NPR's Summer Movie Guide: 27 Films Coming Soon To Theaters
Is it weird to keep asserting that Summer Movie Season starts Memorial Day weekend, when Avengers: Endgame, the ultimate summer movie, and also the year's (the decade's! the century's!) biggest blockbuster, opened last month?
Maybe. Sure. Who cares?
"Summer movie" is a term, after all, that has taken on a negative connotation, as it tends to be deployed by those looking to sniffily dismiss the whole crop of films that come out in the months without an R. See also: "popcorn movies," "comic-book movies."
This year, as every year, there's a lot of genre fare to consume — including an unusually robust crop of biopics. Sure, there are capes and cartoons aplenty; we've listed several below. But the NPR movies team also took care to point you to some of the smaller, quieter, weirder movies coming to screens in the coming months. (We haven't seen 'em yet, in most cases — this is just a list of 27 films that piqued our interest.)
Note: This year's release calendar remains volatile — several premiere dates have shifted and continue to do so. But as of publishing, here's what the schedule looks like.
Aladdin (May 24): Disney's live-action revamps of their beloved '90s animated films proceed apace, though there's some worry that this one may miss a step or two. The promo materials have focused on Will Smith's Genie, which makes sense — he's a hugely charismatic screen presence, even when he's digitally painted a deep cerulean blue. But girls and boys who grew up crushing on the animated Aladdin have expressed dismay at the film's decision to slap a loose, thick shirt under our hero's (Mena Massoud) iconic vest. But they can't screw up those Alan Menken/Howard Ashman songs, right? Right? — Glen Weldon
Booksmart (May 24): Actress Olivia Wilde makes her feature directing debut with this delightful story of two best friends (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who want to use their last night of high school to make sure they don't miss anything. A combination of a wild-night-out comedy and a sweet coming-of-age story about staring down adulthood, ready or not, it's a beautifully observed meditation on friendship. The paradox of permanence and the inevitable disruptions of our closest teenage attachments is rarely so richly understood, and great performances from both leads as well as Billie Lourd and reliable supporting players such as Jason Sudeikis and Jessica Williams make it a standout. — Linda Holmes
Brightburn (May 24): Now that director Zack Snyder's glum take on the Superman mythos is a thing of the past, we're getting a spin on the Man of Steel that's even darker — and much, much bloodier. When the kindly rural couple played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman find an extraterrestrial baby and raise him as their own, they discover the tyke's got powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men: check. But unlike Clark Kent, this one is less about Truth, Justice and the American Way, and more about grisly, superpowered murdering. — Glen Weldon
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31): What's huge, scaly, sometimes incomprehensible and OH DANG IT'S COMING RIGHT AT ME? Why, a Godzilla movie, of course! This one stars Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things in her first big post-Eleven role. She plays the daughter of a monster-hunting scientist (Vera Farmiga), and the two of them get into all kinds of scrapes as Godzilla fights some of his old pals like Mothra and King Ghidorah. You probably know whether you are a Godzilla person or not so much a Godzilla person, but there's something to be said for a summer monster movie, and this one is pretty hotly anticipated. — Linda Holmes
Rocketman (May 31): A biopic about a flamboyant queer rock icon of the '70s and '80s: What could possibly go wrong? While critics drubbed last year's Bohemian Rhapsody, it was a phenomenal international hit, fueled by a widespread cultural affection for the songs of Queen. The bones of Rocketman seem very similar — with important, and encouraging, differences. Star Taron Egerton will be singing, not lip-syncing. The film will reportedly engage Elton John's homosexuality directly and openly. And while Egerton will wear variations of John's hilariously tall platform shoes, his teeth ... will be his own. — Glen Weldon
Dark Phoenix (June 7): This is among the last X-Men films produced by 20th Century Fox before the whole gang heads to Marvel/Disney, and you can't say they're not taking a big swing. The Dark Phoenix Saga, which sees Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) play unwilling host to a destructive cosmic force, is the single most beloved X-Men tale of all time. It's one that Bryan Singer tried to tell in his original X-Men trilogy — and seriously biffed it. The trailers aren't doing this film any favors, full as they are of portentous dialogue, operatically anguished expressions and telegraphed plot beats. At least we get to see Hot Magneto (Michael Fassbender) one last time. — Glen Weldon
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (June 7): Gorgeously shot and arresting from its opening moments, this offbeat dramedy about gentrification stars Jimmie Fails as a man whose childhood memories have brought him back to the historically black Fillmore district. Camping out in his best friend's place, he dreams of reclaiming the house where he grew up — a two-story Victorian mansion built by his grandfather. A Sundance Film Festival sensation, the film won first-timer Joe Talbot the festival's directing prize. — Bob Mondello
Late Night (June 7): Mindy Kaling wrote this story of a woman (whom Kaling plays) brought on as the "diversity hire" at a late-night show hosted by another woman (Emma Thompson) who's getting hints that she might be past her prime. Reviews out of the Sundance Film Festival were solid if not quite ecstatic, but the number of comedies this year that will engage race at all, let alone racism in writers' rooms, is bound to be tiny. Kaling and Thompson alone make this a strong candidate for a trip to enjoy some popcorn and air conditioning with a friend, and every summer season needs an upbeat comedy with a killer cast. — Linda Holmes
Pavarotti (June 7): An adoring documentary in which director Ron Howard (did we know he was an opera buff?) sings the praises of Luciano Pavarotti, the most broadly popular operatic tenor of his era. There's the requisite footage of the budding star making good, the surprising assertion that he suffered from stage fright, an explanation for that handkerchief he always held in his left hand when singing concerts and lots of adulation about the philanthropic work that led him to partner with stars from Bono to Stevie Wonder. — Bob Mondello
The Dead Don't Die (June 14): Historically, Jim Jarmusch has been a director of anti-spectacle. He has busted no blocks in his time and has seemed blissfully happy to turn out small, charming, shaggily plotted, character-driven films about the kind of people the wider world ignores. That he's about to dive headfirst into the turbid waters of genre filmmaking with a zombie comedy seems puzzling, at first — but then you remember he has done a Western and a vampire film already, and then you see the cast list. Jarmusch regulars Tom Waits, Tilda Swinton, RZA and Bill Murray join Jarmusch newbies like Selena Gomez (and many, many more) in what promises to be a pleasantly shambling story about shambling ghouls. — Glen Weldon
Men In Black: International (June 14): There's no reason to believe that the only thing Men In Black: International will have going for it is the sizzling Chris Hemsworth-Tessa Thompson chemistry that they've already shown off in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (For one thing, it will also have the fact that they both look unreasonably great in suits.) The film also has a blockbuster legacy. Years after the Will Smith-Tommy Lee Jones movies that set up the Men In Black organization and its regulation of alien life on Earth, Hemsworth and Thompson are the new agents on the job, and they're still wearing shades, fighting beasties and getting things done. — Linda Holmes
Paris Is Burning (June 14): This iconic 1991 documentary sashayed so RuPaul's Drag Race could chantay. It werked so Pose could ... pose. Director Jennie Livingston got inside the black and Latinx ball culture of 1980s Manhattan, letting trans women and drag queens speak their unglamorous truth to her camera — and reveal their arrant fabulousness on the ballroom floor. Livingston has supervised a digital restoration of the film, which demands to be seen on a big screen in all its gorgeous glory. — Glen Weldon
Toy Story 4 (June 21): Bonnie's favorite toy, Forky, a spork she decorated herself, has run away, and Woody and Buzz have to ... oh, you don't really need to know anything else, do you? After that bleary-eyed ending to TS3, we're all on board with whatever Pixar wants to do this time, right? All the same voices return, plus some new ones, including Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) as Forky. — Bob Mondello
Yesterday (June 28): Imagine there's no Beatles. No White Album, no Sgt. Pepper's, no "I Want to Hold Your Hand." That's the world in which a wannabe songwriter played by Himesh Patel (EastEnders) wakes up one day, following a gigantic electrical storm that leaves him the only human who remembers the Fab Four. (You probably shouldn't ask too many technical questions.) Now, imagine he remembers their songs and lyrics because he has been singing cover versions in pubs, trying to catch a break. And imagine such a premise helmed by writer Richard Curtis (Notting Hill) and director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) — with a little help from their friends. — Bob Mondello
Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 2): Marvel has given mixed signals about whether this film starts a new "phase" for the Marvel Cinematic Universe or if it belongs to the previous one, but who cares? It's led by the preternaturally charming Tom Holland as Peter Parker, who, having helped save the world (spoiler!) in Avengers: Endgame, is now looking to take a European vacation. Said plans get interrupted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, who — in the comics at least — is Spidey's most goofy, most outré, most over-the-top, most wears-a-fishbowl-on-his-dang-head supervillain. — Glen Weldon
Midsommar (July 3): Last year's Hereditary left viewers shaken — and reevaluating their familial bonds. Now writer-director Ari Aster follows up that dark and moodily terrifying tale with a bright, sunlit film that promises to get even creepier. A group of Americans visits a remote and bucolic Swedish village just in time for its midsummer festival, an event involving bizarre rituals in brilliant meadows. Think The Wicker Man, but replace tweed and salt spray with crisp white robes and wildflowers. — Glen Weldon
The Art of Self-Defense (July 12): In what struck SXSW audiences as a darkly sinister comedy about toxic masculinity and social conditioning, Jesse Eisenberg plays a painfully shy accountant who is maybe the least macho man who has ever signed up for karate classes. He is afraid of the dark, his own shadow, his clients and especially other men. They intimidate him. "I want to be what intimidates me," he tells the sensei. But as he gains skills and confidence, he starts to realize something strange is going on at the dojo. Might be the summer's cult comedy. — Bob Mondello
The Farewell (July 12): Awkwafina had scene-stealing comic turns in Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, but nothing she did there will prepare you for the fierce, soulful sensitivity she brings to the central role in Lulu Wang's bittersweet charmer (based on a This American Life story) about a Chinese family that decides not to tell their beloved grandmother, Nai Nai, that she's dying of lung cancer. In Beijing this is viewed as a kindness — a taking-on of the weight of the illness — but to Awkwafina's increasingly indignant Billi, it just feels like lying. Terrific ensemble dramedy. — Bob Mondello
Sword of Trust (July 12): Lynn Shelton's loose, loopy and mostly unscripted comedy centers on the titular relic — grandpa's bequest of a sword he thought was proof that the Confederacy won the Civil War. At the town pawnshop, his granddaughter discovers gramps wasn't alone in his delusion; and upon the arrival of a passel of conspiracy theorists, high jinks and general madness ensue. The cast is comprised of improv-savvy comics — Marc Maron, Jon Bass, Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins and Dan Bakkedahl — and they sure know how to sell a shaggy-dog story. — Bob Mondello
Stuber (July 12): Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver and Vic (Dave Bautista) his passenger, a detective who's hot on the trail of brutal drug dealers, in what looks like an uber-violent action comedy. Stu's been on the receiving end of too many racist, one-star reviews to say "no" to anything, but Vic's just had Lasik surgery and can barely see. The producers seem to be thinking 48 Hours meets Mr. Magoo and stressed at their SXSW screening that the film was a work-in-progress. — Bob Mondello
The Lion King (July 19): From the footage that has been released, The Lion King looks like a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the animated favorite, this time with super-realistic computer animation. The voice cast – including Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Oliver, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner and one Beyoncé Knowles — has generated a lot of excitement. But as Disney continues churning out live-action (or here, live-action-ish) remakes of its successful animated musicals, it's bound to run out of luck at some point. Beyoncé makes it seem less likely it will happen here, but the appetite for this is probably not unlimited. Nevertheless, the original The Lion King is quite beloved, and they've still got James Earl Jones on board. — Linda Holmes
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (July 26): Quentin Tarantino's period piece stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio as a TV actor and his stuntman making the rounds in a rapidly changing Hollywood. As the sun sets on the town's golden age, the film re-creates the meticulous details of the era, rebuilding the facades of Hollywood Boulevard circa 1969 down to the mailbox and featuring a cast of characters that includes Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee. — Nina Gregory
Brian Banks (Aug. 9): The true story of an All-American high school football star (played by Aldis Hodge) who committed to USC, then got railroaded into a decade in prison/on probation for a crime he didn't commit. After his release, with the help of the California Innocence Project, he made a bid to reclaim his life — and to play in the NFL. A definite change of pace for director Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor). — Bob Mondello
The Kitchen (Aug. 9): Based on a pleasantly pulpy comic-book series, The Kitchen is a gritty mafia tale set in midtown Manhattan at the height of its 1970s steaminess. A can't-miss cast — Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish — plays women who take over their husbands' mob duties when the men get sent to prison. The twist is that the women are way better at it: more ruthless, more deadly, more efficient. The comic is tough-minded and tightly plotted; here's hoping the film captures its essence. — Glen Weldon
Blinded by the Light (Aug. 14): An obsession with Bruce Springsteen did little to make a high school-age Sarfraz Manzoor cool in Margaret Thatcher's England. But when he later wrote a memoir about it, and Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha pitched a movie treatment, and The Boss said "yes" to using his music ... well, the adult Manzoor was pretty ecstatic. British critics and audiences have been as well. — Bob Mondello
Good Boys (Aug. 16): Seth Rogen produced what amounts to a Superbad for sixth-graders. Three foul-mouthed, innocent (but trying not to be) 12-year-olds are intrigued by sex, drugs and alcohol — and anxious to make it through a day's worth of mortifying adventures so they can attend a party. There, they'll get a chance to score their first kiss. — Bob Mondello
Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Aug. 16): Maria Semple's 2012 comic novel has a twisty and complicated premise: Basically, Bernadette is a wife and mother who vanishes, and her teenage daughter, Bee, tries to reconstruct what happened. Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Boyhood) might not seem like the most obvious writer-director for the adaptation, but the cast — Cate Blanchett, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer — seems exquisitely assembled. Given the hit that the novel was, it's surprising it took this long to come to the screen, but it's a hard story to wrap your head around even on paper, and it's fascinating to contemplate what it might look like on film. — Linda Holmes
Patrick Jarenwattananon and Nina Gregory produced and edited this story.
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