This year has been a big one for the movie industry, with the best movies of 2018 a sign of the changing times we live in. Most notable is Black Panther, which was remarkable not only for being a big-budget black superhero movie but also one steeped in African culture. Acclaimed both critically and by moviegoers, it has broken box office records, showing there’s an audience hungry for a broader range of voices and stars.
Politics has shown up more than usual — both literally, via films based on historical events, and thematically — with filmmakers lining up to weigh in on the state of the world. It has also been a great year for horror, specifically intelligent, psychological horror, with more than a few entries on this list. Whatever your preferred viewing, there’s something for everyone.
Here are the best movies of 2018 so far, plus a selection of those still to come in the second half of the year.
The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro Release date: December 22, 2017
Arriving at the end of 2017, making it too late an entry to fit into 2017 lists, The Shape of Water is inarguably one of the best movies of the last year. Nominated for 13 Oscars, winning four, including Best Picture, this magical tale of a janitor who falls in love with a strange sea creature held in captivity is more relevant to today's world than meets the eye.
Director: Ari Aster Release date: June 8
One of the bigger horror releases this year, Hereditary plays into the psychological fear we have of inheriting and passing on madness in the family. Toni Collette gives a fine performance, helping to elevate Hereditary beyond a mere clichéd horror flick. With the genre’s renaissance in recent years, aided by critically lauded films such as Hereditary, we can expect even more intelligent horror in future.
The Death of Stalin
Director: Armando Iannucci Release date: March 9
Sometimes the best way to (loosely) retell historical events, especially those involving one of the 20th century’s worst dictators, is to go the comedic route. Based on the French graphic novel La Mort de Staline, The Death of Stalin is a political satire starring a solid lineup of British and American actors, comedic and otherwise, and directed by Veep creator Armando Iannucci. The film has been banned in Russia, so you can be sure it doesn’t shy away from pushing the limits.
Director: Ryan Coogler Release date: February 16
Black Panther exploded into theaters and is now the highest-grossing film by a black director, the second-highest grossing film worldwide in 2018, and the third-highest grossing film ever in the United States. And that’s not without good reason. Based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, Black Panther is a highly stylized Hollywood blockbuster, albeit one with a much deeper cultural relevance than the average superhero flick. A strong cast led by Chadwick Boseman and a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar only add to Black Panther’s place in championing Africa and the African diaspora.
Director: Paul Schrader Release date: May 18
Writer-director Paul Schrader is behind some of American cinema’s more intellectual dramas, perhaps most notably as the writer and co-writer on a number of Martin Scorsese films, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. First Reformed tackles some of modern society’s biggest questions — faith in the church, environmental concerns, and radicalization — weaving them into an affecting film, with Ethan Hawke delivering an outstanding performance.
Director: Jason Reitman Release date: May 4
For lovers of director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s collaborations, you’re in for another solid treat. The pair’s third outing together following Juno and Young Adult (with Reitman producing Cody script Jennifer’s Body) is Tully, a warts-and-all take on the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It doesn't break any new ground, but that really isn't the point. Tully is a humorous movie that’s well written and well acted and offers some semblance of hope when it feels like there’s none left.
Director: Alex Garland Release date: February 23
Alex Garland’s follow-up to unsettling robot flick Ex Machina, Annihilation is based on the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. This sci-fi-meets-psychological horror sees a group of military scientists enter “the Shimmer,” a strange quarantined zone, after the disappearance of a previous group of entrants. Natalie Portman leads while Ex Machina’s Oscar Isaac returns to work with Garland, whose reputation for delivering intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi is growing by the movie.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Director: Ron Howard Release date: May 25
The second Star Wars anthology film to come out, following Rogue One, Solo: A Star Wars Story focuses on — yep, you guessed it — Han Solo and the exploits of his youth. Taking place 10 years prior to the events in A New Hope, the film isn’t quite as strong as the main canon films but does provide a backstory for one of Star Wars’ most beloved characters, including how the titular hero met sidekick Chewbacca. Alden Ehrenreich as Han and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian put in strong performances.
Isle of Dogs
Director: Wes Anderson Release date: April 13
After premiering at this year’s Berlin Film Festival in February, Wes Anderson’s latest flick finally received a full release in April. While it caught some heat amid accusations of cultural appropriation from Japan, the overall consensus has been one of approval. It is, after all, Wes Anderson plus dogs. Throw in some political subtext amid the quirk and Isle of Dogs has proven itself to be one of the director’s best films in years.
A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski Release date: April 6
John Krasinski has proven himself to be a director to watch, with his third effort A Quiet Place getting rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Likely to be 2018’s “intelligent horror of the year,” its lack of spoken dialogue is both relevant to the story and offers a powerful metaphor. Young actor Millicent Simmonds, who has been deaf since infancy, puts in a star turn as real-life couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s daughter, sending a message to Hollywood that disabled actors are best placed to portray characters with disabilities and shouldn't be discriminated against.
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev Release date: February 16
Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s previous film Leviathan — about small-town corruption in Russia — won international acclaim and an Oscar nomination, but was disapproved of by the filmmaker’s government back home. However, thanks to international support, Zvyagintsev was able to make his follow-up, Loveless, a tragedy set in Moscow about a separated couple who are brought together momentarily when their only child goes missing. Weaving political references into a story of loss and modern estrangement, the film has been universally praised, taking home the Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival as well as earning the director another Best Foreign Language Film nomination at this year’s Oscars.
Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein Release date: February 23
Directed by the pair who co-wrote Horrible Bosses is Game Night. Once again starring Jason Bateman — among a cast that includes Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, and more — this dark comedy takes something as fun and innocent as a weekly game night between friends and gives it an adult spin via kidnapping, criminals, and longstanding sibling rivalry.
Director: Joe Wright Release date: December 22, 2017
Another movie that arrived at the end of last year before receiving a widespread international release at the beginning of this year, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour sees Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill (who famously coined the titular phrase) in the early days of his role as UK prime minister against the backdrop of World War II. The film is political drama at its finest, with Oldman receiving an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actor’s Guild Award for his performance, which many have touted as the greatest of his distinguished career.
Avengers: Infinity War
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo Release date: April 27
Released two months after its Marvel Cinematic Universe brethren Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War is probably the most ambitious superhero film of all time — and thankfully that ambition paid off. Topping the list of highest-grossing films worldwide in 2018 so far, and the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time, Infinity War has broken all sorts of earnings records. Its all-star ensemble cast features practically every principal character from the MCU movies to date, and critical and audience reception has been strong, which is just as well considering a follow-up was filmed back-to-back with this one and is due out in May 2019.
You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lynne Ramsay Release date: April 6
This brutally violent adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novella screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, earning a seven-minute standing ovation, Best Actor award for Joaquin Phoenix, and Best Screenplay for Lynne Ramsay. You Were Never Really Here centers on human trafficking and a hired killer with a heart, and is the kind of film that wins big during awards season but rarely encourages a second viewing due to its dark subject matter.
Director: Michael Larnell Release date: March 23
A dramatization of Queens rapper Roxanne Shanté’s life, indie drama Roxanne Roxanne caused ripples after being picked up by Netflix for distribution and gaining praise for its cast. Young actor Chanté Adams gets her breakout role while Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali supports. Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams are among the film’s producers, with RZA on music duties. If there’s one film that got away from you in the first half of the year, it’s probably Roxanne Roxanne, but it’s well worth a watch.
Director: Chloé Zhao Release date: April 13
A hit at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight section, The Rider is a small-town story about a bull rider who can’t quit competing, despite having already suffered brain damage, with death a potential risk. Lead actor Brady Jandreau plays a fictionalized version of himself after he met director Chloé Zhao while she was making her first feature. Zhao’s skilled directing of untrained actors has earned her plaudits and lends The Rider a deeply moving and sentimental tone that can’t be faked.
Director: David Leitch Release date: May 18
The sequel to 2016’s superhero comedy and the 11th film in the X-Men series, Deadpool 2 is another superhero movie to have made big bucks at the box office this year. Sharing the same creative team as the first movie, with the substitution of director Tim Miller for David Leitch (Miller apparently left due to creative differences with star Ryan Reynolds), this installment drafts in the excellent Josh Brolin as Cable, with no let-up on the laughs.
Director: Sebastián Lelio Release date: April 27
Based on a novel by Naomi Alderman, Disobedience is the story of a woman returning to the Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her years earlier due to her sexuality. There she begins a relationship with a now-married female friend she has a history with, raising all sorts of questions about desire, sexuality, and religion. Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams play the couple, with strong acting, writing, and direction throughout.
Director: Brad Bird Release date: June 15
Dropping 14 years after the first film, the Incredibles sequel has proven worth the wait. The film takes place just three months after the events of the first movie, meaning the Parr family hasn’t aged and it’s just another day in their superhero-meets-civilian lives. Although the movie has only been out for a couple of weeks, it’s already had a positive reception and a massive box office take. Brad Bird has said he’s not opposed to making a third installment, although let's hope we don't have to wait another 14 years for the next one — the Parrs might not age from film to film but we do.
Bonus – Big Releases Still to Come
While we’re done counting the best releases of 2018 so far, there’s still plenty to come. Beyond smaller indies and awards season favorites, which tend to come out later in the year, these five highly anticipated movies already have us counting down the days.
Director: James Wan Release date: December 21
Aquaman is the DC Extended Universe’s only offering for 2018, with the film division of the comic book titan keeping a relatively low profile after last year’s Wonder Woman and Justice League. Jason Momoa reprises his role as the titular superhero, with this the character’s first film as the lead, while Amber Heard also stars. All eyes are on DC to see if it can continue the momentum from last year’s Wonder Woman, rather than falling into the lackluster territory treaded by its other movies.
Director: Corin Hardy Release date: September 7
The horror genre continues its renaissance with The Nun, a spin-off of The Conjuring 2 that also serves as a prequel to The Conjuring and Annabelle series. Set in Romania in 1952, the film follows a small group sent by the Vatican to investigate the mysterious suicide of a nun at a local monastery. Filmed on location in Bucharest and Transylvania, The Nun doesn’t look short of shocks.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindenwald
Director: David Yates Release date: November 16
The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is once again directed by David Yates with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling. The story this time follows Newt Scamander and Albus Dumbledore as they try to defeat the dark wizard Grindelwald. For fans of the Wizarding World franchise of Harry Potter and associated movies, this is a must-see.
Director: Damien Chazelle Release date: October 12
La La Land and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle reunites with Ryan Gosling in First Man, an account of Neil Armstrong’s life in the years leading up to the Apollo 11 mission, in which he became the first man to walk on the Moon. Based on James R. Hansen’s biography, the film looks set to be as slick and stylish as you'd expect from one of Hollywood’s most hyped young directors.
Director: Luca Guadagnino Release date: November 2
When Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino announced he would be remaking Dario Argento’s seminal 1977 giallo horror Suspiria, there were some reservations, even with a filmmaker of Guadagnino’s caliber at the helm. But slowly the pieces have started to come together — Tilda Swinton will play the stern Madame Blanc and Thom Yorke is behind the film’s score — and hesitation has turned to excitement. When the first trailer dropped at the beginning of this month, that excitement turned to obsession. November can’t come soon enough.
For more anticipated films, check out Denzel Washington in 'The Equalizer 2.'