It’s become a seasonal tradition to complain that summer movies arrive earlier every year. The kids are still in school, Memorial Day is months away, it’s still 50 degrees outside, and yet … there’s a freaking Transformers movie already. Summer movie season is the most lucrative time of the film calendar, the time when you start hearing words like “tentpole” on the Today show. But is it really getting earlier every year?
Here are the release dates for the first big “summer” movie—as in, the first much-anticipated, action-packed, effects-laden blockbuster that actually feels like an event—from the the last five years.
- 2015: April 3, Furious 7.
- 2014: April 4, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- 2013: May 3, Iron Man 3
- 2012: March 23, The Hunger Games
- 2011: April 29, Fast Five
This year, you can either say that the summer movie season kicks off May 6 with Captain America: Civil War, or that it already began on March 25 with Batman v. Superman. (Or, for that matter, February 12 with Deadpool, which remains the highest grossing movie of 2016.)
The point is that the type of film we all think of as a “summer movie” is released year-round now: It’s summer in February, it’s summer in September, it’s summer in December. The three highest grossing movies of all time—Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar, and Titanic—are all December releases. We live in a summer movie world now.
That said, summer is still when the studios like to bring out their biggest guns: The next three highest grossing movies, after all, are summer movies from the last seven years (Jurassic World, Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight). And with those big blockbusters come plenty of alternative independent films; even people who don’t like explosions and superheroes need air conditioning too.
So here are the 15 summer movies we’re most looking forward to. (For our purposes, the season begins next weekend with Captain America: Civil War.) Note that some of these films have screened at film festivals but are just now getting released; many will in fact debut at the Cannes Film Festival in two weeks.
The Lobster (May 13)
Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made two of the weirdest, most compelling international art hits of the last half-decade, Alps and the glorious, terrifying Dogtooth. The Lobster is his first English-speaking film, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as two people in the “not-so-distant future” who live in a society where single people, if they do not find a mate in 45 days, are turned into animals. That’s the sort of absurd idea that a director like Lanthimos can run wild with, and it won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Distributor problems led to the delay in release stateside, but it’s finally here, a week after Captain America, as the Fates foretold.
The Nice Guys (May 20)
The king of the 1980s buddy-cop movie, writer-director Shane Black crafted the screenplays for Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout before falling into a slump, rebounding impressively in recent years with the cult hit Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and then directing and co-writing Iron Man 3. Now, he’s back with a period crime comedy that stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as mismatched men investigating a missing-person case in 1977 Los Angeles. Anyone who suffered through Crowe’s unfortunate recent turn on Saturday Night Live might be worried—the Oscar-winner was awfully stiff—but thankfully he seems to be the badass straight man opposite Gosling’s more temperamental private eye. The Nice Guys looks like a stylish, violent hoot from the filmmaker most capable of delivering the goods.
Weiner (May 20)
Anthony Weiner, the former congressman and New York mayoral candidate, is the star of this documentary, featuring unprecedented access to both him and Huma Abedin before, during, and after his insane sexting scandal. This was one of the seedier, and stranger, “scandals” of the Internet age, destroying what many considered to be an extremely promising career. What exactly was that all about?
X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)
Not that long ago, director Bryan Singer walked away from the X-Men, turning his attention to another comic book franchise with Superman Returns. But he’s back with the series that made him a blockbuster filmmaker and, if 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was any indication, he’s only become more confident in the interim. This summer’s X-Men: Apocalypse expands its already impressive cast list—Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy—to make room for Oscar Isaac, who plays the latest all-powerful villain our mutant heroes must combat. In a superhero cinematic universe in which Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War are the current reigning champs—and Batman v Superman makes a ton of money but earns zero respect—Apocalypse is something of an underdog. Who thought a movie with Wolverine would ever be perceived that way?
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (June 3)
In the last few years, we’ve seen a mini-influx of reverent documentaries about white-hot pop stars such as Katy Perry (Katy Perry: Part of Me) and Justin Bieber (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never). Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping looks to bring the Spinal Tap treatment to these movies, as the Lonely Island guys present the inspiring faux-true story of Connor (Andy Samberg), a clueless, talentless chart sensation who’s surrounded by his posse of hangers-on, family members, and publicists. The movie features a who’s-who of funny people, from Tim Meadows to Maya Rudolph to Jason Sudeikis, and although directors Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone (The Watch, MacGruber) haven’t had much big-screen commercial success, Popstar is the sort of stupid/smart combo they pulled off so well with Samberg on SNL.
Finding Dory (June 17)
We’re big fans of filmmaker Andrew Stanton, who directed two of Pixar’s finest, Wall-E and Finding Nemo. After getting roughed up with his live-action debut, the awful misfire John Carter, Stanton returns to animation for Finding Dory, which picks up where Nemo left off: This time, it’s the lovably forgetful Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) who goes on a journey to reunite with her family. Did anybody really need a Finding Nemo sequel (especially one that comes 13 years after the original)? Probably not, which is our chief worry. But after Inside Out and the underrated Good Dinosaur, Hollywood’s best animation house looks like it’s righting the ship after a few uninspired outings. Plus, Albert Brooks is back for the second installment, joined by new cast members Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.
The Neon Demon (June; date TBD)
In 2011, cult filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn broke through with the stylish neo-noir Drive, only to scare off a lot of new fans with his moody, willfully impenetrable follow-up, Only God Forgives. From the looks of its evocative, enigmatic first trailer, The Neon Demon could be another exercise in stunning visuals and opaque storytelling, chronicling the exploits of an up-and-coming model (Elle Fanning) negotiating the kill-or-be-killed competitive landscape of Los Angeles. Currently slated to be released sometime in June, The Neon Demon will debut at the Cannes Film Festival in about two weeks, so we’ll soon know what kind of head-trip we’ve got in store for us.
The BFG (July 1)
Steven Spielberg, after making six movies from 2001 to 2005, has slowed as he enters his eighth decade. (Spielberg turns 70 in December, which seems impossible.) And he hasn’t made a true four-quadrant blockbuster family crowdpleaser—a genre Spielberg essentially invented—since, jeez, the original Jurassic Park? (Your mileage for the last Indiana Jones movie, Tintin, and The Lost World sequel may vary.) Here, though, he’s not only adapting author Roald Dahl’s perhaps most beloved book, he’s doing it with his E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who died during filming in November 2015. The trailer has the Spielberg sense of awe, play and, yeah, terror that the best Spielberg stuff has; he also has Mark Rylance, who just won an Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, playing his Giant.
Ghostbusters (July 15)
Five summers ago, one of the big questions was whether a comedy starring a bunch of women could be a major box-office player. That movie was Bridesmaids, and the answer was, “Yeah, duh—and what a stupid question.” This summer, several people behind that gem—director Paul Feig, costars Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy—reunite for the season’s most-anticipated reboot. Alongside current Saturday Night Live bright spots Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, McCarthy and Wiig will take the baton from Bill Murray and the rest of the guys from the 1984 original. For its time, the old Ghostbusters was a high-water mark for combining cutting-edge effects and sophomoric, smart-ass humor. The new Ghostbusters looks to be equally dazzling on the f/x front—now we have to hope it’s just as hilarious.
Jason Bourne (July 29)
The first Jason Bourne movie, directed by Doug Liman, was well-honed, well-constructed entertainment, but it wasn’t until Paul Greengrass of United 93, Bloody Sunday, and Captain Phillips took over the franchise that it was elevated to something urgent and powerful. Greengrass is almost too good of a director to be in charge of an action-thriller, perhaps the main reasons he’s so fantastic at them. The failure of 2012’s The Bourne Legacy was less about the presence of Jeremy Renner or the lack of Matt Damon than it was due to the absence of Greengrass. He’s back now, as is Damon, and this time Tommy Lee Jones and newly minted Oscar winner Alicia Vikander join the party. We’re not so wrapped up in Bourne’s personal journey, or any sort of canon: We just want to see what sort of sociopolitical commentary Greengrass and Damon are going to sneak in the side door of this one—as well as the shaky-cam fights and car chases, of course.
Suicide Squad (August 5)
This is either going to be a darker, better, less brain-damaging version of Batman v. Superman, or it’s going to be a total disaster, but color us intrigued. A whole movie where the villains are the good guys, and they’re headed by The Joker, featuring Jared Leto going for broke, for better or worse? (He’s so dangerous!) We’re in. The DC universe might be a slow-moving car crash, but at this point, we can’t help but pull over and stare.
The Founder (August 5)
The Michael Keaton renaissance that started with Birdman and Spotlight—and, of course, The Other Guys—moves full steam ahead with this biopic about Ray Kroc, the man behind McDonald’s. But that true story was no heartwarming tale of American entrepreneurial spirit—Kroc essentially screwed over the McDonald brothers (played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) who originally came up with the restaurant. As a result, The Founder promises to be a dark tale of mercenary capitalism. It doesn’t hurt that the film was written by Robert Siegel, whose screenplays for The Wrestler and Big Fan were character studies of unconventional, deeply troubled protagonists. Amidst a season of blockbuster action, The Founder could be an early entrant in the Oscar race.
Sausage Party (August 12)
The debacle of The Interview behind him, Seth Rogen returns with a very funny idea for an R-rated animated comedy. In Sausage Party, a collection of supermarket items are thrilled to be picked by a shopper to go to her home—only to learn that food items will be killed and eaten by their human purchasers. Like a Great Escape with foul language and sentient hot dogs, Sausage Party boasts voice work from Rogen, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and plenty more of Rogen’s This Is the End crew, including Craig Robinson and Michael Cera. If Finding Dory is the cartoon to take your kids to see, this is the one you’ll check out while the little ones are home with a babysitter.
Café Society (August 12)
You’re reading a summer movie preview by Woody Allen’s most ardent defenders— cinematically, anyway—so there was no way we weren’t putting this on our list. Café Society concerns a young writer (Jesse Eisenberg, hopefully channeling Woody Allen better than he channeled Lex Luthor) trying to make it in 1930s Hollywood while dealing with a dazzling starlet (Kristen Stewart), a ruthless agent (Steve Carell), and his gangster relative (Corey Stoll). We know Woody Allen is hit-or-miss at this point, but it has only been two movies since Blue Jasmine, which everybody loved (and which won Cate Blanchett an Oscar). He’s due for an acclaimed hit every two or three years or so, which is to say, he’s due for one now.
Southside With You (August 19)
We’re nine months away from Barack Obama no longer being president of the United States, and you can expect dozens of movies to be made about him, and the events of the last eight years, for decades to come. But the first dramatized one—aside from those crazy “documentaries” Dinesh D’Souza keeps making—heads back to the very beginning, featuring the first date between Barack and Michelle in late-‘80s Chicago, going to see Do the Right Thing and feeling their way out as co-workers. Reviews from early film festivals have been positive, and if you’re feeling nostalgic for those early days of hope and change, well, here’s your outlet.