Summer at the movies in the US this year was full of the usual popcorn flicks—a dozen or so sequels, shark movies, and animated films—but some of the best-reviewed and buzzed about titles weren’t your typical summer fare. They were films like the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, and the dramedy BlacKkKlansman that would usually be reserved for the fall, when studios release movies hopeful of Oscar nominations, or at other less-crowded times of the year.
Movie studios, big and small, took shots this season on films that stretched the boundaries of a typical summer movie. The slate was as diverse and relevant as anything you’d find scrolling through Netflix. Streaming video has changed audience behavior and made studios more willing to take risks on movies that wouldn’t fit the normal summer bill.
“People are so addicted to streaming and the ability to get all types of content all at once there,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at ComScore, told Quartz. “People don’t want to wait until the fall to get a good introspective and challenging movie. They want it any time of the year.”
Genre-bending mashups like Sorry to Bother You and BlacKkKlansman had strong showings at the box office, grossing about $17 million and $34 million respectively this summer.
Three documentaries—Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG, and Three Identical Strangers—together brought in nearly $50 million domestically. That’s a big take home for documentaries any time of the year, let alone during summer when US audiences usually stick to franchises and action movies with A-list stars, which this year included Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Meg. (Those movies, unsurprisingly, also raked in big returns.)
Social media has also made it easier for indie darlings Eighth Grade or Blindspotting to break out during a crowded movie season purely on word of mouth. That wasn’t possible even ten years ago.
“You are able to have smaller Oscar-style films right in the summer mix with sharks, these giant movies, and come out on top,” Dergarabedian said, “or at least be profitable, talked about, and add dollars to the bottom line.”
Disney, meanwhile, took what might’ve been a quintessential summer film any other year—Avengers: Infinity War—and released it in the spring, when it set an opening weekend record. It left room for other summer titles to shine. But there were still plenty of other sequels this summer. Unlike last year, which had the releases of the fifth Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean films and the third Cars movie, these were actually good.
Incredibles 2, another Disney film, owned the summer. Mission: Impossible—Fallout showed Ethan Hunt could still kick it at 50. And Ant-Man and The Wasp was a fun addition to the Marvel repertoire.
“This was a pretty special summer in terms of changing… what types of movies will play well with audiences in the summer,” Dergarabedian said. ”It’s not just popcorn movies. It’s other types of movies, too.”
All in all, the strong, diverse slate of summer movies is paced to drive the season’s box office, which runs in the US from the first Friday in May through the Labor Day weekend—running through Sept. 3 this year—to $4.4 billion, ComScore estimates. That’s up about 14% from last year. We could be in for a record year at the box office overall if the fall lineup performs as well as the rest of this year’s movies have so far.