Well, it’s that time again, folks — Summer Movie Season! And unlike the last couple of years, this one feels like it will be at full strength given the number of blockbusters on the docket. Of last year’s top 10 highest-grossing movies at the domestic box office, only four were released in the summer (Black Widow, F9, A Quiet Place Part II and Free Guy), but fortunately, Hollywood is bringing out the big guns this year.
Jurassic World: Dominion, for one, is going to be a dino-sized juggernaut, as will both of Marvel’s sequels — Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder. While Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick remains something of a question mark, seeing as it’s a sequel to a movie that most teenagers haven’t seen and don’t really care about, I have supreme confidence in Tom Cruise, the world’s greatest movie star, and there’s a reason that Paramount held onto this movie throughout the entire pandemic, no doubt rebuffing plenty of offers from streamers.
Meanwhile, after sending the last few Pixar movies straight to its streaming service, Disney will proudly present Lightyear exclusively in theaters, where the Toy Story franchise has flourished over the past 27 years. Expect it to be a box office beast… and speaking of beasts, we’re looking forward to seeing Idris Elba‘s new movie in which he matches wits with a massive rogue lion.
If there’s not enough carnage in that film, there should be plenty of horrors to feast your eyes on elsewhere, from Jordan Peele‘s UFO movie Nope to A24’s slasher film Bodies Bodies Bodies and the Blumhouse movies The Black Phone, Firestarter, and Vengeance.
There’s also a new entry in the Predator franchise titled Prey, an Elvis biopic from Australian director Baz Luhrmann, and a Sylvester Stallone superhero movie, not to mention Brad Pitt as a deadly assassin and Aubrey Plaza as a criminal named Emily.
To say that Hollywood will have something for everyone this summer would be an understatement, so check out our list of the Top 15 (er, 20) Movies to See between early May and the end of August. Just remember, if you don’t like one of these movies, no refunds!
15. Where the Crawdads Sing
At one point last year, it seemed like every woman I knew was reading this book, so I figure there must be something interesting about the story of Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman who raised herself in the marshes of the deep South only to grow up and get caught in a love triangle with two men (Harris Dickinson and Taylor John Smith) before becoming a suspect in the murder of one of them. My lord! I do love a good mystery, and kudos to Sony for bringing in Beasts of the Southern Wild scribe Lucy Alibar to adapt Delia Owens‘ bestselling book. The soundtrack will feature the original song “Carolina” from Taylor Swift, and you know she’s selective about the movies she’s involved with… aside from Cats, of course.
What can I say, when Sylvester Stallone puts out a new movie, attention must be paid! Based on a series of Mythos Comics graphic novels, Samaritan stars Euphoria scene-stealer Javon Walton as a young boy who comes to the realization that a famed superhero, who was thought to have gone missing after an epic battle 20 years ago, may in fact still be around. Stallone plays the suspected superhero in this film, which is described as a fresh and rather dark take on superhero movies. What also piques my interest here is the presence of director Julius Avery, who impressed me with his Nazi zombie movie Overlord. Stallone still has some gas left in the tank, so if Avery can tap into the actor’s dark side, this off-brand superhero movie could be worth a look even though it’s not from Marvel or DC.
From The Edge (a bear) to The Ghost in the Darkness (a lion) to The Shallows (a shark), I love most “man vs. animal” movies, so I’m really looking forward to Beast, which finds Idris Elba protecting his two teenage daughters from a particularly ferocious lion intent on proving that the Savanna has but one apex predator. Sharlto Copley (District 9) co-stars in the film, which hails from Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, whose credits include the Mark Wahlberg movies Contraband and 2 Guns, as well as Everest. Those are enough intriguing elements to whet my appetite, let’s just hope this movie doesn’t skimp on some gnarly kills.
12. The Blumhouse Movies – The Black Phone, Firestarter, and Vengeance
Do you see how Blumhouse and A24 are the only two companies to get their own entry on this list? That’s called branding, baby. It doesn’t even matter what it is, people are willing to see Blumhouse movies and A24 movies based on the label alone, and this summer, both companies have solid offerings.
Scott Derrickson‘s The Black Phone earned great reviews out of Fantastic Fest, so much so that Universal pushed the Ethan Hawke-led film back to a more competitive release date in the middle of the summer. Genre audiences seem to be a bit starved at the moment, and you can always count on horror fans to show up to theaters in support of original content.
Meanwhile, Firestarter may not be an original, but this remake looks like a hot blast of fiery fun even though Ryan Kiera Armstrong has some big shoes to fill (Drew Barrymore starred in the original, after all). Fortunately, she’s surrounded by Zac Efron (as her Dad) and the great Michael Greyeyes (Wild Indian) as Rainbird, who’s the central antagonist in Stephen King‘s original novel. It certainly looks like director Keith Thomas (The Vigil) understood the assignment here, and I love the synth score we’ve heard snippets of in the trailer.
Finally, there’s a movie called Vengeance, which marks the feature directorial debut of B.J. Novak. The Office alum plays a radio journalist/podcaster who travels from New York City to West Texas to investigate the death of his girlfriend. I really liked Novak’s FX anthology series The Platform and I’m excited to see what he can do with a cast that includes Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, and Issa Rae.
11. The Streaming Movies – Hustle (Netflix) and Prey (Hulu)
Hustle is Adam Sandler‘s latest Netflix movie and it looks like another change of pace for the comedy superstar. He plays Stanley Beren, a washed-up basketball scout who discovers a phenomenal streetball player (actual NBA star Juancho Hernangomez) while in Spain, and sees the young prospect as his opportunity to get back into the NBA. The film hails from director Jeremiah Zagar, who really impressed me with his sensitive directorial debut We the Animals, and the impressive supporting cast includes Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, and Robert Duvall. Expect to see a bunch of ads for this movie during the real NBA Finals this June.
Meanwhile, Prey is the latest chapter in the Predator franchise, and It also represents a pivot of sorts, as director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) will examine the creature’s origin story. Apparently, the Predator first appeared on the land of the Comanche Nation some 300 years ago and battled a skilled female warrior (Amber Midthunder) who bravely fought to protect her tribe against the most highly-evolved killer the world had ever seen to that point. I love a good fight, so let the games begin…
10. The Sundance Movies – Cha Cha Real Smooth and Emily the Criminal
OK, so I’ve seen both of these movies, which were the darlings of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Cha Cha Real Smooth is the better of the two, but Emily the Criminal boasts a truly terrific performance from Aubrey Plaza, who also produced the film. She plays a down-on-her-luck LA woman who gets involved in a credit card scam that pulls her into the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, ultimately leading to deadly consequences. The direction from John Patton Ford is really strong here and marks him as a filmmaker to watch, but for me, it all comes down to the script, and the script for Cha Cha Real Smooth is just a little bit tighter. Writer-director Cooper Raiff stars as a bar mitzvah party host who strikes up a unique friendship with a mother (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter (Vanessa Burghardt). Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett co-star as Raiff’s mother and stepdad, and while Raiff is quite charming as the lead, it’s Johnson who steals this movie and could be poised for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
9. The A24 Movies – Men and Bodies Bodies Bodies
I’m pretty excited for both of these movies. Men hails from Alex Garland, the director of Ex Machina and Annihilation as well as the creator of FX’s Devs, and this looks like another strange trip from the British filmmaker. Jessie Buckley (Fargo) stars as a young woman who goes on a solo vacation to the English countryside following the death of her ex-husband. There, she meets a variety of men, all of whom appear to be played by Rory Kinnear. This movie looks totally surreal and fascinating and I can’t wait to uncover the mystery hinted at in this trailer.
As for Bodies Bodies Bodies, people went nuts for Halina Reijn‘s movie at SXSW, where critics hailed it as a fresh take on the slasher genre. The film follows a group of rich 20-somethings who plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion, where a party game among fake friends turns deadly. I love the young ensemble, which includes Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova (Borat 2), and Rachel Sennot (Shiva Baby) as well as Pete Davidson and Lee Pace, and this would be the genre film I’m most excited for this summer if it wasn’t for, well, this one…
Word on the ranch is that Jordan Peele drops the social commentary for his latest movie, which concerns some UFO activity in the California desert. Daniel Kaluuya, who earned an Oscar nomination for Peele’s first film Get Out, reunites with the director here to play a Hollywood horse wrangler, and he’s joined by Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Barbie Fereira, and Michael Wincott. Plot details are still being kept under wraps, though early buzz is starting to trickle out from test screenings and it’s said to be a popcorn movie like M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs but with a bigger budget.
I’m hearing that Baz Luhrmann‘s movie is good but not great, but hey, look how far that took Bohemian Rhapsody in the awards race a few years ago. It sounds like Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) is the real deal as the King of Rock and Roll, so expect him to be in the mix for an Oscar nomination next year. Unfortunately, early word has been less kind to Tom Hanks‘ take on Colonel Tom Parker, whose accent sounds a little shaky judging from the film’s official trailer (watch it above), though I’ve learned it’s unwise to doubt Tom Hanks. The man beat Covid to give this performance and I’m going to reserve judgment until I see it (and hear his accent) for myself. I’m eager to revisit Elvis’ music and see the gorgeous costumes designed by Luhrmann’s wife, Oscar winner Catherine Martin, and I look forward to checking out the supporting cast of up-and-coming actors including Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog), Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), Luke Bracey (Point Break), and Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Cyrano) as B.B. King, while Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge star Richard Roxburgh plays Elvis’ father.
6. Bullet Train
I read Kotaro Isaka‘s fast-paced novel last summer and kind of fell in love with it, so I can’t wait to see how director David Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz approach the high-octane adaptation. Oscar winner Brad Pitt stars as an assassin named Ladybug who boards a train full of other assassins who find out their missions have something in common. The trailer makes this movie look a little cartoony, like something in the vein of the disappointing Clive Owen movie Shoot ‘Em Up, but having read the source material, I’m keeping the faith. It helps that the cast is absolutely stacked, from Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Logan Lerman, and Brian Tyree Henry to Joey King, Zazie Beetz, and Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, plus Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine), Karen Fukuhara (Suicide Squad), Andrew Koji (Snake Eyes), and Masi Oka (Heroes). All aboard, indeed!
For my money, this Pixar movie has had the best marketing campaign of the year, as the trailers (set perfectly to David Bowie‘s “Starman”) look fantastic. Chris Evans voices the original Buzz Lightyear, a movie character that inspired the action figure seen in the Toy Story movies. We’ll follow Buzz on his first test flight as he explores new galaxies for Star Command, but when the evil Emperor Zurg threatens the safety of the universe, Buzz may be the only person who can save it.
Taika Waititi lends his voice to the film along with Keke Palmer and Uzo Aduba, while James Brolin voices Zurg. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Toy Story franchise and though I was initially worried about this project, I feel like Pixar’s brain trust had to feel like they had something on their special on their hands to even make this movie in the first place, as they’d never besmirch the legacy of its first-born, and I imagine Disney feels similarly if it’s sticking to an exclusive theatrical release for the film after sending recent Pixar titles to Disney+. If that’s not confidence, I don’t know what is…
4. Thor: Love and Thunder
If the Doctor Strange sequel doesn’t cast a spell on you, perhaps the God of Thunder will float your boat, as Chris Hemsworth returns to the MCU once again — hammer in hand — in this Taika Waititi-directed sequel. Like Ant-Man and the Wasp and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, this movie pairs our hero with female co-leads, in this case, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie.
Elsewhere, multiple Guardians of the Galaxy stars are slated to show up, including Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Jeff Goldblum, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff, and even Jaimie Alexander‘s Lady Sif. But the real draw here is Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher — his first comic book movie role since he slipped on Batman’s cowl one last time in The Dark Knight Rises. If the demand for this movie matches the demand for its trailer, Thor: Love and Thunder is going to gross a billion dollars.
3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
This horror-tinged sequel is poised to be a game-changer for Marvel, as it really delves into the idea of the multiverse as introduced by the latest Spider-Man movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Rachel McAdams return in support of Benedict Cumberbatch, but this movie pairs the Sorcerer Supreme with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. It also introduces Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez and Michael Stuhlbarg as rival surgeon Nicodemus West. Sam Raimi replaces Scott Derrickson behind the camera and I’m just excited to see Raimi redeem himself for Spider-Man 3, which lives on as a meme these days. The visuals in this movie already look bonkers, so let’s just hope the narrative makes snse.
2. Jurassic World: Dominion
Though the franchise surely won’t fall extinct, Jurassic World: Dominion is the third film in the Jurassic World trilogy, and the studio spared no expense on this “final” chapter, reuniting original stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum and pairing them with younger heroes Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. They’ll continue to look out for Maisie, the cloned girl from Fallen Kingdom, and this chapter will see them joined by DeWanda Wise. Expect to meet some of the dinosaurs that were sold to/created by the international buyers from the auction in the previous film, which was directed by J.A. Bayona, though Colin Trevorrow is back behind the camera for this new installment.
1. Top Gun: Maverick
I’m not even a big fan of Top Gun and I think this movie looks incredible. There’s a reason that Paramount has kept this movie on a shelf — and it’s not the typical reason for doing so. Normally, when a studio does that, the movie is pretty bad. In this case, it’s because Paramount knows it has something special on its hands — a surefire box office hit that might even rewrite the visual language of action cinema if the buzz on its aerial battle sequences is to be believed. Tom Cruise remains the world’s greatest movie star and I’m excited to see him school young guns like Miles Teller and Glen Powell, who will be looking to earn their stripes as fighter pilots in this long-delayed sequel from TRON: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski.
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