Looking Back on the Best and Worst of the Summer 2018 Movie Season
The 2018 summer movie season is coming to a close. Looking back, it was a surprisingly great season, one with plenty of satisfying action spectacle as well as quieter indie movies and documentaries to keep us consistently entertained, although there were certainly disappointments along the way.
Overall, though, box office revenue was up about 12% over last summer, which makes sense since that was not nearly as consistent a season full of seemingly constant duds like The Mummy, Baywatch, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Emoji Movie, and Transformers: The Last Knight.
Now that we’re leaving the summer of 2018 behind us, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights. (Note: even though it came out at the end of April, we’re going to count Avengers: Infinity War as one of the summer movies.)
Best Blockbuster: Avengers: Infinity War
There’s never been anything quite like Infinity War before, which, for better or worse, is less an individual movie experience and more the season finale of a show that’s entering its 11th season. Seeing as its job is to balance dozens of plot lines that have been up in the air since 2008 and set up another movie to come, the fact that it works as well as it does and only occasionally stumbles due to some pacing issues is fairly remarkable.
Indeed, if you have any sort of relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this was a heart-pounding, “I can’t believe I’m actually watching this right now” ride from start to finish, one in which, for the first time, the heroes can – and do – actually die. At the same time, it doesn’t go too far in a bleak direction, still being as consistently funny and character-centric as the films that came before.
It remains to be seen whether Avengers 4, which is likely to reverse most if not all of the movie’s deaths, will make Infinity War seem less significant in retrospect. But for now, there’s no doubt that the summer of 2018 belonged to Thanos.
Best Indie Movie: Eighth Grade
We’ve seen plenty of remarkable horror films so far this year, but none of them made our collective hearts pound quite like the birthday party scene in Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s empathetic look at life as a middle-schooler that both speaks to a specific generational experience and also manages to be universally relatable.
15-year-old Elsie Fisher knocks it out of the park as Kayla, a young girl who has all the answers when she’s protected by the camera she uses for her vlogs but who, in real life, seems to be in a constant state of apologizing for her own existence and hiding behind Instagram filters. It would have been easy for an adult director to turn this into a “kids always be texting!” sort of old-man look at the way modern technology impacts young friendships, but Burnham never falls into those traps, which makes sense seeing as he’s someone who owes his whole career to modern technology.
Funny, heartbreaking, and painfully relatable, Eighth Grade is without a doubt one of the best movies of the year. If only actual eight-graders were allowed to see it.
Most Disappointing Movie: Unfriended: Dark Web
Unfriended is among the most unexpectedly genius horror movies of the past few years. The silly premise and title may have turned you away, but the film ended up succeeding in part because it fully understood how to utilize the rules of computers effectively. After all, this was a movie that managed to make Skype lag scary.
So it was disappointing that Unfriended: Dark Web was such a dud. This sequel ditches the paranormal angle entirely, choosing to make the antagonists normal human hackers. That isn’t inherently a bad decision, but the problem is that the movie goes on to still give those human hackers a ridiculous set of powers so that they might as well be supernatural beings. When Laura, a ghost, was able to infiltrate Blaire’s computer in Unfriended and make it behave in bizarre ways, it was creepy. But when a regular person is able to get Facebook messages pop up in black and then delete because of some vague hacking shenanigans, it’s just ridiculous, and it flies in the face of the whole reason Unfriended was so appealing in the first place, i.e. that it operated under the rules of computers we’re all accustomed to. Dark Web, in contrast, is some CSI: Cyber type nonsense.
That’s not even to mention that the movie just doesn’t go for as many scares as the first one, and there are many long stretches that are just flat out interesting. Plus, it has much more of a bleak, upsetting tone as opposed to the more playful one that characterized the original, making it not even a fun time at the movies. Dark Web wasn’t the worst film of the summer, but based on the high bar set by the previous film, it was the biggest letdown.
Best Action Scene: The Bathroom Fight (Mission: Impossible – Fallout)
The Mission: Impossible series has become perhaps the most consistent movie franchise. Fallout was not the best of the series — it was bogged down by the franchise’s most convoluted and nonsensical plot — but it was definitely up there in the top three or four, with some truly exhilarating action sequences.
There’s an argument to be had over what the film’s highlight is, but we’d have to go with the bathroom scene, one of the most well-choreographed fist-fights in years. It’s not just dudes punching each other, though; Christopher McQuarrie uses it as a way of developing the conflict between Walker and Hunt, and the sequence is paced beautifully with plenty of stops and starts so that it’s never too much at once. Out of all of the summer’s action sequences, this is the one that we left theater most looking forward to seeing again.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Crazy Rich Asians
Even if you’re not normally a fan of romantic comedies, it’s hard not to fall head-over-heels for Jon Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians, which doesn’t exactly transcend the genre but rather executes its tropes flawlessly while adding the much-needed perspective of the Asian-American experience to a major Hollywood production.
Chu brings an energy to the movie that makes it relentlessly watchable throughout, as evidenced in one early scene where Rachel and Nick are overheard talking about their relationship in a bar, and a playful, zippy montage shows the word spreading across the world. A typical comedy director would simply cut to a few static shots of characters around the globe texting one another, but Chu at all turns is thinking about the most visually-interesting way to convey information.
The movie is a bit bogged down by one particular subplot that is clearly only present in order to set up a sequel, but all in all, Chu’s film turned into one of the most unexpected surprises of the summer, and one of those movies you can recommend to just about anyone with no reservations.
Movie That Most Deserves a Sequel: Ocean’s 8
Ocean’s 8 may not have been the very best movie of the summer, but there was fun to be had with it, if only because of how satisfying it is to see all of these talented women come together and play off of one another. It didn’t necessarily breathe new life into the Ocean’s franchise, but it’s a solid entry that ranks somewhere below Oceans 11 but on par with Ocean’s 13.
If there’s one movie this summer we want to see a sequel to the most, though, this has got to be it. Gary Ross assembled the gang and got the ball rolling, and now it’s time for someone else to come in and really take this to the next level, especially because of one particular change in dynamic that comes near the end of the movie. Considering the film fared pretty well at the box office, let’s pray Warner Bros. greenlights a sequel soon.
Most Memorable Moment: The Snap (Avengers: Infinity War)
Even if you weren’t a fan of Infinity War, it’s hard to deny that witnessing the ending in a packed theater on opening weekend was truly an unforgettable moviegoing experience, one that we’ll be telling stories about in the same way we hear stories about how audiences reacted to the “I Am Your Father” twist in The Empire Strikes Back.
What the Russo Brothers do so brilliantly throughout Infinity War is write the whole film around making you believe that Thor is going to kill Thanos. He is built up as being the hero who is most in need of a win, and his entire subplot revolves around forging a weapon capable of killing the Mad Titan. Even if you were aware that there’s an Avengers 4 coming next year, when Thor stabs Thanos through the heart with Stormbreaker, it truly does feel like the end. And then they really go for it: Thanos snaps his fingers, and beloved character after beloved character disappears before our eyes, with the audience gasping each time. Sure, it’s all going to be reversed, and that arguably makes the ending a little cheap in retrospect. But the shock we all felt in that moment can never be taken away.
Some other honorable mentions in this category would be the ending of BlackkKlansman, the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp, the car scene in Hereditary, and that scene in Sorry to Bother You (if you’ve seen the movie, you know the one).
Most Shocking Twist: That Character Reveal (Solo: A Star Wars Story)
The snap was a memorable moment, but it didn’t necessarily come out of nowhere. After all, it’s straight from the comic books, and seeing as it’s foreshadowed all throughout the movie, the final sequence isn’t necessarily something we never saw coming in a million years.
But there’s another scene from this summer that we truly did not see coming: the ending of Solo: A Star Wars Story, in which (spoiler alert!) Darth Maul returns from the dead and is revealed to be the head of Crimson Dawn.
Sure, Maul had already returned to life in the TV show The Clone Wars, but most fans just assumed this would never come up in the movies, sort of like how Coulson’s resurrection has never been mentioned in the Marvel films. So when Solo appeared to be building up to a big character reveal at the end, it seemed likely it would be the Emperor or maybe Jabba the Hutt. Never would we have guessed it would be Darth freaking Maul.
For hardcore fans, seeing Maul lower that hood was the definition of a jaw-dropping twist, one that, if we were spoiled on months ahead of time, we literally wouldn’t believe.
Funniest Scene: Scott Goes to School (Ant-Man and the Wasp)
It certainly reflects poorly on the comedy genre’s showing this summer that the funniest scene of the season came from a superhero movie: the sequence in Ant-Man and the Wasp in which Scott Lang, stuck at a comical height, has to go to his daughter’s school to retrieve a trophy.
The image of Paul Rudd shrunk down to the size of a child might not sound funny on paper, but seeing him flail his arms around in an oversized sweatshirt, and then hop down the stairs, just brought the house down.
Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp ended up being a bit overshadowed by Infinity War, but it deserves mentioning as another crowd-pleasing Marvel movie that improved upon the original significantly.
Most WTF Movie: Sorry to Bother You
If you’ve heard going in that Sorry to Bother You is a strange movie, you’ll probably find yourself spending much of the runtime feeling that this was a bit overstated. Sure, there are some bizarre artistic flourishes throughout, but all in all, it’s a fairly easy-to-follow, traditionally told story about a man rising through the ranks at a job he hates and losing his soul along the way.
But then you get to that scene and, well, nothing could have prepared you for how truly off-the-rails the movie goes. Whether you love the last act or hate it for taking the metaphor and relentlessly beating you over the head with it, we’ve got to give it to Boots Riley for being willing to go there.
Best Actress: Toni Collette (Hereditary)
Toni Collette delivers the performance of the year in Hereditary as a mother going through the worst experience you could possibly imagine having to deal with.
A sequence at the dinner table, for instance, is one of those scenes where, as you’re sitting there in the theater, you immediately flash-forward to seeing a clip from it played at next year’s Oscars. Indeed, this fall will have to offer quite a line-up of female performances for Collette not to be deserving of a nomination.
Hereditary is a film that goes to some overtly horrifying places, but none of these moments come close to Collete’s nightmare-inducing screams upon making a certain discovery that should not be spoiled. Good luck getting that sound out of your head anytime soon.
Best Actor: Topher Grace (BlackkKlansman)
There are plenty of phenomenal performances in Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman, but the real standout has got to be Topher Grace as David Duke.
Grace completely transforms into this character in a way that he has since described as being an incredibly difficult experience for him, but watch even a single second of footage of the real man and there’s no question that he nailed it.
Beyond this just being a good impression, though, what Grace does so well is not playing Duke as a total monster, even though he objectively is one. He’s charismatic and friendly enough that we understand how he might amass followers, and the fact that his pure evil isn’t overtly apparent upon the moment you meet him only makes him even more dangerous and, unfortunately, relevant to modern times.
Worst Movie: Skyscraper
Everyone wants to love Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but with every movie like Skyscraper, he makes it a little harder.
What a waste of everyone’s time and energy this film was. Skyscraper contributes absolutely nothing to the genre, being bolstered only by two key setpieces that it doesn’t even manage to make as tense as they should be. Watching The Rock jump from a crane into a building might look cool on the poster, but in the context of the film, it doesn’t work at all because we don’t fundamentally believe the situation, nor do we buy this crazy step as something his character would actually resort to in that moment; it doesn’t help that this is basically his very first idea upon finding out his family is stuck in the building rather than some last-ditch effort.
The movie doesn’t really have fun with the premise, but none of the character drama is compelling enough to sustain the runtime, either. The ultimate solution to the problem is flat out insulting and laughable, even though it’s clearly supposed to be incredibly satisfying. There were probably worse movies released this summer, such as Gotti or The Happytime Murders, but at least those left some sort of an impression. Skyscraper is a complete nothingburger.
Best Movie: Hereditary
Hereditary is not just the best movie of the summer; it’s the best movie released in 2018 so far.
Generally speaking, there are two types of horror films. One revolves around the kinds of things that could never actually happen in real life, including ghosts, demons, and monsters. The other revolves around horrors that could really, genuinely happen, including killers, disasters, viruses, and so on. What Hereditary does so well is combine both of those together in a way that does not diminish either or make one half of the movie feel lesser than the other. Although you might find one half scarier than the other, it all blends together remarkably well.
To explain either of the movie’s two hooks would be to give away spoilers, but needless to say, this is a film that slaps you across the face early on and leaves you in a state of shock for about a full 15 minutes afterward, becoming something totally different than you were originally expecting, only to turn back into that movie you thought you’d be getting later on. It’s the best kind of slow burn, mixing crowd-pleasing horror setpieces with geniune human drama that would be at home in a non-horror movie. Hereditary is absolutely everything the genre should be, a total masterpiece that will go down as one of the best horror films of the decade.