Best Movies in Theaters Right Now (Top 10)

Best Movies in Theaters Right Now (Top 10)

Movie theaters are officially back. As the cinematic offerings slowly return to the big screen compared to the streaming services and various digital rental retailers, we’re here to sort out what’s actually the best bang for your buck at the box office.

A new year and a new COVID variant are in full swing, so now might be a good time to exercise restraint even if there are bigger budget offerings hitting the big screen.

Of course, use your judgment when choosing whether to go back to the movies or not, but there’s an ever-growing percentage of vaccinated moviegoers who are champing at the bit to get back in front of the big screen. And I’m very happy to say that we’re back, here to help.

That said, things in theatrical distribution are a little strange right now, so apart from some big recent blockbusters, there’s a mix of Oscar-winners, lingering releases, indies and classics booked—depending, of course, on the theater. But thankfully, there’s been enough good movies actually released recently this year that you should have no problem finding something great to watch.

Check out the 10 best movies in theaters right now:


10. Creed IIIRelease Date: March 3, 2023
Director: Michael B. Jordan
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Mila Davis-Kent, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes

Creed III is bravely taking its chances without Rocky or his accompanying emotional baggage (or, no small thing, his theme music). Creed II took a baby step away from its parent franchise, developing Creed’s world while leaving time for a Rocky subplot (and a Stallone co-writing credit that seemed, frankly, like the result of a miscommunication, given that he didn’t write the first one). This time, Rocky is mentioned briefly but unseen, and Creed’s big opponent is a sui-generis figure from his past, not Rocky’s. (Creed II featured Viktor Drago, son of Rocky IV’s supervillain Ivan.) Stallone may grumble, but the spinoff process is complete. The series belongs to Creed now. Which also means that it fully belongs to Michael B. Jordan–not least because he takes a Stallone-like step into the director’s chair with this third installment. That weird alchemy between autobiography and self-mythologizing that makes the Rocky sequels fascinating even as they fail to live up to the magic of the original is very much active here, as Donnie feels the tension between his traumatic childhood and the luxury he now enjoys as a retired boxing champ. That tension tightens when Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a friend of Donnie’s from his group-home days, emerges from a multi-year prison sentence and asks for some help starting a belated boxing career. As Damian, Majors gives the scary, wounded, funny, charismatic performance he was supposed to have delivered in that Ant-Man movie; this time, he’s in a movie that understands how to coax out a range of emotions in dialogue scenes, and how to frame its actors, together and separately, to catch the flicker-like gestures that signal those shifts. Indeed, some of the most riveting scenes between Jordan and Majors downplay macho fireworks, like their reunion over lunch, driven by Majors’ pained menace. Did Jordan study Heat for this scene? The shots aren’t cribbed from it, but the patience and unshowy strategy could be. Elsewhere, Jordan takes bigger swings from behind the camera. He’s spoken of his anime fandom (something else he’s gifted to his character; young Donnie has an anime poster in his bedroom), and how that influenced some of his directorial choices. That’s most evident in the film’s climactic boxing match, which features such bold stylizations — graphic-panel closeups, backgrounds that switch to dreamlike symbolism — that it’s hard not to wish for similar adventurousness in the other fights and training montages. But even when Creed III treads familiar ground, this series feels like the ideal outlet for the on-screen persona Jordan is building: a resilient man who needs to better understand the power he’s fought so hard for.–Jesse Hassenger

 


9. Palm Trees and Power LinesRelease Date: March 3, 2023
Director: Jamie Dack
Stars: Lily McInerney, Jonathan Tucker, Gretchen Mol
Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes

Lea (Lily McInerney) never wanted to dine and dash, but when you’re 17 years old and don’t have the money to pay the bills of the friends who’ve already bolted, it doesn’t seem you have much of a choice. Unfortunately, she isn’t as quick as they were, and is caught by an aggrieved diner employee. He grabs Lea, they tussle, he slaps her. All of a sudden, Tom (Jonathan Tucker) is right there beside her, telling the employee what he thinks of a grown man slapping a teenage girl, and giving Lea a crucial chance to get away. He finds her walking home a little later, checks she’s okay and offers a lift. They get to chatting, and swap numbers. A frisson develops, which soon morphs into a romance. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem–it’s just that Tom is literally twice Lea’s age. An adult. And as their relationship progresses, and he starts systematically cutting her off from her friends and her mom (Gretchen Mol), it becomes more and more clear that he’s far from the hero he first appeared. Palm Trees and Power Lines is the feature debut of Jamie Dack, adapted from her 2018 short of the same name. Although Dack takes her movie to some dark places, she takes it there slowly. Carefully. Despite the delicate nature of the subject matter, nothing in her filmmaking could fairly be described as exploitative. She sidesteps potential pitfalls of romanticization by including no score, and setting her story in a suburb that may be on the California coast, but is still devoid of warmth or color. She wants us to see the relationship between Tom and Lea for what it is, without any stylistic flourishes, or even prettified images, clouding the clarity of our vision. Dack’s chief directorial asset is the ability to always show the feelings and motivations of both of her leads at the same time; it’s like we’re watching her film in an emotional split-screen. Although it would be a valuable educational tool, to say Jamie Dack’s film ought to be shown in schools implies too dryly didactic an experience; that it’s little more than a PSA about the threat of grooming, meant to be heeded, but not felt. While Palm Trees and Power Lines certainly functions as a cautionary tale, it derives the intensity of its power from the uncomfortable degree to which we’re compelled to empathize with Lea as she makes a string of increasingly perilous decisions.–Chloe Walker

 


8. Cocaine BearRelease Date: February 24, 2023
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Stars: Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Christian Convery, Alden Ehrenreich, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brooklynn Prince, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Hoekstra, Aaron Holliday, Margo Martindale, Ray Liotta
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

Director Elizabeth Banks delivers what’s on the Cocaine Bear tin. There’s a bear, it does cocaine. People die, and you will laugh. Writer Jimmy Warden does his darndest with an absurd “When Coked-Out Animals Attack” scenario sorta based on a true story, blending creature feature wildness with a claws-out ‘80s comedy—for better and worse. What can feel like a mechanical monster movie (only with sniffing white gold instead of blood) finds humor in the macabre, focusing on graphic death scenes at a detriment to tonal unison between its extreme violence and darkly comedic giggles. Cocaine Bear very, very loosely adapts a bizarre and tragic 1985 report about an airborne narcotics smuggler, 40 kilos of cocaine thrown into the Chattahoochee National Forest, and a black bear who ingests some 34 kilograms. In Warden’s action-horror reimagining, the bear goes all tunnel-vision apex predator, hunting hikers (Kristofer Hivju and Hannah Hoekstra), criminal henchmen (O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich), park rangers (Margo Martindale)—anyone in Cokey the Bear’s path. That includes single mother Sari (Keri Russell) and her missing daughter Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), among the unfortunate Chattahoochee explorers near where “Cocaine Bear” roams. Banks approaches Cocaine Bear without hiding her gory-goofy intentions. Characters exist to be pursued, maimed and dismembered by a drug-trippin’ mammal not restricted by typical bear behaviors. You’re here to vibe with cheeky Jefferson Starship needle drops and a synth-poppy score underneath chaos primed for communal watches, as filler material between death scenes matters much less than the murderous rampages. You’re here for the beheadings, disembowelments and splatters of blood that erupt from chewed-raw bodies, and there’s no shortage. Banks has her finger on the pulse of creature features with ridiculous concepts that throw rationale to the wayside, sharing DNA with other crowd-pleasers like Deep Blue Sea or Snakes on a Plane. You’ll get what you pay for, and can we ask much more from Cocaine Bear?—Matt Donato

 


7. Of an AgeRelease Date: February 17, 2023
Director: Goran Stolevski
Stars: Elias Anton, Thom Green, Hattie Hook
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

Melancholy memories of old flames—and the palpable romantic intrigue they first conjured—are thrusted to sensually cinematic heights in Of an Age, the sophomore feature from Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski. A somewhat unexpectedly tender and sensual follow-up to his folk horror debut You Won’t Be Alone, this film further expands on themes of coerced assimilation, adolescent growing pains and the act of constantly presenting different faces to the world. Of course, the queer experience is in itself a state of ceaseless shape-shifting until one lands in the right skin—a near-impossible task for a teenage boy in ‘90s Melbourne, Australia who lives with homophobic members of his extended Serbian immigrant family. The year is 1999, and 17-year-old competitive ballroom dancer Kol (Elias Anton) rises early to prepare for the long-awaited finals tournament later that afternoon. Hopes for a relatively stress-free morning are unceremoniously dashed when he receives a frantic call from his best friend and dance partner Ebony (Hattie Hook), who blacked out after a rough night of partying and has no idea which beach she’s woken up stranded on. Frantically consulting a map while trying to sort out a game plan, the two eventually decide to enlist Ebony’s older brother Adam (Thom Green) for clandestine aid without alerting their mother. He picks Kol up in his appropriately boxy sedan, and after getting to know each other on their drive, they eventually find a damp, sandy Ebony sitting in a far-flung phone booth. Kol has virtually no hope of making it back in time for his dance competition, but he has appeared to acquire a much more handsome consolation prize. The film is suffused with the kind of nostalgic attitude that has a tendency to skew toward cringe-worthy sentimentality, yet here allows for the relationship between Kol and Adam to feel all the more realistic and rooted in the director’s lived experience. While the film’s ending feels a bit abrupt and cheesy, Of an Age boasts phenomenal performances and a salient (if somber) central truth. It’s never wise to anticipate a life-altering revelation from haphazard homecomings, particularly when you’ve been yearning for a connection that was fleeting from the offset. In the end, however, reason seldom prevails over romantics. Even after witnessing this cinematic exercise in maintaining hindsight, I’d wager that no viewer will successfully eliminate their own tendencies to ruminate on the infinite possibilities of past passions.—Natalia Keogan

 


6. Infinity PoolRelease Date: January 27, 2023
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

Heartbeats and cumshots are the alpha and omega of Brandon Cronenberg’s vacation in White Lotus hell, where the tourists loosen their collars and let loose their lizard brains. The limbic system and the most basic biological processes of life dominate Infinity Pool, the filmmaker’s descent into a slimy, sexy, terrifying world where death is just another game for rich people. It’s a hit-and-run satire of Western nonsense, dismantling the havoc our destination-hopping upper-crust wreaks on other cultures and the faux-mystical enlightenment hawked by gurus and Goop fools—those too wealthy to have real problems, those aspiring to achieve this status, and those taking lucrative advantage of both. In this tropical trial, they spill into each other, forever and ever. Ego death has nothing on Brandon Cronenberg’s brilliantly warped resort. The dangled, juicy lure isn’t subtle: A seemingly normal couple being approached by weird (probably swinging) Europeans always leads to trouble. We’d be fools not to be suspicious of Gabby (Mia Goth) and Al (Jalil Lespert) when they come up to their estranged hotel-mate couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman). One of them is played by Mia Goth, which is a sure sign to hightail it back to your room and flip the “do not disturb” sign. But James is a novelist, with one bad book to his name (The Variable Sheath, a fantastic fake title) that only got published because he married the rich publisher’s daughter. Gabby’s proclaimed fandom strokes the part of his ego that’s all but shriveled up and crumbled to dust—he’s weak, he’s hungry for it, he’s the perfect mark. When the white folks inevitably do something irreversibly horrible to the locals of Li Tolqa, their unprepared alienation in their culture is disturbingly hilarious. They don’t speak the language, and can’t read the forms the cops ask them to sign. But it’s stranger than that. Brilliant production design, location scouting and cinematography lock you into a late-night freakout. Getting too deeply into what exactly happens in Infinity Pool is like outlining the recirculating edge of its title’s horizon-flouting construction. It won’t take away from its pleasures, but you can’t really understand until you’re in it. Until Cronenberg drives you down an unlit backroad, long enough that you start wondering if you’re dreaming or awake. But what’s clearest in this gallows comedy is that its characters exist. The people who think they’ve solved reality, the conceited class with the luxury of being horny for death, because death has never been real to them. Infinity Pool’s inspired critique of this crowd is fierce and funny, its hallucinations nimble and sticky, and its encompassing nightmare one you’ll remember without needing to break out the vacation slideshow.—Jacob Oller

 


5. M3GANRelease Date: January 6, 2023
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Stars: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronny Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

Long before M3GAN hit theaters, the film’s titular cyborg, who can best be described as a mashup of Renesmee from Twilight (if she was a raging sadist) and a yassified Baby Annette, became a viral sensation. Somewhat miraculously, M3GAN manages to live up to its spectacular advertising. (Though in retrospect, this new triumph in horror camp shouldn’t be that surprising, as Malignant’s James Wan and Akela Cooper, AKA the people who gave us this scene just last year, co-wrote the film). After losing both of her parents in a tragic car accident, young Cady (Violet McGraw) moves in with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a toy company roboticist partially responsible for PurrpetualPetz: Stuffed animals that have human-like teeth and, among other things, take shits. Realizing she is not equipped to care for a youngster, Gemma makes it her mission to finish building M3GAN—or Model 3 Generative Android—a robot designed specifically to be your child’s most loyal BFF. Soon enough, M3GAN starts to take her “protect Cady at all costs” programming a little too literally (who could’ve seen that coming?), resulting in a string of darkly comical sequences of violence—one of which may or may not involve the talking doll zealously wielding a nail gun. M3GAN is more than just another solid entry into this horror subgenre. I might even be so bold as to say that it is horror’s newest camp classic, and M3GAN one of the greatest horror icons of recent years. M3GAN, somewhat miraculously, perfects the horror-comedy tone, able to consistently toe the line of too silly—from M3GAN’s passive-aggressive, condescending and sickly sweet timbre (nailed by Jenna Davis, the “penny nickel dime” girl from Vine), to her raggedy blonde wig—without ever actually crossing it. M3GAN’s most impressive feat, at the end of the day, is that it gives us cinematic sickos exactly what we want without sacrificing greatness in the process. And yes, what we want is a breakdancing, murderous doll. Is that such a crime?—Aurora Amidon

 


4. Avatar: The Way of WaterRelease Date: December 16, 2022
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Bliss, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jack Champion, Jemaine Clement, Joel David Moore, Brendan Cowell, CCH Pounder
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 192 minutes

Avatar: The Way of Water is a promise—like the titular Way as described by a beatific, finned Na’vi fish-people princess, the film connects all things: the past and the future; cinema as a generational ideal and one film’s world-uniting box office reality; James Cameron’s megalomania and his justification for Being Like That; one audience member and another audience member on the other side of the world; one archetypal cliché and another archetypal cliché; dreams and waking life. Avatar’s sequel can be nothing less than a delivery on everything Cameron has said, hyperbolic or not, he would deliver. What’s less clear is exactly what Cameron’s intending to deliver. The Way of Water’s story is a bare bones lesson in appealing to as many worldwide markets as possible, the continuation of the adventures of Bostonian Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, who’s spent the past decade trying not to sound like an outback chimney sweep) as he raises a Na’vi family with like-warrior-minded Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña, screaming from inside her golden prison) and realizes that Earthlings aren’t going to stop colonizing Pandora just because they had their shit kicked in a lifetime ago. The Way of Water’s true achievement is that it looks like nothing else but the first Avatar, unparalleled in detail and scale, a devouring enterprise all to itself. Watching The Way of Water can at times feel astonishing, as if the brain gapes at the sheer amount of physical data present in every frame, incapable of consuming it, but longing to keep up. We believe that this film will redefine box office success because Cameron presents it—making the absolute most of high frame rates, 3-D, and IMAX, normalizing their use, acclimating our brains in ways Ang Lee could only wish—as the next evolutionary step in modern blockbuster filmmaking. This is immersion for its own sake, moviegoing as experience vaunted to the next level, breathtaking in its completely unironic scope. After so many hours in Pandora, untroubled by complicated plot or esoteric myths, caring for this world comes easy. As do the tears. The body reacts as the brain flails. Avatar has consumed James Cameron; it is his everything now, the vehicle for every story he wants to tell, and every story anyone may want to tell—the all-consuming world he’s created is such a lushly resourced aesthetic wonder that anything can be mapped onto its ever-expanding ecosystems. Pandora is a toolbox and ready-made symbol. No film will ever be this beautiful in my lifetime, at least until the next Avatar.—Dom Sinacola

 


3. Knock at the CabinRelease Date: February 3, 2023
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

Knock at the Cabin has a twist that audiences won’t see coming, if only because it defies what people have come to know about director M. Night Shyamalan. It’s a twist, but it isn’t, but it is, but it also isn’t. But in Knock at the Cabin—adapted from the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay—it’s less about the destination than the journey. A film preoccupied with the frequent use of intimate, shot/reverse-shot close-up conversations, Knock at the Cabin opens with one between Leonard (Dave Bautista) and Wen (Kristen Cui—no Haley Joel Osment, but she’s mostly fine). Leonard bears Bautista’s imposing figure, but Bautista knows how to handle himself with a gentle touch. He’s soft-spoken and warm, and has a tenderness implicit in his presence akin to a large stuffed animal. Accompanied by two women, Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a hot-headed man named Redmond (Rupert Grint, whose first feature role in eight years proves he’s a force of nature), Leonard and his group forcibly enter the Airbnb housing Wen and her adoptive dads, Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff). The groups was united by shared visions of a forthcoming apocalypse that will bring about the end of humanity, and the only way to stop it is if this particular family makes the choice to sacrifice one of themselves willingly. Knock at the Cabin is, perhaps, the quickest 100-minute film ever made. From the quiet and meditative opening sequence—the last moment of normalcy in Wen’s life—the film is propelled forward with a sense of urgency that parallels that of the doomsday group. Even in moments of calm, there is a constant, tense and invigorating momentum forward. If you’re a fan of Shyamalan’s, or just familiar with his style, you’re accustomed to “dialogue real people wouldn’t say” and “actions real people wouldn’t take.” It’s an oft-held complaint about Shyamalan’s films by his naysayers, but it’s not a creative deficiency. It’s just part of Shyamalan’s cinematic language, one that functions in a sort of un-reality that prioritizes story, emotion and theme over pedantic logistics in dialogue. At this point, you’re either with it or you’re not. And if you are, Knock at the Cabin could be seen as career-best work.—Brianna Zigler

 


2. Return to SeoulRelease Date: February 17, 2023
Director: Davy Chou
Stars: Park Ji-min, Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis Do De Lencquesaing, Hur Ouk-sook, Emeline Briffaud, Lim Cheol-hyun, Son Seung-beom, Kim Dong-seok
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

We first meet Freddie (Ji-Min Park) at age 25, when she impulsively travels to Seoul after a flight to Japan is canceled. We’re not given this context until well into the movie, instead thrown into Freddie’s life as she checks into a hostel and almost immediately starts accumulating Korean drinking buddies. Like the character, we have little choice over how we’re brought into this world or how we grow into it. Though Freddie may work furiously to hide it, she’s just as confused as we are. Uncertain if she belongs in this culture of her birth, or if she even wants to. Some of Freddie’s new friends speak fluent French, but most do not, which has the dialogue switching between Korean, French and English as the characters work to understand one another. It’s a depiction and theme that will continue throughout the film: The arduous work of human connection, especially across language barriers and cultures, and through the unique perspective of a transnational adoptee. While director Davy Chou may not exactly embody his subject matter, he is not unfamiliar with the experience of returning to a place you have never been (or have no memory of), looking for a kind of connection. The child of Cambodian parents who fled their home to escape the Khmer Rouge, Chou grew up in France, first visiting Cambodia at the age of 25. He uses Return to Seoul to, among other things, explore that first/second-generation immigrant experience of being complexly, confusingly torn between two cultures. However adept the filmmaking, such a piece would fall apart without the right central actor. Park is a revelation in what is, unbelievably, a debut performance. Regardless of when or where we find her, Park simultaneously imbues Freddie with a vulnerability and impenetrability, characterized by a vibrant, exhausting defiance she brings to each and every interaction. I cannot believe this is Park’s first role. Because we almost exclusively see Freddie during her visits to Seoul, it’s unclear what other factors—outside of her identity as a transnational adoptee—might influence her restlessness. Though I missed the larger context of Freddie’s life, Return to Seoul’s commitment to staying in the moment creates an engrossing cinematic experience, an inextricable character portrait both intimate and fathomless.—Kayti Burt

 


1. John Wick: Chapter 4Release Date: March 24, 2023
Director: Chad Stahelski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Lance Reddick, Scott Adkins
Rating: R
Runtime: 169 minutes

Early in John Wick: Chapter 4, our titular Baba Yagaplayed by Keanu Reeves after a decade as a near-mute terminator monk, his monastic frock a fine three-piece bulletproof suit and his tonsure a greased-down mane the color of night—is still in hiding following Chapter 3’s cliffhanger. Of course, an ever-increasing bounty on his head hasn’t stopped him from continuing to murder a lot of people, including the Elder (George Georgiou), who’s not the same Elder from Chapter 3, because, as this new Elder explains, he killed the last guy and took over, as the Elder did before that guy, and the Elder before that guy did to the guy before that guy. The convoluted hierarchy of the John Wick Murderverse exists only to multiply and grow more convoluted: In Chapter 2, no one sat above the High Table, except for, as introduced in Chapter 3, the Elder, who sits above and also beside it, but apparently has his share of problems. Just as the membership of the High Table is susceptible to sociopathic sibling rivalry (see Chapter 2), there will always be another Elder to kill, another personal war to wage, another henchman to shoot repeatedly in the face. “No one, not even John Wick, can kill everyone,” we hear said in an awed tone. But no, he must kill everyone. This is what we want and this is how this ends, how John Wick can be free: He kills the whole world. If Chapter 3 began immediately following Chapter 2, rarely letting up from its video game formula as levels grew more difficult and bad guys became more immune to John Wick’s superpower (murder), then Chapter 4 is the franchise’s most deliberate entry yet. With three movies worth of stakes and worldbuilding behind it, Chad Stahelski’s latest hyper-violent opus is a modern masterpiece of myth-making indulgence and archetypal action cinema. Stahelski and Reeves know that their movie must inhale genres, superstars, models, singers, Oscar winners and martial arts icons, DTV and prestige alike; consume them and give them space to be sacrificed gloriously to a franchise that values them. Behold Donnie Yen—who feels absolutely at home in the Murderverse—but also Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama and Clancy Brown and Scott Adkins, the latter given a lengthy neck-snapping set piece that’s both scene-chewing madness and an expected physical display from Adkins. It’s all patient and omnivorous and beyond ridiculous. Stahelski wields bodies to push them to god-like ends. Everything on screen is stupendous. This is what we want, to watch John Wick murder the whole world, forever and ever amen.—Dom Sinacola