The beancounters are predicting a big-ass sag in the box-office this summer. Audiences have had it, right? They won’t line up to throw their money away on the fifth iteration of Transformers (this one’s called The Last Knight, out June 21st) or Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Men Tell No Tales, May 26th), or Pixar’s third Cars movie (June 16th)? Not so fast. The demise of blockbuster retreads and ripoffs must still be filed under fake news; the revolt against franchise fatigue may be as slow in coming as Trump impeachment proceedings. Lousy movies wouldn’t be spawning sequels if the public wasn’t paying for them. And now studios have a large overseas market clamoring for same old/same old. But all is not lost … not completely. Even in this season of the walking braindead, we’ve have ferreted out 21 choice surprises in live-wire escapism and real-deal Oscar heat. Here are the blockbusters and big-name, big-budget movies you need to be paying attention to this summer.
Then first sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy opened to a $145 million weekend. That’s huge! And the movie wasn’t bad either. Director James Gunn returned with the same cast that surprised and delighted us three years ago. That includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel as a baby tree branch (“I am Groot”) and Bradley Cooper doing the voice of a psycho raccoon. Pratt, the Star Lord himself, says the cast “worked its ass off” to keep the irreverent spirit of the 2014 original. Can any other other epic knock Guardians off its perch as the boffo hit of summer 2017? Let the games begin.
Take heart all ye who hated Prometheus, the 2012 Alien prequel, for its lack of, well, aliens or anything remotely bloody or horrifying. Katherine Waterston stars as a Ripley-like warrior, two decades before Ripley shows up in the person of Sigourney Weaver in 1979’s Alien. The bigger news is that Michael Fassbender returns as David the android with HAL-like human failings, and also in a new guise as Walter, an android who keeps his cool. Fassbender is happy to report that director Ridley Scott, who originated Alien in 1979, has reconnected with his “monster mojo.” He got that right. Covenant is scary as hell.
Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. the Rock, breaks the news that Baywatch is “way, way dirtier” than the jiggly Nineties TV series with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (they both have cameos) that the movie is barely based on. Zac Efron, who costars as a beefcake patty to Johnson’s tomahawk ribeye, indicates that this lifeguard epic will not be a cerebral workout. So what? If you’re going to see one big dumb, boobs-and-pecs comedy this summer, make it this one. It’s so retro it’s meta.
How lucky that this DC Comics heroine makes her big-screen feature debut in the person of Gal Gadot. A former combat instructor in the Israeli army, she is every inch a Wonder Woman. Her worst enemy is the bad blood remaining from last year’s two critically reviled DC films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. In this origin story, set during World War I, Gadot is pretty much the whole show (Chris Pine stands by adoringly in the ingénue role). The actress states her mission is “to show the stronger side of women.” No problem.
For the horror movie of the summer, look no further than
this mind-twisting hellraiser from
writer-director Trey Edward Shults, whose debut film, Krisha, heralded a
ferocious new talent. Now his artful
and intensely personal approach to terror puts him in a class by himself. A
viral plague has sent dad (Joel
Edgerton), mom (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) to the woods
for refuge. Then a stranger (Christopher Abbott) comes knocking. Nothing is
predictable in the hands of Shults, who found his own father’s death from
cancer a sorrowful inspiration. His searching mind and heart resonate in every
No, Tom Cruise does not spend this movie wrapped in bandages. In a gender reversal, Sofia Boutella plays the title role originated by Boris Karloff in 1932. Her Egyptian Princess Ahmanet is calling in a promise her long-dead daddy didn’t keep – to make her Pharaoh. Cruise is the dude who tracks her down in the labyrinths under modern London. Director Alex Kurtzman saw something in Boutella’s mostly silent turn as an assassin in Kingsman: The Secret Service that got her the role: “There’s a whole performance going on in her eyes.” This movie is the first step in re-imagining Universal’s famous creature features, including Frankenstein, Wolf Man and the Invisible Man. It’ll be burial time for studio suits if The Mummy falls on its fat one.
Every summer deserves a Bridesmaids, and this may be 2017’s all-female raunch-com to beat. Scarlett Johansson is the bride-to-be hitting Miami Beach with her best friends for a bachelorette weekend; Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer are her partners in debauchery. After a coke-and-booze–fueled night of partying, the crew finds themselves with a dead make stripper on their hands. And then things get really nuts. Broad City veteran Lucia Aniello directs.
Despite the “Big” in the title, this is an intimate love story, hilarious and heartbreaking, that Kumail Nanjiani (of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and co-writer Emily V. Gordon carved out of their own culture-clash relationship. Nanjiani, a super talent, plays a standup comic much like himself. And Emily, portrayed by the wondrous Zoe Kazan, is the girl he hides from his strict Muslim parents. Then she gets sick. And the movie, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, goes off to places too funny and touching to spoil. It’s one of the best movies of summer. That The Big Sick opens the same day as The Epic That Must Not Be Named (OK, it’s Transformers: The Last Knight) just shows you there is an antidote to Michael Bay even in stupid season.
Bubbling under the mudslide of summer rot (we’re talking to you, Pirates of the Caribbean 5), this
crazy good display of cinematic fireworks will be the one everyone will be talking about. Ansel Elgort Is spectacular as Baby, the
getaway driver for a gang of bank robbers, including the hilariously unhinged Kevin
Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. As the wheelman listens to the soundtrack in his earbuds, director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) goes for
broke in a series of visually explosive chase scenes choreographed to a kick-ass soundtrack that make Baby Driver a
Sofia Coppola, one of only four women ever nominated for a
directing Oscar, tells the gothic tale of a wounded Union solider (Colin
Farrell) who seeks Southern comfort at a girls’ school run by Nicole Kidman and
Kirsten Dunst. Then, as Coppola notes, “it takes a dark turn.” Things ended
badly for Clint Eastwood when he played the Farrell role in 1971. Expect Coppola, whose film will screen in
competition at Cannes, to bring her own unique vision to the power games
between the sexes.
Steve Carrel says his kids’ friends always beg him to do the
voice of Gru, the animated villain – now reformed – that he first voiced in
2010. And the
fact that Carell will also play Gru’s newly discovered twin, Dru, puts
Despicable Me 3 on my summer must list. When it comes to this character, I’m a
Sony is shameless about rebooting this Marvel hero – the fact that the last two Spider-Man films had “Amazing” in the title mocked the very idea of truth in advertising. But this one has two words that make a difference: Tom Holland. He showed up briefly as the webslinger last year in Captain America: Civil War and charmed the cynicism out of us. The 20 year-old plays Spidey as a 15-year-old high school student, and sure, he’s got Robert Downey, Jr around for Iron Man backup, as well as Michael Keaton onboard as the villainous Vulture. But Holland is the reason to see this. He does his own back flips. I’m sold.
Unlike most franchise films that make you scream “Make it
stop,” the Apes series found a shot of adrenaline ever since the great
Andy Serkis took on the role of simian leader Caesar in 2011. In his third go at the role, Serkis – in a
motion capture suit – is poetry in motion. Returning director Matt Reeves makes
the personal war between the head simian and the villainous Colonel (Woody Harrelson in
a chilling variation of Brando in Apocalypse Now) thunderously exciting in
the most epic and ambitious Apes movie yet.
With Christopher Nolan at the helm, this epic take on the
massive World War II battle and evacuation of Dunkirk, France is told from air,
land and sea and features such actors as Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Harry
Styles. “It’s a survival story first and
last,” says Nolan, whose precision and passion are a lock for awards attention.
As a fan of French director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional), I have high hopes for this visionary sci-fi thriller starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as space cops charged with maintaining order on the intergalactic city of Alpha. Clive Owens plays their commander; Rhianna shows up as, well, you have to see. Trust us on this one. With teasing ambiguity, Besson has issued the statement: “The villain is not the villain we think, and the evil is not the evil we think.” Plus the Fifth Element vibes are strong on this one. How are we not intrigued?
All hail Charlize Theron, the summer’s real-deal, R-rated,
ball-busting wonder woman. As undercover agent Lorraine Broughton, Theron makes male action stars look like wimps as she rips through 1989
Berlin on a brutal, bloody, tear that reinvents the spy thriller as a femcentric brawl. “It was hard,”
Theron says of her fight scenes in this espionage thriller directed by David Leitch
(John Wick). But worth it? Hell, yeah.
There’s always one animated summer treat that sounds silly and then blows everyone away. Remember The Lego Movie? Besides, how do you resist a poop emoji voiced by Patrick Stewart? I can’t.
Al Gore’s doc on environmental dangers won an Oscar in 2007.
Now, with climate change deniers on the rise, including at the White House, the
topic is even more timely, and the former Vice-President is back with a follow-up to his award-winning doc. Watch as Gore stumps around the world in order to remind politicians, pundits and even the POTUS that it’s our responsibility to tend to the planet. That subtitle is no lie.
In Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, Roland the gunslinger is described
as pale and blue-eyed – but there’s no better actor to play this baddass hero than Idris Elba. Having Elba mix it up with Matthew McConaughey as
the Man in Black is guaranteed to perk up the dog days of summer. “I play him as the devil having a good time,”
says McConaughey. All right, all right, all right.
Set against the roiling backdrop of the 1967 Motor City riots and the three black men killed by white
cops at the Algiers Motel, Detroit returns Kathryn Bigelow to the visceral
urgency that made her the first woman to
ever win a directing Oscar. Joined again by Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty
screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow digs deep into America’s systematic racism,
then and now. Awards attention is a