As the 2022 summer movie season comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the best that movie theaters had to offer, from Top Gun 2 to Dragon Ball.
This summer felt like a true homecoming for the theatrical experience after two irregular years. The box office results have been reassuring, but even more heartening is the number and diversity of genuinely great movies that kept seats warm throughout the season. The critical response to these films demonstrates how this summer’s best offerings were a perfect blend of big-budget franchises and smaller but no less entertaining gems. Using critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes as a measurement, here are the top five best-reviewed movies of summer 2022.
[A note on eligibility: all films below were given a theatrical release in over 1000 theaters across the United States and have been reviewed by at least 30 critics. Tomatometer scores are listed as of the date of this article's writing.]
In a movie season synonymous with the biggest special effects and most talented movie stars money can buy, it's a sweet, little surprise that the most critically acclaimed film was instead this low-fi family film, based on decade-old YouTube videos about a tiny, talking, stop-motion seashell. Reviews praised the A24 mockumentary's beautiful cinematography, Jenny Slate's pitch-perfect voice performance as Marcel, and the script's ability to blend the hilariously cute innocence of its titular hero with surprisingly weighty themes of loss, grief and even the tribulations of Internet fame. As a result, the consensus is that Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a worthwhile experience for kids and adults alike, something very few movies these days are even willing to attempt.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Marcel, movies don't get much bigger than Top Gun: Maverick, unexpectedly outpacing this summer's MCU offerings and every other heavy hitter at the box office, despite the long gap between it and its predecessor. Maverick isn't just the highest-grossing movie of the season, it will surely be a defining pop culture success story of the 2020s. While a large part of the movie's miraculous, long-lasting run is thanks to star Tom Cruise's desire to keep it on the big screen as long as possible, the Joseph Kosinski-directed movie also benefited from near-universal critical praise. Reviews tended to highlight the film's refreshing throwback vibe, Cruise's reliably committed performance, and the cast's physical dedication, as they went up in real military jets in order to shoot aerial action sequences more authentic and intense than anything CGI can conjure.
Hot on Pete "Maverick" Mitchell's heels is Mrs. Ada Harris, a heroine similarly devoted to a single goal despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. Like Top Gun, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is also an unabashed throwback, albeit to the type of small, warm-hearted flights of fancy that don't make it to theaters very often anymore. That's where the similarities end, as the stakes themselves couldn't be more different. newly-widowed Mrs. Harris' mission is simply to travel from London to Paris to buy an expensive Dior dress, touching the lives of fashion industry insiders in the process. Nobody is saving the world here, but that's what critics praised. It dares to be modest, but its big-hearted protagonist nonetheless provides a fanciful, hopeful and cozy cinematic experience for those who wanted a respite from rampaging CG dinosaurs, white-knuckle bombing runs and complex cinematic universe lore.
A surprising late-summer sleeper, the 21st movie in the venerable Japanese manga/anime franchise not only exceeded all box office expectations but was also met with good reviews across the board. While most critics warn that those with zero prior Dragon Ball knowledge will likely find little more than sound and fury signifying nothing, they all agreed that fans will thoroughly appreciate the film's smart use of old friends, foes and relationship dynamics stretching back to the earliest days of the franchise. Those callbacks are juxtaposed by the modern coat of paint, especially in its dazzling fight sequences that marry a traditional visual style with advanced special effects. It's this marriage of old and new that serves as a through-line between many of the reviews for the film and suggests the series' architects are keenly aware of their legacy while eager to push into the future.
Surprise! It's a tie for fifth place with two very different highly-reviewed films, if not each without their flaws. The popular Fox series Bob's Burgers came to the big screen in May, and critics noted (similar to Dragon Ball Super) that the film is best suited for pre-existing fans, for whom it will serve as a spiffy-looking fan service. Unfortunately, The Bob's Burgers Movie flopped at the box office, with fans apparently opting to wait and watch the Belchers' antics as they have for the last decade: on their televisions. A similar financial disappointment was Watcher, which had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it June release but was nonetheless lauded by critics for its genuinely creepy Hitchcockian thrills, nuanced performance from It Follows star Maika Monroe and evocative cinematography of its Romanian setting. Though both movies went under the radar, they each served as refreshing counter-programming for different kinds of movie fans.
Even though not all of these great films found financial success, the fact that films big and small are still being made and getting wide theatrical releases (rather than all being dropped onto streaming services) is heartening. Of course, there were many more worthwhile releases this summer, including Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, The Black Phone, Nope and Bodies Bodies Bodies. While movie fans were undoubtedly happy just to have movie theaters back in a big way, there were more than enough great films to please just about anyone.
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