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Summer review: the 9 movies and TV shows you need to watch

We know how it is. It's summer, the beach is calling, and you're spending as much time as possible hanging out in front of the grill. There just isn't that much room in your life for, say, binge-watching the most depressing show of the year or keeping up with the latest Tom Cruise vehicle. But if you're afraid of missing out, don’t fret: even if the movie industry is done for the season, you aren't quite.

Summer is the season when all of the biggest, most explosive, and most expensive movies come out, and this year was no exception — kicking off with the villain-packed Amazing Spider-Man 2 and closing out August with over-the-top titles like The Expendables 3. This summer was also pretty huge for TV shows, seeing director Guillermo Del Toro start up a series and Kiefer Sutherland reprise his role as a counterterrorism agent for one more season of 24.

But it was the movies and TV shows that fell in between those that really caught our attention this year. Some of them are alien-squelching blockbusters, others are just inventive looks at the world, and every one of them is more than worth watching. Labor Day's coming up, so if you’re tired of barbecuing already, then you'll have some time to start watching.

    Our top 9

  1. Boyhood


    There are a lot of coming-of-age stories out there, but none like this. Filmed intermittently over the course of 12 years, Boyhood actually shows its star as he grows from a child up into an adult. It's a remarkable film for that reason alone — but the fact that it'll have you reliving everything good and bad about childhood, from the awkward moments to the joyful ones, is a pretty great reason to watch it too.

    Read: our report on Boyhood from Sundance
  2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    For a movie about apes beginning to take over the earth, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is surprisingly quiet. Rather than throw violence upon violence up at the screen, Dawn is defined by a pervasive tension that keeps viewers on edge, waiting for someone to slip up and throw the world into chaos. Of course, there's plenty of action too — it's a summer movie in the end, just a really smart one.

    Read: our Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review
  3. Edge of Tomorrow

    Edge of Tomorrow

    Think you’ve seen enough of Tom Cruise? We did too. But if you’re feeling nostalgic for big-budget, alien-splattered summer blockbusters like Independence Day you could do a lot worse than Edge of Tomorrow. Cruise plays a rockstar military general — basically a PR shill for an unwinnable battle — with little to no combat experience until he gets, uh, stuck looping infinitely in time. Which means you get at least double, if not sextuple, of everything: helicopter crashes, imploding extraterrestrials, Tom Cruise dying in every way possible over and over and over again. Which is fine, since Emily Blunt is the real badass in the film anyway, and these are the kinds of movies summer is about.

    Read: our Edge of Tomorrow review
  4. Godzilla


    All it had to do was beat 1998's disaster of a monster film. Gareth Edward's Godzilla, it turned out, was a monster of a disaster film (see what we did there?), focusing as much on the impact of the world around the creatures as it did the creatures themselves. The movie builds slowly, but if you're patient, the payoff is worth it.

    Read: our Godzilla review
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy

    Guardians of the Galaxy

    Guardians is poised to be the movie of the summer, which is an impressive feat considering how relatively unknown this galactic supergroup was before this year. Marvel pulled out all the stops for this funny, action-packed caper, infusing it with a classic sci-fi feel that threw us back to space-adventure movies of yesterday while also showing us a little bit more of Marvel’s bigger movie ambitions. The whole cast shines, but in the end you know you’re really watching it for Vin Diesel's Groot — and maybe that groovy, retro soundtrack, too.

    Read: our Guardians of the Galaxy review
  6. Halt and Catch Fire

    Halt and Catch Fire

    While it never became the runaway hit AMC needs to take the place of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, Halt and Catch Fire is an imperfect period drama with serious potential. Set in 1983 at the dawn of the PC revolution, its cast of characters — a shady former sales executive, a pair of talented yet haunted engineers, and computing wunderkind with a rebellious streak — come together to take on IBM at its height, only to be all but broken in the process. Lee Pace is especially magnetic in this series, and it’s a good thing that AMC picked it up for another season because the work just isn’t done yet.

    Read: our Halt and Catch Fire preview
  7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

    Following his successful stint filling in as host of The Daily Show, it seemed inevitable that John Oliver would get his own show. And he did, opting for HBO. While the first episode of Last Week Tonight seemed to stray little from the successful formula that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have honed, very quickly did it find its own voice and format — nixing the interview portion altogether in lieu of meaty, sometimes 14-minute pieces on a single story that are hilarious, opinionated, and very well-researched. Just think: because of Oliver, the FCC chairman had to publicly declare that he is not a dingo.

    Watch our favorite John Oliver segments: net neutrality, Ferguson, and Hobby Lobby
  8. The Leftovers

    The Leftovers

    Three years ago on October 14th, 2 percent of the world's population disappeared in an instant. Based on Tom Perotta's novel of the same name, HBO’s The Leftovers keeps its story relatively grounded, focusing on ordinary people trying to cope with and understand an extraordinary, inexplicable event. Perotta co-created the show with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, and so far the two seem content to focus on the characters themselves without over-promising an answer to the Big Mystery.

  9. Snowpiercer


    This train has everything: a sauna, Medieval battle-axes, a dedicated rave car, Tilda Swinton, a torturous built-in punishment device. Snowpiercer, an English-language debut from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, takes place on a what’s basically an armored Amtrak: on it ride the last vestiges of humanity, driven from Earth as we know it by another Ice Age. The movie follows an international cast traveling from the back to the front of the train as they get in on some good old-fashioned class war. With whiplash editing and some of the most inventively claustrophobic fight scenes in years, Snowpiercer is a sure bet whether you stream it or see it in theaters.

    Read: our Snowpiercer review