What Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Sound of Freedom say about the movies in 2023

For a few years, every summer movie season has felt like the weirdest one. There was the year when blockbusters started to balloon far beyond the margins of “summer.” There was the pandemic summer, when there were no blockbusters at all. The summer of 2021, with its in-between state and slowly reopening theaters, was headlined by a lot of really strange films. And last year’s off-kilter maximalism was so extra, even for spectacle blockbuster season, that I called it the “summer of swirly, googly, bombastic, over-the-top movies.”

The summer blockbuster season of 2023 seems on paper like the first normalish one in a long while. All of the elements are there. There have been franchise installments (Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Fast X), superhero installments (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Flash), and long-tail nostalgia sequels (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny). Alongside them are heavily marketed monster hits (the Barbenheimer juggernaut), a couple of low-budget specialty breakouts (Sound of Freedom and Talk to Me), respectable art-house releases (Past Lives), and a few scattered family movies raking in solid bucks (Elemental and, if you squint, Super Mario Bros too).

And after years of paltry returns, this summer’s been a whopper: July 2023 is the second-biggest month in box office returns in history. (The crown still belongs to July 2011, when the final Harry Potter movie was released.)