Summer movies are a sea of bombast and high budget romps, with studios vying for box office dominance by presenting an endless stream of mindless action set pieces and countless superheroes. You wouldn’t be wrong for letting the cynic in you win out and keep you away from the cinematic experience in the months between June and August. For decades, we’ve been beaten over the head with one low-concept summer movie after another, so maybe it is best if we just walk away.
Except that’s not the whole story. Lost amidst the ad blitzes for Wonder Woman and Transformers, smaller films are getting quiet releases during the height of summer madness. For the true cinephile who is weary of the onslaught of special effects and city destruction, here are fifteen films to keep you coming to theaters all summer long.
It Comes at Night (June 9)
Trey Edward Shults sent shockwaves through the indie film community with Krisha, his stark and intimate look at a family Thanksgiving. The director now turns his eye towards post-apocalyptic horror in a film about two families trying to survive amidst growing fear and paranoia in a brave new world. It Comes at Night is already receiving acclaim from its early screenings and promises to be one of this summer’s most exciting indie releases.
The Bad Batch (June 23)
Early reactions to this tale of romance in the wastelands of post-apocalypse Texas have been mixed, but filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour thrives in the grey area between “love it” and “hate it”. Her debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, was a stunning take on vampire lore, and serves as kind of mission statement for her burgeoning career. The Bad Batch finds a young girl (Suki Waterhouse) navigating the perilous politics of a cannibal infested area of West Texas and features what looks to be a fantastically absurd performance from Keanu Reeves, working alongside Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and Giovani Ribisi.
The Big Sick (June 23 limited, July 14 wide)
One of our favorites from this year’s SXSW, The Big Sick is a semi-autobiographical film written by real life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, based on their relationship. Nanjiani co-stars with Zoe Kazan, who plays the cinematic Emily. The couple try to overcome their cultural differences, a process which is hindered (and oddly helped) when Emily falls ill and is put into a medically induced coma. This is a rom-com that focuses on the warts of love, and is a honest, open, and heartfelt tribute to the pitfalls of romance.
The Beguiled (June 23 limited, June 30 wide)
Sofia Coppola’s first feature since 2013’s The Bling Ring has the distinction of already being one the most hotly anticipated movies of the summer. Coppola took home the best director prize at Cannes and the early buzz coming from the famous film festival has been overwhelmingly positive. Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan, the film stars Nicole Kidman as the matriarch of a Virginia girls school during the Civil War. When a wounded union soldier (Colin Farrell) stumbles onto the grounds, the once quiet school becomes a powder keg of repressed sexuality and jealousy. Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning co-star.
Baby Driver (June 28)
Another SXSW favorite, Baby Driver marks the first film directed by Edgar Wright since 2013’s The World’s End. Ansel Elgort stars as a getaway driver whose attempts at going straight run afoul of a powerful crime boss (Kevin Spacey). This is a film chock full of humor and heart, with an amazing soundtrack and awesome car stunts. It’s living proof that you can make an action movie with heart and intelligence. Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx co-star.
The Little Hours (June 30)
The Catholic League called this movie “pure trash,” which should tell you all you need to know about this raunchy medieval comedy from director Jeff Baena (Joshy). Allison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci star as a trio of foul-mouthed, hyper-sexed nuns in a convent. Any one of these ladies would be enough to sell me on the concept, but add all three together, throw in John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Molly Shannon and you’ve got what might be the sleeper comedy hit of the season, perhaps even the year.
A Ghost Story (July 7)
Director David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon) returns to his indie roots with A Ghost Story, which finds a newly dead man returning from death, bedecked in your classic white sheeted ghost attire, in an effort to connect with his grieving wife. Filmed in secrecy, A Ghost Story was a hit when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and looks to be a stark reflection on life, love, and loss. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara star.
Lady Macbeth (July 14)
Contrary to what you might think from the title, this is not a reimagining of the Shakespeare classic told from Lady Macbeth’s perspective. The film follows a young woman (Florence Pugh) who’s been sold into marriage to a cold and cruel family. Kept in captivity, she begins a torrid affair with one of her husband’s employees, which leads her down a path of intrigue, betrayal, and violence. The feature debut from director William Oldroyd and adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s novel by debut screenwriter Alice Birch, Lady Macbeth has all the makings of a powerful thriller.
Atomic Blonde (July 28)
Director David Leitch, who co-creator of John Wick, returns with another ultra-violent thriller. Charlize Theron stars as an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate a murder, and then proceeds to murder, well, just about everyone. Leitch has a knack for taking unassuming characters and turning them into something truly memorable. While it might look like Joan Wick, you can bet that Atomic Blonde will stand on its own as a cult-action favorite, and it’s never not a good time watching Theron beat some ass.
Brigsby Bear (July 28)
Most people loved this film after its debut at Sundance earlier this year. Co-written and starring SNL bit player Kyle Mooney (and directed by SNL director Dave McCary), Brigsby Bear follows an adult who’s grown up in seclusion in an underground bunker, with his only lifeline to the world outside coming from the videos of an animatronic bear named Brigbsy. This is apparently a heartfelt ode to pop culture obsessions and being true to yourself. Mark Hamill and Claire Danes co-star.
Wind River (August 4)
Taylor Sheridan wrote one of last year’s best movies with Hell or High Water, and returns here taking double duty as both writer and director of this crime thriller. Elizabeth Olsen stars as an FBI agent sent to a remote Indian reservation in order to find the killer of a young woman. Her Avengers co-star Jeremy Renner joins the hunt as a local tracker who has the trust of the natives and law enforcement. Sheridan knows how to take crime dramas to the next level and turn simple mysteries into moving tales with meaning and depth.
Ingrid Goes West (August 11)
In this dark skewering of #SocialMediaLifestyle, Aubrey Plaza plays an Instagram obsessed nobody who moves to LA in order to befriend an #Influencer (Elizabeth Olsen), which goes well until Plaza loses her goddamn mind. It’s hard to know what to expect from this one, but as Plaza displayed earlier this year on Legion, she can play unhinged even better than she can play wry and sardonic. The debut feature from director Matt Spicer looks like a delightfully over the top and frightening satire. O’Shea Jackson Jr and Wyatt Russell co-star.
Good Time (August 11)
Early reviews from Cannes indicate great things from Good Time. The filmmaking team of Josh and Benny Safdie have created a stark morality that finds a young man (Benny Safdie) lands in jail after robbery gone wrong. In order to bail him out, his brother brother/partner (Robert Pattinson) goes down a dark and twisted journey through New York’s criminal underworld. The trailer reveals little about what to expect from this crime tale, but the buzz is building steadily and points to another hit for A24.
Logan Lucky (August 18)
Steven Soderbergh can’t stay retired, thank God. The director of the Ocean’s series returns with another heist movie, this time following two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) who hatch a scheme to rob a NASCAR race in North Carolina. The first trailer shows a movie steeped in Soderberghian cool as the brothers put together their plan, and the debut script from writer Rebecca Blunt looks hilarious. Nothing beats a good summer heist movie, and this looks like one for the ages. Daniel Craig, Katherine Waterston, and Hilary Swank co-star.
Patti Cake$ (August 18)
This debut feature from writer/director Geremy Jasper was a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance. Patti Cake$ follows a young woman from New Jersey (Danielle Macdonald) as she tries to achieve her unlikely dreams of stardom in the rap game. Movies about following your dreams against all odds can typically go one of two directions: direct to the bull’s eye or missing the mark with overly sappy portrayals. This one, by all accounts, seems to be a bull’s eye.