From Tom Cruise flying at Mach 10 speeds to Daniel Kaluuya besting a man-eating alien monster, this summer’s biggest films have provided plenty to talk about. As the summer movie season draws to a quiet close, it’s time to look back at some of its most-talked-about hits.
Thanks to the Variety Film Chatter Chart, which partners with Twitter to track engagement and determine each week’s trending titles, fans and industry heads alike can know just what is generating buzz on social media. Here are the 10 titles that led the pack this summer.
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10. Bullet Train
Brad Pitt’s action endeavor ranked 10th on the Film Chatter Chart with 344,118 engagements. Thanks to director David Leitch, of “John Wick” and “Hobbs & Shaw” fame, “Bullet Train” delivered an absurdly action-packed adventure outfitted with countless stars. Alongside Pitt, the film’s cast of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Bad Bunny, Joey King, Sandra Bullock, Karen Fukuhara and Hiroyuki Sanada surely drew in audiences. And, of course, there’s always Pitt’s skirt to thank for some social media buzz.
9. Purple Hearts
“Purple Hearts,” a romance about a liberal woman and a conservative man learning to set aside their differences due to the power of love, became a massive social media talking point — but likely not how Netflix intended. The film’s complicated power dynamic and romanticization of the “middle ground” resulted in a social media frenzy criticizing the film for its depiction of misogynistic and racist stereotypes. Lines such as, “This one is to life, love and hunting down some goddamn Arabs, baby,” were sure to fuel social media engagement, and that they did. “Purple Hearts” ended up raking in 374,447 engagements. Of course, the film still had positive supporters due to its classic-yet-somewhat-cheesy romance, and the controversy around “Purple Hearts” didn’t stop the film from being watched for more than 100 million hours from Aug. 1-7.
Netflix’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel flooded Twitter feeds due to its unconventional retelling. The film modernized the 200-year-old book with Dakota Johnson as the star, a move that Variety film critic Peter Debruge found head-scratching. He wrote: “‘Persuasion’ is a fine piece of material to work from, but British stage director Carrie Cracknell has gone and done a strange thing with the book: She has tried to modernize it, borrowing heavily from ‘Fleabag’ (with its fourth-wall-breaking gimmicks) and ‘Emma.’ (in all its symmetrically framed, Wes Anderson-indebted cute-itude), while casting a free-spirited, fully liberated American star, Dakota Johnson, as Anne — all of which strips the novel of its core tension.” Debruge’s sentiment was shared by many, who took to social media to express their confusion.
7. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
When anything Marvel is on a screen, it is sure to drive hours upon hours of conversation. The MCU’s vice-like hold on popular culture continued with the second installment in the “Doctor Strange” series, which performed astoundingly well at the box office. In fact, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” took less than two weeks to outpace its predecessor at the box office, and the film is now nearing $1 billion. With Sam Raimi, the visionary director of the “Evil Dead” films, at the helm, Marvel put out the franchise’s most horror-like film to date, outfitted with demons, zombies and Captain Carter getting chopped in half. It brought in not only intense MCU fanbases, but also so-called “Raimi heads.” Viewers also clamored at the casting behind the Illuminati, which found John Krasinski, Patrick Stewart, Anson Mount, Hayley Atwell and Maria Rambeau taking on short-lived superhero roles.
6. The Gray Man
Netflix’s biggest swing yet, “The Gray Man” has seemingly become the cornerstone of the streamer’s future. The film from “Avengers: Infinity War” directors Joe and Anthony Russo had countless draws to drive fans wild: Ryan Gosling as a skilled spy, Chris Evans as a lunatic villain, big-budget action set pieces and Ana de Armas, to name a few. While the film was generally met with a lukewarm response from critics and now sits at a 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, the star power in “The Gray Man” is nearly blinding. Now, with Netflix planning to turn the film into a sprawling spy franchise thanks to a sequel and a spinoff, fans were bursting with enthusiasm to talk about not only the wild action of the movie, but also the future of Netflix as a whole.
As the brainchild of celebrated and beloved filmmaker Jordan Peele, it is not surprising that “Nope” was discussed up and down social media feeds. Peele’s third feature horror film is a dense text, brimming at the edges with countless ideas. With its ambitious and ambiguous plot, and central mystery, it’s no surprise that the pic clocked in at 1,170,418 engagements. “Nope” is also a gold mine for explainer-type stories, and intense discussions online about what certain moments or characters mean. Generally loved by critics and fans alike, the end result was a $100 million hit that has enshrined Peele as one of this generation’s most inventive minds.
One of the more divisive films of the summer came in the form of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic “Elvis,” a nearly three-hour ode to one of the greatest American singers of all time. Austin Butler’s performance in a difficult and complex role has drawn audiences to the film, already kickstarting his campaign for an Oscar. The film signaled a resurgence for Luhrmann, who hadn’t made a feature since the 2012 Leonardo DiCaprio adaptation “The Great Gatsby.” With reviews either claiming the movie was a remarkable testament, a meandering and inaccurate mess, or a mix of both, nobody could deny that “Elvis” saw Luhrmann utilizing all of his wild techniques. Of course, Tom Hanks’ questionable accent and physical transformation were the punchline of social media banter as well.
3. Thor: Love and Thunder
Taika Waititi has seemingly become a household name at this point, but his latest foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was largely talked about as somewhat of a miss. With 1,482,807 social media engagements, “Thor: Love and Thunder” still took hold of the zeitgeist due to the return of Natalie Portman and the film’s Marvel interconenctive tissue. However, it seemed everyone wanted to get in on the debate. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film is the second-worst-rated Marvel movie ever with a score of 65% (“Eternals” is the worst at 47%). Still, the pic was not outright dismissed by fans and critics alike. In fact, Variety chief film critic Owen Gleiberman loved the film, claiming that it has “a pleasing, let’s-try-it-on-and-shoot-the-works effervescence.” Nevertheless, a profound love for the character of Thor as well as numerous behind-the-scenes stories about the strain on VFX artists lit a spark for conversation around the movie. Also, many saw this film as notable for a different reason, questioning, “Has Marvel finally lost its footing?”
Pixar’s animated film “Lightyear” saw Buzz Lightyear back on the silver screen. Well, kind of; it’s the character that inspired the toy of Buzz Lightyear. While Pixar promised a fun origin story to Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story,” fans took to social media to try to get to the bottom of how the film was actually connected. What should be an easy to explain connection instead became the topic of countless jokes and scratched heads. More controversy came from a brief same-sex kissing scene and the recasting of Buzz with Chris Evans. The film was also the first Pixar movie to directly hit theaters since the COVID-19 pandemic instead of going straight to Disney+, causing confusion as to what defines success for a pic that cost upward of $200 million to produce. It was also generally panned by critics upon its release, with Gleiberman writing: “Taken on its own eager-to-please terms, the movie is a winning diversion. But given that it’s a spinoff of the ‘Toy Story’ series, which is the greatest and most sustained achievement in contemporary animation, it should be noted that this is one of those Pixar movies that feels like it has 50% Disney DNA.”
1. Top Gun: Maverick
Ever since COVID-19 shut down theaters and halted the film industry, audiences have been waiting for the time when “movies are back.” Countless films seemed to promise a return to the magic of the in-theater experience. However, the one that truly succeeded was the one, the only “Top Gun: Maverick.” Originally set to release in 2020, Tom Cruise and company continued to push back the film until it was safe to go back to cinemas. The movie became a sort of afterthought during the horrible pandemic until first reactions started coming in from CinemaCon and Cannes, touting it as an unbelievable achievement that brought viewers to tears. Immediately upon release, 36 years after the original, “Top Gun: Maverick” crashed into popular culture at Mach 10 speeds, eventually leading our charts by a drastic margin with 2,397,313 engagements. It has now become the fifth-highest grossing movie ever in North America, surpassing $700 million at the box office. Thanks to Cruise, maybe movies really are back.
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