Some believe the summer movie season began with last week’s The Fate of the Furious, but it is not summer yet (after all, there might be snow in upstate New York this weekend). Still, we’re close. An argument could be made that, as blockbuster season expands into every month of the calendar, it’s always summer in Hollywood. But with the impending release of Marvel’s highly anticipated sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s really almost here now. And one hallmark of the summer movie season endures: Even bad movies are worth it for the air-conditioning.
Here are the 15 summer movies we are most looking forward to.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)
What a difference three years makes. In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy opened in August, a slot where studios throw out their wild cards. It’s not that Marvel didn’t have faith in the movie, but it was no sure thing: It starred a guy (Chris Pratt) best known at that point for his lovable Parks & Recreation character, was written and directed by a guy (Super and Slither filmmaker, James Gunn) who’d never had a big hit, and featured a comic-book property without the visibility of a Spider-Man or Iron Man.
But despite all that—or partly because of it—Guardians was a smash, the scrappy younger brother to the Avengers superheroes. This year, Vol. 2 comes out on the first Friday of May, the official launch of summer movie season, practically guaranteeing major grosses. (The last two early May releases, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron, each pulled in more than a billion dollars.) So expectations are high for a sequel to a movie that worked so well because it didn’t have to sweat such massive commercial demands. Not that Vol. 2 looks all that worried: The whole gang, including Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper, is back, and the snot-nosed, what-me-worry irreverence is still firmly in place.
Alien: Covenant (May 19)
For all the excitement about Prometheus, it turned out to be a bit of an expensive, gorgeous dud. It was a movie about the creation of the Alien franchise without having, you know, many aliens. Ridley Scott, the guy who started this whole enterprise, is out to fix that this time: The trailer itself is Xenomorph Central, featuring the creepy, sexually charged, terrifying monsters we remember from Scott’s original film and James Cameron’s riveting sequel. (Which is still the best in the series.)
This is still a sequel to Prometheus, so Michael Fassbender returns as the android David, the most fascinating character in the first film. A terrific cast surrounds him, from Katherine Waterson to Amy Seimetz to Billy Crudup to James Franco to Demian Bichir to, of all people, Danny McBride. We’ve been waiting for a full-on Alien film for nearly two decades now. Scott seems determined to provide one.
Wonder Woman (June 2)
This November brings Zack Snyder’s Justice League and, you know, no thanks. But Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the only part of Batman v. Superman that had any life to it, so her own movie, directed by Monster’s Patty Jenkins, would seem the best chance for a tolerable movie from the D.C. universe. This is a period piece (set during World War I), evoking Captain America: The First Avenger, one of the finest Marvel movies, and it also features Chris Pine. If she can make a D.C. movie watchable, Wonder Woman will truly be the greatest superhero of all.
The Mummy (June 9)
Used to be that Tom Cruise didn’t need to be associated with a ton of franchises to attract audiences, a sure sign that he was one of the last of the old-school Hollywood stars. That’s changed in the last few years, with him hitching his wagon to Jack Reacher to complement his gold-plated Mission: Impossible series. Well, now he’s in The Mummy, which is going to be the first step in Universal’s plan to do a Marvel-style expanded universe of its famous monsters. Costarring Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, and Sofia Boutella as the titular supernatural creature, this dark reboot looks to have none of the Indiana Jones–like gee-whiz spirit of the Brendan Fraser movies. Instead, The Mummy is a movie meant to launch a new fleet of blockbusters, with much of the burden being shouldered by Mr. Cruise.
All Eyez on Me (June 16)
The smash success of 2015’s Straight Outta Compton helped pave the way for All Eyez on Me, another origin story concerning an iconic hip-hop artist. Of course, this isn’t the first time Tupac Shakur’s life and tragic death have been brought to the screen: He was the subject of the documentaries Biggie and Tupac and Tupac: Resurrection in the early 2000s. But All Eyez on Me is the first Tupac biopic, starring newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. as the acclaimed musician and actor.
The trailers hint at a character study that goes deep into Tupac’s troubled upbringing and his desire to be a revolutionary—an aspiration that powered his music, but also brought criticism that he was glorifying thug culture. Plus, his friendship with fellow rising star the Notorious B.I.G. (played by Jamal Woolard, who also played Biggie in 2009’s Notorious) will be a major plot point, tracing how they went from comrades to bitter rivals. Tupac’s story is one of the crucial narratives of 1990s hip-hop, and a perfect chronological and spiritual follow-up to the N.W.A biopic.
The Beguiled (June 23)
Sofia Coppola hasn’t made a movie—unless you’re counting the Bill Murray Netflix Christmas special, and you probably shouldn’t—since 2013’s polarizing The Bling Ring. She hasn’t had a full-on smash, critically and financially, since Lost in Translation, which feels like it came out a lifetime ago. But she’s supremely talented and seems to have material that’s a perfect match for her sensibility with The Beguiled, a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 Clint Eastwood thriller about a Union soldier imprisoned in a Confederate girls’ boarding school. Colin Farrell plays the Eastwood role, but the real draw is the cast of women at the school: Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, and a resurgent Nicole Kidman. The original was perverse in an unsettling way that hasn’t necessarily aged that well; it’ll be fascinating to see what direction Coppola takes it.
The Big Sick (June 23)
The breakout hit of Sundance. The Big Sick is a Judd Apatow production written by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, based off their own courtship, which was thrown into chaos when Gordon was stricken with a mysterious disease. It’s a riotous comedy with Nanjiani in the lead role (Zoe Kazan plays Emily), played with typical Apatowian humanist flair. There’s almost always one breakout comedy hit every summer, and this one seems primed to be 2017’s.
Baby Driver (June 28)
It’s been four years since director Edgar Wright has made a movie—the delay largely due to his decision to walk away from Ant-Man. His return appears to be a slight departure from his M.O. Sure, Baby Driver should have plenty of the cheeky humor and gonzo visual design we associate with the man behind Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End, but the trailer also hints at a film with a darker, harder edge. The movie stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a getaway driver plagued by tinnitus who needs a steady string of music playing on his iPod to drown out the perpetual ringing in his ears. But after falling in love with a pretty waitress (Lily James), Baby wants out of the criminal life—which, of course, always proves difficult in these sorts of movies.
With elements of Drive and early Guy Ritchie, Baby Driver feels like a classic down-and-dirty British crime-thriller, and the early reviews have been ecstatic. But the surest sign that the film, which costars Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, delivers the goods is that Sony’s executives actually pushed forward its release date, figuring they’ve got a hit on their hands.
The House (June 30)
Will Ferrell comedies have been hit or miss for quite a few years now. What was the last truly great one? The Other Guys? Step Brothers? (Step Brothers was nine years ago.) So forgive us our hope for The House, in which Ferrell and Amy Poehler play suburban parents who set up a casino in their home to pay for their daughter’s college. That doesn’t sound like the most promising premise, but here are a few reasons to get excited: It has a gonna-break-out-any-day-now Jason Mantzoukas; Ferrell tends do his best work with strong female leads rather than male ones; and the trailer is lively, including a riff on Casino that would seem to have a lot of comedic mileage in it. This might be the last chance we give Ferrell for a while, but we’re willing to give it.
A Ghost Story (July 7)
The Big Sick might have been the big audience pleaser from Sundance, but A Ghost Story was the critical smash, a mournful reflection on loss from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (and Pete’s Dragon) director David Lowery. Rooney Mara plays a woman whose husband (Casey Affleck) dies suddenly and then, for no reason, rises from the dead but cannot speak, instead standing wordlessly under a sheet with two holes in it. It seems strange, but in a quite moving way: It’s about how grief follows us, wherever we go, forever. If you can’t get over your Casey Affleck aversion—which is no small feat for some—just know that it’s not always him under the sheet; they made an extra do it.
War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)
Every few years, there’s a debate about whether a performance-capture actor should be given serious consideration for an acting Oscar. This might as well be called the Andy Serkis Rule since the English actor has been at the forefront of the technology thanks to his CGI roles in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and King Kong. But it’s arguable that Caesar is his finest creation: The noble chimpanzee who leads the ape army in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series has more emotional shading than those other characters, and it appears his dramatic arc will be at the center of this summer’s latest installment. War pits apes against humans, with Woody Harrelson playing the leader of the human resistance. But from the looks of the trailers, the movie is also very much about the battle within Caesar to protect his own while taking into consideration the more reasonable humans who don’t want war.
Dunkirk (July 21)
July is Christopher Nolan’s time. The filmmaker’s three biggest movies—The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Returns—all opened that month, and he returns with Dunkirk, a World War II film about the Battle of Dunkirk. However, Nolan doesn’t want you going into this drama thinking it’ll be an action-packed war flick. Last month, he said, “It’s a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film. So while there is a high level of intensity to it, it does not necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of combat, which have been so well done in so many films. We were really trying to take a different approach and achieve intensity in a different way.”
In other words, don’t expect Dunkirk (which stars Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance) to be his Hacksaw Ridge. But if Nolan can pull off his ambitious, large-canvas drama—almost the entire film was shot in IMAX—he may have just made his second film (after Inception) to be nominated for Best Picture.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21)
We’re big fans of cinematic curiosities—those absolutely bonkers movies that could end up either amazing or an absolute train wreck. This summer, no film swings for the fences as boldly as director Luc Besson’s follow-up to 2014’s Lucy. Valerian is based on the French graphic novel, starring Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as space rangers who protect the universe in the distant future. Every scene in Valerian’s trailers looks outlandish, stunning, or incredibly campy, adding to the sense that Besson has fully returned to the wacked-out audacity that marked his 1990s films The Professional and The Fifth Element.
But there’s a lot riding on Valerian: This is the most expensive French film ever made, and it features actors who are hardly guaranteed multiplex attractions. (Does it help or hurt potential box office that the movie’s ensemble includes everyone from Rihanna to Ethan Hawke?) At this point, we simply don’t know what awaits us in this mad vision—which is why we can’t wait.
Atomic Blonde (July 28)
Charlize Theron’s ascension to action star has been more than a decade in the making. In the early 2000s, around the time she was collecting her Best Actress Oscar for Monster, she was making multiplex movies like The Italian Job and Aeon Flux, which was the first time she was the lead in a potential tentpole. But after Mad Max: Fury Road, she’s certainly earned her own John Wick. Enter Atomic Blonde, which is directed by David Leitch, who co-helmed the first of the Keanu Reeves assassin flicks. Atomic Blonde got ecstatic reviews out of South by Southwest, but be warned: Don’t watch the trailers if you don’t want any of the insane action sequences ruined for you.
Detroit (August 4)
Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have combined for two of the more riveting war films of the last decade—The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty—and they return for a different, more urgent sort of war film with Detroit, about the notorious Algiers Motel Incident during the Detroit riots of 1967. Timed for the 50th anniversary of the incident, which led to the deaths of three black men at the hands of police, the film couldn’t feel more relevant: 50 years, in the hands of Bigelow and Boal, will seem awfully recent. John Boyega, The Force Awakens’ Finn, plays the lead role, an African-American police officer at the center of the fight.