Since “summer” is swiftly ceasing to mean anything as a time of year, what with the soaring temperatures from April through October and the ever-increasing chance of giant ice-ball rain (also known as hail) in July, it is all the more crucial that we take our cues from popular culture, letting the most anticipated movies act as our seasonal barometer. Three-hour historical biopic starring Philip Seymour Hoffman? Wear a sweater; it’s getting nippy. Really horrible-looking thriller starring a Wahlberg? Happy President’s Day! The Hangover Part III followed by a reboot of the Superman franchise? Slap on some sunscreen, because it’s time to stick an upside-down Corona in your frozen margarita.
This year’s crop does not disappoint, from the coming-of-age, kicking-of-ass, annihilation-of-universe trifecta that so often defines the beachier months at the box office. Whether they disappoint on a more visceral level, well, that’s as unpredictable as a hail storm in the desert. Here’s what we have to look forward to:
An Unshakeable Feeling of Deja-Vu
“Two” is a number. “2” is a sequel. “Part Deux” hasn’t been used since the Hot Shots franchise, but I think we should bring it back just for variety, because take a look at this roster: Yes, someone in Hollywood—probably Adam Sandler—decided that the original 2010 Sandler-penned, Razzie-nominated schlub-buddy comedy had more of a story to tell. So we get Grown Ups 2 (July 12). Red 2 (July 19) sounds like a Pantone chip but is actually the sequel to the comic book action-comedy franchise starring Bruce Willis, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Smurfs 2 (July 31), Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16) and Despicable Me 2 (July 3) all appeal to children depending on their ages and levels of general misanthropy. And 2 Guns (Aug. 2) isn’t actually a sequel at all. But with that generic title, who can tell? Incidentally, 2 Guns features Mark Wahlberg, which throws off my entire rubric. So does the latest X-Men blockbuster hopeful The Wolverine (July 26), which eschews its 2, instead choosing to distinguish itself from 2009’s Wolverine by cleverly placing the word “the” in front of it. Clearly these are very different films.
Other series getting new installments include Richard Linklater’s romantic trilogy about Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s time-constrained lovers (Before Midnight, May 24), and a little comic called Superman, which reboots this year as Man of Steel (June 14), produced by The Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan (yay!) but directed by Sucker Punch’s Zack Snyder (um…). Joss Whedon puts his signature spin of geek whimsy on Shakespeare in a contemporarily set Much Ado About Nothing (June 7). The Lone Ranger comes to the big screen for the first time on July 3, starring Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp in a (literally) Disneyfied take on the classic radio play.
Then there are the movies that might not be part of a franchise per se but are definitely impressions of their predecessors: For adults, Only God Forgives (July 19) reunites Ryan Gosling with his Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn in an insanely violent crime thriller. For kids, Pixar’s Planes (Aug. 9) has all the engine-revving fun of Cars, but with wings!
The End of the World As We Know It
What is it about summer that makes everyone want to speed up Earth’s demise? Wasn’t that depressing The New York Times piece about carbon dioxide enough? Apparently not, because there are at least seven movies about our imminent extinction coming soon to a theater near you.
First up is M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth (May 31), starring Will and Jaden Smith in a bit of method acting as a futuristic, photogenic father-son pair who journey back to our forsaken planet. In World War Z (June 21), Brad Pitt is a U.N. worker—Angie must be so proud!—who tries to stop a zombie outbreak from destroying humanity, while in White House Down (June 28), Channing Tatum plays a rejected Secret Service agent who has to save President Jaime Foxx from a terrorist takeover of the nation’s most famous address.
Meanwhile, in sci-fi, Guillermo del Toro sends giant robots to thwart a massive alien invasion in Pacific Rim (July 12), and Matt Damon fights to get off of a dead-end Earth and onto the outer-orbit neighborhood du jour in the year 2154 in Elysium (Aug. 9), directed by District 9’s Neill Blomkamp.
On the lighter side of widespread extinction, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill and their Frat Pack brethren send up their own personas in the self-referential annihilation comedy This is the End (June 12). And Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) battle apocalyptic conditions while on a pub crawl in The World’s End (Aug. 23).
Finally, while I realize it’s not a film about humanity’s downfall, the boy-band concert doc One Direction: This Is Us (Aug. 30)—oddly directed by Supersize Me’s Morgan Spurlock—certainly fits with the theme.
Facetime with the Weirdos and Class Clowns
Sandwiched in between the blockbusters and battle royals, you can always count on a few cool, weird or just plain earnest films to elevate the IQ average of the summer’s movie stock.
The most likely breakout this year is The Way, Way Back (July 5), a big hit at Sundance which reteams Little Miss Sunshine’s Toni Colette and Steve Carrell in quirky dramedy from the Oscar-winning writing duo of The Descendants.
Another indie riding the buzz out of the festival circuit is the high school love story The Spectacular Now (Aug. 2), based on the young adult novel by Tim Tharp and starring Shailene Woodley (also a Descendants alum).
Speaking of young adult lit, tween titan Judy Blume gets her first big-screen adaptation with Tiger Eyes (June 7), directed by her son Lawrence Blume. (Side note: How can this be? They’re making Grown Ups 2, and there’s no room for Superfudge?) Teens behaving badly abound in Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (June 14), a fictionalized account of the real-life celebrity robberies by a gang of high schoolers that made headlines back in 2009.
For more adult neuroses, Woody Allen brings us Blue Jasmine (July 26), the prolific director’s latest ensemble comedy, starring Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin (the plot remains undisclosed, except to say that it deals with a New York housewife’s acute life crisis—is there any other kind?). It’s Allen’s 36th movie in a row since Annie Hall; he hasn’t skipped a year since 1976, back when Linda Lovelace, the subject of the Boogie Nights-esque biopic Lovelace (June 28), was still in pictures (see what I did there?).
In other offbeat female roles, erstwhile child star Gaby Hoffman embodies a manic pixie dream hippie who catches Michael Cera’s eye in Crystal Fairy (July 12), and Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy team up for the please-God-let-it-be-awesome-and-not-really-embarrassing The Heat (June 28). It’s a cliché farce of a setup, following a mismatched pair of police partners, which is potentially embarrassing for everyone involved—see also: that one with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah, the viewing of which I have repressed enough not to remember the name—but it’s also directed by Bridesmaids’ Paul Feig, making it potentially awesome. So there’s hope. Maybe not for mankind, but for the female buddy-cop movie. Which is the next best thing, really.