As DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince taught us long ago, summertime is, historically, a season to “sit back and unwind,” preferably in a dark, air-conditioned theater with a metric ton of popcorn. I would add—albeit not in rap form (you’re welcome)—that it’s also a time to lump three months’ worth of major studio releases into broad categories with pithy titles. Like …
FRANCHISES WITH FACELIFTS
The irony of Disney’s Tomorrowland, which opened on May 22 as one of summer’s first blockbuster hopefuls, is that it’s nothing if not firmly rooted in the past. (The George Clooney vehicle is based on a section of Disneyland that opened in 1955.) Indeed, many of the most anticipated openings slotted for May through August—which is still widely considered Hollywood’s most financially fecund stretch—are reboots or sequels built from the boneyards of Yesterdayland.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s hot outside, and we don’t want to have to think too hard. We just want to see familiar faces doing what they do best—Tom Cruise jumping from great heights while things explode in his wake (Mission: Impossible–Rogue Nation, July 31); Arnold Schwarzenegger as the sexagenarian cyborg still chasing after Sarah Connor (Terminator Genisys, July 1); Channing Tatum gyrating, shirtless, to hip-hop songs (Magic Mike XXL, July 1); and test-tube dinosaurs chomping their way through an A-list cast on the scenic-but-deadly Isla Nublar.
That last filmic fever dream is realized courtesy of Jurassic World (June 12), the fourth installment in a series that’s been toiling in development since 2001. Newly minted matinee idol Chris Pratt stars as a velociraptor handler who must fend off disaster and—I can only hope—warn people to hold on to their butts when the dinos attack. Other frightening species returning to terrorize the masses include the trash-talking teddy bear in Seth McFarlane’s Ted 2 (June 26), and the cast of HBO’s erstwhile bromantic comedy Entourage (June 3), whose continuing Hollywood misadventures will anchor a full-length feature of the same name.
In another not-exactly-maiden voyage, the recreationally challenged Griswold family makes another ill-fated pilgrimage to the Walley World theme park in Vacation (July 29), starring Ed Helms and Leslie Mann as Chevy Chase’s grown-up kids. If your children are too young to appreciate a well-timed rim job joke, Minions (July 10)—an animated spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise—will have to suffice.
RISKY (BOX OFFICE) BUSINESS
Woody Allen’s Irrational Man (July 17) may finally reveal whether or not the iconic director’s alleged off-camera misdeeds will have a lasting impact on his box office mojo. 2014’s Magic in the Moonlight grossed about $20 million less than the previous year’s Blue Jasmine. But then again, Woody turns 80 this year; maybe he’s just tapped out.
Speaking of which, no summer would be complete without a Marvel comic-based contender with a budget as inflated as its Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon likeness. This year, there’s a reboot of the Fantastic Four (Aug. 7), with a young cast of untested indie darlings lead by Whiplash’s Miles Teller. But the bigger buzz has been reserved for the much quirkier (and significantly more diminutive) Ant-Man (July 17), played by Paul Rudd, whose power is, as his name suggests, to become insect-sized, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-style. It’s bizarre and ambitious, especially since Rudd is a newbie at this kind of big-budget headliner role. (Man, if only we could visit Tomorrowland to find out if there’s an Ant-Man 5: Resurrection in our future!)
With no Jason Bourne or James Bond—the latter of whom hasn’t shown up before October since 1989’s License to Kill, but hey, a girl can dream—the only competition for Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt on the stiff upper lipped-spy front is the slightly less compellingly named The Man From U.N.C.L.E (Aug. 14). It’s also based on a 1960s TV show about Cold War espionage, so there’s that. But while the source material may not be familiar, the men behind this Man are. Guy Ritchie, who last helmed Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, directs, and Henry Cavill, a.k.a the highest-grossing Superman of all time, stars as agent Napoleon Solo (no word on any relation to Han).
SISTERS, DOIN’ IT FOR THEMSELVES
Make no mistake: the box office is still largely dominated by sweaty, chiseled vas deferens-owners who are usually too preoccupied with shooting aliens or outwitting foreign spies to make sure that their comely sidekicks pass the Bechdel Test. But female-driven features are gaining in numbers, and breaking important new ground.
Spy (June 5), a CIA spoof starring Melissa McCarthy, cements her status as a comedian/action hero/leading lady triple threat (costars Jude Law and Jason Statham don’t even make the poster). Disney Pixar’s Inside Out (June 19) doubles down on girl power by not only having an Amy Poehler-voiced 11-year-old as its protagonist (the studio’s second female lead in 15 films), but staging most of the action inside her mind, where anthropomorphized emotions such as Disgust, Fear and Sadness bring a young woman’s growing pains to life.
Growth of a more mature and raucous variety is on display in Trainwreck (July 17), the first big-screen leading role for comedian Amy Schumer, whose fearlessly feminist sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, has become something of a viral video factory in its third season. Schumer also wrote the script for Trainwreck, which bodes well for a slyly subversive take on the traditional rom-com (Judd Apatow directs, but that almost seems beside the point given the hype surrounding its star—which, I guess, is my point.)
Even if comedy isn’t your thing, you’ve got no excuse not to revel in the Oscar-winning estrogen on August 7, the release date for both Dark Places—a twisted thriller starring Charlize Theron, adapted from the best-selling novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn—and Ricki and the Flash, written by Diablo Cody, in which Meryl Streep plays an aging, Stevie Nicks-esque musician who reconnects with her estranged daughter … and sings classic rock covers with Rick Springfield! Yessss! Who will high-five me right now? That’s OK; I’ll wait.
A League of Their Own
Some summer flicks defy categorization—unless it’s a category of one.
THE BISECTED BEACH BOYS BIOPIC
Love & Mercy (June 5) stars both Paul Dano and John Cusack—in different decades—as the famously troubled musical genius Brian Wilson.
THE PEDIGREED PUGILIST DRAMA
In Southpaw (July 24), Jake Gyllenhaal is a boxer with nothing left to lose, and Forrest Whitaker is his trainer with a cool-sounding nickname.
THE TRUE CRIME COMEDY
Kristen Wiig and Zach Galifianakis re-create a hilariously doomed 1997 bank heist in Masterminds (Aug. 19), directed by Napoleon Dynamite’s Jared Hess.
THE JOHN GREEN JUGGERNAUT
Following the success of last year’s The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of John Green’s third young adult novel, coming-of-age mystery Paper Towns, hits theaters July 24.
THE THE-ROCK-SINGLE-HANDEDLY-SAVES CALIFORNIA DISASTER EPIC
America’s favorite living wrestler-turned-actor (sorry, Stone Cold Steve Austin), shows the Earth’s crust who’s boss after a catastrophic ‘quake in San Andreas (May 29). –U.L.