From blockbusters like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to sleepers like “Lucy,” TheWrap breaks down this summer’s essential films
Summer is just around the corner, bringing with it the promise of more Spider-Man, X-Men, Transformers, explosions and costumed adventurers. In other words, it’s popcorn season.
A steady stream of raunchy comedies such as “Sex Tape” and “Neighbors” will push the limits of their R-ratings to the breaking point in coming months, and a smattering of family flicks such as “Maleficent” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2″ promise to stay on the other end of good taste.
There are also a few brave dramas hoping to be heard above the clatter — “Million Dollar Arm” and “The Fault in Our Stars” among them.
So fire up the grill and get in a hot weather frame of mind for 21 essential summer releases you won’t want to miss.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field
Director: Marc Webb
Release Date: May 2
Danger: Given the number of comic book adaptations coming down the line, what will differentiate this second installment of a series that didn’t necessarily require rebooting? The first film was well-liked, if not a gigantic smash, and Sony is betting big on their web-slinger properties.
Why We’re Still Psyched: The chemistry between Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) is very real — they are dating in real life, and it shows. And this is director Marc Webb’s second big-budget outing, meaning that he has a better command of the machine required to make these films swing.
Cast: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Zac Efron
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Release Date: May 9
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Gareth Edwards
Release Date: May 16
Danger: We’re into the sixth decade of Godzilla films, and none have matched the depth or urgency of the 1954 original… especially not the 1998 American disaster of an adaptation. Does the world need a new one?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Edwards proved himself adept at making an awesome creature feature on zero budget with 2011’s “Monsters,” and now he’s got all the money in the world to wreak havoc on the world — plus an excellent cast led by Bryan Cranston. The first looks at the film have people psyched, too.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM
Cast: Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Alan Arkin
Director: Craig Gillespie
Release Date: May 16
Danger:Most baseball movies are hokey, and this one runs the risk of pandering to and/or stereotyping an entire ethnic group. Also, how do you make a movie about a baseball scout connect with the entire family?
Why We’re Still Psyched: We’ll watch Jon Hamm in anything, and this unconventional and true story sounds compelling. A sneak peek at the film got rave reviews at CinemaCon, the exhibition tradeshow that unfolded in Las Vegas last week, so the buzz is growing.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan
Director: Bryan Singer
Release Date: May 23
Danger: While the huge ensemble is catnip for the Comic-Con crowd, the blending of Singer’s original mutants with those from “First Class” might feel too bloated or “inside baseball” for average audiences. The prequel film did strong business, but it wasn’t a gigantic hit. Fox is hoping that the recent comic book movie team-up trend does for them what it did for Marvel’s “The Avengers.”
Why We’re Still Psyched: Singer returns to the franchise he helped launch almost 15 years ago, with his third — and biggest — film yet. That bodes well for a fan-favorite storyline involving the popular mutant-killing Sentinels and time travel. Comic book movies have never been more popular, which “Future Past” hopes to capitalize on all the way to the bank. Its cast pedigree — two Oscar-winners, several nominees — is also a big draw.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Imelda Staunton, Elle Fanning
Director: Robert Stromberg
Release Date: May 30
Danger: Have origin stories gone too far? Do we really need to know why the Mistress of All Evil turned to the dark side?
Why We’re Still Psyched: With her long limbs and pronounced features, Jolie looks like a Disney villainess in the flesh. Talk about perfect casting! In a summer without a lot of family friendly titles, this one stands to reign over them all.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Release Date: May 30
Danger: Hollywood doesn’t roll out many westerns these days. Is MacFarlane sending up a genre most audiences don’t recognize?
Why We’re Still Psyched: “Ted,” a Mona Lisa of crudity, buys a lot of good will and the red band trailer for “A Million Ways to Die” is hilarious. Come for the man getting crushed to death by a block of ice, stay for the hilarious Christopher Lloyd/”Back to the Future Part III” cameo. MacFarlane may have pulled off a worthy successor to “Blazing Saddles” after all.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Laura Linney
Director: Josh Boone
Release Date: June 6
Danger: John Green’s novel is a beloved young adult bestseller. But can something so profoundly sad translate on the big screen? And will Ansel Elgort hold his own with “Divergent” co-star Shailene Woodley?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Woodley is the star, and she can seemingly do no wrong these days. Plus, she’s re-teaming with screenwriter Michael Weber, who adapted “Fault” as well as last year’s indie favorite, “The Spectacular Now,” in which Woodley starred. That movie didn’t get the broad audience it deserved. This one might fare better.
EDGE OF TOMORROW
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt
Director: Doug Liman
Release Date: June 6
Danger: The story of a man doomed to repeat his fatal battle with an alien race seems like a cross between Philip K. Dick and “Groundhog Day.” That might not be the best combination.
Why We’re Still Psyched: Liman demonstrated a flare for action with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “The Bourne Identity” and the trippy script inspired a bidding war. There must have been a reason all those studios were reaching for their checkbooks.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig
Director: Dean DeBlois
Release Date: June 13
Danger: Can the sequel recapture the fun of the first film? Lots of promising film franchises, from “Saturday Night Fever” to “The Matrix,” crash under the weight of a follow-up.
Why We’re Still Psyched: Fortunately, DeBlois is taking lessons from the best, and citing “The Empire Strikes Back” as the kind of sequel he’s aspiring to make in what is shaping up to be a trilogy. Plus, the first film, with its cuddly tale of a toothless fire-breather was both adorable and deeply moving.
22 JUMP STREET
Cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, Nick Offerman, Ice Cube
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Release Date: June 13
Danger: It’s rare for sequels to match the first movie, especially when it comes to comedies… and unexpected hit comedies, as well. (See: “The Hangover” and its subpar second and third installments.) Will they be able to mine this sort of material for new jokes?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Hill and Tatum were an unforgettable duo, with great chemistry and timing. Moreover, after “The Lego Movie” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on tremendous run right now. It’s hard to imagine anything they do not being fun and fresh.
Cast: Christopher Walken, John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen
Director: Clint Eastwood
Release Date: June 20
Danger: The last time Eastwood was involved in a movie musical the result was the disastrous “Paint Your Wagon,” which proved irrefutably that Lee Marvin cannot carry a tune or dance.
Why We’re Still Psyched: The “Man With No Name” wisely stays behind the camera this time, leaving the covers of Four Seasons hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry” to a capable cast of crooners that includes Lloyd Young, who earned a Tony for playing Frankie Valli in the original Broadway production. And oh that music!
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci
Director: Michael Bay
Release Date: June 27
Danger: Two months out from release (as of press time), things seem unusually quiet on this would-be blockbuster’s marketing. “More than meets the eye” is apt for the toyline’s tagline, but seemingly not for the fourth film in Paramount-Hasbro’s successful franchise. Despite Bay’s claims that “Extinction” represents a departure from what came before, it looks like the business as usual: The prettiest humans ever run around as hard-to-recognize robots battle at Magic Hour. Why do we need another trip to Bay-hem?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Why? Five words: Optimus Prime riding a dinosaur! The dinobots make their long-awaited live-action debut, as Wahlberg gets a shot at boosting his action-hero profile in his biggest movie ever. We’ll take him over Shia any day.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Toni Collette, Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd
Director: Ben Falcone
Release Date: July 2
Danger: The film was written by McCarthy and Falcone with the latter also handling directing chores. Falcone happens to be McCarthy’s husband. Will this be a vanity project run amuck?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Their comedy chops are real, both having honed their penchant for pratfalls as members of The Groundlings, and McCarthy’s star has never been higher. From “Identity Thief” to “The Heat,” everything she touches turns to gold…and laughs.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Cast: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke
Director: Matt Reeves
Release Date: July 11
Danger: With only a teaser trailer so far, Fox is keeping the sequel to summer 2011’s sleeper hit surprisingly under wraps. And recently-released set images of actors in mo-cap suits — instead of sporting CG ape skins — telegraphs that the film is most likely racing to get its effects done.
Why We’re Still Psyched: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was the rare franchise reboot that delivered more than just a cash-grab on brand recognition. Its surprising amount of heart and character-centric action was a hit with critics and audiences, which should bode well for the sequel as it pits Caesar’s growing ape army against a faction of humans struggling to live in a world where homo sapiens are an endangered species. Gary Oldman and “Zero Dark Thirty’s” Clarke bring some much-needed star power to “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves’ first summer blockbuster.
Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne
Director: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Release Date: July 18
Danger: The film is about a toilet-cleaning immigrant who finds out she is destined to rule the universe. Plus, Channing Tatum wears Vulcan ears. Is a trip to the Razzies in the cast’s future?
Why We’re Still Psyched: Come on, it’s directed by the siblings behind “The Matrix.” They know science-fiction. Admit it, if someone had tried to describe Neo’s adventures in a sentence, they’d be laughed off the stage, too.
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe
Director: Jake Kasdan
Release Date: July 25
Danger: The last time Segal, Diaz and Kasdan teamed up, they made “Bad Teacher,” which made a lot of money but earned lackluster reviews.
Why We’re Still Psyched: It’s a top-shelf cast from top to bottom, and director Jake Kasdan has a great track record, including “Freaks and Geeks” and now, “New Girl.” Hard to go wrong with this much talent, and it’ll be a nice break from all the explosions and superheroes this summer.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Cast: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
Director: James Gunn
Release Date: Aug. 1
Danger: These Marvel characters lack the brand name recognition of a Thor or Iron Man. There could be a reason they’re on the B-list.
Why We’re Still Psyched: The first preview for the story of interstellar vigilantes was witty, exciting and instantly went viral. It’s tongue-in-cheek tone and the performance of Pratt as a glib deep space policeman earned comparisons to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” That’s rarefied company.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Director: Luc Besson
Release Date: Aug. 8
Danger Signs: The film’s premise — a young woman is forced to become a drug mule — doesn’t exactly scream popcorn flick.
Why We’re Still Psyched: Johansson’s metamorphosis into a pistol-packing, revenge-obsessed warrior calls to mind Liam Neeson in “Taken,” which isn’t a surprise given that Besson directed that action hit. This one has all the markings of a similar under-the-radar smash.
THE EXPENDABLES 3
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, and any actor over the age of 50 who ever carried a gun on film.
Danger: Like its cast, “The Expendables” franchise may be getting a bit long in the tooth.
Why We’re Still Psyched: The additions of Ford, Snipes, Gibson and Banderas give this film much needed ammo. When it comes to providing bang for the buck, nobody does it better than these guys.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Lady Gaga, Rosario Dawson
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Release Date: Aug. 22
Danger: Fanboys love Rodriguez and his bloody, pulpy homages, but what plays like gangbusters in Comic-Con’s Hall H can land with a thud in the real world.
Why We’re Still Psyched: Even its detractors would be forced to admit that the first “Sin City” was some kind of crazy and beautiful experiment. A picture that strove and often succeeded at distilling the essence of a graphic novel on the silver screen. At the very least it will be gorgeous to look at.