9 Films to Beat the 2016 Blockbuster Fatigue

Fed up of big blockbusters right now? Here are some smaller movie treats to be found within theaters as the summer days wane...

A version of this article originally ran at Den of Geek UK.

Around this time of the year, we like to shine a spotlight on the slightly smaller films coming out after most of the box office juggernauts have been and gone. But with each annual feature, we’ve noticed that the year is filling up with blockbusters more and more. The year’s first comic book movie was February’s Deadpool, a surprise box office smash, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also got 2016’s blockbuster season started much earlier than usual.

We’re late enough in this elongated season that August will find the blockbuster schedule repeating itself – Ben Affleck’s Batman will be back on screen for a cameo in DC Movies’ Suicide Squad, Disney follows The Jungle Book with a remake of Pete’s Dragon, and Ricky Gervais returns with David Brent: Life on the Road, following the big screen resurrection of Ab Fab. There’s also the usual jumbo serving of sequels and remakes, including Mechanic: Resurrection and Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur.

We’re looking forward to a few of those and we know you will be too, but away from franchises and the smashy-bangy shenanigans that always characterizes a summer in the multiplex, there are a few other movies you could consider in August. In order of release date (and all release dates are correct at the time of writing, but are subject to change), here are nine films that should represent a change of pace before the back end of the year propels us into the thick of it again.

Cafe Society

In case you missed it, Woody Allen’s latest effort has just expanded to nationwide cinemas, and it is a delightful comedy concoction of his frequent obsessions. As a light-hearted fable set in the glitz of 1930s Hollywood–and Brooklyn!–it is another story about a boy and girl pulled between the competing appeals of LA and New York. But as much a throwback to his Radio Days nostalgia for blue collar life in the Big Apple as it is a replay of the tensions in Annie Hall, Allen even makes time for some amusing gangster/murder subplots a la Bullets Over Broadway with Corey Stoll’s great cameo as a crook in desperate need of a conversion.

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If a jazz musician like Allen is simply replaying familiar chords here, it is in a new arrangement that builds a sweet medley of the humor and melancholy in life. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as a youthful avatar for the filmmaker and the actor maintains some sizzling chemistry with Kristen Stewart. Steve Carell is on hand to also snarl as a Hollywood big shot, as is Blake Lively to stun in ’30s cotour, but it’s all in service of the perfect kind of summer entertainment for a more adult set.

How can I see it? It is playing nationwide now. You can also read our review here. 

Hunt for Wilderpeople

Before you check out Thor: Ragnarok, be sure to watch Taika Waititi’s wonderful little slice of folksy weirdness called Hunt for Wilderpeople. Based on a popular New Zealand children’s book, the What We Do in the Shadows filmmaker returns to his homeland for this refreshingly unique tale about what happens when a problem child (Julian Dennison) is forced to live with his umpteenth and final set of foster parents on a farm. If this doesn’t work, he will be institutionalized, but whatever hope he has at a normal life passes with his new aunt. And sure enough, Sam Neill’s gruff and anti-social “uncle” wants nothing to do with the boy.

So the lad runs away into the bush where he wouldn’t survive for five hours if not for Neill’s help. Aye, the reluctant father figure finds the boy but soon sprains his ankle on the return trip. By the time they’re healed enough for civilization, he realizes that they’re both now fugitives from a cartoonishly unforgiving bureaucracy. Thus truly begins a libertarian fairy tale of transcendentalist defiance from society. And to say any more would be to spoil what makes this truly special.

How can I see it? It is playing in select theaters. You can also read our review here.

Hell or High Water

Here is one that has not opened yet, but we’ll be sure to have a review for when it does! This much hyped crime thriller takes the heist drama concept and buries it deep into the heartland of Texas with plenty of pathos and tension to go around. Two no-good brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster decide to use their rough and tumble ways for good by robbing a bank to save their family’s farm in West Texas. But several Texan Rangers, including a tough sonofabitch played by Jeff Bridges, take umbrage at this “one good deed.”

Hell or High Water is the latest screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, and considering he wrote the script for last year’s gripping Sicario, we might already be hooked.

How can I see it? It opens on Aug. 12.

The Shallows

This is a shark movie. There are many like it, but this one is Blake Lively’s. The Shallows won rave reviews in film buff circles upon its release in U.S. cinemas last month, as a nuts-and-bolts survival horror thriller at sea that also serves as a solid character piece for the leading lady. She plays Nancy, a medical student who has a nasty brush with a great white shark while surfing. Injured and stranded at sea, the shark stalks her as she struggles to stay alive.

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Lively told Entertainment Weekly that one of the reasons she took on this film was her husband Ryan Reynolds’ experience on Buried, a similarly stripped back survival horror movie. That’s a promising reference point for this one, and one that has been borne up by the critical response. It’s a Hollywood movie, certainly, but it looks to be significantly less bombastic than most other studio output at this time of year.

How can I see it? It is already playing in theaters nationwide.


Director Todd Solondz (Welcome To The Dollhouse, Happiness) is hardly renowned for making summery treats. So while Wiener-Dog suggests a slight change of pace, it’s really no different. Over four different stories, people find themselves inspired or changed by an adorable dachshund pup, who stoically moves from owner to owner and offers some solace to embittered lives.

Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Julie Delpy and Greta Gerwig lead the cast and if that trailer looks rather more sunny than you’d expect from Solondz, you can be damn sure that his abiding fondness for human misery will colour this somewhat darker, despite any hugging and learning and cute puppy shots that may also occur.

How can I see it? It is currently playing in select theaters.

The Childhood Of A Leader 

Brady Corbet’s chilling fable dramatizes the aftermath of World War I and the subsequent rise of fascism in Europe through the childhood of a sociopathic young boy, played by newcomer Tom Sweet. With echoes of The Omen, the young son of an American diplomat comes of age as his father (Liam Cunningham) sets out brutal terms of austerity in the Treaty of Versailles.

This one comes garlanded with awards for Best Director and Best Début Feature from the Venice Film Festival and although it’s not nearly as breezy as some of the other films on this list (particularly in the current political climate), it’s a compelling subject with some serious talent behind it. We might not have said so a few years ago, but we’d also recommend it based on the involvement of Robert Pattinson, who’s lost his sparkly luster from his Twilight days but accrued some serious credibility from subsequent projects like this one.

How can I see it? It is currently playing in select cities and is availble for digital download.

Lights Out

In this supernatural horror movie, a family is terrorized by something that only seems to exist in the dark. Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has been haunted by a fear of the dark since she was very young, but when the lights go out and this entity reemerges to frighten her little step-brother, she vows to discover the truth behind the thing’s sinister attachment to their mother Sophie (Maria Bello).

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We featured James Wan’s The Conjuring in 2013’s cool-down list before it became one of the surprise hits of the year. Wan came back for the sequel earlier this year and if that one let you down, then maybe Lights Out, his latest in a producing capacity, will give you the chills you’re after. It’s another one adapted by a director from their own short film, and it looks like a much-needed summer shocker.

How can I see it? The film is already playing nationwide, and you can read our review here.

Don’t Breathe

Also on the subject of breathless horror, might we suggest Don’t Breathe? Admittedly, this is one we also have yet to see for ourselves. But it made big waves at both the SXSW and Fantasia film festivals this year, doing much to expand the already impressive reputation of Fede Alvarez. The director of 2013’s Evil Dead remake reteams with his leading lady Jane Levy for an entirely original idea of his own that looks to be the polar opposite of a gorefest.

Instead, Don’t Breathe appears to be an exercise of tension as several small time crooks pick the wrong house to knock over: one owned by a blind military vet. As it turns out, he has more to hide than just his valuables in that house, and soon the robbers will have to learn how to see in the dark if they hope to see another sunrise.

How can I see it? Don’t Breathe opens nationwide on Aug. 26.

Love & Friendship

And lastly, if you have not yet seen Love & Friendship, this jewel of the moviegoing summer season must be immediately added to your viewing list. Will Stillman finally reunites with Kate Beckinsale for what is possibly the best Jane Austen adaptation of all time, and certainly the career highlight thus far in Beckinsale’s filmography. Unapologetically self-satirical of the “period piece” form, it is one of the very best the genre has yet produced since it eschews sentimentality in favor of Austen’s actual use of sardonic wit and irony in her prose.

Adapted from a novella named “Lady Susan,” Love & Friendship finds Beckinsale as the eponymous lady, a mother who, like many other from Asuten’s pen, is looking to lure suitors for her daughter of marrying age. However, she seeks to bring them not for her child, but for herself. A newly widowed mother who probably prefers wearing chic black anyway, she upends all customs in this subtly wicked amusement.

How can I see it? It is still pllaying in select theaters. You can read our review here.

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