August is a precarious month for the film industry; nestled between the blockbuster summer schedule and the advantageous awards season of fall, it’s a quiet time for big budget fare. Though not quite the dumping ground of, say, February, it’s mostly a breather month – a calm before the prestige storm, and where studios can test their less-trusted properties.
It may evade easy categorization, but August can be a stellar month for film. It’s the season of R-rated comedies, violent road movies, and experiments. Some of the best mainstream films of the last 25 years came out in Leo season. We chose 15 of our favorite August releases, films that exceeded expectations – some economically, some critically, and some that linger on for less discernible reasons.
15. Superbad (2007)
August is the perfect month for this hard-R teen comedy about a pair of high school boys who try to lose their virginity at an end-of-the-school-year party. Stuck in the bittersweet-spot between high school and adulthood, that transitional quality is a great summer cap. Superbad was a critical and box office hit that brought a lot of attention to screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who started writing it when they were 13. The film also made stars out of actors Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and, in her feature-film debut, recent Oscar-winner Emma Stone.
14. The Descent (2006)
Shot on a micro-budget with a cast of no-namers, and released before fall, the odds were stacked against Neil Marshall’s The Descent. The story follows a group of female adventurers who explore a giant and unmapped cave system in the Appalachian Mountains, only to discover it’s inhabited by flesh-eating monsters. The film wound up grossing $ 57 million against a $ 4 million budget, and in time became a horror classic. Marshall’s star also rose after the film’s release. He transitioned to television, directing episodes of everything from Hannibal to Westworld, though he is perhaps best known for his work on two prominent battle episodes of Game of Thrones: “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall.”
13. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
There’s no reason for this Guy Ritchie-directed reboot of a ‘60s TV spy drama to work as well as it does. But the end result is an honest-to-god blast from start to finish. It’s a great end-of-summer movie, with its brisk and breezy action, cool humor, and zest for fun. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer – who play rival spies that must come together for a joint mission – have a natural chemistry, and a then-unknown Alicia Vikander is excellent as their coconspirator. Though technically a box office bomb, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has seen a recent reappraisal from movie buffs, who’ve come to recognize the film for its stylish diversion from typical studio fare. A sequel is allegedly in the works.
12. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the beloved graphic novel series has a special place in the hearts of many. The fiercely original film transposes comic panel to film strip with a frenetic, crackling energy. Sounds and motion are animated, dialogue is fast, and the woes of young love fill the movie with a youthful chutzpah that can be hard to nail down. Though it tanked at the box office, it did well critically, and eventually found a cult audience. Scott Pilgrim is perhaps most notable for its impressive young cast, many on the eve of their big breaks, including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Mae Whitman, and a pre-Captain America Chris Evans.
11. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
It may be hard to remember now, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a game-changer back in 2005. The raunchy film revitalized the R-rated comedy and sparked the phenomenon of Judd Apatow, whose directing and producing talents remain incredibly influential in Hollywood. Steve Carrell, the virgin of the title, exploded in popularity after release, in a year that also saw his breakthrough TV role as Michael Scott on The Office. The movie opened No. 1 at the box office and was a huge hit – eventually grossing over $ 177 million worldwide.
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