The box office gets crowded this summer, but we’ll help you figure out which movies to see, and which ones to skip.
Look up in the sky: It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, but a parade of superheroes, aliens, and foul-mouthed females parading onto screens this summer. Here, our guide to your best bets.
Superhero of the Month: Thor (May 6)
Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel
What an embarrassment: The mighty warrior Thor is cast down from his realm in Asgard to the pedestrian Earth. Sure, this is another one of those superhero movies Marvel is churning out in advance of its big Avengers movie (where Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, and others all team up), but it has a surprisingly tony pedigree: it’s directed by Shakespeare aficionado Kenneth Branagh and stars recent Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman as the love interest.
Bridesmaids (May 13)
Photo by Suzanne Hanover. © 2011 Universal Studios
What is it about bridal parties that just bring out the worst in people? Does the taffeta and tulle cut off oxygen to the brain? Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig wrote and stars in this movie, about a clueless maid-of-honor trying to wrangle her best friend’s bridal party, as a female response to all those male-centric Judd Apatow comedies like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (Apatow also produced this one.) They may look sweet in their silk dresses, but there’s a blue streak underneath (and we’re not just talking garters).
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20)
Photo by Peter Mountain ©Disney Enterprises, Inc
You didn’t think you’d seen the last of Jack Sparrow, did you? (Excuse us, that’s Captain Jack Sparrow.) The crew from Pirates of the Caribbean returns, only this time they have to contend with nefarious pirate Blackbeard (played by Deadwood’s Ian McShane). The scurvy dogs are on the hunt for the Fountain of Youth, so we hope they’ll be satisfied with finding a sense of adventure and camaraderie instead.
The Tree of Life (May 27)
Photo by Merie Wallace
Director Terrence Malick is known for his dreamy, impressionistic movies, and his filmmaking process is often just as languidly paced. (His last movie was 2005’s The New World.) Tree of Life is no exception, and he applies that reflective style onto a movie about growing up during the 1950s and the loss of childhood innocence. Soak it in while you can, because you never know if or when you’ll get another Malick movie—there were 20 years between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line.
Also Consider: Will Ferrell stretches his acting muscles from comedy to dramedy in Everything Must Go (5/6), a film based on a Raymond Carver short story. An Invisible Sign (5/6) may be about a hapless math teacher, but if you get bored during lectures you can always check out the scenery—parts of it were filmed in Westchester. Far outside of Westchester, Woody Allen continues his streak of making movies abroad with Midnight in Paris (5/20). Finally, dudes can pick their preferred sequel: if they’re over a certain age, they’ll see The Hangover Part II (5/27), and if they’re below a certain age, they’ll be more likely to see Kung Fu Panda 2 (5/27).
Superhero of the Month:
Green Lantern (June 17)
Photo by Francois Duhamel. TM & © DC Comics
No, not the Green Hornet. (His movie came out in January). No, not the Green Arrow. (His movie won’t be out this year, and it won’t have “Green Arrow” in the title at all to avoid this kind of confusion.) This is the Green Lantern—you know, the one with the ring that gives him all his superpowers. What the Green Lantern has over other superheroes is that he’s a part of a brotherhood of do-gooders across the universe, so he gets to interact with cool-looking heroic aliens from other planets.
X-Men: First Class (June 3)
The X-Men have always been dear to our hearts, because they planted their HQ— Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters—right here in Westchester. This movie hearkens back to the first incarnation of the school and its very first mutant students. The rise of the school coincides with the Cuban Missile crisis, so the movie tackles Cold War-era tensions alongside the conflicts between X-Men and their archenemies.
Super 8 (June 10)
Nothing has come along to challenge Steven Spielberg’s E.T.’s children-and-alien adventure-movie supremacy, so Spielberg had to executive-produce a successor himself. Super 8 takes place in 1979, when a bunch of children fooling around with a Super 8 video camera accidentally record the escape of a not-too-pleased alien. And, since it’s directed by Lost and Cloverfield creator J.J. Abrams, the rest of the plot details are shrouded in mystery. (No enigmatic islands this time, we promise.)
Bad Teacher (June 17)
In another dig at male-centered slacker comedies, Cameron Diaz gets a piece of foul-mouthed, low-ambition fun. Diaz plays a coasting junior-high teacher in search of a sugar daddy. And she has good taste, too, because she sets her eyes on a substitute played by a geeked-out Justin Timberlake.
Also Consider: If Bad Teacher doesn’t make you quit school, there’s Sundance fave Homework (6/17), where Freddie Highmore plays a teen who makes it through school without really putting pen to paper. Mr. Popper’s Penguins is often a favorite children’s book assigned in school, and Jim Carrey stars in the big-screen adaptation (alongside some loveable penguins). Or, you can escape to Tokyo, where Cars 2 (6/24) pits Lightning McQueen against some globe-trotting competition and gets into some international intrigue. (Think of it as Cars 2: Tokyo Drift.)
Superhero of the Month:
Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22)
Captain America is a superhero in that he has super strength and speed, but he still can only do things that humans can do. (No flying, no regeneration, no invisibility, no godlike powers, and no talking to fish.) All around, he’s a more accessible comic-book character, and this film shows his origins as a wannabe WWII soldier. Perhaps what’s most relatable about him is his youthful ideals.
Larry Crowne (July 1)
You thought college was great—but would you go back now if you could? Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks, has to—after he loses his job, he enrolls in community college and falls for one of his teachers. For those looking for a respite from 3D, special effects, explosions, and superpowers, this one is a good bet.
One Day (July 8)
Everyone has yearly traditions, perhaps Memorial Day BBQs or holiday dinners with family. The characters in this film have a tradition of their own: they visit each other on the anniversary of their first hookup every year. And, since British romantic comedies are delightfully twee, that one day happens to fall on St. Swithin’s Day. The film was adapted from David Nicholls’ novel, and it stars Love and Other Drugs’ Anne Hathaway and Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess.
Cowboys & Aliens (July 29)
The title says it all. There are cowboys. They cross paths with aliens. It’s sci-fi mixed with the Wild West, and Han Solo himself—excuse us, we mean Harrison Ford—is in charge of saving Earth from invasion. It sounds just like our kind of hootenanny.
Also Consider: The only thing that trumps cowboys and aliens on the summer-movie spectrum is a brigade of awesome robots, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (7/1) can get you your fix. If you’ve been too cooped up inside your office to see any movies, live vicariously through the stars of Horrible Bosses (7/8), who hatch a plan to murder their, well, horrible bosses. Speaking of offices, if you can’t fathom what Steve Carell will do outside of The Office, try his new movie Crazy, Stupid, Love (7/29), directed by the team that did I Love You, Phillip Morris last year. Clutch your tissues: the Harry Potter saga will finally come to close forever with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (7/15). If you need something kinder and gentler to get you over the loss of Harry Potter, Disney is releasing a new feature-length installment in the life of Winnie the Pooh (7/15).
Consider in August: There are lots of slackers in August. With The Sitter (8/5), Your Highness’s David Gordon Green directs Jonah Hill in an Adventures in Babysitting-style tale of childcare gone awry. Then, one week later, 30 Minutes or Less finds The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg and Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride as bank robbers who kidnap a pizza delivery boy and force him to help them rob a bank before his delivery deadline. For entertainment that’s a little bit more pulse-pounding, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (8/12) will scare you with its tale of creepy creatures living in the walls, and Conan the Barbarian flexes his muscles all across the continent of Hyboria.
Note: Studios are notoriously twitchy about film release dates, and some of these may have “adjusted” after press time. Check your listings.