6 Movies Like The Monkey King (2023)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching The Monkey King ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

From the moment it begins, The Monkey King hardly pauses to take a breath. The characters are always frantically jumping into the next scene, the action is nonstop, and the jokes, though juvenile, arrive one after the other. This is okay if you’re looking for a brisk viewing experience, but not so if you’re prone to vertigo. It moves at a relentless pace, which doesn’t just make the film a dizzying watch; it also robs the animation’s beautiful details of the time it needs to be appreciated. The movie’s core message, too, is buried under all the film’s pizzaz, which is a shame considering its refreshing pragmatism. When all the other kids’ movies are promoting courage and confidence, The Monkey King actually warns against the dangers of an inflated ego. The Monkey King is passable entertainment for the family, but with a better pace, it could’ve been great. 

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, An Min-young, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, Jay Karales, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Park Jun-hyuk, Seo Yeon-woo, Shin Hee-cheol, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Based on the real-life experience of director Elegance Bratton, who was himself a Black gay marine soldier during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” period in the US, The Inspection documents the behind-the-scenes cruelty that goes on in training the armed forces. Specifically, it inspects how institutions like the marines are hardwired to promote a certain kind of masculinity and how people like Bratton, perennially in the margins, respond, react, and fight back. 

It’s moving and artful but also lighthearted and humorous, finding light even in the darkest corners. It’s self-contradictory that way, but the film is all the better and nuanced for it. Gabriel Union’s performance is also worth noting here; in a career-defining turn, she transforms into a character at once so hateful and loving, you’ll be hard-pressed not to give her your full attention onscreen.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Dominguez, Andrew Kai, Aubrey Joseph, Becky Boxer, Bokeem Woodbine, Daniel Williamson, Eman Esfandi, Gabrielle Union, Jered Meeks, Jeremy Pope, McCaul Lombardi, Nicholas Logan, Raúl Castillo, Steve Mokate, Tyler Merritt, Wynn Reichert

Director: Elegance Bratton

Rating: R

It’s best not to overthink the details of No Hard Feelings, an uproarious comedy that benefits from the lead actors’ physicality. It’s meant to be enjoyed as it happens, at the moment, with Lawrence lighting up every scene with full-bodied commitment and Feldman, a worthy co-lead, delighting at every turn. They’re playing stock characters, and the script doesn’t give much beyond the usual backstories, but Lawrence and Feldman play them with so much heart and gusto, knocking every scene they’re in out of the park. Everything else plays second fiddle to their two-hander show. The cameos are star-studded but forgettable (except for Kyle Mooney, who I wished was onscreen more as Percy’s male nanny), the character development is heartwarming but predictable, and though it bills itself as a sex comedy, the film never really touches past third base. But all that is water under the bridge when you’re watching Maddie and Percy flirt and fumble their way through the film.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alysia Joy Powell, Amalia Yoo, Andrew Barth Feldman, Ari Frenkel, Brian Calì, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Hasan Minhaj, Jennifer Lawrence, Jordan Mendoza, Kyle Mooney, Laura Benanti, Luca Padovan, Madison McBride, Matt Walton, Matthew Broderick, Matthew Noszka, Melissa Lehman, Natalie Morales, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Scott MacArthur, Victor Verhaeghe, Zahn McClarnon

Director: Gene Stupnitsky

Rating: R

Seven years after Zootopia, Pixar takes another crack at a racial prejudice metaphor — but, while the analogy is less creaky here, it’s still an awkward one, as diametrically opposed elements like fire and water stand in for human beings. The gaping flaws in its central concept aside, Elemental does wring something compelling out of its story: an exploration of second-generation immigrant guilt.

That might seem like an oddly specific and complex topic for what is ostensibly a kids’ film to grapple with, but this is the Pixar of Soul and Bao, not Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Ember (Leah Lewis) is an anthropomorphized young flame whose parents migrated from their home in Fireland to run a store in the NYC-like melting pot of Element City; she’s keenly aware of the sacrifices they made to give her a better life and believes the only way to repay them is to abandon her own dreams and run their store. This is the one part of Elemental’s metaphor that really lands, but it’s unfortunately sidelined to make way for an inter-elemental romance between Ember and a water-man that only pulls the focus back onto the film’s biggest weakness. Still, its emotional specificity and beautiful animation prevent it from being a total washout.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Alex Kapp, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pera, Jonathan Adams, Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Mason Wertheimer, Matthew Yang King, P.L. Brown, Ronnie del Carmen, Ronobir Lahiri, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Wilma Bonet

Director: Peter Sohn

With its release coming so close to that of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster treatment of the same subject, To End All War has clearly been designed as a companion piece for that fictional film. Though it mostly performs its function in a by-the-numbers fashion, this rather unexceptional adaptation of Oppenheimer’s Wikipedia page is somewhat livened up by fascinating archival footage and a few compelling talking heads. Among these is Nolan himself, whose contributions provide interesting insight into the structure of his own Oppenheimer movie. 

As its title suggests, To End All War hinges on Oppenheimer’s rationalization for developing the atomic bomb — namely, that, by creating such a catastrophically destructive weapon, he was, in effect, helping to deter future aggression. The film provides a counterpoint by suggesting that the scientists may have been somewhat swept up in egotistical fervor, though this is only gently touched on so as not to require the film to grapple too seriously with the ethics of its subject. This combination of ultimately non-threatening treatment with some genuinely compelling nuggets of perspective makes To End All War a quick, largely un-challenging way to brush up on history before or after tackling fictional exploration of its subject.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Adolf Hitler, Alan B. Carr, Albert Einstein, Bill Nye, Charles Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan, David Eisenbach, Edward Teller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ellen Bradbury Reid, Hideko Tamura, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Jon Else, Judy Woodruff, Kai Bird, Leslie Groves, Martin J. Sherwin, Michio Kaku, Richard Rhodes, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping

Director: Christopher Cassel

The Spy Kids movies have always been knowingly corny, which hasn't changed for this latest installment—it's just that it also has an odd lack of color and personality to its generic action movie shenanigans. This is especially disappointing given the film's focus on video games, which it only seems to understand in their most surface level terms. And because there's a lack of definition in the movie's rules and logic, the plot progresses without any weight or sense of mounting excitement. These are just people going through the motions toward some unclear message about the value of honesty and kindness, which never really factor into the actual adventure and keep the status quo firmly unchanged.

Genre: Action, Action & Adventure, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Actor: Billy Magnussen, Connor Esterson, D.J. Cotrona, Everly Carganilla, Gina Rodriguez, Jersey Johnston, Joe Schilling, Neal Kodinsky, Solar Dena Bennett, Zachary Levi

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Rating: PG