Does this summer at the movies feel a lot like the past few summers? You're not alone. It's another parade of superheroes, reboots, sequels and sequels to superhero reboots. We've come to expect that from this season of Hollywood check-cashing, but there is something unique, and that's the volume and projected box office totals we're looking at.
The first summer smash, Avengers: Age of Ultron, is already out and absolutely raking in the cash. By summer's end, some box-office prognosticators think it could haul in $600 million.
The rest of the summer should follow suit with Jurassic World, a Despicable Me spin-off (Minions), a Mad Max reimagining and sequels galore filling the hottest months.
We're not saying it's all big-budget nonsense. There's plenty of good stuff in there. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a down-on-his-luck boxer in Southpaw, Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig team up for the uproarious Masterminds and Cameron Crowe returns with the star-packed Aloha.
It's going to be a big, big summer at the movies — hopefully it's a good one, too.
Movies based on Disney theme park attractions are a gamble — everyone loved Pirates of the Caribbean, but remember Haunted Mansion and every other Pirates of the Caribbean movie? (No? Exactly.) In Tomorrowland, adolescent Casey finds a pin; touching it gives her a vision of a futuristic land of tomorrow. She tracks down Frank (George Clooney), who takes her to that fantastical world, one that may not actually be the happiest place on Earth. The good news? Writer/director Brad Bird is an incredible director. Seriously; he directed The Incredibles. His creativity can turn a bland studio movie into something much more exciting and inventive. The screenplay is by Damon Lindelof, the writer who gave us Lost, Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness. So expect Tomorrowland to begin with intriguing ideas, awkwardly drop those ideas halfway through, then end in an absurd way that leaves most of the audience angry. Rated PG (DANIEL WALTERS)
PITCH PERFECT 2
Three years ago, Pitch Perfect took Glee's a cappella craze to college. The film was a surprise hit for Anna Kendrick, and her reworking of the Carter Family song "When I'm Gone" registered on the Top 40. Naturally, a second film had to be made. All the favorite characters are back: Kendrick as Beca the unlikely choirgirl, Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy and Elizabeth Banks (who also makes her feature directorial debut) as one of the worst commentators ever. This time around, the Barden Bellas are at the top of the collegiate a cappella world. But when a concert — in front of the president, no less — goes awry, they must clear their good name by entering in an international voice competition that no American team has ever won. We all know how this one is going to end, but what matters is the journey, and you can be sure there will be more usage of "aca (insert any noun)" and possibly projectile vomiting. Rated PG-13 (LAURA JOHNSON)
God bless you, Cameron Crowe, for still giving us movies. The writer-director behind Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire delivers his first feature in more than four years with a story about a military contractor (Bradley Cooper) who arrives in his old Hawaii stomping grounds to assist with a satellite launch. There, he's followed by a sparkplug Air Force pilot (Emma Stone) while looking for closure with his former love (Rachel McAdams), all the while trying to make sense of his tumultuous yet successful life. If those names don't do it for you, take a taste of the rest of the cast: John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride and... Bill Murray. Yes, Bill Murray. Rated PG-13 (MIKE BOOKEY)
We've seen Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson take down every sort of bad guy since he broke into movies more than a decade ago, but this time he's facing down a goddamn earthquake, people. And guess what? The Rock is not having it. This earthquake is going down, just like anything else that has ever tried to step up to the Rock. Didn't think you could punch an earthquake? Think again. Rated PG-13 (MB)
This reimagining of the beloved trilogy features a familiar plot line but an entirely new cast, and even a new director. Though Steven Spielberg is executive producer, Colin Trevorrow has stepped up to the role of director for this fourth journey into the Jurassic extravaganza. Set 22 years post-Jurassic Park, the dreamed-about, fully functioning dinosaur amusement park is finally a reality. But when the imagination of the park's creators begins to run wild, there's a request for the creation of a hybrid dinosaur for the purpose of behavioral research. When the experiment goes just about as poorly as it seems any prehistoric genetic modification would, it's up to staff member Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the park workers to try to stop the mutant dino before she stomps out the entire park and all of its visitors. Rated PG-13 (KAITLYN ANSON)
The Pixar stamp is no longer the sign of an automatic masterpiece (thanks, Cars). Inside Out is from Pete Docter, the Pixar vet who wrote and directed Up. The man knows his way around human emotion. It's appropriate that human emotions — Joy! Anger! Disgust! Sadness! Fear! — are the literal characters of Inside Out, which delves inside into the mind of Riley, a girl struggling to adjust to a move to San Francisco. I'm expecting a dark psychodrama exploring Riley's Jungian shadow self. Rated PG (DW)
Not every black kid in Compton is a wannabe gangster, or gangsta rapper. In the comedy Dope, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) plays punk rock with his buddies and has aspirations to go to Harvard until a drug deal goes awry and threatens his future. Suddenly thrust into the stereotypical 'hood life for a day, Malcolm and his buddies have to dodge bad guys, get rid of a backpack full of drugs and keep their dreams of getting out intact. Not yet rated (DAN NAILEN)
It's more than a stretch to prove that a crass stuffed animal is a person in the eyes of the law, but that's what newlywed Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) must do if he wants to adopt a baby with his wife, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). After a failed — and of course sketchy — attempt to recruit a certain Patriots quarterback to father his child, Ted asks his childhood best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) to be his sperm donor. Soon, Ted finds himself seeking out a lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) and serenading the courtroom in an effort to prove he's got soul. The premise of the film tugs at the heartstrings slightly more than the original did, but everyone's favorite foul-mouthed bear is in fine form even as he plans to start a family. Cue the crude humor, a major mishap at a fertility clinic and unexpected empathy for a boorish but lovable teddy bear. Rated R (HILARY KORABIK)
Withdrawn teenager Justin (Josh Wiggins) spends his time absorbed in video games and avoiding his family after his older brother Kyle (Robbie Amell) is killed in Afghanistan. In an attempt to find some healing, the family adopts Max, the war dog who had bonded so closely with Kyle that he can't work with anyone else. As Justin and Max grow closer, Justin has a chance to discover what really happened that day on the front. Rated PG (HK)
MAGIC MIKE XXL
This is a friendly reminder that a film depicting Channing Tatum artfully stripping on a stage was released in multiplexes around the country three years ago. That first Magic Mike, a semi-autobiographical story about Tatum's life, pre-Hollywood stardom, directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, certainly made the ladies scream. But it was slightly dark, focusing on the seedy, drug-fueled side of the business, and not exactly what moviegoers excited to see the aforementioned grinding scenes thought they were signing up for. Magic Mike XXL looks to focus on exactly what the people want: less script, more dancing. Be sure to bring a hand-held fan to the screening — you'll need it. Rated R (LJ)
A spin-off from the adorable Despicable Me franchise, Minions focuses on the story of what those strangely lovable yellow creatures were up to before settling down to diligently serve their master Gru. After accidentally destroying all of their evil leaders, the Minions take to Antarctica to create their own life. Thanks to a series of unfortunate events undoubtedly paired with slapstick comedy, the minions end up on a variety of adventures, traveling everywhere from New York City to London to find their perfect life. Rated PG (KAITLYN ANSON)
In one of the trailers for Marvel Studios' next big summer blockbuster, our title hero (Paul Rudd) asks a rhetorical question that fans less familiar with him may all be wondering: "Is it too late to change the name?" Um, yeah... it is. As lackluster as it sounds in comparison with, say, Black Widow or The Hulk, Ant-Man's name is indicative of his abilities — being able to shrink to a size smaller than an ant (so small, in fact, he can ride one), while also gaining strength, thanks to his special suit. He's also one of the original Avengers, debuting in paperback in the early 1960s. In the character's film debut, Rudd plays sneaky and skilled criminal Scott Lang. Under the guidance of the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Lang is tasked with a major heist to save the world and take down public enemy No. 1, Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket. Not yet rated (CHEY SCOTT)
Paper Towns looks to be a welcome, refreshing change in an era where every popular dystopian teen novel is being adapted into a movie franchise. The 2008 young adult book by John Green is a bestseller too, but grounds itself in reality, albeit as much as a teenage romantic mystery can. For those who haven't read the book, Paper Towns follows average high school senior Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) as he tries to track down his mysteriously vanished neighbor/love interest/cool girl Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), who leaves a trail of clues for him to follow. Not yet rated (CS)
In 1982, NASA sent a capsule into space hoping to contact other life forms. Inside were cultural mementos of the time, including recordings of classic arcade games: Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Frogger and Centipede. This gesture goes all wrong when, decades later, an alien life form sends holographic, weaponized versions of these games back to Earth for an all-out war. It's up to a crew of goofy retro gamers, played by Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage, to save the day using their pro gaming skills. Even though the plot — also considering the cast — sounds ultra-dorky, the nostalgia factor and expected kid-friendliness of Pixels should reel in the crowds. Not yet rated (CS)
Critics and fans alike hope that Southpaw has the potential to become a modern-day Rocky, doing its part to bring the boxing film back to relevance. Loosely based on the experiences of rapper Eminem (originally picked for its leading role), Southpaw is indeed a story about a boxer, not a rapper, but one who faces struggles similar to its real-life inspiration. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is at the height of his boxing career and has everything going for him. But his adoring wife (Rachel McAdams) wants him to hang up his gloves to be a full-time family man. Then without warning, everything Hope loves and has worked for starts to crumble. Soon, all that remains is his will to keep getting up. Forest Whitaker also stars as Hope's trainer. Not yet rated (CS)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION
Each Mission Impossible movie has given us at least one great scene, usually involving suspending Tom Cruise improbably in midair. Over a heavily alarmed floor in a secret facility. Off a skyscraper in Dubai. Flying into the villain 20 feet in the air from a motorcycle, John Woo-style. This time, Cruise finds himself clinging to the side of a cargo jet as it takes off. The promos promise the most impossible mission yet. Rated PG-13 (DW)
This is no remake of the 2000 supernatural thriller, but it does share some chills. This Gift stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a couple who return to his hometown and meet up with an old friend who is none too friendly. Or rather, way too friendly, leaving gifts and stalking them. These friends have a history, and it's going to take a few dead pets, broken windows and car chases to sort it out. Not yet rated (DN)
RICKI AND THE FLASH
Meryl Streep steps about as far away from The Devil Wears Prada as you could get and possibly toward yet another Oscar in this comedy-drama, portraying an aging musician who left her family years ago to pursue her dreams of becoming a rock star in California. The story begins when her ex-husband asks for her help in getting their estranged daughter — played by Mamie Gummer, Streep's actual daughter — back on her feet after her divorce. Their reunion of sorts could be the chance to rekindle the family that dreams of rock-and-roll once wreaked havoc on, but it's unlikely that it will go down without a fair share of mayhem. And it's a chance to see Meryl rocking platinum extensions, lace-up black boots and a whole lot of leather. Not yet rated (KA)
Released in Argentina in 2013, the animated film's country of origin, Underdogs tells the story of foosball master Amadeo who must save his small town from total destruction at the hands of his childhood rival. With the help of foosball players come to life, he must win a real soccer match or lose everything. The film was originally set for release last August, and after several pushbacks is finally seeing the light of day with an American dubbing (featuring the voices of Matthew Morrison, Katie Holmes, Ariana Grande and more). Not yet rated (LJ)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON
The inner workings of pioneering gangsta rap crew N.W.A held enough drama to make for a great feature film. The fact that police violence against black men is more of a hot-button topic than ever — decades after N.W.A's songs like "F--- Tha Police" and "Straight Outta Compton" tackled the subject — makes this biographical flick about the early years of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and their brothers-in-rhyme a must-see for hip-hop fans this summer. The movie tackles the group's showdown with police agencies and the FBI over their lyrical content, their tumultuous relationship with manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and their split into various factions after they became platinum-selling superstars who put West Coast rap on the map. Even if the producers somehow fumble turning this into a winning drama, at least the soundtrack will be slamming. Not yet rated (DN)
The first Sinister in 2012 made bank through the presence of Ethan Hawke in the starring role and use of the ol' "found-footage" idea that's been beaten to death since The Blair Witch Project. This Hawke-free sequel again revolves around an unsuspecting family moving into a house and stumbling across old home movies that unleash the forces of evil — namely, a pagan Babylonian deity named Bughuul (Mr. Boogie to the layman) — with bloody consequences. Not yet rated (DN)
How about that Ethan Hawke, eh? He killed in Boyhood, directed a critically adored documentary (Seymour: An Introduction) and is now set to appear in what could easily be a huge sleeper hit in the waning days of summer. He plays a detective trying to help a young woman (Emma Watson) make sense of childhood memories about some sort of creepy cult activity in which she was unwillingly involved. Much of the plot is being kept under wraps, but with director Alejandro Amenábar (he won an Oscar for The Sea Inside) at the helm, you can expect a well-crafted and probably terrifying flick. Not yet rated (MB) ♦