It wasn’t the best summer movie season.

Okay, so it wasn’t even a good summer movie season.

Okay okay, so it was one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory. Trying to find the good blockbusters amongst the last four months’ releases sometimes felt like trying to find a needle in a stack of garbage covered in vomit. But even this year there were diamonds in the rough. Today we’re celebrating the ten best; the summer movies of 2016 that didn’t make us weep for the future of cinema — and note that this list is just movies that opened wide in at least 500 theaters. We’ll have a separate piece on under-the-radar summer films you might have missed next week on ScreenCrush. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the highlights from a crummy summer before we clear the decks and get ready for the fall. In alphabetical order, the best movies of summer 2016 were...


Captain America: Civil War
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

I’m still not convinced that the cinematic universe model can work for anyone else, but it’s definitely working for Marvel. Over the course of a dozen movies, the comic-book giant has built a rich foundation to tell stories on the big screen; the third Captain America continued plot threads from the previous Cap and Avengers films to craft a compelling philosophical debate between Steve Rogers (peerlessly virtuous Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (peerlessly snarky Robert Downey Jr.) about the right way to respond to threats. Developing characters, delivering massive superhero action, teasing future movies like Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming; Marvel and the Russo brothers made it all look easy. Civil War’s mostly dreadful competition this year showed that crafting this kind of massive entertainment is anything but. — Matt Singer


Florence Foster Jenkins
Directed by Stephen Frears

It’s been an ugly summer, both at the movies and out in the real world. That made the arrival of something as delightful, cheery, and tender as Florence Foster Jenkins all the more welcome. The rare period piece on our list, Florence offered an escape from our harsh times. But even outside of that context, Stephen Frears’ sentimental look at one of the world’s worst singers is as lovely as the elaborate gowns Meryl Streep wears during her pitch-perfect performance as the off-pitch title crooner. It’ll give you some good belly laughs and put a few tears in your eyes, and these days that’s all I ask of a good movie. — Erin Whitney

Kubo and the Two Strings final trailer image

Kubo and the Two Strings
Directed by Travis Knight

Laika’s latest stop-motion adventure is the studio’s best yet, a riveting and visually stunning epic that takes recognizable elements and incorporates them into a wholly original mythology. Kubo and the Two Strings isn’t just masterful storytelling; it’s a meditation on the stories we tell, and a brilliant subversions of our expectations about what a hero’s journey should look like. Laika transforms familiar themes of loss, hope, and family into a poignant experience that reflects on the creation of stories — and what it means to live them. Britt Hayes

Neighbors 2
Universal Pictures

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Directed by Nicholas Stoller

No one expected Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising to make any best-of lists this summer. But this Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne comedy turned out to be the most refreshing surprise of the season. The movie used a gender-swapping gimmick to subvert the sexism of the Greek system (and most bro comedies), and offered a thoughtful commentary on feminism and male sexuality. Best of all, Neighbors 2 didn’t sacrifice humor to become an issues movie, proving self-awareness and progressive storytelling can coexist with raunchy jokes. — EW

Neon Demon trailer

The Neon Demon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Only God Forgives is an exceedingly stylish, satirical take on the fashion industry that feels like a grotesque fairy tale. Elle Fanning is fascinating in the role of an aspiring model who subtly transforms from doe-eyed naif to disaffected narcissist, becoming a point of violent fixation for those around her. An unnerving exploration of feminine ferocity punctuated with pitch-black humor, The Neon Demon is a glittery and gruesome thriller in the vein of Paul Verhoeven’s tragically misunderstood Showgirls. — BH

Nice GUys trailer

The Nice Guys
Directed by Shane Black

Sequels. Superheroes. Remakes. Or, in some cases, sequels to remakes of superheroes. These are the films that define the modern summer movie season, and they can get pretty tedious when they’re piled up one on top of another. That’s one big reason I treasured Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. It’s not a reboot. It won’t spawn any sequels. It’s based on nothing. It’s just Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two morally dubious guys who stumble into a mystery in 1970s Los Angeles. Black’s hilarious whodunit harkened back to the less than glorious days of L.A sleaze, and also to Black’s own past, when he was writing movies like Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight, and big Hollywood originals weren’t the exception to the rule. — MS

Pete's Dragon

Pete’s Dragon
Directed by David Lowery

I’m 100 percent comfortable saying Pete’s Dragon is the best movie of the summer. If any dated Disney movie needed a revamping, it was the 1977 musical about a boy and his dragon. David Lowery brings to a sense of majestic wonder to his remake, a movie that’s visually spectacular from the first scene to the last. Pete’s Dragon is also overflowing with heart; it’s a story about family, imagination, and friendship, topics that can get easily lost amidst forced mawkishness. But Lowery brings an emotional maturity to this film, something we often don’t see in movies about childhood. Pete’s Dragon reminds you how magical and moving cinema can be for audiences of any age. — EW

Popstar Weirdo video

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

Like MacGruber before it, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is the funniest movie that no one bothered to see in a theater. Time will tell if the Lonely Island’s mock-doc has the cult staying power of Will Forte’s (and Popstar co-director Jorma Taccone’s) MacGyver spoof, but Popstar is definitely as hilarious as its unfortunately overlooked predecessor. With a delightfully irreverent soundtrack and a stellar cast of co-stars and cameos, Taccone, Andy Samberg, and Akiva Schaffer delivered one of the goofiest and most entertaining comedies in a long time. Where else will you find something as amazing as a rap verse that name-drops Martha Plimpton and O.J. Simpson in the same breath? — BH


The Shallows
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

I am a man of simple pleasures. I like movies, I like sharks, and I like movies about sharks trying to eat Blake Lively. Coincidentally, I really enjoyed The Shallows, the latest bonkers genre film from Jaume Collet-Serra (OrphanNon-Stop). Stripping Jaws’ premise down to the bare minimum (to say nothing of Ms. Lively’s wardrobe), Collet-Serra found new twists on an old B-movie formula. Dismiss The Shallows at your own peril; few summer movies were as confident or as self-aware, and few would have dared to give its heroine an arch seagull sidekick named Steven Seagull. Surrounded by 2016’s boring mega-blockbusters, the film was a timely reminder that sometimes the smallest stories have the biggest stakes. — MS

‘Star Trek Beyond’

Star Trek Beyond
Directed by Justin Lin

Bolding going where no one has gone before can get pretty tricky for a 50-year-old franchise. Star Trek celebrated its first half-century with a clever and exhilarating referendum on its place in modern pop culture. As Star Trek Beyond begins, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk wonders aloud whether he and the Federation (and therefore Star Trek) still serve a purpose after all these years. The rest of the movie provides a resounding yes. Director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg found they key to Trek’s future in its past, ditching the last film’s darker vibe and returning to the series’ core values of exploration, optimism, and barely disguised political allegory. Even as Beyond addressed contemporary issues, it found plenty of room for excitement, with several action scenes, including the frenetic destruction of the Enterprise, that ranked among the summer’s very best. — MS

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