Make no mistake: in 2022, movies are back, back, back. After two years of delayed releases, closed picturehouses and halted productions, cinema has fought back – the first half of this year has brought with it a flood of excellent exercises in movie mastery, from spectacular blockbusters and scuzzy delights, to tender character dramas and genre-busting game-changers. It’s clearer than ever that the big-screen experience has so much to offer, transporting us to brand new worlds – or taking us deeper into our own – and connecting us with bold, brilliant characters along the way.
Already, 2022 has delivered fresh works from acclaimed filmmakers, astonishing debuts from vibrant new voices, follow-ups that outmatched the originals, and works of such sheer imaginative power that they’re destined to go down as all-timers. To mark the midway point of the year, Team Empire gathered to vote on the best movies of 2022 so far – and the list that emerged showed a remarkable breadth of filmmakers, stories, genres, and mediums that prove what a rich cinematic landscape we’re living in right now. Dive into the top 20 below – and, as ever, remember that films had to be released in the UK since in 1 January 2022 to be eligible. Bring on the next six months of cinema…
Paul Verhoeven – master of shocks, satire and sleaze – returns. With an eccentric filmography ranging from gore-soaked sci-fi classics like Total Recall, Robocop and Starship Troopers, to brutal revenge drama Elle, to the notorious cult classic Showgirls, the Dutch director’s latest, Benedetta, is a crude, camp, outrageously clever take on Catholicism and the theatrics of devout faith. Set in 17th-century Italy, it stars Virginie Efira as the titular Benedetta, a nun who begins to experience extreme religious visions just as new addition to the convent Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) incites a sexual awakening within her. It’s bold, it’s brash, and it’s a film you don’t want to miss.
Read the Empire review of Benedetta
With a troll-ish sense of humour and a Sam Raimi-esque propensity for kinetic chaos, the second film from Host team Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley proves their lockdown debut was no fluke. Wild, abrasive, and splattered with all manner of bodily fluids, DASHCAM__ is a seatbelts-on ride through a crazy night of stolen vehicles, crass rhymes and demonic activity. It’s all anchored by Annie Hardy, the real-life musician whose real-life streaming show Band Car (in which she drives around and spools off vulgar improvised raps) forms the backbone of the movie. Playing a heightened version of herself, she causes carnage in locked-down Britain, boosting her friend’s car and picking up elderly woman Angela (Angela Enahoro) who’s not all she seems. The result is both oddly captivating and frequently confrontational (Annie’s character is a COVID denier, anti-masker, and all-round arsehole), daring the viewer to remain invested while upping the supernatural stakes with lashings of gory shocks and gonzo gags. The wildest ride since Mr. Toad’s.
Read the Empire review of DASHCAM
When Taika Waititi said he wasn’t going to play it safe after Thor: Ragnarok, he wasn’t kidding. Love And Thunder is a weird, wild, and wonderful movie – one that pushes the irreverent comedy even further than its cosmic-freakout predecessor (giant screaming goats anyone?), but balances it out with surprising sincerity too. True to its title, this is a movie about love – about how vital and life-affirming it is, and how even the most powerful among us might need to reassess our relationship with that most vulnerable of emotions. Chris Hemsworth has a blast continuing the comedic trajectory of his recent Thor outings, but it’s the return of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, now wielding Mjolnir as The Mighty Thor, that really ups the stakes – sparking some crackling chemistry and delivering some of the most emotional moments in the entire MCU as they team up to fight Christian Bale’s Gorr The God Butcher. All that, and Love And Thunder still gives you giant comic book splash-panel action sequences, warring biker-chickens, Guns N ‘Roses needle-drops, and a gorgeous closing reel that changes the God Of Thunder for good. Sometimes lightning does strike twice.
Read the Empire review of Thor: Love And Thunder
How thrilling it is to be alive in the age of Pedro Almodóvar, who – at 72 and in his fifth filmmaking decade – just keeps serving up bangers, with a voice entirely his own and a creative appetite just as hungry as ever. Parallel Mothers follows two single women: photographer Janis (Penélope Cruz – at least as good as she’s ever been) and teenager Ana (Milena Smith – electric), both giving birth at the same time in the same hospital. Whilst their experiences, and their responses to their situations are worlds apart, they bond, and stay in touch. And then the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan – and when it does, the panic breaks through the screen, making for a fantastically sweaty, nervy watch. This is just as vital and vibrant as Almodóvar has ever been, thrilling and farcical while also political and profound, blending domestic plight with centuries of Spanish history. Nobody does it better.
Read the Empire review of Parallel Mothers
One of the big streaming surprises of the year, Fresh hit Disney+ after a positive reception at Sundance – sucking in unsuspecting viewers with its extended rom-com opening act, before turning the tables with stomach-churning aplomb. Written by Lauryn Kahn and directed by Mimi Cave, it stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Noa, a single girl struggling with the dating scene, who falls for charming surgeon Steve (Sebastian Stan). Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for his facade to slip, and for his true tastes and desires to be revealed. Walking a fine line between horror and humour, this is a pulpy, perfectly pitched thrill ride, with a soundtrack crammed full of non-stop bangers, and incredibly committed performances from Stan and Edgar-Jones that completely sell the ludicrous-yet-compelling plot.
Read the Empire review of Fresh
RRR (or ‘Rise! Roar! Revolt!’, as it actually stands for) is the bombastic Indian action-musical sensation that has taken the film world by storm this year, with word-of-mouth rave reviews making it one of 2022’s most enjoyed pieces of pure escapism. Set in 1920s India, it focuses on soldier Allure and villager Komarum, who team up against the British Empire after they kidnap the latter’s younger sister. This is cinema with all the dials turned up to 11 – there’s a river on fire, a fight with a tiger, immense hand-to-hand combat and, underneath it all, a story of brotherhood. Oh, and several super-catchy musical numbers. What more could you want? Add it to your Netflix queue and believe the hype.
Read the Empire review of RRR
Guillermo del Toro has a propensity for bringing fantastical monsters to life – but he has also long proved equally adept at finding monstrousness within the human condition. With Nightmare Alley, he indulges his love of noir without ever feeling the need to slavishly stick to the format. Bradley Cooper's carnival conman Stanton Carlisle comes a cropper when he meets his cunning match in Cate Blanchett's sly shrink Lilith, while Rooney Mara’s carnival performer Molly brings the fragile heart to the story. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Dan Laustsen, this new adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's novel finds fresh things to say at a time when Fake News is huge and people still fall for the same old tricks. Almost completely ignored (unfairly) at Oscar time, this one will have a long life regardless.
Read the Empire review of Nightmare Alley
This history-making real-life refugee tale – straddling multiple Academy Awards categories at this year’s ceremony due to its animated presentation and documentary form (though it sadly didn’t walk away with any wins) – tells the story of Amin, a gay Afghan man who made a perilous migration journey from the repressive Kabul, through Russia and Estonia, to Denmark, where he lives now. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee uses beautiful hand-sketched animation to bring Amin’s incredible past to life whilst also protecting his identity, blending happy childhood memories, traumatic border-crossing attempts and sweet romance – this film is as much about Amin stepping fully into himself as it is him walking away from the country that would punish him for doing so.
Read the Empire review of Flee
A film shot almost entirely in one hotel room and featuring (for the most part) only two characters doesn’t sound like it would be groundbreaking – but that’s exactly what Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is. It follows Nancy (Emma Thompson, effervescent), a retired teacher and widower looking to expand her sexual horizons after a lifetime of disappointing, limited intimacy. She hires sex worker Leo Grande (nigh-on newcomer Daryl McCormack, magnetic) to help, and over several sessions, the pair get to know each other – and themselves – a little better. Written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, this is a film that challenges all kinds of stigma – around sex work, sexual desire in older women, body positivity, masturbation, the list goes on – in an incredibly simplified but compelling way, brought to life through two extraordinarily charming, vulnerable and honest performances.
Read the Empire review of Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
No screen character this year has amused – and confused – us nearly as much as Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), a man as handsome and roguish as handsome rogues get, his ego trampling on everyone he meets, his dick flapping in the wind. The reprehensible but endlessly entertaining focus of Sean Baker’s Red Rocket is a true one-off – a charismatic hustler as seductive as he is repellent. With an absolute knockout of a performance, Rex proved a revelation as the down-and-out porn star fleeing back to his Texan hometown to exploit, well, whoever he can in a bid to get some cash and worm his way back into the industry that’s spat him out. The singular Baker – previously behind Tangerine and The Florida Project – once again gave us an authentic, compassionate but riotous portrait of the American fringes. What a ride.
Read the Empire review of Red Rocket
Much of the marketing for Scott Derrickson’s horror comeback understandably centred on Ethan Hawke’s masked menace The Grabber – a nightmarish, psychopathic child killer who bundles local kids into his black van and locks them in his stark basement. But for all that Hawke gives a chilling, compelling performance, The Black Phone really belongs to young performers Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw. They play brother-sister duo Finney and Gwen, growing up in a grimy ‘70s neighbourhood suffused with violence, the former becoming The Grabber’s latest victim, and the latter using her latent psychic abilities to try and track him down. Their relationship – beautifully acted and deftly written (Derrickson re-teams with regular collaborator C. Robert Cargill) – brings considerable warmth to a bleak-sounding tale. All that, and Derrickson delivers all the suspense and shocks you want from a straight-up scarefest. This is horror with a big, beating heart.
Read the Empire review of The Black Phone
When Richard Linklater is in memory mode, you know you’re in for something special. And as much as his latest rotoscoped animation outing (following Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly) is presented as the fantasy-flecked tale of a boy blasting off to the moon on a secret mission just days before Apollo 11 did the real thing, that set-up is merely an excuse for Linklater to recall – in glorious, vivid detail – the specificity of what it was like to be a kid in Houston in the summer of ‘69, as the lunar launch crept closer. Youngster Stanley (whose adult self narrates, voiced by Jack Black) is a clear stand-in for Linklater himself, and his recollections of youth are charming and captivating – detailing the seismic, significant moments, and rendering the mundane ones magical too. The crisp, colourful animation proves an ideal medium to blur the lines of reality, imagination and dreams, creating an emotionally true portrait of a time and place, even in its more fantastical sequences. Apollo 10 1/2 is a coming-of-age movie with real lift-off.
Read the Empire review of Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
DC may still have some work to do in terms of figuring out its extended universe, but appointing a filmmaker with the skills of Matt Reeves to bring a new Batman to life in his own cinematic corner proved to be a great move. He somehow finds a fresh way into the well-trodden path of Bruce Wayne, mostly ditching the origin story to chronicle a hero finding his feet, while still stumbling along the way. Robert Pattinson gives good growl as the Bat (though his brooding emo-Bruce gets less to do), haunted by his past but figuring out what he needs to do in the future. Paul Dano is suitably creepy as a serial-killer Riddler, Zoe Kravitz injects wit and energy as Catwoman, and Colin Farrell is almost unrecognisable, chewing the scenery as crime-boss-to-be Oswald "Oz" Cobblepot, aka The Penguin. There's a sense of grit and rain-sodden reality to Gotham – soundtracked by Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’ – but while the visuals are moody, gorgeously lensed by cinematographer Greig Fraser, The Batman a vivid new version of a comic book icon.
Read the Empire review of The Batman
Shakespeare gets the Viking treatment in Robert Eggers’ epic, brutal tale of vengeance – telling a Hamlet-inspired tale (or, more accurately, telling the tale that inspired Hamlet) of familial betrayal, murder and mortality, and spinning it into a thunderously cinematic experience. The Northman marks a considerable leap onto a grander scale (and budget) for the horror visionary behind The Witch and The Lighthouse, who crashes violent, kinetic set pieces into scenes of psychedelic splendour, infused with mythological imagery that blurs seamlessly with the gritty, grounded reality of medieval life. At its heart, Alexander Skarsgård is a tower of rage-bound muscle, giving a primal performance full of guttural emotion and a lupine physicality that feels truly animalistic. With the gates now open for Eggers to work on big budget studio movies, the sky’s the limit.
Read the Empire review of The Northman
Look out, The Godfather Part II, Terminator 2 and Toy Story 2: the ‘Best Sequels Of All Time’ list has a new contender. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II, which sees her revisit the semi-autobiographical world of her early years at film school is the perfect example of a part two: one that deepens and enriches the original only further, while standing firmly as a brilliant entity in its own right. Helped by another revelatory performance from Honor Swinton Byrne as Hogg’s ostensible screen surrogate, The Two-venir (as nobody is calling it) is a fascinating and emotionally eloquent look at how the creative process intersects with grief and growing up. Some hilarious scene-stealing petulance from Richard Ayoade (“You're forcing me to have a tantrum!”) completes the effect. If they’re this good, we hope Joanna Hogg keeps making sequels forever. ‘Archipelago: Archipel-again’, anyone?
Read the Empire review of The Souvenir Part II
Paul Thomas Anderson rarely puts a foot wrong, but even then his ninth film, Licorice Pizza, feels like a rare treat, full of strange diversions and delightful surprises. At the heart of it are two staggeringly impressive lead performances, which would be notable even if they weren’t both debuts: Cooper Hoffman, son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, evokes his father’s twinkly-eyed charm as precocious child actor Gary Valentine; and Alana Haim, until now a mere rock star, is delightful as a photographer’s assistant who rejects his advances. Their adventures in the San Fernando Valley through the summer of 1973 are freewheeling, as they repeatedly come together and go their separate ways, but the film itself never feels aimless. There is an incredible supporting cast (Bradley Cooper! Tom Waits! Sean Penn!) and a clutch of mad cameos (John C Reilly! Leonard DiCaprio’s dad!), but it’s those two leads, and their curious, idiosyncratic romance, that makes this a film to keep coming back to.
Read the Empire review of Licorice Pizza
Crank up the 4*TOWN! Domee Shi’s debut directorial feature Turning Red landed on Disney+ back in March and blew us all away. Rosalie Chiang voices Mei, a Chinese-Canadian tween who, upon hitting puberty, begins to harness a power passed down to her through generations – the ability to transform into a giant red panda when she’s overcome with emotion. Infused with influences from Shi’s own childhood (Anime! Boybands! Tamagotchis!) this is not Pixar as you know it – there’s no adventure, no fetch-quest, no traditional structure. This is a coming-of-age movie through and through, where the real mission for Mei is accepting herself, her heritage, and the inevitable changes in her relationship with her mother Ming (Sandra Oh) as she gets older – oh, and getting to the biggest pop concert in town, of course. The anime-inspired visuals are a wonder, the script relentlessly funny and moving, and the soundtrack is crammed full of Billie Eilish and Finneas-written Noughties pop bangers. Altogether now: “You’re never not on my mind, oh my, oh my…”
Read the Empire review of Turning Red
You never really stop coming of age – an idea wonderfully explored in Joachim Trier’s funny, relatable, romantic, highly emotional The Worst Person In The World. Renate Reinsve stars as the indecisive, impulsive Julie, roaming through life (and Oslo), trying to juggle following her heart with making bad choices, desperately wanting to find something to commit to. It manages to chronicle late twenty-something malaise with refreshing authenticity throughout its 12 chapters, thanks to its impeccable Oscar-nominated screenplay and mesmerising, honest performances. The quiet, gut-punch moments are perfectly balanced with naturalistic wit, and the fantastical sequences (a city frozen in time as Julie runs towards her desires; a psychedelic trip interspersed with animation) elevate it even further.
Read the Empire review of The Worst Person In The World
We – that is to say, Empire (and, well, an entire generation of cinemagoers) – were trepidatious. Over 30 years after Top Gun defined a decade and made Tom Cruise an icon, he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were bringing Maverick back to the Danger Zone. No good could come from it! This is 2022, for Pete Mitchell’s sake! But, you know who else didn’t want to trample on the legacy? Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer, who – along with director Joseph Kosinski and a crack team of screenwriters, including Cruise’s personal wingman Christopher McQuarrie – would not only respect the original, but improve on it in every way. They gave Top Gun: Maverick a humongous beating heart, some of the most thrilling action sequences ever devised, and cracking chemistry all-round – from Maverick’s tête-à-têtes with his gruff superiors, to Rooster (Miles Teller) and Hangman’s (Glen Powell) fractious squabbling… and then there’s that Val Kilmer scene. We laughed. We cried. We clenched. Action cinema just doesn’t get better than this.
Read the Empire review of Top Gun: Maverick
Even in the vastness of the multiverse, the chances of a film as boundlessly creative, heart-stoppingly emotional, and adrenaline-poundingly exciting as Everything Everywhere All At Once coming into existence is slim-to-none. To say that the Daniels’ follow-up to the barmy Swiss Army Man is a revelation is an understatement – its combination of crude comedy, surreal sci-fi, inventive action and epic emotional stakes make it one of the most magical, original movies in recent years.
Michelle Yeoh is at the top of her game as Evelyn, a laundromat owner with too many thoughts and not enough time – with too many dreams and too little commitment to making them happen. As it turns out, that makes her the perfect candidate to take on Jobu Tapacki, a dark force who has learned to harness the power of the multiverse, and wants to see it swallowed whole by an ‘everything bagel’ black hole.
There are dildo fights, raccoons hidden under chef’s hats, hot-dog hands and hyper-hench pinky fingers. Jamie Lee Curtis does kung-fu in a tax office. Ke Huy Quan delivers heartbreaking monologues and beats people up with a bumbag. A near-silent scene of two rocks with Googly eyes becomes pure cinematic ecstasy. But all of the absurdity in EEAAO makes the grounded, ever-relatable theme of tension between parents and children all the more powerful, with further nuance in its intersections of immigrant identity, cultural heritage, and LGBTQ+ relationships. This film is love and pain, strength and weakness, light and darkness, all wrapped up in a perfect, undefinable package. It is everything, everywhere, all at once.
Read the Empire review of Everything Everywhere All At Once
Read the making of Everything Everywhere All At Once
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