Movies are back. It at least feels that way when you see the numbers that films like F9 and A Quiet Place Part II are earning. But more than just the thrill of going back to theaters, July signals what is typically considered to be the height of the summer movie season. On a hot evening, there are few things better than some cold air conditioning and a colder drink of your choice while escapism plays across a screen.
That can prove just as true at home as in theaters. And as luck would have it, Netflix is pretty stuffed with new streaming content this month. Below there are space adventures, comedies, dramas, and more than a few epics worth your attention, either as a revisit or new discovery. And we’ve rounded them up for your scrolling pleasure.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
When the first Austin Powers opened in 1997, it was intended to be as much a crude love letter to the popular cinema of the 1960s as a modern day raunchy laugh-fest. Now with the benefit of another 20 years’ worth of hindsight, Mike Myers and Jay Roach’s spoof of Bondmania is itself an amusing time capsule of 1990s comedy tropes. There’s Myers’ cartoonishly larger-than-life characters—beginning with Powers but most dementedly perfected with Dr. Evil, the comedian’s riff on Ernst Stavro Blofeld—as well as the pair’s embrace of what they considered to be the defining trappings of the late ‘90s.
The film’s nostalgia for the ‘60s and its value as a piece of kitsch ‘90s nostalgia makes this Austin Powers (and to a lesser extent the second movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me) a fascinating relic, as well as a genuinely funny lowbrow symphony of sex gags, bathroom humor, and multiple digs at British stereotypes, including bad teeth. In other words, it’s a good time if you don’t take it too seriously. Just avoid the third one, which is also coming to Netflix.
The Karate Kid (1984)
1984’s The Karate Kid is the cultural apex of Reagan America’s obsession with martial arts movies and Rocky-style underdog stories. It offered ’80s kids the ultimate fantasy of learning martial arts to defeat local bullies and finding time to squeeze in a love subplot along the way. Granted, the Cobra Kai series has thrown a wrench into this film’s seemingly simple morality tale, but just try not to root for Daniel by the time you reach arguably the greatest montage in movie history.
There’s also something eternally comforting about watching Pat Morita beat-up ’80s thugs while validating parents everywhere by suggesting that you to can one day grow up to be a great warrior if you just sweep the floor, wax the car, and paint the fence.
Love Actually (2003)
Christmas in July? Sure, why not. This Yuletide classic likely needs no introduction. Writer-director Richard Curtis’ Love Actually is the ultimate romantic comedy, stuffing every cliché and setup from a holiday bag of tricks into one beautifully wrapped package. Perhaps its greatest strength though is it mixes in a touch of the bitter with its sweet, and doesn’t hide the thorns in its bouquet of roses. Plus, its use of “All I Want for Christmas” is still a banger nearly 20 years on.
Admittedly, we aren’t particularly inclined to watch this in July ourselves, but if you don’t mind the Christmas of it all, there are few better rom-coms in your queue at the moment.
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
This adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel of the same name was one of the highest profile literary adaptations of the early 2000s. It’s the story of a young girl sold to a geisha house in the legendary Gion district of Kyoto who then grows up to be the most famous geisha of 1930s imperial Japan… right before the war. The film (like its source material) had controversy in its day due to having a somewhat exoticized view of Japanese customs, as well as for the casting of Chinese actresses Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in the roles of icons of Japanese culture, with Zhang playing central geisha Sayuri.
But whatever its shortcomings, Memoirs of a Geisha is still an exquisitely crafted melodrama that provides an often delicate window into one of he most graceful and misunderstood arts. The film won Oscars for its costumes, art direction, and cinematography for a reason. Plus whenever Zhang and the actually Japanese Ken Watanabe share the screen, unrequited sizzle is hot to the touch.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Look, 1995’s Mortal Kombat isn’t a great movie in the classic sense of the word. Those looking for notable ’90s schlock might even have a better time with 1994’s Street Fighter and Raul Julia’s scene-stealing performance as General M. Bison.
Yet at a time when video game movies still struggle to capture the magic of the games themselves, Mortal Kombat stands tall as one of the few adaptations that feel like an essential companion piece. It might lack the blood and gore that helped make 1992’s Mortal Kombat arcade game a cultural touchstone, but it perfectly captures the campy, shameless joy that has defined this franchise for nearly 30 years.
Star Trek (2009)
The idea of a Star Trek movie reboot wasn’t greeted with universal enthusiasm when it was first announced but then J.J. Abrams delighted many fans by creating a Trek origin story that was both familiar and new. Chris Pine shone as the cocky Kirk, bickering with Zachary Quinto’s Vulcan Spock while trying to save the universe from a pesky Romulan (Eric Bana). This was a standalone that could be enjoyed by audiences completely ignorant of the Star Trek legacy which also achieved the feat of not annoying many long-term followers of the multiple series. It was a combination of humor, heart, action and a zingy cast that won the day – it’s still the best of the three Star Trek reboot movies to date.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2005)
Alongside Step Brothers, Tallageda Nights remains a a biting snapshot of the 2000s zeitgeist from writer-director Adam McKay. Eventually he would drop (most of) the crude smirks in favor of dramedies about the excesses of the Bush years via The Big Short (2013) and Dick Cheney biopic Vice (2018), however Talladega Nights remains a well-aged and damning satire of that brief time when “NASCAR Dads” were a thing, which is all the more impressive since it was filmed in the midst of such jingoistic fervor.
So enters Will Ferrell in one of his signature roles as a NASCAR driver and the quintessential ugly American who’s boastful of his ignorance and proud that his two sons are named “Walker” and “Texas Ranger.” He’d be almost irredeemable if the movie wasn’t so quotable and endearing with its sketch comedy absurdities. There’s a reason Ferrell and co-star John C. Reilly became a recurring thing after this lunacy. Plus, that ending where adherents of the homophobic humor of the mid-2000s found out the joke was on them? Still pretty satisfying.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
This is the movie that changed everything. Filmmakers had been experimenting with computer-generated visual effects for years, including director James Cameron with 1989’s The Abyss. But Cameron, as usual, upped his game with this 1991 action/sci-fi epic in which the main character — the villain — was a hybrid of live-action actor and CG visuals.
Those of us who saw T2 in the theater when it first came out can remember hearing the audience (and probably ourselves) audibly gasp as the T-1000 (an underrated and chilling Robert Patrick) slithered into his liquid metal form, creating a surreal and genuinely eerie moving target that not even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brute strength could easily defeat. There were moments in this movie that remained seared into our brains for years as high points of what could be accomplished with CG.
This writer prefers T2 to the original Terminator. It’s fashionable to go the other way, but the first movie, while excellent, is essentially a low-budget horror film, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 a somewhat more formidable stand-in for the usual unstoppable slasher. The characters in T2 are far more fleshed out, the action bigger and more spectacular, the stakes more grave and palpable. It was the first movie to cost more than $100 million but it felt like every penny was right there on the screen. And Cameron tied up his story ingeniously, making all the sequels, prequels, and sidequels since irrelevant and incoherent. We don’t need them; we have Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Is Underworld a good movie? No, not really. Is it a scary movie, what with the vampires and werewolves? Not at all. Well, is it at least entertaining?! Absolutely. Never before has a B-studio actioner been so deliciously pretentious and delightful in its pomposity.
Every bit the product of early 2000s action movie clichés, right down to Kate Beckinsale’s oh-so tight leather number, Underworld excels in part because of the casting of talent like Beckinsale. A former Oxford student and star of the West End stage, she got her start in cinema by appearing in a Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare adaptation, and she brings a wholly unneeded (but welcome) conviction to this tale of vampire versus werewolves in a centuries-long feud. Shamelessly riffing on Romeo and Juliet, the film ups the British thespian pedigree with movie-stealing performances by Bill Nighy as a vampire patriarch and Michael Sheen (Beckinsale’s then-husband who she met in a production of The Seagull) as an angsty, tragic werewolf. It’s bizarre, overdone, and highly entertaining in addition to all the fang on fur action.
Before there was Parasite, there was Snowpiercer, the action-driven class parable brought to horrific and mesmerizing life by Oscar-winning Korean director Bong Joon-ho in 2013. The film is set in a future ice age in which the last of humanity survives on a train that circumnavigates a post-climate change Earth. The story follows Chris Evans‘ Curtis as he leads a revolt from the working class caboose to the upper class engine at the front of the train.
Loosely based on a French graphic novel, filmed in the Czech Republic as a Korean-Czech co-production, and featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, with dialogue in both English and Korean, Snowpiercer is not only a truly international production that will keep Western audiences guessing, but it packs an ever effective social critique as we head further into an age of climate change and wealth inequality. Also, there is a scene in which Chris Evans slips on a fish.
The Beguiled (2017)
Sofia Coppola’s remake of the 1971 film of the same name (both are based on a Thomas Cullinan novel) is a somewhat slight yet undeniably intriguing addition to the filmmaker’s catalog. It’s the story of a wounded Union soldier being taken in by a Southern school for girls–stranded in the middle of the American Civil War–with salvation turning into damnation as the power dynamics between the sexes are tested. It is also an evocative piece of Southern Gothic with an ending that will stick with you. Top notch work from a cast that also includes Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell makes this a bit of an underrated gem.
The Twilight Saga
In July, not one, not two, not three, not even four, but all five of the movies adapted from Stephenie Meyer’s young adult phenomenon book series will be accessible on Netflix. Indulge in the nostalgia of Catherine Hardwicke’s faithful and comparatively intimate Twilight. Travel to Italy with a depressing Edward and Bella in New Moon. Lean into the horror absurdity of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2. Or marathon all five for maximal escapism into a world where vegetarian vampires are the boyfriend ideal, the sun is always clouded, and the truly iconic emo-pop tunes never stop.
Django Unchained (2012)
The second film Quentin Tarantino won an Oscar for, Django Unchained remains a highly potent revenge fantasy where a Black former slave (Jamie Foxx) seeks to free his wife from Mississippian bondage and ends up wiping out the entire infrastructure of a plantation in the process. Brutal, dazzlingly verbose in dialogue, and highly triggering in every meaning of the word—including quickdraw shootouts—this is a Southern-fried Spaghetti Western at its finest.
Perhaps its other great asset is a terrific cast of richly drawn characters, including Foxx as Django (the “D” is silent), Christoph Waltz as German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz, Leonardo DiCaprio as sadistic slaveowner Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen. While Waltz won a deserved Oscar for the film (his second from a Tarantino joint), it is Jackson’s turn as a house slave who becomes by far the most dangerous and cruel of Django’s adversaries who lingers in the memory years later…