The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

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The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

For all of the at-home movie-watching options available to today’s audiences—and we’d recommend such recent Netflix originals as the divisive Okja and the just-released, wonderful The Meyerowitz Stories—none quite compare to the communal experience of going out to catch a film in a theater. Paste’s monthly guides for Netflix, HBO and Amazon cover the best of what’s out there if you’re a diehard couch potato, but we also want to recommend the best of what’s in theaters right now. We’ve got some reviews up for movies to look forward to later this year—including Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, which our critic didn’t enjoy as much as many others did—but until then, the following (some of which have had a comfortably long stay in theaters all summer) will keep you busy enough.

(And let’s be honest: Some of these titles aren’t total winners, but sometimes your local cinema’s got slim pickings—and really, who knows what might surprise you?)

Here are the 10 best movies in theaters right now:

victoria-abdul-movie-poster.jpg 10. Victoria and Abdul
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Director: Stephen Frears
As a treatise on a person accustomed to power and privilege who has no power whatsoever over the impending end of her life, Victoria and Abdul is stunning. Judi Dench, who earlier in her career played an earlier version of Victoria in an earlier oddball companionship situation, inhabits Madame Just Lie Back and Think of England with her typically amazing keenness, and watching the 82-year-old actress in this particular confrontation with mortality and loneliness and always having to be playing some role or other is kind of dazzling. Frears still has a good eye—even if he did render one of the two titular characters (Abdul Karim, played by Ali Fazal) as a human ellipsis—and the period details and style and feel of the film are lovely. For fans of Judi Dench, then, Victoria and Abdul will be utterly worth it—but as much as it pains me to say it, this film suffers from a lack of bravery. At least I hope that’s what it is because the alternatives—sloppiness or something even more insidious—are unworthy of Stephen Frears. —Amy Glynn / Full Review

american-made-movie-poster.jpg 9. American Made
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Director: Doug Liman
In his best performances, Tom Cruise often gives off the impression that he’s getting away with something. Whether it’s Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia or Maverick in Top Gun, the 55-year-old actor burrows deep into his characters’ ability to hustle, scam or charm all those around him. The men he portrays are almost always full of shit, but because it’s Cruise playing them, they’re also very fun company. There are many reasons he’s been a movie star for decades, but that might be among the most crucial: No matter how cocky or ridiculous he or his characters can be, we don’t mind being taken for a ride. The true-life drama American Made is powered by Cruise’s catch-me-if-you-can spirit, exuding a showy, impish disposition that’s sometimes grating but often enticing enough that we forgive its limitations. Aspiring to be Goodfellas but more closely aligned with American Hustle’s manic irreverence, the film has a doozy of a story to tell, and so naturally it would have been far more effective if it had simply told its story rather than endlessly marveling at its own madcap absurdity. And yet, Cruise buoys American Made’s flop-sweat intensity because he seems to understand his character’s desperate, ingratiating whirligig restlessness from the inside. This is that rare time that one of his slick charmers lets you see behind the curtain—and what a fascinating sight it is. —Tim Grierson / Full Review

big-sick-movie-poster.jpg 8. The Big Sick
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Director: Michael Showalter
The Big Sick can sometimes be awfully conventional, but among its key assets is its radiant view of its characters. Based on the first year in the relationship of married screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, this indie rom-com has a mildly risky structure and some trenchant observations about the culture clashes that go on in immigrant families living in America. But what cuts deepest is just how profoundly lovable these people are. That’s not the same as being cutesy: Rather, The Big Sick is defiantly generous, understanding that people are horribly flawed but also capable of immeasurable graciousness when the situation requires. As directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris and They Came Together), Kumail’s story is littered with grace notes. It’s a film that’s observant about all the small ways that individuals learn how to make the best of bad situations—whether it’s a stalled comedy career, the pleasant badgering of overbearing parents, or the realization that you may have met the love of your life and blown it. —Tim Grierson / Full Review

battle-sexes-movie-poster.jpg 7. Battle of the Sexes
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Directors: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
In most sports films—whether based on true stories or not—we always know who we’re supposed to be rooting for. It’s the person or team that the movie spends most of its time chronicling, whereas the film’s villain is often seen only in passing, at a remove, sometimes presented as a distant specter or looming, unholy menace. For all its feel-good, formulaic biopic tendencies, Battle of the Sexes is notable for rethinking this narrative trope. There’s no question that our hearts are with Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the young, talented tennis champion who agrees to a match with the older, bullying Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). But directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine) go out of their way to insist that we get to know each participant and understand what drove both of them to that infamous 1973 showdown. We end up with a Battle that’s complicated by our mixed feelings. As the filmmakers tell the parallel stories of the two contenders, Battle of the Sexes lets the juxtaposition between the two narratives make a subtle point. Riggs’ story is comic and absurdist as he and his wife separate and his life gets progressively sadder. King’s is a romantic drama combined with an inspirational tale of a scrappy underdog facing off against the patriarchy. Riggs’ problems are all self-inflicted—his wife can’t tolerate the sexist patter and the gambling—while King’s are all imposed on her by society. Without ever calling attention to it, Battle of the Sexes shows that King had been battling the Bobby Riggses of the world long before she squared off with the actual one. For her, an aging, irrelevant schmuck was the least of her problems. —Tim Grierson / Full Review

it-2017-movie-poster.jpg 6. It
Release Date: September 8, 2017
Director: Andy Muschietti
Based off Stephen King’s beloved bestseller, the film follows seven preteens from Derry, Maine, in the late 1980s—you can tell it’s 1989 because Batman is playing on the multiplex, though the dialogue and setting feel a lot more like the 1950s, when King’s novel was originally set—who are known as the Losers. They have a very 1980s-movie set of afflictions that turn them into outcasts: One’s fat, one’s black, one’s a nerd, one’s a sensitive mama’s boy, one’s Jewish, one’s a girl, one stutters. (The stuttering one is otherwise your traditional leading man hero character.) They do their best to survive the constant assault that is middle school, but then they discover that not only are children going missing from their quaint little town—including the too-cute-to-see-his-arm-bitten-off-by-a-clown little brother of our stuttering hero—but that they’ve in fact gone missing for generations: every 27 years, in fact. They realize that they’re all sharing similar visions of a monster clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and that it might be up to them to defeat him, to save themselves, and their whole town. Most of all, let there be no question: The clown is scary. Skarsgard plays him as the supernatural, almost meteorological menace that he is: He seems to be beckoned by nature itself. —Will Leitch / Full Review

dunkirk-poster.jpg 5. Dunkirk
Release Date: July 21, 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan 
Christopher Nolan has always been a filmmaker of contradictory impulses. He wants to awe you with spectacle but also capture the restlessness of the soul, to twist every emotion for all its worth but also stand outside and objectively observe, to be plain and direct and earnest but also leave you locked in puzzle-boxes to take apart and put back together again. He is ambitious but reserved; pop but art; loud but quiet. He has been wrestling with all these impulses for years, sometimes resulting in the greatest popcorn blockbuster of this century (The Dark Knight) and sometimes resulting in an awkward, overly complicated mishmash of corn and kitsch (Interstellar). He has a filmmaking instrument of almost overwhelming power, but has, especially recently, had an increasingly difficult time reigning in that power. Which is why Dunkirk is such a staggering, almost fantastical achievement. It takes everything Nolan does well and everything he doesn’t, everything he fights against and everything he embraces, everything great and terrible about him, and streamlines it, focuses it, until it’s pure Nolan, straight into your veins. It’s the most Christopher Nolan film imaginable. It also might just be his best one. —Will Leitch / Full Review

Rat-Film-poster.jpg 4. Rat Film
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Director: Theo Anthony
Director Theo Anthony draws parallels: between statistics and hunches, between logistics and subtext, between the systemic and the everyday, between the drama of history and the total lack of histrionics required to support his 100-year-old post-apocalyptic vision of institutionalized racism. This vision is Rat Film, Anthony’s brilliant docu-essay chronicling Baltimore’s city planning and resultant systemic segregation as a microcosm of the still-failing American Urban Experiment. In it, first we hear a voice (Maureen Jones, siri-adjacent). Amidst stark black, before we see anything we hear: “Before the world became the world it was an Egg. Inside the Egg was Dark. The rat nibbled the egg and let the Light in. And the world began.” From these first moments, Rat Film introduces the idea of creation—from whatever mythos Anthony culled this intro—not as an expansion, a pushing out, but as an illusion of growth hiding something so much more claustrophobic, so much more suffocating. Rat Film is ostensibly about Baltimore’s rat problem, about how the City has historically dealt with and studied and used parts of their poorest neighborhoods to address pest control, trial-and-erroring over decades, but as Edmund the amicable exterminator with the Baltimore City Rat Rubout Program tells us, “There ain’t never been a rat problem in Baltimore; there’s always been a people problem.” —Dom Sinacola / Full Review

florida-project-movie-poster.jpg 3. The Florida Project
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Director: Sean Baker
However useful a surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s new film, The Florida Project, presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the motel they live in, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitive is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation. No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live. —Kyle Turner / Full Review

blade-runner-2049-movie-poster.jpg 2. Blade Runner 2049
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Director: Denis Villeneuve
 Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly the most gorgeous thing to come out of a major studio in some time. Roger Deakins has inculcated (original Blade Runner cinematographer) Jordan Cronenweth’s lived-in sense of a future on the brink of obsolescence, leaning into the overpowering unease that permeates the monolithic Los Angeles Scott built. The scale of the film is only matched by the constant dread of obscurity—illumination shifts endlessly, dust and smog both magnifying and drowning the sense-shattering corporate edifices and hyper-stylized rooms in which humanity retreats from the moribund natural world they’ve created. There is a massive world, a solar system, orbiting this wretched city—so overblown that San Diego is now a literal giant dump for New L.A.’s garbage—but so much of it lies in shadow and opacity, forever out of reach. What Scott and Cronenweth accomplished with the original film, placing a potboiler within a magnificently conceived alternative reality, Villeneuve and Deakins have respected as they prod at its boundaries. There’s no other way to describe what they’ve done other than to offer faint praise: They get it. —Dom Sinacola / Full Review

marston-wonder-women-movie-poster.jpg 1. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Director: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of two married psychology professors at Radcliffe College, Bill Marston (Luke Evans) and Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), a couple who grew up together and are deeply in love but also restless and eager for discovery. While attempting to invent a lie detector test—they eventually create one but never patent it—they meet an eager, beautiful student named Olive (Bella Heathcote) who’s the daughter of a feminist icon and as desperate for knowledge and new experiences as they are. They eventually all fall in love and live together as a menage a trois before their university finds out, fires the couple and forces them to all go live together, now with their children, to find some sort of work. The work turns out, we learn in an unnecessary narrative flash-forward sequence, to serve as the basis of Bill’s increasing interest in comic books, creating a character, based on the two women in his life and based in his feminist ideals, who is strong, smart, truthful, heroic and, well, into bondage. The love story of this family turns out to be the origin story of Wonder Woman herself. This is a fascinating story, particularly as we see little moments in the lives of the Marston clan reflected in the Wonder Woman mythos. (Olive wears metal wristbands all the time, the lasso is like the lie detectors Elizabeth and Bill invent, so on.) But writer-director Angela Robinson makes sure to keep it focused on the emotions involved, which is especially tricky considering all three characters are all so academically oriented—not to mention obsessed with deciphering the human mind and why we make the decisions we do—and are thus constantly questioning their own value systems. We really do believe that these three people love each other, and that they’re all better off together, but Robinson never tries to make this overly prudish and sanitized. The movie isn’t buttoned-up and restrained, but it isn’t brash and in your face either; it’s affably sexy, if such a thing is possible. And it never loses sight of its central premise of equality and acceptance—this movie’s heart is firmly in the right place. —Will Leitch / Full Review