Animated versions of Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld share a scene in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” already one of the biggest 2023 movies.Animated versions of Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld share a scene in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” already one of the biggest 2023 movies.

The best summer 2023 movies list is here — our critic picks the top 10 you can’t miss

Including “Barbie,” “The Flash,” and summer’s most anticipated horror movie.

The prime summer months between now and Labour Day are normally a season to shudder for cinephiles. Blockbusters and low-wattage comedies and horrors rule the roost as we await the September arrival of prestige pictures and the start of awards season.

This summer promises something different. Movies that seem on the surface to be product-hustling popcorn amusements — I’m looking at you, “Barbie” — might actually have something deeper going on. Here’s hoping.

There’s already serious Oscar talk for at least three films newly arrived in theatres or heading there: animated adventure “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” romantic drama “Past Lives” and historical epic “Oppenheimer,” as varied a selection as you could ask for.

The next three months also give us a chance to say goodbye to Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford, 80) and welcome back to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, 60), as both of these enduring action heroes set out to save the planet in the marquee-filling “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.”

All of the above are among my Top 10 picks of films to anticipate this summer, along with another 10 good bets from the dozens of theatre-bound offerings. Five of these films I’ve already seen; I’ve included star ratings for them. Release dates are subject to change.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (now playing)

Animated versions of Hailee Steinfeld (L) and Shameik Moore (R) in "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse," already one of the biggest 2023 movies.

Extraordinary animation and muscular transformations make the continuing Spidey saga(s) of Brooklyn teen Miles Morales and his family, friends and foes even more of a marvel. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson and Kemp Powers approach this first part of a sequel to the 2018 multiverse adventure (Part 2 comes next year) as a series of colliding comic books, with many worlds, moods and characters — there are dozens of Spider-Men and multiple Spider-Women and villains. Pulling the web strands together is the heart and humour of the characters, especially Shameik Moore’s earnest Miles and his friend and romantic fascination Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), a.k.a. Spider-Woman in another realm.

Past Lives (June 9)

Greta Lee stars in "Past Lives," one of the most critically acclaimed 2023 movies so far this year.

This darling of the winter festival circuit — it garnered raves at Sundance and Berlin — hits theatres with sighs of wistful romance, triangular complications and the promise of a story well told. The feature debut of writer/director Celine Song, a Korean-Canadian playwright drawing in part from her own history, is a “what if?” tale of life choices that become momentous as years pass. Devoted childhood friends Nora and Hae Sung lose touch when Nora’s family emigrates from Seoul to Canada. As an adult, played by Greta Lee (“Russian Doll”), she’s a budding writer living in New York with her novelist husband, Arthur (John Magaro, “First Cow”). Life is good, but Skype sessions with Nora’s old flame Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) dissolve distance and decades, leading to thoughts about paths taken and forsaken.

The Flash (June 16)

Ezra Miller in"The Flash," poised to be the biggest superhero movie of summer 2023.

A series of real-life misdeeds has a contrite Ezra Miller looking for reinvention, and this Flash-first contribution to the DC Extended Universe, directed by Andy Muschietti, provides it with heart and humour. Miller ably plays three characters: the title speedster superhero and two squabbling versions of Barry Allen, his nerdy alter-ego. A time-travel mistake, made to undo family tragedy, alters The Flash’s world and prompts Krypton villain General Zod (Michael Shannon) to attack. Barry One must convince Barry Two to become The Flash — it’s sort of a reverse origin saga — while also persuading Michael Keaton’s Batman to come out of retirement. The story gets messy — multiple cameos and a rushed intro for Sasha Calle as Supergirl — but I like how it follows Keaton’s war cry: “Let’s get nuts.”

Asteroid City (June 23)

Scarlett Johansson in Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City," one of the most anticipated summer 2023 movies.

Meticulous madman Wes Anderson hits peak weird with a play within a film, written by a character played by Edward Norton and narrated by a character played by Bryan Cranston, set in an asteroid-struck desert town in 1955. It’s about time, grief, love, the meaning of life, the magic of the universe, gawking at atomic bombs and giving a rock back to E.T. The picture is packed with so many ideas and cast members old and new — Tom Hanks joins such Anderson regulars as Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Wright and Steve Carell — it’s difficult to keep track of where they are, what they’re doing, and what’s supposed to be real and what’s not. I dig it, as will devoted Anderson fans, but it’s a far-out trip for newcomers.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (June 30)

Harrison Ford stars as the adventuresome title archaeologist for the fifth and final time in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," a big summer 2023 movie.

Not a classic Indiana Jones movie but not a disaster, either, and let’s face it — are you going to bail on the guy now? Set mostly in 1969 (with a 1944 prologue) Harrison Ford's fifth and final Indy romp settles for franchise tropes — MacGuffin, Nazis, tombs, whip cracks and sidekicks — as it labours through a global quest for a compact time machine. The device was constructed by ancient Greek math whiz Archimedes, who of course also broke it in two and designed elaborate hiding places. The film gets by on goodwill, some crackerjack special effects, director James Mangold’s relentless propulsion and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comic turn as Indy’s scheming goddaughter and tomb-raiding rival. Fare thee well, Indy!

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (July 12)

Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One," sure to be one of the biggest summer 2023 movies.

Never bet against a Tom Cruise movie. Last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” is credited with almost single-handedly reviving a pandemic-struck film exhibition industry. Cruise also recently topped a poll of moviegoers who were asked to name the stars most likely to draw them to a cinema. The seventh chapter in his durable “Mission: Impossible” franchise looks to be another home run for the time-defying action hero, as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his IMF allies — including characters played by Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg — are once again obliged to save the world from a diabolical menace. This time the job may take a bit longer, as per the “Part One” in the awkward title. So expect an annoying cliffhanger ending, but did I mention the film stars Tom Cruise?

Barbie (July 21)

Emma Mackey, Simu Liu. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling star in "Barbie."

Cheap laughs or heavy thoughts? An early teaser for Greta Gerwig’s live-action Barbie doll movie made it seem more like an “Archie” comic book film, with Margot Robbie as Betty, Ryan Gosling as Archie, Emma Mackey as Veronica and Simu Liu as Reggie. Another teaser confusingly indicated there are multiple Barbies and Kens. But as fuller plot details have emerged — Barbie No. 1 must leave her Barbie Land fantasy world to solve problems in the real world — so has hope that Gerwig and her co-writer/partner Noah Bambauch have crafted something that is more than just high-concept product hustling. The film’s full trailer has Barbie stopping a dance number in her dollhouse abode to ask fellow revellers, “You guys ever think about dying?” I am curious pink.

Oppenheimer (July 21)

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer (2023) by Christopher Nolan.

With “Dunkirk” director Christopher Nolan at the helm, this dramatization of atomic bomb “father” J. Robert Oppenheimer and his Manhattan Project team seems guaranteed to be worth every square inch of the IMAX screens the movie demands. Cue the “explosive” headlines, and ready the awards campaign for title star Cillian Murphy, whose thousand-yard stare in the trailers suggest he’s captured Oppenheimer’s guilty ambivalence as the man who helped end the Second World War but who also created the tool for a feared Third World War. Murphy’s co-stars are a roll call of Hollywood A-listers: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Gary Oldman, Rami Malek and more. Will this be the thinking person’s blockbuster?

Talk to Me (July 28)

Joe Bird stars in the horror film "Talk to Me."

Teens find a spooky embalmed hand that lets them physically commune with the dead — but only for a short while, or else demonic possession takes hold. What could possibly go wrong? Just about everything, as the motherless and grieving Mia (Sophie Wild), her kid brother and her rowdy friends are about to discover. This low-budget horror by Danny and Michael Philippou was snapped up by boutique label A24 at Sundance, a testament to the creativity and audience savvy of the twin bros, YouTube stars (RackaRacka comedy channel) making their feature debut. The story has shaky logic but a rock-solid sense of instilling dread with a minimum of special effects and a sound design that turns the chill up to 11.

Strays (Aug. 18)

The doggie revenge comedy "Strays."

No other trailer has made me laugh as hard this year as the one for Josh Greenbaum’s shaggy dog comedy, the tale of how man’s best friend plots revenge against his callous owner. Loveable but gullible Reggie, a border terrier voiced by Will Ferrell, can’t believe what’s happening to him after his scuzzball minder, Doug (Will Forte), abandons him far from home. Reggie soon gets the picture — and hatches a hilarious payback scheme — after meeting a streetwise Boston terrier named Bug, voiced by Jamie Foxx. With a voice cast that also includes Sofía Vergara, Isla Fisher, Josh Gad and Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”), this promises to be a dumb-but-fun diversion to liven up the August movie doldrums.

Other noteworthy movies to add to your summer movie list

“20 Days in Mariupol” (July 21)

“Afire” (July 14)

“The Blackening” (June 16)

“Blue Beetle” (Aug. 18)

“Elemental” (June 16)

“Gran Turismo” (Aug. 11)

“The Meg 2: The Trench” (Aug. 4)

“Something You Said Last Night” (July 7)

“Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)” (June 9)

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Aug. 2)

Star contributor Peter Howell is a movie critic in Toronto. Follow on Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

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