The summer movie season starts to sputter around mid-July: Hollywood usually releases what it considers its biggest potential moneymakers by the Fourth. (This year, Tom Cruise and his impossible mission skirted that deadline by about a week.) What’s left is often smaller and/or independent films whose distributors didn’t want to compete with the openings of potential blockbuster behemoths.
A late-summer slowdown typically gives viewers time to be more adventurous and try out some film festivals and retrospectives around the city. But this year is different, thanks to the upcoming releases of the two most anticipated movies of summer 2023.
I’m talking about the phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer.”
Greta Gerwig’s PG-13 rated “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s R-rated “Oppenheimer” will battle for box-office glory starting July 21. It seems like perfect counterprogramming, right? The audiences for these films wouldn’t appear to overlap: Nolan’s IMAX-shot thriller stars Cillian Murphy as the titular creator of the atomic bomb; Gerwig’s Pepto Bismol-pink comedy features Margot Robbie as the iconic Mattel doll.
But these two movies could become the hottest double feature in decades. AMC Theatres reports that more than 20,000 moviegoers have already purchased tickets for “Barbenheimer.” Warner Bros. (the studio behind “Barbie”) and Universal (“Oppenheimer”) have done their part to fuel an absurd “rivalry,” scheduling press screenings for both films at the same time, forcing us critics to use the wisdom of Solomon to choose which one to attend.
There will be a lot of disappointed “Barbenheimer” patrons because the films are so different in tone and intent that a double bill is bound to seem more like a lesson in dissonance than entertainment. Ryan Gosling and Murphy should appear outside theaters in character as Ken and Oppenheimer to kick any complainers in the shins.
If neither Barbie nor the bomb strike your cinematic fancy, there are still plenty of options in the Boston area for you to consider.
The Coolidge Corner Theatre continues its Big Screen Classics series, with most films being shown on 35mm. Your choices include the 1995 Al Pacino-Robert De Niro heist flick “Heat” (July 17) and Paul Newman’s 1967 prison drama “Cool Hand Luke” (Aug. 7). You can dress up as The Dude for their screening of Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 fan favorite “The Big Lebowski” (Aug. 14), a movie everyone loves but me.
A movie I do love, Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece “Sunset Blvd.,” screens Aug. 24. I’ll be there to introduce and conduct a seminar about it. Buy a ticket and scold me for my disdain of “The Big Lebowski.”
At 50, hip-hop is now eligible for a membership to AARP. The music of my adolescence is the subject of another series at the Coolidge. “Hip Hop at 50″ showcases movies that feature the culture and its artists. The 1982 trendsetter “Wild Style” (Aug. 1) and 1984 musical “Beat Street” (Aug. 5) are must-see snapshots of the origins of hip-hop. You can also roll with Kid ‘n Play in their 1990 movie debut, “House Party” (Aug. 17) or roll a fat one (figuratively!), with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker while watching the 1995 stoner classic “Friday” (Aug. 11).
Want to get out of town and go to a film festival? The 21st Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival runs Aug. 4-12 and celebrates both independent and studio films made by Black filmmakers.
The Harvard Film Archive continues its series on Japanese master director Ozu Yasujiro. This tribute to one of the world’s greatest filmmakers is a cinematic cornucopia of influential and intriguing choices. You really can’t go wrong here, but if you can only choose one movie, take in 1953′s “Tokyo Story” (Aug. 12).
“Barbenheimer” isn’t your only chance for double features. The Brattle is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Warner Bros. with a slew of the studio’s films presented in pairs. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are reunited (but thankfully kept apart) in a double bill of Davis’s “The Letter” (1940) and the 1945 film that gave Crawford her Oscar-winning role, “Mildred Pierce” (Aug. 15). Barbara Stanwyck sizzles in two pre-code films: 1933′s “Baby Face” and 1931′s “Night Nurse” (July 24). Jimmy Cagney fans can jones on his early career hits with 1931′s “The Public Enemy” and “Blonde Crazy” (July 18).
Like Warner Bros., Disney is also turning 100. To celebrate, they’re giving us yet another version of “The Haunted Mansion” (July 28). This one stars Rosario Dawson, Winona Ryder, and Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis. The studio is also re-releasing several films at AMC Boston Common, including the first “Toy Story,” from 1995 (July 21) and the first Disney film nominated for best picture, 1991′s “Beauty and the Beast” (Aug. 18).
The best film in Pixar’s canon, 2004′s “The Incredibles,” is also back in theaters Sept. 1, the same day you can see Denzel Washington dispatch the Mafia in “The Equalizer 3.”
- TV won’t be taking the rest of the summer off
- 17 concerts to sweeten any music fan’s summer
- Laugh lines from six comics who’ll be playing local shows this summer
- Five museum shows to enrich your summer excursions, from Connecticut to Maine
- Ten dance festivals and summer series entertain with all manner of movement
- Check out our guide to the arts this summer
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.