terrorists with plans to put the whole “allegedly impenetrable” hype to the test. From there, things take a turn for the Die Hard, as our muscular hero risks life and his remaining limbs to keep his family and the residents of his building safe. Johnson may be down one leg in this new big-budget blow-’em-up, but he’s still three times as much man as you and me.
Sorry to Bother You (July 6th)
To make it in corporate America as a black man, sometimes it helps to blend in a little. For Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), that means putting on his “white voice” (the nasal warble of David Cross) to bump up his numbers at a thankless telemarketing gig. Suddenly, sales jump, he starts scaling the office ladder and … then things take a turn for the surreal. Rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s splashy debut is unapologetic act of righteous rabble-rousing and an absurdist call to action. If nothing else, it’s the summer’s only film to feature a partially-clothed Tessa Thompson getting pelted with goat-blood balloons.
Whitney (July 6th)
The general public has a split conception of Whitney Houston: She was the untouchable queen diva belting her way through “I Will Always Love You” and the tabloid favorite bound up in drugs and a turbulent marriage. Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary searches for a third Whitney, compiling a gentler, more empathetic look into the late singer’s personal life through exclusive archival footage and interviews. Just as Amy located the vulnerable, wounded soul behind Amy Winehouse, so too does this film position its subject as a casualty of her circumstances, too successful for her own safety.