All Hail the Queens of Summer: Ariana Grande, Tessa Thompson, the 'Crazy Rich Asians' Cast and More

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queens of summer 2018
Annapurna Pictures/Republic/Universal Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures/HBO/FX

This summer has been an emotional roller coaster of political news, celebrity gossip and other media madness, making the hottest months of the year feel truly sweltering. But amid the sun-scorched days and humid nights emerged a refreshing wave of new movies, music and TV -- and a crop of truly talented female stars that were ready to see us through until fall.

Whether it wass swooning over Netflix's newest rom-com heroines, singing along during Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again or reveling in the opulence of Crazy Rich Asians, the ladies of summer 2018 were here for us, with fabulous fashions, stunning new songs and riveting roles that captivated listeners and viewers alike.

Here is a look at a few of the standout performances and star-making moments from our favorite queens of the summer:

Lily James

Mamma Mia Here We Go Again, Lily James
Universal Pictures

Being cast as a young Meryl Streep would be a daunting task for any actress, but thankfully, James has some experience stepping into beloved shoes: She donned Cinderella's glass slippers for Kenneth Branagh's live-action Disney remake in 2015. InMamma Mia! Here We Go Again -- arguably the sunniest, funnest, sing-along-iest film of the year -- James brings Streep's superstar energy and then some to the role of Donna Sheridan, carrying the film's flashbacks with a fearless flair that has audiences laughing, crying, marveling at her musical chops and totally ready for yet another sequel. Here We Go Again...Again?

Next, the 29-year-old actress starred opposite Game of Thrones and Orphan Black hunk Michiel Huisman in Netflix's adaptation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. While the title is a mouthful, the film is a heart-tugging tale of romance and loss, set on an island in the English Channel in the aftermath of World War II, that explores three of life's indefatigable truths: Nazis are bad, books are good and watching two beautiful people fall in love with each other in dapper period attire is just the best.

James also popped up in one more of summer's biggest hits: Sorry to Bother You, as the "white voice" of Tessa Thompson's Detroit (more on her in just a second). A crown and a scepter for the Dancing Queen of Summer 2018!


Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson, Sorry to Bother You
Pete Lee / Annapurna Pictures

Thompson's powerhouse summer started early, with the release of Janelle Monae's latest album, Dirty Computer, and the accompanying visual film of the same name in April. The 45-minute "emotion picture" featured Thompson playing Zen, one of Monae's character's lovers in a futuristic dystopia, and their undeniable chemistry set the internet rumor mill abuzz.

But the 34-year-old actress' standout role of the summer was Detroit, the eccentric yet grounded artist partner of Lakeith Stanfield's Cassius "Cash" Green in Sorry to Bother You. Thompson's character rocks some epic earrings and an even louder sense of self in director Boots Riley's surreal, Technicolor take on the world of big business versus small union. Much like her turn in last year's Thor: Ragnarok, the actress turned the role into an undeniable fan favorite.

And she's only kicking things into a higher gear: reprising her role as Bianca Porter in the Michael B. Jordan-led Rocky franchise sequel Creed 2 in November, fighting aliens with Chris Hemsworth in the Men in Blackreboot, MIB, and preparing to slurp some spaghetti as the leading Lady in the recently announced live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp. (Plus, maybe she'll return as Jackie Cook in the new episodes of Veronica Mars!)

BONUS: If you're into the first two queens on this list, you'll soon be able to see Thompson and James together in Nia DaCosta's Little Woods, which centers around two sisters struggling to make ends meet in a desolate, blue-collar North Dakota town. The drug-dealing drama was acquired by Neon following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.


Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and the Women of Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asians
Warner Bros. Pictures

There's not much more that needs to be said about the immeasurable impact of the stunning cast of Crazy Rich Asians -- their star turns in one of the summer's most anticipated blockbusters speak for themselves, fulfilling a woefully underserved need for diverse storytelling in Hollywood and hopefully, breaking down the doors for generations of performers to come. On a more intimate level, however, it can't be overstated how viewers walk away from director John M. Chu's resplendent rom-com feeling overwhelmed in the best way -- reveling in the scenery, the costumes, the music, and, most importantly, the performances.

From Constance Wu's superstar-making turn as the dazzling and determined Rachel, to Michelle Yeoh's stoic and shrewd portrayal of Eleanor, to the way Gemma Chan makes Astrid's expensive brand of broken look so breathtakingly beautiful, the women of Crazy Rich Asians shine throughout the film, perfectly bringing to life the characters that fans of Kevin Kwan's book series longed to see on screen. Scenes are stolen every second, whether it's by Awkwafina's hilariously candid Peik Lin, or the legendary Lisa Lu as reigning matriarch Su Yi.

There's already plans for a sequel, but thankfully, given the film's success, it won't be hard to find any of these women on your screen even sooner. Oh, and the men were pretty great, too.


Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande VMAs 2018
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

The early weeks of summer 2018 weren't short on headlines about Grande, as the singer announced her split from longtime beau Mac Miller and embarked on a whirlwind romance with -- and subsequent engagement to -- Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson. Then the 25-year-old singer dropped Sweetener and reminded us all of the talent that put her on the map in the first place.

A strong contender for pop album of the year, Grande's fourth studio effort showcases her Mariah-in-her-prime range and an innovative variety of sounds. She bops around a synth beat with bravado on "successful," croons about her newfound happiness on a track named after Davidson and puts her own twist on one of Imogen Heap's lesser-known singles on "goodnight n go."

Each run through the tracklist draws the listener to a new favorite, and the final song, "get well soon," serves as a tribute to the victims of the bombing at Grande's concert in Manchester -- ending with a moment of silence to stretch the runtime to 5:22, the date of the May 22 attack. Just over a year removed from the unfathomable tragedy, Grande has spoken of Sweetener as a kind of catharsis for her own grief and anxieties, and the release of the album is another way she's giving back -- conjuring a bit of the title track to try and lighten the load on anyone else who may be struggling.


Amy Adams

Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
HBO

Each hour of HBO's Sharp Objects is an exercise in holding your breath, in scanning the screen for clues as you try your hardest not to wince at what you fear is about to be revealed, but this is what we must suffer through for not even nominating Adams for Arrival. Her stellar performance as the damaged-yet-driven Camille Preaker is bolstered by superbly sinister supporting turns from Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen, but for better or worse, this is Camille's story to the bitter, bloody end.

Adams' character sees her share of ghosts throughout the course of the eight-episode adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2006 debut novel, but it's the 44-year-old actress who haunts every frame, as Camille swills vodka like it's water and then fixes a thousand-yard stare that lets you know alcoholism is the least of her problems. It's not an easy watch, but it is a visceral, complicated portrayal that will hopefully garner the oft-overlooked performer the awards recognition she deserves.


The Leading Ladies of Pose

pose
FX

Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, and Mj Rodriguez took summer TV by storm as they inhabited the New York City ballroom scene of the '80s in all its fabulousness, while also leading a charge of their own as three trans women of color starring as three trans women of color on a major network drama. The Ryan Murphy-produced series is as bold and brilliant as it is authentic, with trans women like Janet Mock and Our Lady J also featured behind the scenes in writing and directorial roles.

"I hope that every person [who] sees this understands and learns that we are human beings," Jackson said in the trio's cover story for Out magazine. "First and foremost, before everything else, we are human beings. I’m not some fantasy or fairy tale. The fantasy or fairy tale is what got us to where we are now. Now is the time for us to be seen as humans."

And Moore's powerhouse performance has broken down barriers in her real life, as well. On Aug. 23, she announced that she had signed with IMG Models and made history as WME's first signed trans talent. "SO excited for our FUTURE together," Moore tweeted, "and how our partnerships will impact/inspire lives and marginalized communities around the world through Art, Advocacy & LOOVE."


Elsie Fisher

Elsie Fisher Eighth Grade
A24

Fisher's performance in Eighth Grade is like a punch to the gut, so real and direct it knocks the wind right out of you. Watching the film -- Bo Burnham's directorial debut, which takes a close look at the awkward agony of suburban junior high in the social media age -- it's easy to forget it's not a documentary, and not just because of the stylistic inclusion of the main character's vlog entries. Fisher, 15, navigates life as Kayla with a stilted veracity that rings so true to anyone going through -- or still recovering from -- their own awkward middle school phase.

"Every other kid played it like a confident kid pretending to be shy. She was the only person that felt like a shy kid pretending to be confident," Burnham told ET of finding Fisher (previously known for voicing youngest sister Agnes in the first two Despicable Me movies). "She was the only person that felt like she had the vulnerability needed and yet could also carry a movie." Gucci, indeed!


Amandla Stenberg and King Princess

Amandla Stenberg and King Princess
TheStewartofNY/GC Images

Queer power couple alert! Stenberg and up-and-coming pop-rocker King Princess (real name: Mikaela Straus) have been teasing their relationship on social media over the past few months -- Stenberg even edited the music video for King Princess' second single, "Talia" -- but they made things awards show official when they stepped out together at the MTV Video Music Awards in August.

The pair is also making big moves professionally, with Stenberg starring in the feature adaptation of Alexandra Bracken's YA novel, The Darkest Minds, out on Aug. 3, and King Princess promoting her debut EP, Make My Bed. The catchy-as-hell lead single, "1950," even got a shout-out from Harry Styles! Here. For. It.


Betty Gilpin

betty gilpin glow
Netflix

In a perfect world, this list would include each and every actress on GLOW, Netflix's fabulously female '80s wrestling show, which somehow reached another echelon of greatness in the back half of its second season this summer. Led by the incredible Alison Brie and first-time Emmy nominee Gilpin, the cast is a veritable goldmine of talent, from Jackie Tohn as the raunchy, no-nonsense Melrose, to Gayle Rankin as the boldly bizarre Sheila "The She Wolf," to real-life wrestling star Kia Stevens, who got to explore a deeper side of her character, Tammé "The Welfare Queen" Dawson, in an emotional season two episode.

Gilpin's scenes as soap star turned star-spangled sparrer Debbie Eagan, however, are a masterclass in the kind of poised restraint that only begins to hint at the scorned housewife that festers beneath. She's a manic Betty Draper in a leotard, self-medicating with anything she can find and letting her at-home anguish spill over into the ring -- and the performance is truly electric, as Gilpin has started to spoil viewers with her habit of leaving her guts on the mat in every single episode. (You'll never be able to un-hear the bellowed line, "I've been baking pies at home: Pies of Rage!")

The 32-year-old actress is also a hilariously gifted wordsmith, recently penning a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter about the "violent pendulum swing" that is a career as a performer, which quickly went viral. "When 10 PAs are whisper-panicking that you haven't gotten your oatmeal yet and have to pee, you forget that it's because you're the deranged toddler they're supposed to keep alive," Gilpin wrote. "Sure, you're doing one episode of The Mysteries of Laura, but someone just announced on his earpiece that you're walking. 
Her Majesty is walking. Because a film set is designed to make sure the actor doesn't put his or her fingers in an electrical socket, we often mistake it for status." Here's hoping we get to hear more soon, perhaps an acceptance speech in September?


The BFFs of The Bold Type

The Bold Type
Freeform

Freeform's breakout hit only got stronger in its second season, as Sutton (Meghann Fahy), Jane (Katie Stevens) and Kat (Aisha Dee) continued to traverse their professional and personal lives, navigating romantic relationships while also tackling real-life issues that affect young women in the workplace, like sexual harassment, gender parity and healthcare concerns.

"I think it's really important, especially in the climate of where the world is at right now [and] especially for young women, to see their stories told and reflected," Stevens told ET in June. "It's great to be on a show that's showing what women go through every day and the things that the women have to deal with and face. It's great to showcase that women can be strong and kind at the same time. It doesn't need to be when she's strong, she's a b**ch. Or if she's career-oriented, she doesn't care about her love life. Or if she cares about her love life, she isn't career-oriented. I think we're disproving all of that. You can be strong. You can care about your career. You can care about your personal life. There's no weakness in any part of that."


Netflix Darlings Zoey Deutch & Lana Condor

zoey deutch lana condor
Netflix

Netflix rolled out a delightful slate of rom-coms this summer, including the exceedingly charming Set It Up, in which Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell try to "Cyrano" their horrible bosses but end up (spoiler alert) falling for each other instead. The 23-year-old actress is a true highlight of the winning flick, perfectly harried in her character's work-life and adorably smitten when she realizes that the unfairly handsome Powell is just sitting there, right in front of her.

Also on the streaming service's summer slate: the adorable YA adaptation To All the Boys I've Loved Before, in which Condor shines opposite the internet's fave new boyfriend, Noah Centineo, as they explore the tried-and-true fake-relationship trope. You get two guesses as to how that turns out. Meanwhile, you'll fall for Condor, 21, who plays Lara Jean's innocent romanticism to perfection. The actress won over author Jenny Han just as easily as Lara Jean wins over Centineo's Peter Kavinsky, and viewers are responding in kind, writing love letters of their own to clamor for a green-lit sequel inspired by the next two books in Han's series.


Edna Mode

Edna Mode Incredibles 2
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

No list of summer's powerful women would be complete without everyone's favorite superhero fashion designer, who returned to the big screen in Incredibles 2 in Juneand instantly stole the show in just a handful of scenes. We'll take a whole spinoff of Auntie Edna and her new BFF, baby Jack-Jack, ASAP, please and thank you.

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