Yes, “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Men in Black 3” will carve up the bulk of the box office as the weather heats up. But in between the eardrum-bursting stories of planet-saving are a handful of smaller films that deserve to be on moviegoers' radars.
Among them are films from established masters like Woody Allen and Wes Anderson that could find themselves on Oscar voters' shortlists, as well as a collection of comedies, thrillers and family films featuring stars like Will Ferrell and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Here are seven hidden gems hitting theaters over the next four months -- with nary a superhero to be found in any of them.
Where has this Oliver Stone been? After a series of restrained looks at recent history including “W.” and “World Trade Center,” this adaptation of Don Winslow’s bestseller returns the cinematic provocateur to his gonzo roots.
It’s the story of a pair of pot dealers whose mutual girlfriend is kidnapped by a vicious drug cartel. To give a sense of the carnage that awaits when the movie premieres in July, Adam Fogelson, Universal Pictures chairman, told an audience of theater owners at the recent industry trade show CinemaCon that the film is a throwback to Stone’s work on “Scarface” and “Natural Born Killers."
Based on the early footage, “Savages” positively reeks of sex, ultra-violence and law-breaking.
Add to that a smoking hot cast of young up-and-comers like Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively and Taylor Kitsch (mercifully, a galaxy far, far away from “John Carter”) and some old pros like John Travolta and Benicio Del Toro gnawing on meaty character roles, and you have that rarest of things at the summer box office -- a movie for grown-ups. (July 6)
THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN
The polar opposite of “Savages.” Instead of a lurid depiction of drug trafficking, here's a family film about identifiable people and problems set against a fantastical backdrop.
In the movie, a couple buries a box in their backyard containing a list of the character traits they would want in a child, only to wake up the next day to find a young boy on their doorstep.
It sounds like it has all the makings of a "Hallmark" movie, but the couple's heartbreak over being unable to conceive baby could make this a real human story in a season overflowing with animated films like "Brave" and "Madagascar 3."
It helps that Disney tapped Peter Hedges to write and direct. Hedges expertly unearthed laughs in such seemingly humorless situations as a woman dying of cancer and a husband grieving for his dead wife in “Pieces of April” and “Dan in Real Life,” respectively.
Jennifer Garner stars as a woman brought low by her inability to have a child while newcomer Joel Edgerton, who impressed with his gritty turn in last fall’s criminally under-seen “Warrior,” portrays her supportive husband.
If the cast and crew pull it off, it could be another family classic like “Old Yeller” that spins a magical story without relying on saccharine gimmicks or a previously established line of toys. Now that's a novelty act. (Aug. 15)
Nothing brings memories of summer flooding back like camp. Thus, “Rushmore” director Wes Anderson’s latest focuses on a pair of young campers who fall in love and run away together prompting a town-wide search.
Unlike Anderson's “The Royal Tennenbaums” and “Bottle Rocket,” this film doesn’t just pepper its soundtrack with music from British Invasion, it is set in the 1960s when The Kinks and the Rolling Stones were crafting many of their best-known songs.
It boasts the summer’s most eclectic cast, including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and, this being a Wes Anderson film, the maestro of droll one-liners, Bill Murray. (May 25)
Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted,” about a pot-smoking teddy bear, has been widely pegged as this summer’s breakout comedy. Don’t be surprised if this under-the-radar political satire emerges as another laugh-filled hit.
For starters, it features a comedy dream team of Will Ferrell with Zach Galifianakis, uniting in the story of two Southern candidates in a death match to kiss the most babies, slap the most backs and engage in the dirtiest campaign tricks all in a desperate attempt to capture a congressional seat.
The movie’s trailer makes it look like screenwriter Shawn Harwell has channeled the same south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line shock humor that he exploits so brilliantly in the HBO show “Eastbound & Down.” Plus, Ferrell’s patented lampooning of misplaced male arrogance looks well-suited to Galifianakis’ squirm-inducing awkwardness.
By this point in a seemingly endless presidential election, audiences are probably ready to laugh at the political process, making “The Campaign” just the ticket. (Aug. 10)
TO ROME WITH LOVE
When Woody Allen left New York City for Europe last summer in “Midnight in Paris,” the result was pure magic. The “Manhattan” director is back on the other side of the Atlantic again, although this time he’s trading in “gay Paree” for Rome.
“To Rome With Love” is another romantic comedy pastiche that focuses on lovers young and old and features a cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin and Allen himself, in his first on-screen role since 2006’s “Scoop.”
If the bespectacled auteur plays his cards right, moviegoers may be as transfixed with the Italian capital as they were with France’s signature city. (June 22)
Channing Tatum has been everywhere this year, playing the perfect husband in “The Vow” and a second-rate cop in “21 Jump Street,” but he’s largely managed to keep his clothes on -- until now.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Magic Mike” is drawn from Tatum’s experiences as a stripper in Florida when he was just starting out. Set in the world of exotic dancing, the movie promises ample bumping and grinding from the actor and a cast of other pinups like Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer.
Need more sizzle? The G-string-friendly flick may be one of the last feature films directed by Soderbergh, who keeps vowing to give up the movie business and retire. (June 29).
The concept of “Speed” on a bike may seem laughable -- and it is -- but what keeps this movie on the must-see list is its star. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has dazzled with intense turns in dramas like “Mysterious Skin,” and now he gets to prove he can carry the gun, or at least the mail, as a bike messenger in this thriller.
In "Premium Rush," Gordon-Levitt has a package that a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) would literally kill for, prompting a low-speed chase through the traffic clogged streets of Manhattan.
For the young actor, who will also be featured in a little film called “The Dark Knight Rises,” it’s a chance to once again prove why many critics have labeled him the best actor of his generation. (Aug. 24)