19 Movies Like Theater Camp (2023)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Theater Camp ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

You don’t have to be a theater kid to enjoy this feel-good mockumentary set in a summer camp for junior thespians. While there are plenty of in-jokes here for those who might have spent a summer or two somewhere like AdirondACTS, Theater Camp also good-naturedly lampoons every instantly recognizable stereotype of theater kids and the classic failed-performer-turned-teacher. Amongst the note-perfect ensemble, particularly hilarious standouts include co-writer Ben Platt and co-director Molly Gordon as camp instructors and best friends Amos and Rebecca-Diane. Both are Juilliard rejects with codependency issues and a classic case of actorly self-indulgence — as encapsulated in the moment they accuse a young attendee of “doping” for using artificial tears during a performance (“Do you want to be the Lance Armstrong of theater?”). But even seasoned performers like Platt and Gordon can’t pull the spotlight away from the film’s absurdly talented young ensemble, who are just as game for poking fun at their passion: standouts include Luke Islam, Alexander Bello, and Minari’s Alan Kim as a pint-sized “aspiring agent” who skips dance class to make business calls. All this self-satirising never obscures the movie’s heart, though; what begins as a self-deprecating ribbing of theater-heads ultimately becomes a rousing love letter to those very same misfits.

In All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, documentarist Laura Poitras (Citizenfour, My Country, My Country) lends her empathetic and incisive lens to a subject so passionate and imaginative, she ends up collaborating with Poitras to co-create the documentary about her life. The subject is Nan Goldin, one of the most influential photographers of the late 20th century. 

The documentary captures Goldin’s work as a queer artist and anti-opioids activist, intertwining both aspects to tell a nuanced and incredibly important story about freedom, identity, and self-expression. This incredibly complex, encompassing, and vibrant feature won the top award at the Venice Film Festival, besting 19 other films from around the world.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Annatina Miescher, Bernard Herrmann, Cookie Mueller, David Wojnarowicz, Harry Cullen, John Waters, Leonard Bernstein, Nan Goldin, Patrick Radden Keefe

Director: Laura Poitras

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner, Dianna Agron, Fred Melamed, Glynis Bell, Jackie Hoffman, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Rachel Sennott, Richard Brundage, Rita Gardner, Sondra James, Ted Seligman

Director: Emma Seligman

Rating: Unrated

We love to see Colin Farrell playing an unlikeable guy, it feels like there is balance in the universe. Stu is quite annoying and often offensive, and he's been having an extra-marital affair, which he then gets punished for. Phone Booth carries over this remnant of 2000s morale with a sadistic twist, but that's not what defines it. Instead, the film is a rollicking ride that appeals to both cinephiles and entertainment-seeking viewers alike, a box-office hit that would be just as thrilling and triumphant if it was released today, with the added nostalgia value of the phone booth as a thing of the past. Could it be that in 2002, Schumacher pre-empted our fears regarding internet privacy and cancel culture?

Genre: Crime, Thriller

Actor: Arian Ash, Ben Foster, Billy 'Sly' Williams, Colin Farrell, Colin Patrick Lynch, Dean Cochran, Dean Tarrolly, Dell Yount, Django Craig, Domenick Lombardozzi, Forest Whitaker, Greg Finley, James MacDonald, Jared Leto, Jason Pace, John Enos III, John Vargas, Josh Pais, Juan Pope, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Karara Muhoro, Katie Holmes, Keith Nobbs, Kiefer Sutherland, Kimberly Bailey, Lanei Chapman, Maile Flanagan, Mary Randle, Nicole Prescott, Paula Jai Parker, Radha Mitchell, Ramón Franco, Richard T. Jones, Ruth Zalduondo, Seth William Meier, Shu Lan Tuan, Steve Alterman, Svetlana Efremova, Tanya Vidal, Tia Texada, Tom Reynolds, Tory Kittles, Tracy Metro, Troy Gilbert, Tyree Michael Simpson, Yorgo Constantine

Director: Joel Schumacher

Rating: R

In his debut feature, Jonathan Glazer masterfully subverts our expectations of heist movies to thrilling effect: what should be a perfunctory moment — the classic recruitment scene — is stretched out into nearly an entire film of its own here, and we’re not off the edge of our seat for even a second of it.

All retired Cockney gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) wants to do is lounge around the pool of his Spanish villa with beloved wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But now there’s a spanner in the works: an unhinged old acquaintance, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, never better), has unexpectedly rocked up at Gal's hacienda to enlist him for a big job on behalf of the London underworld’s top brass. Don is the type of man you just don’t say “no” to, but the pull of Gal’s idyllic retirement is so powerful that he does just that, a narrative swerve that spins this film off the well-worn (but still enjoyable) track we expected it to follow. Directed with cool assurance, full of unforgettable set-pieces, overflowing with style, and even further distinguished by some surreal touches that really get under the skin, this is one of the slickest, funniest, and most exhilarating crime movies ever.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Álvaro Monje, Amanda Redman, Andy Lucas, Ben Kingsley, Cavan Kendall, Chris Webb, Desirée Erasmus, Eddie O'Connell, Gérard Barray, Ian McShane, James Fox, Julianne White, Ray Winstone, Rocky Taylor, Terence Plummer

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist's fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Director: Chris McKim

Be prepared to have the expectations you form after reading Scrapper’s synopsis shattered: though it is about a 12-year-old dealing with grief following her mother's death, it’s remarkably upbeat. It gets that quality by positioning itself in the buoyant headspace of young Georgie, a resilient, cheeky youngster who retains much of her whimsical childlike spirit in spite of her profound bereavement. Director Charlotte Regan’s debut feature is bursting with imagination: there are surreal stylized touches all over the movie, from talking video-game-style spiders to magical realist metaphors of Georgie's grief. 

That’s not to say that Scrapper is flippant about the inherent tragedy of its story, though. As in The Florida Project, you can feel the escapist motivations of Georgie's colorful imagination, which only deepens the poignancy of her situation and the precarious relationship she forms with her father, a barely-old-enough manchild who only makes an effort to meet Georgie after her mother’s death. Amidst all the intentional artificiality of the filmmaking, their largely improvised interactions never ring false — a dynamic that’s also crucial to making the movie feel genuinely touching and real rather than saccharine and shallow. A very impressive debut, and a much-deserved recipient of Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Jury prize and a whopping 14 nominations at the BIFAs.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Asheq Akhtar, Aylin Tezel, Harris Dickinson, Laura Aikman, Lola Campbell, Matt Brewer, Olivia Brady, Sam Buchanan

Director: Charlotte Regan

Rating: NR

Kill Bill meets Bend It Like Beckham in this wild ride about a martial arts-obsessed British-Pakistani teenager who views her older sister’s impending marriage as a catastrophe to be averted at all costs. Aspiring stuntwoman Ria (Priya Kansara) can’t stomach the idea of free-spirited Lena (Ritu Arya) giving up on her creative dreams to marry a nauseatingly perfect man — not least because art school dropout Lena is her hero for refusing to conform to their community’s traditional ideas about respectability and success.

Polite Society makes room to sensitively explore Ria’s disappointment and the loneliness of rebellion, but writer-director Nida Manzoor doesn’t stop there, throwing in a sharp allegory disguised as a zany twist. Rather than upending our expectations for upending’s sake, the surprise metaphor refigures the movie as perceptive cultural commentary on the age-old devaluation of women as mere vessels for the next generation. What’s more, Manzoor takes the analogy full circle to thoughtfully imagine how this kind of dehumanizing misogyny might have affected previous generations, suggesting that the real villains lie offscreen. Movies as inventive and intelligent as this don’t come around often, but one that’s this funny, visually bold, unabashedly feminist, and full of stars-in-the-making is rarer still.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akshay Khanna, Ella Bruccoleri, Eunice Huthart, James McNicholas, Jeff Mirza, Jenny Funnell, Nimra Bucha, Priya Kansara, Rekha John-Cheriyan, Renu Brindle, Ritu Arya, Seraphina Beh, Shobu Kapoor

Director: Nida Manzoor

The Royal Hotel sees Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) resorting to take up a dire live-in job behind the bar in a remote desert part of Western Australia. Although they're warned that they'd "have to be okay with a little male attention" in the outcast mining town, their financial precarity overrides the potential fear. Curiously enough, the fiction film is based on a real story, already told in the 2016 documentary Hotel Coolgardie by Pete Gleeson, but The Assistant director Kitty Green pulls no punches when representing how suffocating it must feel to be encircled by such unmediated male aggression. The brawls, the spilled beer, the c-word as a greeting all form the unnerving paraphernalia of life then and there. For Australian independent film devotees, there is actor Toby Wallace, who reprises his bad boy role from Babyteeth, and he's joined by the ranks of Herbert Nordrum (The Worst Person in the World) and an utterly terrifying Hugo Weaving (The Matrix).

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alex Malone, Barbara Lowing, Baykali Ganambarr, Bree Bain, Bruce R. Carter, Daniel Henshall, Herbert Nordrum, Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Jessica Henwick, Julia Garner, Kate Cheel, Patrick Frost, Toby Wallace, Ursula Yovich, Valerie Berry

Director: Kitty Green

Rating: R

The agonizing tug of war between dogma and desire is sharply illustrated in writer-director Laurel Parmet’s feature debut, set inside the claustrophobic confines of a conservative Christian community in Kentucky. Seventeen-year-old Jem (Eliza Scanlen) is at the age her elders believe is the right time to start thinking about a lifelong partner — a choice they’ve pretty much already made for her by setting her up with the pastor’s youngest son. But it's his brooding older brother, married youth leader Owen (Lewis Pullman), who catches Jem’s eye.

The attraction is returned — but, while The Starling Girl does subtly indicate the toxicity of their relationship, it never lets this point eclipse either the more interesting coming-of-age story at its heart or its keen exploration of the wholesale damage that the cult-like church has done to all of its congregants (including Owen). While some of those threads threaten to distract the film’s focus away from its greatest strengths at times, the anguish of that central tussle between Jem's burgeoning sexuality and her otherwise rigidly controlled existence is brought to aching life by sensitive writing and direction and a brilliantly complex lead performance — qualities that ultimately win out to let The Starling Girl fly.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Austin Abrams, Claire Elizabeth Green, Eliza Scanlen, Jessamine Burgum, Jimmi Simpson, K.J. Baker, Kieran Sitawi, Kyle Secor, Lewis Pullman, Wrenn Schmidt

Director: Laurel Parmet

Aptly for a film partly set in a fortune cookie factory, Fremont deals with luck — specifically, the other side of good luck: survivor’s guilt. Donya (played by real-life Afghan refugee Anaita Wali Zada) is a former translator for the US Army who fled her home city of Kabul on an emergency evacuation flight when the Taliban took over in 2021. Now living a safe, if drab, existence in the titular Californian town, insomniac Donya struggles to embrace her freedom, tormented by the knowledge that she lost some of her old colleagues to reprisal attacks and that her loved ones are still living under repressive rule in Afghanistan.

As Donya shuttles between her little apartment in Fremont, her job writing cryptic one-liners for a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco, and appointments with her eccentric psychiatrist (Gregg Turkington), Fremont balances a moving study of her melancholy with deadpan humor. Despite its black-and-white cinematography and tight Academy ratio, this is no austere drama, but an endlessly warm and understated portrait of someone rediscovering themselves and all of life’s unexpected moments of connection, like chance romantic encounters and sudden tears at karaoke.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anaita Wali Zada, Boots Riley, Gregg Turkington, Hilda Schmelling, Jeremy Allen White, Siddique Ahmed

Director: Babak Jalali

Rating: NR

, 2023

Jules’ wacky premise — an extra-terrestrial crash-lands in eccentric widower Milton’s (Ben Kingsley) flowerbeds — is a bit of a misdirection. While the movie is technically a sci-fi (featuring, as it does, some very out-there alien engineering), it’s really a charming, mostly-human drama about the isolation and surreality of aging. 

Though the mute presence of the alien (nicknamed Jules and played brilliantly by a totally silent Jade Quon) is a constant reminder of the expansiveness of the universe and strange wonders yet to be discovered, the movie keeps its feet firmly on the ground with a sensitive exploration of just how small the worlds of lonely, dementia-struck Milton and two other isolated elderly townspeople (Jane Curtin and Harriet Sansom Harris) are. Rather than expand outwards into a story about the extra-terrestrial itself, Jules focuses on the painful disorientation felt by its lonely trio of protagonists, who all find therapeutic relief and connection by way of the alien and its “understanding eyes.” Though the movie's zany forays into sci-fi territory do sometimes boggle the mind, they never undermine the genuine emotion in Jules’ raw grappling with the experience of aging, as well as give the movie a quirky charm that ensures you won't see anything like this again soon — an increasingly rare experience in itself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Andy Daly, Anna George, Ben Kingsley, Blair Baker, Brian Wiles, Christopher Kelly, Cody Kostro, Dann Fink, Daphne Gaines, Donald Paul, Edward James Hyland, Eric T. Miller, Eric Tiede, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jade Quon, Jane Curtin, Jeff Kim, Jeffrey Omura, Jessica Keenan Wynn, John Skelley, Laura Jordan, Lee Sellars, Michael Frederic, Patrick Noonan, Teddy Cañez, Zoe Winters

Director: Marc Turtletaub

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

Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York – but not the glamorous NYC of Woody Allen movies. Taking place primarily in the gritty and rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn, the black and white film paints a picture of an extended adolescence. Focusing on the goofy and carefree Frances, who loses her boyfriend, her best friend and her dream of being a dancer. She moves in with two guys, both of whom are more successful than her, and becomes even more determined to fulfil her goals, impractical as they may be. Fans of HBO’s Girls and other odes to not being a “real person” yet will love this film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Driver, Britta Phillips, Charlotte d'Amboise, Christine Gerwig, Cindy Katz, Daiva Deupree, Dean Wareham, Eleanor Smith, Finnerty Steeves, Gibson Frazier, Gordon Gerwig, Grace Gummer, Greta Gerwig, Hannah Dunne, Isabelle McNally, Josh Hamilton, Juliet Rylance, Justine Lupe, Laura Parker, Lindsay Burdge, Marina Squerciati, Maya Kazan, Michael Esper, Michael Zegen, Michelle Hurst, Mickey Sumner, Noah Baumbach, Patrick Heusinger, Peter Scanavino, Ryann Shane, Teddy Cañez, Vanessa Ray

Director: Noah Baumbach

Rating: R

It’s always tricky translating literature to screen. In Shortcomings’ case, it struggles to make its Berkeley and New York settings appear more lived-in than just a few postcard-like frames. You could also tell that the conversations it stirs up about things like representation and mixed-race relationships began in the early aughts, when the novel it was adapted from was first released. But those lapses are small and forgivable in the face of a lovely ensemble cast and a whipsmart script. It also takes a special kind of skill to make a character as fiercely unlikeable as Ben (Min) watchable, to hold up a mirror to the audience and make them stay. Thankfully, it's a skill that Tomine and first-time director Randall Park display with such grace. Ben, Alice (Sherry Cola), and Miko (Ally Maki) are flawed and often pathetic, but they’re also honest reflections of who we become when the demands of self-preservation and romantic openness clash. It’s a little unnerving to hear them verbalize what we've always feared about ourselves, but it’s also exhilarating, not to mention comforting, knowing that we're not alone in feeling this way. Shortcomings works because it doesn't confine itself to genre: it's a character study first, and a romantic comedy second.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Enright, Adrian Tomine, Ally Maki, Boran Anh, Debby Ryan, George Deihl Jr., Jacob Batalon, Jess Nahikian, Justin H. Min, Melanie J. Newby, Mike Cabellon, Nikhaar Kishnani, Randall Park, Ronny Chieng, Scott Seiss, Sheldon Best, Sherry Cola, Sonoya Mizuno, Stephanie Hsu, Tavi Gevinson, Theo Iyer, Timothy Simons

Director: Randall Park

Rating: R

Rye Lane knows it’s treading familiar ground by having its charming leads fall in love as they walk and talk their way through a beautiful city. So instead of experimenting on a tried-and-tested setup, it smartly focuses on specificity. It hones in on the characters’ Gen Z woes and cranks up the British references, giving itself character and charm for days. It also finds other ways to be inventive as it trades plot twists for bold editing and camerawork. Rye Lane is a refreshing entry into romcom cinema, but it is also obviously a big fan of it as it holds plenty of homages and subversions of the genre. This one is made for and by romcom fans, and it's always nice to see a modern love story set during our times.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Hewkin, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Cain Aiden, Charlotte Melia, Colin Firth, David Jonsson, Delroy Brown, Esme Molly, Gary Beadle, George Taylor, Karene Peter, Levi Roots, Llewella Gideon, Malcolm Atobrah, Marva Alexander, Michael Dapaah, Munya Chawawa, Omari Douglas, Poppy Allen-Quarmby, Raine Allen-Miller, Sandra Daley, Simon Manyonda, Vivian Oparah, Yasmin Al-Khudhairi

Director: Raine Allen-Miller

Rating: R