The Top 10 Movies of 2023

The Illuminerdi's Ian Lloyd checks in with his list showcasing the Top 10 Movies of 2023.
Top 2023 Films collage

What do you think are the Top 10 Movies of 2023? The movies released in 2023 felt refreshing. At the end of the last decade, the culture around movies started to become rather stale. Now, after three years of self-isolations, strikes, and streaming services dominating the market, we are beginning to see a glimmer of hope that things might start getting better for filmmakers and filmgoers alike.

RELATED: OPPENHEIMER: Christopher Nolan’s Acclaimed Film Confirmed to Receive a Theatrical Release in Japan

Most movies that studios were anticipating as hits flopped hard at the box office this year, while the films that took big swings to entertain audiences soared higher than ever. With a cultural event as big as Oppenheimer, I started to feel relieved about the direction movies would go in moving forward.


With so many phenomenal films coming from our best auteurs and promising new voices, it was difficult to cultivate this list. At least ten other movies would have made this list any other year, but sadly they had to fall to the wayside here. That being said, I also have not watched every film I’ve wanted to see this year.

I’m embarrassed to admit I have not yet seen Killers of the Flower Moon or May December (I could feel my film critic cred leaving my body as I typed those words). That’s enough of me airing my regretful yearly film blindspots. Let’s begin showcasing the Top 10 Movies of 2023.

10. Barbie

Margot Robbie in Barbie
Courtesy of Warner Brothers and Mattel Films

This was Barbie‘s year. This film was so tremendously huge that it got everyone excited to watch a Christopher Nolan movie again after Tenet. The biggest cinematic hits in history are those that can capture the mainstream consciousness, sometimes in design and other times accidentally. Barbie works so well now because we are no longer in the ironic detachment era of the 2010s. Superhero and franchise films have grown stale in the public consciousness. Audiences want new stuff that still holds nostalgic significance in some shape or form. Thus, a live-action movie about the world’s most famous doll brand.

Director Greta Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach take their classic film influences, sense of humor, and love for this iconic brand and combine it all into a truly refreshing blockbuster. Barbie might be based on a recognizable property, but this film plays with the identity and history of the brand to express a real-world sentiment that many of us can relate to.

The themes of inequality and disillusionment with the world around us that are depicted in Barbie connect with audiences, and it’s all wrapped up in a vibrant pop coming-of-age narrative. It’s also a great jumping-off point for young, eager film lovers to seek out other movies that go further with discussions and stylistic flairs depicted here. Barbie doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it reminds us that blockbuster filmmaking can be fun and inventive without disrespecting the audience with thoughtless action or poorly written dialogue.

9. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Many tent pole action franchises have started winding down or ending altogether this year. John Wick: Chapter 4, Fast X, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and the entire DCU as we know it are all showing signs of finality, if not already finished. Amidst them is the beginning of the end of the Mission: Impossible series. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the third Christopher McQuarrie-directed film in the series.

With the last few entries treading around the same modern style that began with Ghost Protocol in 2011, this latest film does something new. It constantly plays against the audience’s expectations of what a Mission: Impossible is supposed to be. We all think we know how the story will go, but so does the film’s antagonist, The Entity, an Artificial Intelligence that knows exactly what Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) will do every step of the way.

Ethan is getting old, and the world is starting to change around him. When this new AI threat turns up, he immediately accepts the mission to find it and destroy it. For over a decade, this series has been an antidote to other action blockbusters that sacrifice practical stunts for CGI or leave us confused with poorly edited fight sequences.

The Mission: Impossible movies have prided themselves on upholding classic cinema’s values, dating back to the days of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton performing death-defying stunts for entertainment. Dead Reckoning is no different, but it does signal a shift. Even though Ethan is willing to do whatever he can to save the world, it’s apparent that his end is coming near.

8. Showing Up

Michelle Williams and Hong Chau in Showing Up
Courtesy of A24

Two years ago, I watched a film called Old Joy, a film directed by Kelly Reichardt, and it has persisted in my thoughts ever since. It’s a movie about a dying friendship, and I watched it right when I needed it in my life. Because I’m an absolute fool, her newest film, Showing Up, is only the second film I’ve seen from her, and it is yet another film that found me at the exact moment I needed it the most.

Showing Up is a film about artists. It’s about artists who have to live as humans with jobs, families, and unexpected obstacles. It follows Lizzy (Michelle WIlliams) as a ceramic artist who is about to unveil her current showcase of clay figures at an art exhibit. This movie is not interested in the regular tropes or easy conflict to make a film more dramatic. This is simply a realistic depiction of what it’s like trying to create while dealing with the world around you. It’s not as flashy as the other movies on this list, but I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who wants a film that explores the nuances of being an adult working as a creative.

7. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Across the Spider-Verse Spot fight
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Marvel Entertainment

This year has been a true Harbinger of Death to superhero films as we know them. With most of the bloated, increasingly high-budget comic book films flopping at the box office over and over throughout this year, there is certainly a change coming to the genre. Wedged in the middle of all of these disappointments and nails in respective coffins is the sequel to one of the most innovative and influential animated films of the last five years. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse doesn’t land with a thud like its competition. It ascends to become something greater.

While this film contains many trappings of the modern franchise film, i.e. multiverses, fan service, and unresolved endings, it manages to take the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) deeper through the lens of our own relationships with Spider-Man as a character. We’ve seen so many variations of this web warrior countless times over the last half-century, but they usually follow the same story retreads again and again. Across the Spider-Verse suggests that we shouldn’t be afraid to go in new directions with this character we have loved for so long.

6. The Holdovers

Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers
Courtesy of Focus Features and Miramax

It shouldn’t come as a shock that most moviegoers today are starting to get a bit tired of the big-budget films that regurgitate classic franchises. 2023 showed us that bringing back old characters or doing the same formulas on repeat is not enough anymore. There is a massive number of great films released every year, but for most audiences, it’s easier to look backward and reminisce about films from the late 20th century that had so much more character and creativity put into even the simplest of stories.

Enter “The Holdovers,” a movie that presents itself in the wrappings of an early 70s coming-of-age drama. The digital post-production film grain filter doesn’t quite feel authentic to those fifty-year-old pictures, but it does capture the same feeling and attitude from that era. Paul Giamatti is wonderful in the role of an old curmudgeonly professor at Barton Academy boarding school, and his rivalry with Dominic Sessa’s portrayal of a neglected young adult is so engaging for the entire runtime.

These characters are prickly, flawed, and complicated, but that’s okay. Modern films are sparse with characters that are hard to root for, but the best thing about movies is that it’s more rewarding when stories tackle ideas that fall into those morally gray areas. The Holdovers makes it clear that it wants to spend time with the types of people everyone would rather avoid.

5. Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer staring directly into a bomb
Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Atlas Entertainment

It’s time to be fully transparent: I’m not a huge Christopher Nolan fan. While I love Batman Begins, I don’t have a particular fondness for his classics like Inception, Memento, or The Dark Knight. I think they are great movies, but I never found Nolan’s work truly transcendent to masterpiece status. Conversely, Oppenheimer has all the qualities that can be found throughout his entire career, but Nolan brings us a staggering work that reminds us no one else does it like him.

Like most biopics, there is a plethora of recognizable faces throughout. Oppenheimer has one of the most interesting ensembles of the year, but everyone holds their own while making an impression, no matter how much screen time they get. However, what makes this film stick out is its structure and pacing.

The whole film is structured and edited as if it’s a montage, and once the ball gets rolling, it feels as if someone lit a fuse that is rapidly approaching the creation of the atomic bomb. Once the characters finally get to breathe, the movie refuses to leave, making us sit with the devasting reality that these characters now live in.

4. Past Lives

Greta Lee and Tei Yoo in Past Lives
Courtesy of A24

There were some loud films this year (see Number 5), and while I do love a noisy flick, nothing impresses me more than a quiet film bursting at the seams with emotion and sincerity. Past Lives takes us on a journey through three stages of the lives of two friends who keep finding their way back together. Celine Song’s debut film is an instant knockout that utilizes her playwright background to craft a narrative that only needs three central characters to devastate any viewer.

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo can express thousands of words in every frame of each of their performances. Matched with the best screenplay of the year from Song, these two effortlessly fill in the blanks of what is never spoken out loud. The film gives us enough breathing room to take in every amount of nostalgia and regret that these actors perfectly portray on screen.

John Magaoror also holds his own in a supporting role that would feel so trite in any other film, but here, he perfectly makes us fall in love with his character after just one spectacular scene. If you only watch one film from this list, I cannot recommend this one enough.

3. Asteroid City

Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks in Asteroid City
Courtesy of Focus Features

I find that many moviegoers often recognize studios and distribution companies more so than the artists behind the camera. That’s why these days, companies like “A24” or “Ghibli” act as a catch-all umbrella that moviegoers recognize instead of the specific artists behind each project. Most directors or film crews get the majority of the recognition, but Wes Anderson has become a franchise into himself among even the most casual of movie fans. His style is so recognizable that some people would even list him as a subgenre of film. His newest feature, Asteroid City, takes that iconic aesthetic of his and cranks it up to eleven.

Asteroid City is a film depicting a televised documentary broadcast that tells the story of a play called “Asteroid City,” which is presented to us as if we were watching a movie adaptation of the stage production. Needless to say, this movie is a bit convoluted. It might leave some viewers cold as they try to understand what they should possibly take away from the experience, but I believe that is exactly the main idea Anderson is playing with here. He is reckoning with his elaborate style and communicating to us that intent shouldn’t fully be explained. The art should speak for itself.

2. Blackberry

Jay Baruchel and Matt Johnson in Blackberry
Courtesy of IFC Films

With the degrading number of intellectual properties to remake, reboot, relaunch, etc., that actually turn a profit, it is becoming widely difficult for studios to figure out what audiences want anymore. 2023 showed us one genre that has played to moderate success and critical acclaim: Corporate Success Story Biopics.

True stories that depict the rise of a recognizable brand or event in the public consciousness. Air, Dumb Money, Tetris, and Flamin’ Hot all showcase a type of low-budget comedy-drama that we don’t get too often anymore, and they all functioned well, proving that this type of film still has a place in this modern cinematic landscape. That being said, one of them, in particular, blew me away with an experience that exceeds past a cozy rag-to-riches story.

Rambuctionious Guerrilla filmmaker Matt Johnson’s third film, Blackberry, is his most accessible yet. He abandoned his usual found footage narrative approach, but the style of filmmaking still incorporates his improvisational handheld camera-operated tendencies. This is the story of the rise and tremendous fall of the Blackberry phone, and it is the closest we will get to a modern successor to the likes of The Social Network.

Neither are remotely the same when it comes to tone, filmmaking intent, or performance, but they both share the anxiety and isolation that comes with the rapidly evolving world of technology. There are always going to be geniuses with revolutionary ideas, but as long as profit-driven individuals call the shots, we are gonna be asking if we could do a lot more than we should.

1. The Boy and the Heron

The Boy and the Heron
Courtesy of GKIDS and Studio Ghibli

It’s important to cherish films that don’t come around too often. As of writing this, Hayao Miyazaki is 82 years old, and he very well might be our greatest living filmmaker. It’s all a matter of opinion, no doubt, but I have yet to see a film from him that I’ve even remotely disliked. I know he’s already thinking about his next project, but The Boy and The Heron is a phenomenal goodbye letter to a career that has shaped the world of animation and Western audiences’ gateway to foreign films.

The Boy and the Heron truly has to be experienced for yourself to understand just how special and thrilling it is to watch. The animation is stunning from start to end, and both voice casts put in their all to do justice to a film that has been so long awaited. It feels scarier than any other Miyazaki film, and yet it presents his worldview at its most abstract. Even in his wonderful filmography, there is nothing else quite like it.

The Boy and the Heron Still - 4 - Top 10 Movies of 2023
Courtesy of GKids and Studio Ghibli.

The most special aspect of film as a medium is that it’s a gateway into another’s perspective, including their influences, fears, beliefs, and, most importantly, their dreams. Miyazaki and his incredible crew of the most talented Japanese animators working today crafted a film that is all about your own interpretation and what you will do after experiencing it. The Japanese title of this film shares the name of a 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshino titled “How Do You Live?” and that is the main question you should be thinking about after leaving this and every other film you’ve seen this year.

RELATED: Hayao Miyazaki’s THE BOY AND THE HERON Becomes Highest-Grossing Studio Ghibli Film at the US Box Office Ever

The world at large has been going through a significant amount of turmoil this last year. The movies of 2023 have marked a significant change in the world of filmmaking, and the stories that were shared with us call for the necessity of change. Here’s hoping for even more great films, but more importantly, a better year for all of us.

What’s your favorite films of 2023? Do you agree with our list compiling the Top 10 Movies of 2023? Excited for any upcoming films of the new year? Let us know on social media!

KEEP READING: ‘Oppenheimer’ Review – Overwhelmingly White Thriller is An Incredible Cinematic Experience


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Ian Lloyd

Ian Lloyd enjoys surrounding himself with outdated technology and pretending to have good opinions. He loves watching movies that everyone else hates as well as films that no one cares about - except for him. But by far, his favorite thing in the world is to write down all the nonsense in his head that he is constantly thinking about and labeling it as a "review" for "people" to "read".