As with any year, many great films hit theaters and streaming in 2023, and, as with any year, many of those great films didn’t receive the attention they deserved. From comedies to dramas, science fiction to horror, and several documentaries, there’s something for everyone that slipped under the radar to some degree in 2023.
Note: Some of the films listed were initially screened at festivals in 2022 but did not receive a public release in the United States until 2023.
o1. Passages (2023)
Adèle Exarchopoulos starred in three of the best films of 2023, but none made much of an impact outside of some cinephile circles. Passages did the best, but still deserves more love.
The new film from filmmaker Ira Sachs follows a gay man as he begins an affair with Exarchopoulos’s character, revealing more and more about his character to her, his husband, and even himself. It’s an emotionally devastating drama with three incredible lead performances from Exarchopoulos, Franz Rogowski, and Ben Whishaw.
2. The Five Devils (2023)
Exarchopoulos’s best film of 2023, The Five Devils follows young Vicky (Sally Dramé), who discovers a potion that allows her to travel back in time. During her travels, she discovers that her mother and her father’s sister were, and still are, deeply in love. The Five Devils is a magical realist film that tells a beautiful story about love, desire, and the consequences of repression.
3. Wingwomen (2023)
Exarchopoulos’s most fun movie of 2023, Wingwomen follows best friends and professional thieves Alex (Exarchopoulos) and Carole (Mélanie Laurent), who recruit a driver to help them with one last job. Wingwomen is a super fun action-comedy full of banter and thrilling setpieces, and it’s available on Netflix!
4. Your Lucky Day (2023)
Angus Cloud, best known for playing Fezco on HBO’s Euphoria, passed away in 2023 before the release of what is both one of his first and one of his last film projects. His performance in Your Lucky Day, which centers on several people fighting for a winning lottery ticket, is so phenomenal that it only makes his loss more devastating for film fans.
The film around that performance perfectly balances genre thrills with righteous anger about the economic anxiety that would lead people to kill for a chance to live comfortably.
5. They Cloned Tyrone (2023)
They Cloned Tyrone brings together John Boyega, Teyonah Parris, and Jamie Foxx in an equally hilarious and thought-provoking sci-fi comedy. The movie follows the trio as they investigate how Boyega’s Fontaine was able to get right back up the morning after he was killed. What they discover has implications for Black people nationwide.
6. The Starling Girl (2023)
A challenging but rewarding journey into an ultra-conservative Christian community in Kentucky, The Starling Girl focuses on the experiences of Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen) as she falls for a significantly older youth pastor and struggles with the restrictions of their community. While aware of the harm such a community can do its inhabitants, the movie treats nearly all its characters with care and empathy.
7. The Artifice Girl
A very different kind of girl, the eponymous girl of The Artifice Girl is an artificial intelligence created to catch child predators online. The film plays out in three real-time scenes, very much like a play, that examine key moments in the evolution of not just the artificially intelligent girl named Cherry (Tatum Matthews) but also the organization that uses her and their concerns that she may require more care than a tool.
The Artifice Girl is a brilliant sci-fi film and a must-watch for fans of the genre.
8. Nimona (2023)
Based on the comic of the same name by ND Stevenson, Nimona follows the shapeshifting teen Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she helps the knight Sir Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) clear his name after he was framed for the murder of the kingdom’s queen.
Nimona is a uniquely animated, often lighthearted children’s adventure film with a remarkable and valuable message on the evils of othering.
9. Of an Age (2022)
Perhaps 2023’s best entry in the queer coming-of-age genre, Of an Age is split into two parts. The first centers around a long car ride that Kol (Elias Anton) and Adam (Thom Green) take that develops into a romantic encounter. The second occurs years later as the two men have grown and changed but still have feelings for one another.
Of an Age is a beautiful, if melancholy, film about coming out, desire, and self-acceptance that’s worth seeking out.
10. The Covenant (2023)
Far from the fast-talking gangster movies of his early years or the blockbusters he made in the 2010s, Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant tells a remarkably grounded story about an American sergeant and Afghani interpreter in the final years of the American war in Afghanistan.
The action in the film hits hard but doesn’t distract from the emotional bond between Sergeant John Kinley (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ahmed (Dar Salim) as they work together to survive deep in Taliban territory.
11. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2023)
Inspired by the non-fiction book of the same name by Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline follows a group of young activists preparing to do just that. The film’s non-linear structure and many scenes of nerve-shredding tension ensure that How to Blow Up a Pipeline is never just a polemic but always one of the most entertaining films of 2023.
12. Godland (2022)
Godland explores faith through the trials and tribulations of Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), who journeys to Iceland to build a church at a settlement. As Lucas and his guide make their way, the priest’s faith begins to shake in the face of the often unforgiving landscape. It’s a quiet and often difficult film that asks resonant questions about faith.
13. Shin Ultraman (2022)
Shin Ultraman brings a new vision of the classic Japanese character to the big screen in a film from the team behind the celebrated Shin Godzilla. Shin Ultraman recreates some plot points from the original 1966 TV show, which sees the eponymous hero fight monsters attacking Japan. But the movie also makes the character entirely new and accessible to all audiences in a film that offers some of the most thrilling giant monster fights put to screen in recent years.
14. Shin Kamen Rider (2023)
Following Shin Ultraman, Shin Kamen Rider also lovingly reimagines its source material, albeit with far more blood than most other tokusatsu (special effects-driven live-action) projects up to this point. The movie follows a young man who gains superpowers after being experimented on by a nefarious organization as he takes the organization down, one superpowered opponent at a time. It’s a joy to watch; just be ready for a lot of blood.
15. Sisu (2022)
Also featuring a lot of blood, Sisu is a hard-hitting action film set in the Lapland area of Finland towards the end of World War II. The movie centers on gold prospector Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila) in a battle against a Waffen-SS platoon who hope to steal his gold. The fights in the film are no-nonsense, and the movie is not for the squeamish, but a must-watch for action fans.
16. Plane (2023)
Plane is another action movie that deserved more attention in 2023. The film pairs Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in a fight against militants on a lawless island near the Philippines. Butler and Colter star as a former Royal Air Force, now a commercial pilot, and an ex-French Foreign Legion fugitive, respectively, and director Jean-François Richet shows off their skills in thrilling hand-to-hand fights and large-scale shoot-outs. Plane isn’t anything special narratively, but the action scenes are some of the most fun of 2023.
17. You Hurt My Feelings (2023)
Far from an action movie, Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings centers on the fallout of an author overhearing her husband say he doesn’t like the book she’s working on very much. It’s a sweet, funny, and sometimes surprisingly insightful comedy about the differences between honesty and support and how navigating those differences can be difficult in long-term relationships.
18. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)
Adapted from the classic Judy Bloom novel of the same name, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret follows tween Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) as she moves to New Jersey, joins a new group of friends, develops a crush, and waits for her first period to arrive. Kelly Fremon Craig, who adapted the book for the screen and directed it, does a beautiful job capturing the key points of the novel with a light touch that keeps things fun without losing any emotional resonance.
19. Fremont (2023)
Fremont follows Afghan refugee Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) as she goes about her days in Fremont, California attempting to write fortunes for fortune cookies at work, struggling to sleep at night, and doing her best to get help with her insomnia from a therapist. The film is purposefully small-scale and centers on Donya’s perspective as she struggles to enjoy life while aware of the suffering and those still suffering she left behind.
Fremont is an often dryly funny movie with a big heart that may not be for everyone but deserves to find its audience.
20. Rye Lane (2023)
Rye Lane offers an update on the now-classic Before Sunrise as two young people spend a day together discussing various things and developing a connection. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy with fantastic chemistry between leads David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah and a fantastic sense of place.
21. Joy Ride (2023)
Joy Ride delivers a hilarious and heartfelt comedy about a group of four Asian American friends who travel to China to find one of their friends’ birth family. Inspired by movies like Bridesmaids and Girls Trip, Joy Ride offers similarly ridiculous comic situations and moving moments of friendship while also meaningfully exploring Asian Americans’ relationship with Asia.
22. Landscape with Invisible Hand (2023)
Based on the novel of the same name by M.T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand tells the story of a young couple who decide to broadcast their romance to the aliens who have taken over Earth and accelerated the existing problems of capitalism.
The film looks at economic desperation and the lengths people are willing to go to ensure financial security for themselves and their families. But it also highlights the freedoms and individuality that people can carve out for themselves in any situation; ultimately, it’s a life-affirming movie about human resilience.
23. Master Gardener (2022)
Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener continues in the quiet, contemplative mode of his last two films, First Reformed and The Card Counter, and uses it to explore another story of redemption and horror. The film’s central character is an ex-militant white supremacist who has become a, yes, master gardener since leaving that life behind, but his day-to-day as the caretaker on a plantation is thrown into chaos with the arrival of a young mixed-race woman he’s tasked with taking on as an apprentice.
Master Gardener pushes a lot of buttons but does so with serious thought.
24. Blackberry (2023)
Based on the non-fiction Losing the Signal by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff, Blackberry is a significantly dramatized account of the rise and fall of the eponymous cellphone. Featuring a knockout performance from Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame, Blackberry is a hilarious, if not entirely accurate, look at recent history.
25. Knock at the Cabin (2023)
M. Night Shyamalan is still a widely recognized name, but his most recent film Knock at the Cabin, adapted from The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, has barely made an impact outside of horror circles. The movie tells a disturbing yet beautiful story of a family, of two gay fathers and their young adoptive daughter, faced with the impossible choice of sacrificing one of their own to save the world from a coming apocalypse. Or at least that’s what the four people who have interrupted their vacation say, whether it’s true or not remains an open question for much of the film.
26. Priscilla (2023)
Sofia Coppola’s newest film seems to have suffered a fate similar to Shyamalan’s. But the biopic based on Priscilla Presley’s memoir Elvis and Me is a stunning portrait of an unhealthy relationship that draws viewers into its sumptuous world of glitz and glamor. Both Cailee Spanney as Priscilla and Jacob Elordi as Elvis are fantastic in the film and make their, to say the least, complicated dynamic impossible to look away from.
27. Showing Up (2022)
Showing Up centers on sculptor Lizzy (Michelle Williams) as she prepares for an upcoming show, but life keeps getting in the way of her work. Her brother struggles with mental illness. Her landlord, who just so also happens to be an artist, keeps putting off fixing the hot water. Her cat just hurt a bird, and she’s now committed to helping heal it. Showing Up isn’t a big dramatic movie; its small scale and many fantastic performances make it a surprisingly resonant film.
28. Afire (2023)
German filmmaker Christian Petzold is a star for some critics but hasn’t yet crossed over to the general public. Like most of his films, Afire could have finally gotten everyone to pay attention. The film centers on two friends visiting a family holiday house who discover a woman already living there.
But Afire isn’t quite the thriller or comedy that premise might open up. Instead, it’s a deeply felt, sometimes thrilling (because of encroaching forest fires) drama that investigates its characters and how they affect each other.
29. Jules (2023)
Jules is unlike most aliens on Earth movies. It has more in common with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial than something like Independence Day. But unlike in E.T., the people the alien encounters and develops relationships with here are old. Jules is a movie more about how society sees and treats the elderly than an investigation into what an alien arrival might mean for humanity, which makes it something special.
30. Polite Society (2023)
Polite Society is a martial arts comedy that sees a little sister desperately attempting to thwart her older sister’s marriage so that they can both follow their passions of stunt work and art. It’s a highly stylized movie about sisterhood, family, and the British-Pakistani experience that perfectly blends humor, action, and themes.
31. Birth/Rebirth (2023)
While Poor Things gains momentum and wins awards, its fellow Frankenstein-inspired film, Birth/Rebirth hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Birth/Rebirth centers on a single mother who recently lost her only child and the radical doctor who believes she may be able to stop death and keep the child alive. Together, the two women go to increasingly bizarre and disturbing lengths to keep the child some form of alive.
Like Poor Things, the film features brilliant performances from its leads, played by Judy Reyes and Marin Ireland.
32. When Evil Lurks (2023)
Argentine film When Evil Lurks has become a sensation among a small group of horror fans but hasn’t made a big enough splash given its incredible makeup effects, unsettling atmosphere, and truly shocking jump scares.
When Evil Lurks tracks two brothers’ attempts to escape and hopefully stop a demonic entity from wreaking havoc in their lives and the lives of those around them. It’s a terrifying horror movie that deserves to become a sensation among all horror fans.
33. Fallen Leaves (2023)
Fallen Leaves offers viewers a beautiful reassurance that loneliness isn’t inescapable. The film shows two lonely and economically struggling people meeting and developing a romance in Helsinki. It’s pretty simple stuff narratively, but writer/director Aki Kaurismäki’s deft script and direction make Fallen Leaves something special, and the fantastic karaoke scene doesn’t hurt either.
34. Missing (2023)
Missing is one of the most exciting entries into the burgeoning “screenlife” genre, which sees entire movies play out on the screens of various devices. In Missing, those screens include some obvious things like smartphones and laptops, but also more creative choices like smartwatches and the infotainment screen in a moving car. But the film isn’t just formally thrilling, its story about a teenager investigating the disappearance of her mother while on a trip to Colombia keeps viewers guessing until the end.
35. Reality (2023)
Based on the transcripts of the FBI interrogation of former Air Force linguist Reality Winner, Reality is an often painfully tense film to watch. Winner leaked a classified report on Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election to the press and was shortly thereafter served a warrant by the FBI, who interrogated her in her home. Given the film’s transcript-centered script, viewers know that all of the drama unfolding in front of them is as close to what happened as we can possibly get. It’s a thrilling film made thrilling by conversations and riveting performances.
36. The Royal Hotel (2023)
Inspired by the documentary Hotel Coolgardie, The Royal Hotel follows two young women backpackers who run out of funds and take jobs at the eponymous hotel to make money. But instead of anything cute or sweet happening to the young women now trapped in a rural town inhabited mainly by men, the film is a tense and uncomfortable look at how men treat young women in the service industry.
The Royal Hotel isn’t quite a thriller or a horror movie. But that refusal to leap into outright genre territory makes it all the more disturbing.
37. A Thousand and One (2023)
A Thousand and One tells the story of an economically desperate mother and her son, whom she kidnaps from foster care, doing their best to survive in 1990s New York City. The film tracks their lives and relationship over a decade, showing the intensity of a mother’s love for her child in the face of systemic injustice, brought to life in a stunning performance from Teyana Taylor.
38. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)
From New York City to rural Mississippi, 2023 offered several beautiful explorations of Black American life. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt moves between various points in the life of Mack (played by Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Charleen McClure, and Zainab Jah) to tell a simple story of a life full of love, heartbreak, and connection to the land. Filmmaker Raven Jackson brilliantly draws the audience into Mack’s world with a meditative filming style that centers touch and the sensuality of existence in all activities.
39. Theater Camp (2023)
It’s pretty easy to guess what Theater Camp is about, or at least where it takes place. The delightfully silly comedy sees the dedicated counselors at an upstate New York theater camp do their best to save the camp after the owner falls into a coma. Theater Camp is a sweet and hilarious comedy that should be seen by more than just theater kids.
40. The Blackening (2022)
The Blackening sees a group of Black friends gather to celebrate Juneteenth at a cabin in the woods. As often happens at cabins in the woods, things take a turn for the horrific. But The Blackening isn’t as interested in scares as it is satirizing the horror genre and its historically racist treatment of Black characters. It’s an often silly movie with some very silly jokes, but its perspective and satire never let you forget that the people who made it are very smart.
41. Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)
The final film in the Magic Mike trilogy seems to have been largely forgotten already, but stands alongside the others as a joyous celebration of bodies.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance sees Mike (Channing Tatum) travel to London to develop a stage play filled with the type of dancing he’s best at. It plays out mostly like a romantic comedy as Mike and his love interest, Max (Salma Hayek Pinault), work together to cast and create the show in the face of several obstacles. And, of course, it features incredible dance sequences.
42. The Unknown Country (2022)
While Lily Gladstone makes waves for her performance in the most recent Martin Scorsese film, her other film from 2023 remains unfairly overlooked. The Unknown Country, which Gladstone also worked on the story for, tracks her character Tana as she makes a road trip from South Dakota to Texas while grieving the loss of her grandmother. Along the way, Tana connects with strangers and family she hasn’t seen for too long.
The Unknown Country is a purposefully slow-moving film in which the journey is very much the destination, and it’s lovely.
43. Shortcomings (2023)
The directorial debut of comedian Randall Park shows that he’s just as good at directing comedy as starring in it. The film, based on the comic of the same name by Adrian Tomine, centers on the romantic failings of Ben (Justin H. Min), an arthouse cinema manager who has very strong feelings about movies, but less strong feelings about the people in his life. It’s a funny look at a movie lover that’s sure to delight movie lovers.
44. Kokomo City (2023)
Documentary Kokomo City is simple but remarkable in its simplicity. The film, from musician turned filmmaker D. Smith, offers viewers a glimpse into the lives of several trans Black escorts, and some of the men who love them. It’s an alternately funny, sweet, and troubling film that’s also stunning to look at as Smith shoots the film in striking black and white.
45. De Humani Corporis Fabrica (2022)
One of the most unique documentaries released in 2023 and one of the most unique documentaries ever made, De Humani Corporis Fabrica takes viewers inside the human body. The film brings images of endoscopies to viewers like nothing has before.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica is a stunning achievement in documentary filmmaking that’s equally disturbing and transfixing.
46. Silver Dollar Road (2023)
Based on the article “Kicked Off the Land” by Lizzie Presser, Silver Dollar Road examines the ongoing racism in real estate laws since the time of the Civil War through the story of a single property. The eponymous Silver Dollar Road property has been in the Reels family since the end of the Civil War when an ancestor bought the land. But over the last century, several forces, including current developers, have attempted to push the family off their land.
Silver Dollar Road is a fairly conventional documentary in form, with many talking heads, but its story is so vital that it’s both fascinating and emotionally stirring.
47. Satan Wants You (2023)
Satan Wants You examines the story behind the Satanic Panic broadly and the book that began it all: Michelle Remembers. The book, which was co-written by the eponymous Michelle Smith and her therapist Lawrence Pazder, claimed that through recovered memory therapy, Michelle had come to remember involvement with a series of disturbing Satanic rituals.
As time passed and questions began to arise, it became clear that the book and the memories it exposed were fabrications. But the impact had been made: police taskforces on Satanic rituals had been created, and talk shows made sure every home knew about the rituals.
Satan Wants You is a thrilling and eye-opening documentary about people's willingness to believe conspiracy stories.
48. The Disappearance of Shere Hite (2023)
Another eye-opening documentary, The Disappearance of Shere Hite seeks to bring attention to the life and work of Shere Hite, a once-famous feminist researcher who has been purposefully forgotten by modern feminism. The documentary combines archival footage, photographs, and talking heads to give a full picture of Hite (who died in 2020), her work, and the people she impacted.
It’s a beautiful film and a must-watch for all feminists.
49. Lakota Nation vs. United States (2023)
Like Silver Dollar Road, Lakota Nation vs. United States examines the history of the land and the laws that govern it.
However, Lakota Nation vs. United States tells the infuriating and heartbreaking story of the many broken treaties and legal agreements made between the United States government and indigenous Lakota people.
50. 20 Days in Mariupol (2023)
20 Days in Mariupol documents just that. The film, by journalist and videographer Mstyslav Chernov, brings audiences onto the ground level of the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the siege of Mariupol. It’s an incredibly difficult documentary to watch. But that difficulty only speaks to the necessity of bearing witness to the horrors of war.