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The Most Surprising Movies of the 2017 Summer Movie Season

From the hilarity of "Girls Trip" to the horror of "It Comes at Night," our critics panel looks back at the summer's most surprising movies.

“Girls Trip”

Michele K. Short

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What was the most surprising movie of the 2017 summer movie season?

Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire

“GIRLS TRIP”!!! I can’t think of a more pleasant movie-going experience I’ve had this summer, and I saw a screening of “Dunkirk” in IMAX where my hair was literally blown back from my head and a screening of “Rough Night” where everyone was given glasses of rose and bachelorette crowns before they walked in, so I’ve done some living this season. There’s nothing quite like seeing a raucous comedy in a packed theater filled with people who are having just as much fun as you are. I laughed so hard during “Girls Trip” that I am convinced I pulled a muscle that hasn’t healed yet, and I have zero qualms about it. It’s a big, bold, brash movie that is crammed with floor to ceiling laughs that are so good it made me forget how much I typically hate scatological humor (which is a lot). Breakout Tiffany Haddish is a huge star in the making, and what she does with a banana and a grapefruit in this film is something I will never forget. It’s the indelible image of the season.

April Wolfe (@awolfeful), LA Weekly

“Strange Weather”

I’m happy to say that “Girls Trip” wasn’t actually a surprise for me, so I get to leave that one out. But there were three other films that I’d been thinly intrigued by that all became pretty thrilling once I watched them. William Oldroyd’s “Lady Macbeth” was not in the least what I expected — in a good way. The character development and layered/veiled discourse on race/gender all contained in a wildly funny and unnerving period piece put this one at the top of my list. Then Katherine Dieckmann’s “Strange Weather” found me falling in love with Holly Hunter and Carrie Coon again. I know Hunter had a much-lauded performance in “The Big Sick,” but “Strange Weather” really should have been her breakout hit this summer. And then Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West” (premiering this Friday) just shook me. I don’t know how he was able to handle so many tones and styles — some scenes are slapstick, others I feel like I’m watching a Fincher film. But that one proves Aubrey Plaza is an actor, not just a comic actor.

Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), NonFics and Film School Rejects

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”

As much as I’d like to say my favorite surprise was that “In Transit” finally came out this summer, I can’t lie: “Spider-Man: Homecoming” exceeded my expectations, even after I heard the first wave of positive critical buzz. I knew then it’d be fine, but i didn’t think it’d be such an enjoyable experience. I hadn’t grinned nonstop throughout a superhero movie like I did during “Homecoming” in…maybe ever.

Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), Freelance for Little White Lies, the Film Stage

“Wonder Woman”

Clay Enos

I had long given up on the possibility of getting any kind of pleasure from superhero movies when I went to see “Wonder Woman” last June. But when Diana, against the advice of all her friends in the resistance, started crossing No Man’s Land to save only one tiny French village, tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was crying at a superhero movie, yet here I was, teary and smiling at once as a woman was following her heart AND her own judgement -after all, she did have the means to save that village, being a superheroine- to save as many people as she could. A DC comics movie defending the idea that women are familiar with suffering and thus want to avoid it for others as much as they can was not what I expected from the summer of 2017, a year so far torn apart by arrogant, incompetent and straight up insane men. Maybe there is still hope, after all. At least for Hollywood.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

columbus

“Columbus”

“Columbus,” “Good Time,” “Whose Streets?,” “Logan Lucky,” “Beach Rats”: when did August become the grand central station for daring, original, free-spirited independent films? It may be counterprogramming against the summer-movie cliché (which I’ve never understood, except where sharks are concerned), or it may simply be that there are so many good movies made outside of Hollywood or made off-Hollywood that no month can any longer go without them.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail

“Dunkirk”

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Other than my bafflement at the global paeans sung to Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” which, in my ever so humble opinion, was a narrative mess, even if a fine showcase of cinematic aesthetics, the biggest surprise of the summer movie season would have to be just how god-awful was Universal’s “The Mummy.” Though I had extremely low expectations, I still held out some hope that I would be, at the very least, mildly entertained. That the makers could not even manage the most basic requirements of a popcorn movie – to divert in even the crassest of ways – one has to wonder what this presages for the future of the cineplex. Box office is down, while home viewing is up. Let’s hope the future of cinema has not yet been written!

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), freelance for Vulture, The Guardian, Nylon

"The Book of Henry"

“The Book of Henry”

All my fellow Henryheads out there already know that my answer is, of course, [Cannes attendee voice] the new Trevorrow. I can usually tell if I’m going to like a movie from the trailer — “Girls Trip” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” both delivered on their outward-facing promise, and big time — but I was truly taken aback by the shocking levels of incompetence and miscalculation on display in “The Book of Henry.” It feels like a hallucination as I recall it today; surely I imagined the bizarre sexual tension between a brassy Sarah Silverman and our precocious hyperintelligent boy hero? The cross-cutting montage in which a sniper rifle-wielding Naomi Watts stalks Hank from “Breaking Bad” in the woods was just a little acid flashback, right? Everyone stopped talking about this film so quickly after the initial spike of morbid fascination that it’s receded into a foggy corner of half-memory. It’s now an unaccountable movie, a trivia factoid to be half-heartedly chuckled at but never rewatched. Dammit, Janice.

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

"It Comes At Night"

“It Comes at Night”

I was impressed with the resourcefulness and primal unrest of Trey Shults’ “Krisha,” but I wasn’t sure how his whirlwind approach might translate to a more conventional horror story in a larger space with recognizable actors. It turns out I had no reason for concern (and great reason to be absolutely terrified). Doubling down on Shults’ strengths while also allowing the young director to flesh out his hyper-claustrophobic approach towards domestic anxieties, “It Comes at Night” isn’t just a deeply unnerving story about the perils of distrust and the selfishness of survivalism, it’s also a masterful example of how fear is rooted in the unknown, and how the movies can translate the unknown into the unseen. It’s the scariest film I’ve seen this year, and yes, it helps that it feels like a probing allegory for The Way We Live Now (but then again, what doesn’t?).

What is the best movie currently playing in theaters?

Most Popular Answer: “Dunkirk”

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