What Hollywood wants and needs this summer is for us to quit streaming movies at home and head back into theaters where the fate of in-person moviegoing is at stake.
The studios have pulled out all the blockbuster stops. "Doctor Strange" jumped in early to great success. But the true start of summer comes on Memorial Day with Tom Cruise back in "Top Gun" mode. Before the season closes on Labor Day, everyone from Thor to Jurassic dinosaurs will be on the rampage. And, come on, you need the biggest screens to generate the biggest thrills.
For awards buffs, there’s a buzzy Elvis biopic starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks as the King’s devious manager, a fresh scarefest from “Get Out” Oscar winner Jordan Peele, and a film version of that mega-bestseller about murder in the Deep South where the crawdads sing.
There’s plenty to pump up audiences of all ages. Here’s my list of the 20 movies you need to see this summer.
“Top Gun: Maverick”
Tom Cruise will turn 60 over this July 4 weekend, but he doesn’t age. And this sequel to the 1986 flyboy blockbuster that made him a star -- except now he teaches Navy young’uns how to be top guns -- doesn’t age either. It’s two hours of pure pow. Hello, summer!
“Crimes of the Future”
Body-horror maestro David Cronenberg steps into the future where surgery is the new sex and a couple, played by Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux, turn organ removal into performance art, that is until detective Kristen Stewart starts snooping. Expect a mindbending provocation.
“Jurassic World: Dominion”
In the conclusion of the “Jurassic World” trilogy, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are joined by original “Jurassic Park” stars Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum in an epic battle between dinosaurs and humans to decide who is really the apex predator. Any guesses?
Adam Sandler again flexes the dramatic muscles he demonstrated in “Uncut Gems” as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who thinks his shot at becoming a basketball coach rests with Bo Cruz (real-life NBA power forward Juancho Hernangomez), a player he discovers in Spain.
Pixar/Disney aims for a new animated jackpot by telling the origin story of Buzz Lightyear, a young astronaut now voiced by Chris Evans—Captain America himself— instead of Tim Allen who did the talking for the space ranger in the “Toy Story” films. Marooned on a hostile planet, young Buzz must find his way home in the company of a robot cat named Sox.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth”
Writer-director-actor Cooper Raiff stars as a college grad working nowhere jobs like party starter. He seems up for a romance with an older woman (a terrific Dakota Johnson), the mother of an autistic daughter. Our boy is the son of a bipolar mother (Leslie Mann). And Raiff can't hide his feelings for people with disabilities and the parents who love them.
Here’s summer sci-fi with a mind-teasing premise. Based on a George Saunders story published in the New Yorker in 2010, the film concerns a prison overseer (Chris Hemsworth) who offers convicts a chance to reduce their sentences if they agree to be administered mind-altering drugs. Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett play two convicts who try to game the system.
Lisa Marie Presley is unstinting in her praise of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of her father starring Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as the King’s manager Col. Tom Parker, a Dutch citizen often mistaken for a southerner. The King’s daughter says that if Butler doesn’t win an Oscar, she’ll eat her own foot. How’s that for setting up expectations?
“Minions: The Rise of Gru”
The fifth entry in the animated “Despicable Me” franchise again features Steve Carell as the voice of Gru, a budding villain who longs to join a team of supercrooks, led by Taraji P. Henson. Luckliy, the Minions—all memorably voiced by Pierre Coffin—are on Gru’s side.
“Thor: Love and Thunder”
Anyone who saw "Thor: Ragnarok” knows that director Taika Waititi’s 2017 take on the Norse God of Thunder, played by Chris Hemsworth, is the most insanely funny epic to ever come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So rejoice that Waititi is back at the helm as Thor mixes it up with Natalie Portman as a former flame and Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher.
“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”
Based on the enchanting Paul Gallico novel, this aging Cinderella story concerns a 1950’s London cleaning woman, played by Lesley Manville, who uses her widow’s pension to buy a dress from the House of Dior in Paris. “It’s not sewing,” she says, “it’s making moonlight.” Aww.
“Where the Crawdads Sing”
To judge by the bestseller list, practically everyone has read Delia Owens’s 2018 novel about murder in the Deep South. Thanks to producer Reese Witherspoon we now have the film version with Daisy Edgar-Jones, the breakout star of “Normal People,” as the North Carolina Marsh Girl who’s becomes a suspect in the death of a local lover boy (Harris Dickinson).
Whenever filmmaker Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”) wants to fry our nerves to a frazzle, the result is a movie event. Nobody knows nothing about the plot except there are horses and maybe aliens, something eerie in the sky and “Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya, ready to make us scream “nope” at the screen whenever Peele shows us something we’re scared to look at.
“The Grey Man”
Netflix broke what’s left of its bank for this action epic starring Ryan Gosling as a rogue CIA assassin up against a psycho former colleague (Chris Evans). “Avengers: Infinity War” directors Anthony and Joe Russo gathered a top cast, from “Bridgerton” rage Rege-Jean Page to the deliciously malevolent Billy Bob Thornton, to keep us guessing. Sign me up.
B.J. Novak really gets out of “The Office” by making his directing debut as well as writing and starring in this thriller as a New York podcaster who travels to West Texas to go ballistic on whoever offed his former lover. Expect twists from Novak and a cast that includes Issa Rae, Ashton Kutcher and the delectable J. Smith-Cameron of “Succession.”
“DC League of Super Pets”
Bet you didn’t know that Superman (voiced by John Krasinski) had a pet pooch. Say hello to Krypto, the Lab retriever (Dwayne Johnson). In this animated comedy. Krypto and his league of super pets foil a plan to crush the Justice League. Even Batman (Keanu Reeves) has a Bat-hound, squeaked by Kevin Hart. I’m betting these stars were paid with more than kibble.
The laughs fly as fast as the bullets as Brad Pitt, having a ball as an assassin named Ladybug, tries to quit the killing business until his handler (Sandra Bullock) pulls him back in. The scene is a train speeding from Tokyo to Kyoto. Other killers, played by the likes of Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry and—wait for it— Bad Bunny are also on the train and after the same thing.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies”
Are you missing Peter Davidson since he quit “SNL?” Me, too. But Kim K’s arm candy is back on the big screen in this comedy mystery about rich kids—Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova are also in the mix—trapped by a hurricane on a remote estate where the party games soon turn lethal. Sounds like a junior version of “Knives Out.” We can only hope.
The plot is basic, but sometimes that’s all you need. A recently widowed dad takes his two daughters on vacation to a game reserve in South Africa, where he first met his wife. It sounds healing until a lion, wounded by poachers, goes on the attack. Did I mention that Idris Elba plays Big Daddy? He does, which means the lion does not sleep tonight.
“Three Thousand Years of Longing”
Little does Tilda Swinton know that the tiny bottle she bought in Istanbul contains a genie in the person of Idris Elba, who grants her three wishes in return for his freedom. Director George Miller isn’t ripping off “Aladdin,” he’s granting every filmgoer’s summer wish: to sit side by side again in a theater where movies shine best as the stuff that dreams are made of.
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