Will this be the summer that all your favorite icons reach their true potential for greatness on the big screen? Or will all your favorite characters be stuck in generic tentpole films about angst and terrorism? We'll find out soon! Here's the complete guide to this summer's science fiction, fantasy and comic book films.
Top image: Pacific Rim.
Iron Man 3 (May 3)
Tony Stark's saved the world... but now he's facing a merciless enemy who wants to tear down Tony's world. The Mandarin is mysterious, relentless and media-savvy, and meanwhile, Tony's also faced with the Extremis virus. Early buzz suggests this film is as good as the first Iron Man movie, and everything we've seen in the trailers looks fantastic.
Kiss of the Damned (May 3)
John Cassavetes' daughter Xan Cassavetes makes her directorial debut with this sexy vampire movie, in which a young screenwriter (Milo Ventimiglia) falls in love with a beautiful vampire (Josephine de la Baume) — but her sister turns out to be trouble. This film screened at SXSW and garnered mostly pretty positive reviews, praising its stylish "Eurotrash" direction and its homage to 1970s gothic horror films. This could be the summer that vampire movies become interesting again.
Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)
After a four-year wait, J.J. Abrams' revamped Star Trek is back. And this time, instead of facing a bald tattooed Romulan, Kirk and his crew face a real monologuing supervillain, played by Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch. He's unleashing acts of terror on San Francisco and London, and Kirk is breaking the rules to stop him. The starship carnage we've witnessed in the trailers looks truly insane, and we're pumped for the Cumberbatch/Klingon smackdown. On the other hand, it's a bad sign they're able to market this to foreign audiences by emphasizing that it mostly takes place on Earth, and downplaying the "Star Trek-iness" of it.
Epic (May 24)
Basically, this is an epic fantasy animated film, with Beyoncé Knowles as the fairytale queen and Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz as the main villain. All the images we've seen from this film look gorgeous (and we'll be featuring some exclusive concept art later today.) Epic is directed by Ice Age/Robots helmer Chris Wedge, who says it's more like Star Wars than Avatar or Ferngully. It's based on a children's book by William Joyce, whose work also gave us last year's underrated Rise of the Guardians. And this, too, looks like an animated film that won't talk down to the kiddies. Let's hope, anyway.
The Purge (May 31)
And now, a contrived dystopia. In a future United States, prison crowding and overpopulation have gotten so bad that once a year, we have a day where everything is legal. Murder, looting, vandalism, pirating movies, everything. Ethan Hawke plays a family man who's trying to keep his family safe inside a gated community during this annual bacchanal, while everybody wonders who exactly thought a day of officially sanctioned mass murder was a good idea. (Oh, and Lena Headey is his wife. Yay!)
Now You See Me (May 31)
A team of illusionists pulls off impossible heists in the middle of their magic shows — and then distributes the proceeds to the audience. We were sort of thinking this was just another movie about stage magicians doing their thing, like Burt Wonderstone — but the trailer shows what appears to be a weird teleportation machine and stuff. And it looks surprisingly fun, thanks to Dark Knight stalwarts like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman bouncing off each other. Thanks to Collex and Trobing for bringing this up!
After Earth (June 7)
Will Smith and his son Jaden star in this film in which humanity has abandoned the Earth — just like in Oblivion. And a father and son crash-land on the planet and have to survive after the father gets wounded. This film is directed and co-written by M. Night Shyamalan, so you have to hope that the legendary control freak Will Smith was able to keep Shyamalan from going off the rails. Smith says there's no twist ending, but rather a powerful conclusion that relies on a father's love for his son. Here's an excerpt from the official prequel novel.
Rapture-Palooza (June 7)
The first of three apocalyptic comedies this summer, and the only one with a female lead. Anna Kendrick is Left Behind after the Rapture, and finds that a world of talking locusts and rains of blood is not as much fun as it sounds — and that's before she learns that the Antichrist (Craig Robinson) wants to marry her. In order to survive, she's going to recruit and lead an army of zombies. Honestly, there's nothing in that plot description that doesn't fill me with glee. This could be a surprise contender.
This Is The End (June 12)
And then there's the second apocalyptic comedy, which has a very different gimmick — this time around, James Franco, Seth Rogen and various other stars play themselves. They're at a party at Franco's house when the apocalypse happens, and they're forced to go to extreme ends to survive. We saw some clips at Wondercon, including a bit where Jonah Hill gets exorcised — honestly, it all depends on how much you've enjoyed Rogen and Hill's recent stuff. If you like Seth Rogen generally, you'll like this film. (Here's our exclusive interview with Rogen and co-writer/director Danny Goldberg.)
The Man of Steel (June 14)
Can some of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight magic rub off on Superman? Nolan produced this film and his co-writer David S. Goyer wrote it, while Watchmen's Zack Snyder directed. The result is apparently a more "realistic" take on Kal-El, which tries to address how humans would actually react if a near-godlike alien appeared among us. Would we hate him? Fear him? Or embrace him? Would it make things better or worse if a few of Kal-El's fellow super-aliens turned up and started destroying our cities? The most recent trailer shows some good superpowered slugfests, so let's hope they can outweigh some of the "identity crisis" angst.
Monsters University (June 21)
Did we need a prequel to Monsters, Inc. explaining how Sully and Mike came to be professional child-scarers? No, we did not. But the good news is, the actual result is really good, and lots of fun. We saw the whole thing at CinemaCon and were totally swept away by the PG-rated Animal House/Revenge of the Nerds-inspired fun. Just the fact that Nathan Fillion voices an evil monster jock, and Helen Mirren is the dean... we're so in.
World War Z (June 21)
As long as you don't think of this as an adaptation of Max Brooks' acclaimed novel about a zombie holocaust, you stand a chance of enjoying it. They paid for the name and then made an unrelated movie. In this one, Brad Pitt is a heroic disease expert who travels around the world trying to stop the zombie plague before it's too late — and by all accounts, they shot a version that was more political and thoughtful before deciding to retool it into just a straight-up action movie. At least Cabin in the Woods maestro Drew Goddard worked on the revamped ending. We saw some footage at CinemaCon which blew our heads off with its non-stop brutal action.
Byzantium (June 28)
As we said, this could be the summer that vampire movies become art films again — and here's Exhibit B, from director Neil Jordan, returning to vamps for the first time since Interview With a Vampire. In this film, Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton are a mother-daughter vampire duo who survive partly on sex work and partly on sheer bloody-mindedness. Everything we've seen looks gorgeously moody, and let's hope this is a return to form for Jordan.
White House Down (June 28)
Only mentioning this, once again, because it's genre MVP Roland Emmerich, and I can't believe he won't throw in some super-weapons or science-fictional weirdness of some sort. Basically, this is another movie where terrorists take over the White House and take the President (Jamie Foxx) captive, and only Channing Tatum can flex his abs, I mean save the President. (This film isn't included in the "34 films" count above, since it's only barely genre.)
Despicable Me 2 (July 3)
We loved the first Despicable Me like blazes — the story of a supervillain (Steve Carell) who winds up adopting three little girls, and becomes sort of a good guy. And it looks like all the same people are involved in making this sequel, which takes Gru to his next logical destination: Becoming a kinda-sorta superhero. He's recruited by the Anti-Villain League to take down a particularly nasty bad guy and save the world. Let's hope this is one of those sequels that builds on the original instead of cannibalizing.
The Lone Ranger (July 3)
The director and star of Pirates of the Caribbean reunite for this supernatural cowboy movie, which looks remarkably ill-advised but you never know. Johnny Depp decided to play Tonto with a bird on his head, because he saw some concept art where a bird is flying over Tonto's head and he either misunderstood or thought it should be a permanent fixture. This film's only hope is to be so campy, it becomes an insane comedy — witness Helena Bonham Carter's tattooed cannon leg.
Hammer of the Gods (July 5)
This film also isn't counted in the headline's "34 movies" count, since I'm not sure if it has any fantastical elements at all. But it's a historical epic in which a young Viking named Steinar (Charlie Bewley) goes on a perilous quest to find his exiled brother. Including this since I'm not sure how literal the "Gods" in the movie's title are, plus it sounds like a movie version of the History Channel's Vikings, and I figured people might want to know about it.
Pacific Rim (July 12)
Our most anticipated tentpole movie of the summer doesn't feature Iron Man, Captain Kirk or Superman — and isn't even based on any pre-existing characters. Director Guillermo del Toro has basically gone completely bonkers to create the most insane scenes of giant monsters fighting giant mechas you could possibly imagine — and the results look astounding. Early reports from screenings say this is the best summer popcorn movie in years, but don't get your hopes too high or anything.
V/H/S/ 2 (July 12)
Remember the first installment in this horror anthology series? In a nutshell, a group of friends break into an old man's house and find a bunch of video tapes, depicting terrible things — and each of those tapes is a short horror film, directed by a different horror auteur. In the sequel, two private investigators break into the home of a missing student, and once again find a bunch of tapes. This film is also coming to VOD in early June.
Crystal Fairy (July 12)
We're suckers for films about strange drugs and hallucinogenic adventures — so fingers crossed for this Chilean film. Michael Cera stars as an obnoxious twentysomething American who's traveling in Chile and making a giant mess. Until he and his friends take a road trip to find a "legendary shamanistic hallucinogen" called the San Pedro cactus. Cera invites a "free spirit" named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) to come along, and when they actually ingest the cactus, they have a hallucinatory vision of truth. This film showed at Sundance, and got mostly positive reviews. Including this because it's about a fictional drug, and it sounds like it gets pretty surreal.
R.I.P.D. (July 19)
Based on a comic book, this film stars Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges as two zombie members of the Rest in Peace Division, keeping the world safe from the monstrous "deados." Our first impression was that Jeff Bridges completely runs away with this movie, which is by no means a bad thing. See for yourself. A lot of the humor comes from the fact that ordinary humans see Reynolds as a small Asian man, and Bridges as a Victoria's Secret model.
RED 2 (July 19)
We really enjoyed the first RED, based loosely on the comic book by Warren Ellis, and this second film has the gang searching the world for a Weapon of Mass Destruction and a mysterious eccentric physicist, played by Anthony Hopkins. If there's any scenes of Helen Mirren shooting everything in sight, then we're basically fully on board.
The Conjuring (July 19)
James Wan (Saw, Insidious) is once again trying to do something new in horror — a 1970s period piece, based on a true story. Ed and Lorraine Warren, the famous paranormal investigators who looked into the Amityville haunting also looked into a farmhouse that was terrorized by a witch's curse. The footage we saw at Wondercon made us jump out of our seats, and the first trailer looks pretty intense as well. A lot probably depends on how interested you are in period horror films, though.
Turbo (July 17)
Another animated film with a zany concept — Ryan Reynolds voices an ordinary garden snail who dreams of being a race-car driver. And then one day, a freak accident involving nitrous oxide during a street race gives Turbo superpowers — including "headlight" eyes and superspeed. Now he's racing for reals. This is the first film from director David Soren, who worked as a storyboard artist on Madagascar and Shrek.
The Act of Killing (July 19)
And here's another film which isn't included in the "34" count above — but it looks insanely surreal and weird. Basically, in a nutshell, the makers of this documentary track down some former members of death squads who are treated as heroes for their role in killing communists in Indonesia. And in this film, these former death-squad members reenact their greatest real-life kills, only in the style of Hollywood movies. It's like the weirdest surreal dystopia you've ever heard of, except it's a documentary. Executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. The WTF levels are high, but it's the perfect thing for the middle of the summer tentpole season.
The Wolverine (July 26)
Pretty much everybody seems to accept that the first Wolverine solo movie was a dud, albeit a highly lucrative one. This time around, they're adapting one of the most popular stories from the comics — in which Logan goes to Japan and learns the ways of the Samurai, while fighting ninjas. Except that there's also a storyline where a Japanese businessman wants to "cure" Logan's immortality and make him mortal, judging from the trailer. This film takes place after X-Men 3, and apparently Jean Grey's death hangs heavily over Wolverine's head.
Stranded (July 26)
Christian Slater stars in this super low-budget movie about a team of U.S. astronauts who get stranded on the Moon — and that's not their biggest problem. There's a weird, shape-shifting creature waiting for them, out there in the craters. Yep, it's a remake of Apollo 18. And Slater really is his own worst enemy. But you have to love the tagline: "Germinate. Contaminate. Annihilate..."
The Smurfs 2 (July 31)
The first Smurfs movie was kind of dreadful. And this new film doesn't have a terribly promising plot — Gargamel kidnaps Smurfette and also makes his own freakish albino Smurfs called the Naughties, who are sort of punk rock or something. Smurfette is torn between her birth family and her new "family," who are trying to make her into more of a rebel. Once again, Neil Patrick Harris trudges through the melting landscape, with a game face.
Cockneys Vs. Zombies (August 2)
This British comedy is just what it sounds like — some salt-of-the-Earth Londoners, born within the sound of Bow Bells, dig up some zombies in a building site. And soon, they're having to fight for their life in the face of a zombie apocalypse. This film came out a year ago in the U.K., and all the reviews suggest it's a fun romp that you must not, under any circumstances, compare to Shaun of the Dead. The first trailer is definitely a lot of fun.
300: Rise of an Empire (August 2)
If you're not at critical levels of Frank Miller nausea already, then you might enjoy this prequel to the surprisingly good comic adaptation 300. Based on Miller's graphic novel Xerxes, this one doesn't have Leonidas or anyone yelling "This is Sparta" or any of that — but it has the wannabe god Xerxes, and some other Greek guy fighting him, and Eva Green as Artemesia. Or you could just stare at the inevitable GIFs of half-naked shouting a few months later.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Aug. 7)
The first Percy Jackson movie was sort of a guilty pleasure, thanks to Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan and various other people giving it their campy best as various mythological beasties. This time around, the cast includes Anthony Head as the centaur Chiron, Nathan Fillion as Hermes and Sean Bean as Zeus. The first trailer looked cute, and there is a high likelihood that this film will be just as worthy of stoned giggle-watching as the first.
Elysium (August 9)
Neill Blomkamp (District 9) returns with another brutal political allegory. This time, the rich and ruthless live in an orbital paradise called Elysium, while everybody else lives in the ruins of Earth. Matt Damon plays an ordinary stiff who desperately needs to get to Elysium for cutting-edge medical care — so he gets fitted with a cyborg harness that allows him to fight tons of robots. Blomkamp told us the film isn't as satirical as District 9, but it's still very, very dark. And the first trailer looked amazing.
Kick-Ass 2 (Aug. 16)
Along with Super, Kick-Ass was the most fun deconstruction of superhero tropes, without superpowers, in recent years. And now, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl are back, along with a whole shit-ton of other superheroes and supervillains, with original director Matthew Vaughn just producing this time around. The trailers looked fun, but honestly the first clip makes it look as though this film is trying too hard to force the humor. The part we're most excited about? Seeing the psychotic killer Hit-Girl trying to navigate an ordinary high school.
The Colony (Aug. 23)
Another off-kilter post-apocalyptic film — this time, there's been an ice age caused by a foolish attempt to fix global warming. And the last remnants of humanity are stuck in small, isolated underground settlements. When one of them breaks contact, the leader of another settlement (Laurence Fishburne) leads an expedition to investigate — and what he finds is not fun. The first trailer looks suitably intense, and we're always happy to watch Fishburne fighting mutants or whatever.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Aug. 23)
Cassandra Clare's popular book series comes to the big screen, in what everybody is hoping is the first installment in a Harry Potter-esque series. Lily Collins is Clary, a girl who can see supernatural stuff that most other people can't — and then she discovers she's actually a "Shadowhunter," part of a secret supernatural gang. There are demons, vampires and werewolves, and love triangles, and all that good stuff. Check out the first trailer here. If "Twilight meets Harry Potter" sounds like your cup of tea, then drink up! Oh, and Lena Headey's in this one, as well.
The World's End (August 23)
This is the long-awaited third collaboration between co-writers/stars Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright, after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Basically, Pegg's character is having a midlife crisis and wants his four childhood friends to go on an epic pub crawl with him — but unfortunately the apocalypse happens, and they're stuck in a struggle for the future of humanity. It's the third apocalyptic comedy of the summer, but probably the one that the most people actually care about.
Random (August 30)
This film was originally called Kristy, and then Satanic, and now Random. Almost as if they had a random title generator, which broke down at some point, so they just chose "Random" at random. In any case, this is a horror film that's being described as similar to Rosemary's Baby, in which Ashley Greene is a goth leader of a gang who target a nice student who's left alone on campus during the Thanksgiving break — and then something horrible starts stalking them. Wouldn't count on this film to make this release date.
Also, before anybody mentions it, there's no release date for Snowpiercer, the post-apocalyptic train movie starring Chris Evans. Seems unlikely to come out this summer, but you never know.