20 Best Movies to See This Not-Canceled-Yet Summer Movie Season - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Movies to See This Not-Canceled-Yet Summer Movie Season

From a Pete Davidson comedy to a Robert Pattinson sci-fi thriller, Disney live-action to D.C. superheroes — what to see in theaters and on streaming this summer

John David Washington in 'Tenet,' Gal Gadot in 'Wonder Woman 1984,' and Yifei Liu in 'Mulan.'

John David Washington in 'Tenet,' Gal Gadot in 'Wonder Woman 1984,' and Yifei Liu in 'Mulan'

Warner Bros. Pictures; Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures; Jasin Boland/©2020Disney Enterprises

Yes, there are still summer movies. Nowhere near as many as usual, since the COVID-19 virus scared off most of the herd into later this year or next. But director Christopher Nolan fully intends to open Tenet, his $200 million time-bending epic, in more than 3,500 theaters in July. Ditto Disney, as the company plans to counter with its live-action Mulan that same month. And in August, Warner Bros. will go in on Wonder Woman 1984. All three potential blockbusters are big-money gambles. In order to make a profit or just break even, they’ll need us to put on masks, submit to temperature checks, and make sure we sit six feet apart when we finally push into theaters operating at 30 to 50 percent capacity to maintain social distancing.

But even if the blockbuster trio blinks and finds a safer berth in the future, there are still plenty of primo choices for audiences to watch this summer at drive-ins, making a real comeback, and the theaters that do manage to open at the discretion of each of the 50 states. Mostly, though, we’ll be watching at home, where we’ve been sheltering in place since March. The catch is: It’ll cost you. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney Plus, and other streaming services require subscriptions. And video on demand doesn’t come cheap. The VOD price tag was an insane $20 for a 48-hour rental of Universal’s Trolls World Tour, which managed to amass more than $100 million when it debuted in April. Will Pete Davidson prove an equal draw when his stoner-comedy/semibiopic The King of Staten Island premieres on VOD? Here are the 20 best movies competing for your attention this summer.

Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in Paramount Pictures' "The Lovebirds."

Skip Bolen/Paramount Pictures

‘The Lovebirds’ (May 22nd)

The summer season kicks off with a screwball farce starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani as a New Orleans couple who decide to break up. But first, they have to run an all-night race against frat boys, blackmailers, orgiasts, and a crooked cop who wants them dead. The Big Sick director Michael Showalter is calling the shots, and the two stars are murderously good at blending mirth and malice. (Netflix)

The Vast of Night

‘The Vast of Night’ (May 29th)

Filmmaker Andrew Patterson’s sci-fi debut about an alien invasion is set in a small town in 1950s New Mexico, where the fate of the world comes down to a teenage radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick). The fun comes in watching Patterson make his low-budget indie perform high-wire miracles. (Amazon Prime)

Michael Stuhlbarg and Elisabeth Moss appear in Shirley by Josephine Decker, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Thatcher Keats.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Thatcher Keats/Sundance Film Institute

‘Shirley’ (June 5th)

You may not see a better performance in 2020 than Elizabeth Moss’ go-for-broke portrayal of horror author Shirley Jackson. Director Josephine Decker subverts the usual biopic clichés, as The Lottery writer and her professor husband (Michael Stuhlbarg) play “get the guests” games out of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf  with the young couple (Logan Lerman, Odessa Young) they take into their home. (VOD)

Ferdia Shaw is Artemis Fowl in ARTEMIS FOWL, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Photo by Nicola Dove. © 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Nicola Dove/2020 Disney Enterprises

‘Artemis Fowl’ (June 12th)

Kenneth Branagh directs this take on the young-adult fantasy novels of Eoin Colfer. Aretmis Fowl II is a 12-year-old Irish prodigy (played by Ferdia Shaw, the grandson of Jaws shark hunter Robert Shaw). His mission? To rescue his criminal-mastermind father (Colin Farrell) from an underground cult of sinister fairies. (Disney+)


David Lee/Netflix

‘Da 5 Bloods’ (June 12th)

Spike Lee, fresh from the Best Screenplay Oscar he won for BlackKklansman, tackles the moral hangover left by Vietnam. Four veteran African American soldiers, led by Delroy Lindo, go back in-country to find a buried treasure and make peace with the memory of the deceased fifth blood, played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman. (Netflix)

Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin in The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow.

Mary Cybulski/Universal Pictures

‘The King of Staten Island’ (June 12th)

Did you know that Pete Davidson had a firefighter dad who died on 9/11? With the help of director and co-writer Judd Apatow — who hopes to do for the SNL comic what he did for Amy Schumer with Trainwreck — Staten Island homeboy Davidson parses his own life into a hilarious and heartfelt tale of how tragedy colors the process of coming of age. (VOD)

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga - Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir. Credit Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX © 2020

Elizabeth Viggiano/Netflix

‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ (June 26th)

There’s a strong Zoolander vibe in this farce starring Will Ferrell and  Rachel McAdams as Icelandic singers whose confidence in themselves as  Nordic rockers is entirely unjustified. Yet they enter the annual Eurovision Song Contest that made stars of ABBA and Celina Dion back in the day. Director David Dobkin, working from a script co-written by Ferrell, has a simpler goal: nonstop nonsense. (Netflix)

4142_D007_00166_RChris Cooper stars as Jack Hastings and Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer in IRRESISTIBLE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Daniel McFadden / Focus Features

Daniel McFadden/Focus Features

‘Irresistible’ (June 26th)

Movie prospects just got brighter with the addition of Jon Stewart’s election-year satire about how the media and political parties spend money. Steve Carell stars as a Democratic political consultant who decides to play kingmaker for a retired Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) running for mayor in Wisconsin. Will our electoral process get the skewering it deserves? Did you ever watch The Daily Show during the Dubya years? (VOD)

Russell Crowe in 'Unhinged.'

Skip Bolen

‘Unhinged’ (July 1st)

Forget the Roman arena; it’s Gladiator in traffic! Russell Crowe gets his road rage on to a play a driver who doesn’t like the way a single mother (Caren Pistorius) treats him at a stoplight. Derrick Borte directs the ensuing carnage in a thriller that becomes the first film this summer to open in multiplexes. Godspeed. (In theaters)

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 17: Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson  attend "Hamilton" Opening Night at The Public Theater on February 17, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

John Lamparski/WireImage

‘Hamilton’ (July 3rd)

No, it’s not the official movie of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking Broadway musical — it’s simply director Tommy Kail’s filmed record of the original-cast production of Hamilton, shot onstage in 2016. That includes Miranda, as Alexander Hamilton, and Leslie Odom Jr., as Aaron Burr, the self-described “fool who shot him.” It was meant to debut in theaters next year, but some smart somebody thought we needed it now. Thank you. (Disney+)

THE OLD GUARD (2020) - (L to R) Marwan Kenzari as Joe, Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, Charlize Theron as Andy, Luca Marinelli as Nicky, Kiki Layne as Nile. Photo Credit: AIMEE SPINKS/NETFLIX ©2020

Aimee Spinks/Netflix

‘The Old Guard’ (July 10th)

Charlize Theron puts her action-movie chops to good use as the leader of a group of immortal warriors who must stop Big Pharma from cracking their genetic code for profit. Asked if they’re good guys or bad guys, one of the team members answers, “Depends on the century.” As of right now, it’s war. Having director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) calling the shots adds to the “must-see” factor. (Netflix)

Palm Springs -- When carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg) and reluctant maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other. Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and Nyles (Andy Samberg), shown. (Photo by: Jessica Perez/Hulu)

Jessica Perez/Hulu

‘Palm Springs’ (July 10th)

Andy Samberg hooks up at a Palm Springs, California, wedding with the drunk maid of honor, played by Cristin Milioti. Just another rom-com? Nope. There’s a twist, and we’re not spoiling it — let’s just say that director Max Barbakow’s debut (co-produced by Samberg and the Lonely Island crew) takes an old idea and runs with it. There’s a reason this film exploded at Sundance. (Hulu)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.

‘Tenet’ (July 17th)

No one knows much about Christopher Nolan’s time-bending thriller with John David Washington and Rob Pattinson, except that it will be the first jumbo-budget summer epic to fly in the face of the pandemic and open in every theater it can find. Nolan has a near-religious belief in the theatrical experience. The question now is, Who’s going to join him? (In theaters)

Disney's MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2020 Disney Enterprises

‘Mulan’ (July 24th)

Whale Rider director Niki Caro steps up to prove that you can make a live-action version of a Disney animated hit that’s better than the original. The key: dropping the musical numbers and bringing rousing action to the legend of Mulan (Yifei Liu), the defiant daughter who disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the Imperial Army. (In theaters)


‘An American Pickle’ (August 6th)

In this culture-clash comedy from first-time director Brandon Trost, Seth Rogen plays Herschel, a 1920s immigrant who gets brined in a pickle barrel for a century. He wakes up in the here-and-now to find that his great-grandson (Rogen again) is a computer coder who blows his mind in all the wrong ways. (HBO Max)

SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) and Gary in THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN from Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies. Photo Credit: Paramount Animation.

Paramount Animation

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ (August 7th)

This sequel to 2015’s way-better-than-anyone-would’ve-thought Sponge Out of Water is completely 3D, with SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) comin’ at ya as he tries to save Gary (also Tom Kenny), who has been snail-napped by Poseidon. Patrick the Starfish (Bill Fagerbakke) joins SpongeBob on the rescue mission. (In theaters)

Wonder Woman 1984

Clay Enos

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (August 14th)

Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot return for the sequel to the 2017 superhero hit, only now there’s a twist: The first film was set in 1918. Now, it’s 1984 and Diana Prince, a.k.a. Wonder Woman, is primed to take on Kristen Wiig’s supervillain, Cheetah. Eighties fashions (big hair, shoulder pads) are back — and so is Chris Pine as Diana’s flyboy love interest, Steve Trevor. Hey, didn’t Steve die last time out? (In theaters)

'Antebellum,' starring Janelle Monae.

Matt Kennedy

‘Antebellum’ (August 21st)

As this season’s steamy frightfests go, it will be hard to beat this hothouse thriller starring Janelle Monáe as a bestselling author who can’t dial 911 to save her from being swept up in the horrors of slavery in the Civil War-era South. Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz directed from their own screenplay. It comes from the producers of Get Out and Us — we can only wish for the same result. (In theaters)

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Patti Perret

‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ (August 21st)

It’s been, like, 30 years since Alex Winter (Bill) and Keanu Reeves (Ted) last played the dimwitted duo, fighting Death for their souls in a game of Battleship. Director Dean Parisot (Galaxy Quest) doesn’t pull an Irishman and de-age his heroes, still underachieving in middle age, but determined to save the future with a song. Hell, if anyone can do it … (In theaters)

Maisie Williams, Henry Zaga, Blu Hunt, Charlie Heaton and Anya Taylor-Joy in “The New Mutants.”

Twentieth Century Films

‘The New Mutants’ (August 28th)

Shot in 2017 and set for release in 2018, this younger and hotter offshoot of Fox’s X-Men series — starring Maisie Williams as Wolfsbane and Ana Taylor Joy as Magik — has faced a daunting series of setbacks for director Josh Boone. First, the Disney takeover, then the megaflop of last summer’s Dark Phoenix, and now as the orphan of the pandemic, which gives us more reason to root for it. (In theaters)

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