Summer movies are all about wallowing in great, gooey gobs of excess. This is the season for the big (ìShrek the Thirdî), the loud (ìTransformersî), and the uncomplicated (ìFantastic Fourî) – stuff that goes perfectly with arctic air conditioning and extra-large troughs of buttery popcorn. Still, there will be times when you want some subtlety – more Zach Braff, less Michael Bay.
So rather than giving you a rundown of absolutely everything being released in the next four months (and excluding any film that is a third in a franchise) this summer movie calendar offers one marquee-topping flick and one indie alternative for each of the 17 weeks. Happy viewing!
MAY 11
The Smash: ì28 Weeks Later . . . î In a sequel to ì28 Days Later,î Londonís declared free of the virus that turned its citizens into zombies – then one last carrier surfaces.
Why we care: Panders to our worst avian-flu imaginings.
The Sleeper: ìProvoked: A True Storyî Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai in a true story of an Indian woman who killed her abusive husband (Naveen Andrews) and was sentenced to life in prison.
Why we care: Might be good enough to wipe out memory of similarly themed J.Lo flick, ìEnough.î
MAY 18
The Smash: ìCaptivityî Hot guy and girl (Daniel Gillies and Elisha Cuthbert) are kidnapped, held prisoner in a basement and tortured.
Why we care: Firestorm about overly torture-y billboards has predictably piqued our interest.
The sleeper: ìThe Wendell Baker Storyî Luke Wilsonís the writer, co-director and star of this í70s-throwback comedy about an ex-con; brother Owen co-stars, brother Andrew co-directs.
Why we care: You can never have too many Wilsons.
MAY 25
The Smash: OK, thereís ìBugî with Ashley Judd playing a bartender who becomes convinced she has parasites under her skin. But letís just face facts: Youíre going to see ìPirates of the Caribbeanî and nothing else this week has much of a chance.
The sleeper: ìPaprikaî Trippy anime feature about a machine that lets you enter someone elseís dreams. Inevitably, it falls into the wrong hands.
Why we care: Perfect plot for sophisticated animators to really go nuts on the visuals.
The Smash: ìKnocked Upî Seth Rogenís the lead in this comedy, from the director of ìThe 40-Year-Old Virgin,î about a schlub who impregnates a one-night stand (Katherine Heigl).
Why we care: Itís a ìFreaks and Geeksî reunion: director Judd Apatow, Rogen, Jason Segel and Martin Starr.
The sleeper: ìDay Watchî The Russian sequel to 2006ís ìNight Watchî is the follow-up in a trilogy of sprawling, high-octane Russian vampire movies.
Why we care: Takes every conceivable American action-film technique and throws it in a blender with some Russian actors.
The Smash: ìSurfís Upî ìItî boy Shia LaBeouf voices the lead in this animated story about a penguin who wants to be a surfer.
Why we care: If you can get past the penguin fatigue, it looks more promising than a lot of last yearís animated animal flicks.
The sleeper: ìLa Vie En Roseî French biopic about legendary singer Edith Piaf (Marion Cotillard), a cabaret sensation who died at 47.
Why we care: Cotillard reportedly knocks it out of the park as the long-suffering but charismatic Piaf.
The Smash: ìFantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surferî Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis & Co. return as the superhero foursome, this time to battle not only Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon), but also the mysterious Silver Surfer.
Why we care: Ever since ìX2,î we keep hoping another superhero sequel will surpass the original.
The sleeper: ìEagle vs. Sharkî Socially awkward New Zealand woman (Loren Horsley) falls for even more socially awkward guy (Jemaine Clement, of comedy duo ìFlight of the Conchordsî).
Why we care: Itís the Kiwi ìNapoleon Dynamite,î which will likely work both for and against it.
The Smash: ìEvan Almightyî Steve Carell reprises his character from ìBruce Almighty,î whoís called by God (Morgan Freeman) to build an ark.
Why we care: Anything Carell touches turns to funny.
The sleeper: ìA Mighty Heartî Michael Winterbottom tells the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan in 2002. Angelina Jolie stars as his widow.
Why we care: Winterbottom brings the serious-film cred; Jolie brings the spectacle.
The Smash: ìRatatouilleî Pixar takes on French restaurants through the eyes of a Parisian rat (Patton Oswalt) who wants to become a chef.
Why we care: Itís Pixar. Resistance is futile.
The sleeper: ìYou Kill Meî (June 27) Ben Kingsley stars as a hit man whoís trying to change his life.
Why we care: Directed by John Dahl, who one day will craft a worthy follow-up to 1994ís ìThe Last Seduction.î
The Smash: ìTransformersî The Deceptacons and the Autobots battle it out on planet Earth, Michael Bay- style!
Why we care: Doesnít seem possible to take the concept of kiddie toys as scary alien invaders seriously – but you never know.
The sleeper: ìJoshuaî (July 6) New twist on the ìBad Seedî story, with Vera Farmiga and Sam Rockwell as parents of creepy 9-year-old boy.
Why we care: Farmiga and Rockwelboth have the chops to carry any film.
The Smash: ìHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenixî Fifth installment of the J.K. Rowling saga sees Hogwarts overtaken by a fascistic leader.
Why we care: Each successive Potter pic gets a little farther afield from being just a kidsí movie.
The sleeper: ìTalk to Meî Don Cheadle stars as rabble-rousing í60s radio DJ and ex-con Ralph Waldo ìPeteyî Green.
Why we care: Three reasons – Martin Sheen, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Cheadle.
The Smash: ìI Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larryî Adam Sandler and Kevin James are fireman buddies who marry to get health benefits.
Why we care: Can Sandler play gay without turning it into Mr. Roper-style caricature?
The sleeper: ìHairsprayî Film version of the Broadway musical, stars John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Amanda Bynes.
Why we care: Travolta in a fat-lady suit!
The Smash: ìThe Simpsons Movieî Feature version of the insanely long-running show sees Homer tasked with saving the world . . . from himself, as usual.
Why we care: Penned by the original writers, this could be a return to original, impeccable comedy.
The sleeper: ìNo Reservationsî Catherine Zeta-Jonesí type-A chef becomes the guardian of her young niece, softens up and falls for fellow chef Aaron Eckhart.
Why we care: Eckhart, never the soft-and-cuddly type, is a good bet for a non-mushy romantic comedy.
AUG. 3
The Smash: ìHot Rodî Stuntman Andy Samberg attempts the ultimate jump to raise money to cure his abusive stepdad – so he can beat him up.
Why we care: Produced by Will Ferrell, this looks like ìTalladega Nights Liteî – and thatís just fine by us.
The sleeper: ìThe Tenî David Wain (ìWet Hot American Summerî) directs series of comic vignettes based (loosely, one presumes) on the Ten Commandments.
Why we care: All-star cast includes Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Famke Janssen, Winona Ryder, Liev Shreiber, Gretchen Mol, Oliver Platt.
AUG. 10
The Smash: ìStardustî Epic fantasy about young man trying to find his way back from a magical world. Stars Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Why we care: Based on a novel by acclaimed ìSandmanî comic creator Neil Gaiman.
The sleeper: ìRocket Scienceî A teenage boy with a major stuttering problem tries to get the girl by joining the debate team.
Why we care: Won director award at Sundance.
AUG. 17
The Smash: ìThe Invasionî Update of ìInvasion of the Body Snatchersî stars Nicole Kidman as a psychiatrist who discovers whatís causing an alien plague.
Why we care: Kidman can clearly do creepy well, as in ìThe Others.î
The sleeper: ìKing of Kongî Old-school video game champions battle to be the best Donkey Kong player.
Why we care: Every so often, a documentary gets us totally engrossed in a random subculture – could ìKongî be this yearís?
AUG. 24
The Smash: ìVirgin Territoryî Hayden Christensen and Mischa Barton as Florentines in the Middle Ages who escape to the countryside during the Black Plague.
Why we care: This is why Barton left ìThe O.C.î Was it worth it?
The sleeper: ìThe Hottest Stateî Ethan Hawke writes, directs and appears in this adaptation of his novel about a Texan who moves to New York to make it as an actor.
Why we care: Hawkeís proven he can direct (ìChelsea Wallsî) and write screenplays (ìBefore Sunsetî) as well as act – can he juggle all three?
AUG. 31
The Smash: ìHalloweenî Rob Zombieís remake of John Carpenterís 1978 horror classic ups the gore ante but leaves the William Shatner mask pretty much intact.
Why we care: Zombieís already proven himself a horror virtuoso with ìHouse of 1000 Corpses,î its sequel and a ìGrindhouseî trailer.
The sleeper: ìAtonementî Keira Knightley and James McAvoy star in this adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel.
Why we care: Director Joe Wright did great things with Knightley in ìPride and Prejudice.î