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10 best movies of 2024 so far, ranked

Paul walks in the desert in Dune: Part Two.
Warner Bros.

This is sure to be an unusual year for Hollywood cinema. With the regular cadence of franchise blockbusters disrupted by the Hollywood strikes of 2023, there are fewer surefire bets at the box office. And some of the studios’ supposedly safer gambles, like Madame Web and Argylle, have already fallen flat upon release. Of course, this doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything worth seeing in theaters or streaming at home.

In addition to a few standout franchise entries, the year to date has seen a number of terrific smaller-scale dramas, horror flicks, and indie comedies, many of them by debuting filmmakers. With luck, the relative lack of competition for audience attention will allow one or more underdogs to make a big cultural splash.

10. Abigail

Alisha Weir as Abigail in Abigail, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett.
Universal

Take a mismatched team of wisecracking criminals and lock them in a spooky mansion with the young girl they’ve just kidnapped for ransom. Now, reveal that their captive is actually a vicious, immortal vampire. Even if it might have been more exciting if the film’s marketing didn’t give away its big twist for free, Abigail is a wickedly fun horror comedy.

It’s exactly the sort of irreverent bloodbath you’d expect from Radio Silence, the directing duo behind Ready or Not and the last two Scream movies. Universal’s other recent attempts at a vampire movie may have already turned to dust, but this one’s got some bite. 

9. Lisa Frankenstein

Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton in Lisa Frankenstein
Focus Features

A quirky, pitch-dark teen comedy in the tradition of Heathers, Zelda Williams and Diablo Cody’s 1980s monster mash Lisa Frankenstein stars Kathryn Newton as a high school outcast who finds an unusual suitor in the reanimated corpse of a 19th-century musician.

Cole Sprouse wins big laughs for his mostly mute performance as the undead creature, but Newton runs away with the movie as the lovably loathsome Lisa, whose garden-variety teenage narcissism explodes into full-on supervillainy in delightfully campy fashion. If you’ve been aching for the return of messy, raunchy studio comedies, this one’s for you.

8. The People’s Joker

Joker the Harlequin (Vera Drew) smokes a cigarette in the dressing room in The People's Joker
Altered Innocence

Off the bat, one of the cooler things about Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker is that it exists at all, and that you can go see it. Originally premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF0 in 2022 before it was pulled from the schedule due to “rights issues,” the bootleg Batman movie finally got a limited theatrical run this year. Drew, repurposes the familiar iconography of Batman to tell a quasi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age story, casting herself as the Joker (but also as Harley Quinn — it’s complicated).

You’d never mistake its micro-budget mix of green-screen sets and multiple varieties of animation for an official DC production, but that’s sort of the point. It’s the kind of story that studios aren’t producing, packaged in a way that demands the attention of a mainstream audience. Or, at least, the attention of a lot of lawyers. 

7. Monkey Man

A blood-spattered, neon-lit Dev Patel in Monkey Man
Universal Pictures

Dev Patel leaves it all on the mat in Monkey Man, a bloody action thriller that leverages skills that most of us didn’t even know he had. That Patel commands the screen in an emotionally intense leading role is no surprise, but he’s every bit as commanding behind the camera, confidently directing a visually striking revenge thriller that’s just as cool as its trailers suggest.

And speaking of striking, did you know Dev Patel was a Taekwondo champion? Patel is as convincing as a relentless ass-kicker as Keanu Reeves (the John Wick comparisons are inescapable), but Monkey Man has the added benefit of a poignant social message that rails against the growing specter of religious hatred in Indian politics. 

6. Problemista

Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton walk the streets of New York in Problemista
A24

From the mind of comedian Julio Torres comes a surreal urban fantasy about the drive to create art and the opaque and labyrinthine systems that keep money and power exactly where they are. Torres, who also writes and directs, stars as a Salvadoran immigrant trying to realize his artistic dreams in New York.

To do so, he befriends a rich art critic (the incomparable Tilda Swinton), who has an ironclad sense of entitlement. While critiques of systemic inequality and late capitalism are a dime a dozen in the 2020s, Torres approaches this grim reality with a youthful imagination, depicting modern America in the only honest way you can — with cartoonish hyperbole.

5. The First Omen

Nell Tiger Free with her hair spread out around her pillow in The First Omen
20th Century Studios

A prequel to a horror classic that’s … good? Set in the early 1970s, The First Omen stars Nell Tiger Free as a teacher who discovers a dark force looming in the Catholic orphanage where she’s about to take her vows. The feature directorial debut of Arkasha Stevenson, The First Omen pays homage to Richard Donner’s 1976 classic The Omen not by exploiting its iconography and piling on unnecessary lore, but by honoring its slow, creeping pace and dreadful tone.

The First Omen is simultaneously one of the scariest films of the year and one of the prettiest, boasting some truly artful photography and the patience to let it shine. While there’s nothing wrong with a good jump scare, it’s far scarier to know that there’s something waiting in the dark, relishing in your fear as it’s taking its time with you. 

4. Civil War

Kirsten Dunst aims her camera in Civil War
A24

Civil War is certain to go down as one of 2024’s most controversial films. Kirsten Dunst and Wagner Moura star as journalists who embark on a harrowing journey from New York to Washington DC during the final days of a second American Civil War. Though writer-director Alex Garland deliberately muddled the specific political conditions of his story’s war-torn U.S., that has only made it more incendiary.

Whatever Garland’s intentions, Civil War functions best as a social sci-fi thriller that looks at a ravaged U.S. with the dispassionate lens that Hollywood usually reserves for the Middle East, Africa, or any land foreign enough that the audience doesn’t know or understand the conflict being depicted. Is such framing inherently cowardly? What does it mean to observe such a nightmare without taking sides? We can debate the answer to those questions, but what we can’t deny is that the film itself is asking them.

3. Dune: Part Two

Timothée Chalamet gazes upon a distant explosion in a still from Dune: Part Two
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

For generations, familiarity with Frank Herbert’s Dune was the mark of true nerdery. Now, it’s a blockbuster film series with a few Oscars to its name and, surely, more to come. With Dune: Part Two, auteur Denis Villeneuve and his team have mostly fulfilled the promises made in the first chapter, completing the story of Herbert’s brick of a novel while laying the groundwork for the trilogy-capping Dune: Messiah.

Though still as dense and unevenly paced as its celebrated predecessor, Dune: Part Two offers IMAX-ready spectacle on a level that no other film this year can challenge. It’s simply gorgeous, with moments like the high-contrast black-and-white Giedi Prime sequence and the final battle on Arrakis certain to remain in filmgoers’ memories for years to come.

2. Love Lies Bleeding

Katy O'Brien and Kristen Stewart look down at us in Love Lies Bleeding
A24

The second feature from rising indie director Rose Glass, Love Lies Bleeding pairs a waifish Kristen Stewart and the muscle-bound Katy O’Brien as a couple whose whirlwind romance is jeopardized not only by a criminal conspiracy, but by their own obsessions and addictions.

It’s a stylish ’80s period piece dripping with sweat and gushing with blood — like a trashy pulp novel adapted through the body horror lens of David Cronenberg. Though its bizarre ending and sudden bursts of surrealism may turn off some viewers, Love Lies Bleeding is the kind of pulse-pounding erotic thriller that is all too rare in the modern era. 

1. Challengers

Three people sit on a bed in Challengers.
MGM

From Call Me By Your Name and Bones and All director Luca Guadagnino and millennial movie star Zendaya comes the tantalizing romance/drama/tennis movie you never knew you needed. Challengers centers on a decade-long dance between two best bros and the intensely driven woman they’re both desperate to be with.

It’s the best kind of love triangle — the kind with sizzling sexual tension between each pair and the trio as a whole, and boy howdy, does Guadagnino make the most of it. Come for the tangled, tantalizing romance and the banger of a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but stay for the most riveting game of tennis ever committed to film.

Editors' Recommendations

Dylan Roth
Dylan Roth [he/him] is a freelance film critic, and the co-host of the podcast "Are You Afraid of the Dark Universe?"
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