Most film buffs would concur that 1982 stands as the best summer movie season of all time ( E.T., Poltergeist, Blade Runner, The Thing, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and on and on). But this year’s lineup seems poised to make a serious run at that title.
Kicking off Friday with The Avengers, which has already broken box office records around the world, the lineup of blockbusters vying for your attention (and dollars) over the next four months is formidable. The anticipation for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is reaching fever pitch, dwarfed only by the curiosity surrounding The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films. The early buzz on Sparkle was already promising: That the movie has tragically become Whitney Houston’s swan song serves to further stoke interest.
Throw in a reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man; new films by Tim Burton and Woody Allen; the latest Pixar and several intriguing comedies, and you’ve got a season’s worth of must-see entertainments. If half these films live up to their potential, we’re in for an awesome summer.
Here is a preview of the 60-plus movies scheduled to open between now and Labor Day. All dates subject to change.
The Avengers: Review here.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope: Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) trains his camera on the popular San Diego Comic-Con and the thousands of nerds who religiously make the annual trek there.
Dark Shadows: Tim Burton brings his unique sensibilites to bear on this revival of the 1960s cult TV soap opera, about a centuries-old vampire named Barnabas (Johnny Depp) who experiences culture clash when he awakens in 1972 America. Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter co-star. Think Beetlejuice with fangs.
Detachment: Controversial filmmaker Tony Kaye (American History X, Lake of Fire) returns with this disturbing study of an alienated schoolteacher (Adrien Brody) trying to form a human connection. Marcia Gay Harden, Bryan Cranston, William Petersen and James Caan round out the faculty.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Summer entertainment for the Downton Abbey crowd. Judy Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy are among the British retirees who travel to India to stay in what they believe to be a posh, four star hotel. Always read the fine print.
First Position: Documentary following six young dancers as they prepare for the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition.
The Dictator: Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Bruno) unleashes his latest politically incorrect satire of American culture and mores playing an oppressive ruler from a foreign country doing his best to stamp out democracy.
Battleship: Although it has been a subject of countless derisive jokes on the Internet, this big-budget action picture about American soldiers (including Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna) battling alien invaders has already become a box office hit overseas.
Children of Paradise: Marcel Carné’s classic 1945 French drama about the love affair between a mime and an actress returns in a newly restored, pristine print.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks and Anna Kendrick are the expectant mothers in the latest rom-com reworking of a best-selling non-fiction book.
Chernobyl Diaries: Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli produced this creepy thriller about a group of “extreme tourists” (including Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski and Ingrid Bolso Berdal) who discover they are not alone while touring the abandoned town in Russia where the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor used to live.
Men in Black 3: In his first film since 2008’s Seven Pounds, Will Smith opts for familiar turf with another installment in the adventures of the UFO-fighting secret agents. After his partner (Tommy Lee Jones) is assassinated by a mean alien, Smith travels back in time to attempt to prevent the murder. Josh Brolin co-stars as Jones’ younger self — and, by the looks of the trailer, steals the movie outright.
Sound of My Voice: A pair of documentary filmmakers infiltrates a cult led by an enigmatic woman (Brit Marling) who claims to be from the future.
Turn Me On, Dammit!: A 15 year-old Norwegian teen (Helene Bergsholm) going through puberty discovers she can think of nothing other than sex. You know, just like boys.
Piranha 3DD: Long-delayed sequel to Alexandre Aja’s savage horror comedy Piranha 3D. Christopher Lloyd and Ving Rhames return for more fun in the surf with the carnivorous fish. Aja, however, does not.
Snow White and the Huntsman: Mirror Mirror took a whimsical, family-friendly approach to the Snow White fairy tale. Director Rupert Sanders’ twist is much darker and brutal. Kristen Stewart is the young beauty on the run from the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) tasked by the vain queen (Charlize Theron) to bring back Snow’s heart on a plate. Who’s the meanest of them all?
Hysteria: Romantic comedy about — um — the invention of the vibrator. Hugh Dancy is the feminist hero who creates the device. Maggie Gyllenhaal is his beloved and, we’re presuming, original test subject. Ahem.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith return for the further adventures of the animated talking animals, who join a traveling circus in Europe. You know, for kids.
Peace Love & Misunderstanding: Jane Fonda (soon to be seen on HBO’s The Newsroom) kicks off her comeback year playing the hippie den mother of a commune where a stressed-out lawyer (Catherine Keener) takes refuge with her kids in tow.
Prometheus: Director Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in 1979’s Alien. What more do you need to know? Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba are among the space travelers about to suffer bad things. If you want to preserve the film’s mysteries, steer clear of the tell-all trailers flooding the Internet. Also: This is Scott’s first 3D film. Our expectations? High.
Rock of Ages: Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) transplants the smash Broadway musical to the screen. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are the young lovers chasing dreams of stardom in 1987 Los Angeles. Bryan Cranston, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mary J. Blige and Paul Giamatti co-star. Also, Tom Cruise sings. He sings Def Leppard. Yes, please!
That’s My Boy: History has taught us not to get suckered by promising trailers for Adam Sandler movies. Still, the previews for this R-rated comedy about an irresponsible father (Sandler) reconciling with his estranged son (Andy Samberg) are undeniably funny — in a crude, lowbrow, thoroughly inappropriate way.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Here’s a side of the 16th president of the United States you won’t find in the Steven Spielberg biopic due at Christmas: During the Civil War, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) splits his time thwarting the Confederate Army and chasing down the undead bloodsuckers who have invaded our borders.
Brave: Pixar Animation Studios is hoping you’ll forgive them for the abomination that was Cars 2 with this fantasy about a princess (Kelly Macdonald) who wields a mean bow and arrow, defies family tradition and becomes a warrior.
Lola Versus: Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress) is a young woman nearing 30 forced to rethink her life after her fiancée dumps her mere weeks before her wedding.
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, the movies' reigning master of whimsy (The Royal Tennenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox), directs this story about a boy and girl who fall in love and run away in 1960 New England. The all-star posse searching for them includes Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: What if Melancholia had been a romantic comedy? Steve Carell plays a man whose wife freaks out and leaves him after scientists announce a meteor is heading straight for Earth. Keira Knightley is the neighbor who helps him fill the void until the end arrives.
Your Sister’s Sister: Writer-director Lynn Shelton ( Humpday) returns with another mumblecore comedy about a woman (Emily Blunt) who asks her friend (Mark Duplass) to visit after the death of her brother. Rosemarie DeWitt is the sister who complicates matters.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Instead of trying to make everyone forget about the awful G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Paramount Pictures has decided to reboot the franchise by clearing the deck. Channing Tatum, Ray Park and Byung-Hun Lee are the only returning cast members. They’re joined by Dwayne Johnson, Adrianne Palicki and Bruce Willis in a mission to avenge the death of their fellow super-agents.
Magic Mike: Steven Soderbergh (Che, Traffic, Erin Brockovich) trains his inquisitive camera on the world of male strip dancers, drawing on the real-life experiences of actor Channing Tatum, who also stars as a dancer juggling his job with an understandably jealous girlfriend (Olivia Munn). Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Manganiello are some of the other guys who love to take it all off. Like The Avengers, but for women.
People Like Us: Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (Mission: Impossible III, Transformers, Star Trek) puts aside the fantasy stuff for his directorial debut. After his father dies, a man (Chris Pine) must track down the sister (Elizabeth Banks) he’s never met and deliver her share of the inheritance.
Madea’s Witness Protection: Writer-director-actor Tyler Perry thrusts his beloved alter ego, the southern matriarch Madea, into the financial crisis when she’s forced to take in a corrupt Wall Street banker (Eugene Levy) busted in a Ponzi scheme.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Marvel Comics’ most iconic superhero gets the reboot treatment. Andrew Garfield takes over for Tobey Maguire as the angst-ridden Peter Parker, who must deal with some newfangled superpowers while navigating the treacherous waters of young adulthood. Emma Stone is Gwen Stacy, his first (and arguably best) love. Rhys Ifans is the scientist with the peculiar tendency to transform into a giant two-legged lizard. Expect widespread nerd outrage at the radical changes to the Spider-Man canon. In director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) we trust.
Kate Perry: Part of Me: Documentary looks at the pop singer’s life, both on and off the stage. You know, like that Justin Bieber movie.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: The most talked-about hit from January’s Sundance Film Festival centers on a six-year-old girl who embarks on a journey to find her mother after the polar ice caps melt and flood the world. There may be dinosaurs. Marks the debut of director Benh Zeitlin.
Savages: Oliver Stone is overdue for a hit. He may have one with this violent, pulpy thriller about two free-love pot farmers (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) who declare war on the Mexican drug lords (including Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek) who have kidnapped their mutual girlfriend (Blake Lively).
To Rome with Love: Woody Allen follows up his Oscar-winning Midnight in Paris with this comedy about the romantic entanglements of a group of people in Italy. Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni and Ornella Muti play the locals; Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Allen (his first acting appearance since 2006’s Scoop) are the tourists.
Ice Age: Continental Drift: More computer-animated 3D prehistoric fun with Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo). They’ll keep cranking these out as long as you keep paying to see them.
Ted: Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane makes his film directorial debut with this tale of a grown man (Mark Wahlberg) who can’t bear to part with the potty-mouthed, talking teddy bear of his childhood. We expect nothing less than the summer’s most subversive comedy.
The Dark Knight Rises: Director Christopher Nolan brings his landmark Batman trilogy to a close by pitting the crimefighter (Christian Bale) against the most formidable villain of his career, Bane (Tom Hardy). If you’ve read the comics, you know this may not end well. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Anne Hathaway (as Catwoman) help Bruce Wayne pick up the pieces. Also with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing a character we’re betting turns out to be Robin (or Nightwing, depending on how you roll).
Neighborhood Watch: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express) wrote this comedy about three dads (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill) constantly on the lookout for crime in the suburbs. Then aliens from outer space attack the block.
Step Up Revolution: The fourth installment in the popular series about how dancing is the cure to all the world’s problems takes place in Miami, where a young woman (Kathryn McCormick) falls for a boy (Ryan Guzman) from the wrong side of the nightclub VIP ropes.
The Bourne Legacy: Having taken Jason Bourne’s story as far as it could go, writer-director Tony Gilroy (who scripted the first three movies) introduces a new secret agent (Jeremy Renner) forced to go on the run for mysterious reasons. Newcomers Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Oscar Isaac join series veterans Joan Allen, Albert Finney and David Strathairn.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: This adaptation of the fourth book in Jeff Kinney’s popular series follows best pals Greg (Zachary Gordon) and Rowley (Robert Capron) as they figure out what to do with themselves during summer break.
Ruby Sparks: As a way to get past his writer’s block, an author (Paul Dano) conjures the girl of his dreams and puts her into a story. Then he’s shocked when he runs into a flesh-and-blood version of her (Zoe Kazan) in the real world.
Total Recall: You know you’re getting old when you can vividly remember lining up to see movies that are getting the remake treatment. Colin Farrell takes over from Arnold Schwarzenegger in this new retelling of the Philip K. Dick story about a man whose memories may be not his own. Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston and Ethan Hawke co-star for director Len Wiseman (Underworld), who must try to top the wonderful excesses of Paul Verhoeven’s film.
The Campaign: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are dueling politicians with presidential nominations in this comedy from director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, HBO’s Game Change). There will be laughs.
Hope Springs: Miami’s David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley and Me) directs this comedy about a middle-aged couple (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) who turn to a professional therapist (Steve Carell) to help them sex up their 30-year marriage.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green: A couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) who long to have children but can’t bury an empty box in their backyard as a symbol of their wish. Soon, a curious little boy (CJ Adams) shows up at their door. Sounds creepy, but this is actually a family-friendly fantasy, directed by Peter Green (Dan in Real Life, Pieces of April).
The Expendables 2: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li and Terry Crews reunite for more head-banging exploits. This time, Jean-Claude Van Damme joins the party, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis show up for more than just cameos. You know what else is expendable? Stallone’s integrity. The actor acquiesced to keep the bloody mayhem at a PG-13 level in order to lure Chuck Norris into the fray. Guess we know who wears the pants in this outfit.
ParaNorman: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and John Goodman provide the voices for this animated tale of a boy with the ability to speak to the dead waging a war against zombies and monsters.
Sparkle: Last year, director Salim Akil’s musical drama about a girl (Jordin Sparks) who forms a musical group with her sisters in 1960s Motown-era Detroit looked like a promising remake of the 1976 original. Now, it is destined to be known as the last screen appearance by the late Whitney Houston, who plays the mother of the three singers.
The Apparition: Horror movie about a pair of college students (Ashley Greene and Sebastian Stan) who discover the ghostly presence they conjured up during a university experiment has followed them home.
Hit and Run: Dax Shepard co-wrote and co-directed this road comedy about a retired getaway driver (Shepard) who busts out of the Witness Protection Program to drive his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) to Los Angeles for an important job interview.
Premium Rush: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Manhattan bicycle messenger trying to deliver a package that has drawn the attention of a murderous cop (Michael Shannon).
7500: The passengers (Leslie Bibb, Ryan Kwanten, Amy Smart) of a transatlantic flight discover there’s something not quite human riding coach with them.
Lawless: John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) directs this bound-to-be-violent drama about a gang of Depression-era bootleggers (Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman and Shia LaBeouf) and the lawman (Guy Pearce) on their trail.
The Possession: A divorced couple (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) set aside their differences for the sake of their daughter (Natasha Calis), who has been possessed by a demon that laid dormant inside a trinket she bought at a yard sale.