Summer movie season kicked off with a big intergalactic bang on Friday, when Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 flexed all its box office might and opened the proverbial floodgates of sequels, reboots and remakes that’ll occupy our screens from now until fall. But as the industry landscape continues to shift (thanks Netflix!), studios have figured out that summer audiences have an appetite for content outside of the usual big budget tentpoles.
This summer, festival darlings, low budget genre movies and indie upstarts will compete against super heroes, pirates and aliens for your eyeballs and your dollars. To help you sort through all the madness, we’ve put together a guide of surefire sleepers, future Oscar heavyweights and, yes, even some blockbusters for good measure.
To miss these films is to miss out on the movies on everyone’s lips. You need to see these, even if it’s just to say they wasted your time.
Who: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Christopher Meloni.
When: May 12
What: Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn play a mother-daughter duo whose bonding trip to South America goes from boozy, sun-kissed romp to a white knuckle kidnapping adventure in a flash (and yes, Schumer does that, too.) Why: The success of Trainwreck saw Schumer ascend from cult icon to beloved megastar. Her first order of business as one of the most powerful women in showbiz is resurrecting the career of comedy legend Goldie Hawn. Armed with a potent combo of raunch and sentimentality, they’ll set out to prove that blondes really do have more fun. (Spoiler alert: they definitely, definitely do.)
King Arthur: Legend of The Sword
Who: Charlie Hunman, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, and Aiden Gillen.
When: May 12
What: Guy Ritchie brings his chaotic energy (and trigger happy edit finger) to this modern retelling of the classic Excalibur myth.
Why: Good question. The last big budget feature based on Arthurian lore–Antoine Fuqua’s forgettable 2004 effort King Arthur–proved to be box office kryptonite. So why did Ritchie think it was a good idea to give us his take on a classic? Landing one of our most compelling young actors in Charlie Hunnam for the lead was definitely a coup, and after watching him break bad in The Young Pope, we’re all for paying money to watch Jude Law sneer as the evil Vortigern. So far critics have been unkind, so be sure to check this one out at your own discretion.
Who: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Demian Bechir and Danny McBride.
When: May 19
What: In this sequel to Prometheus (which was itself a prequel to a sequel but we digress), Ridley Scott sends a ragtag group of space explorers to a distant planet for another treatise on the nature of creation (and a bloodbath or two for good measure.)
Why: Because whenever Scott decides to revisit the world of xenomorphs and facehuggers, we have no choice but to (reluctantly) tag along for the ride. And with a promised return to the pure horror that made Scott’s 1979 Alien an instant classic–what a hair-raising ride it will be. There’s also some rumored android-on-android love between Michael Fassbender and, er, Michael Fassbender for all you romantics out there.
Who: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera.
When: May 25
What: An R-rated update on the iconic ‘90s TV show about a team of hardbodied lifeguards who’ll stop at nothing to defend their magical beach where for some reason all running happens in slow motion.
Why: Not so much a reboot as it is a reimagining, Baywatch finds very tanned, very ripped versions of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron squarely in their action-comedy wheelhouse. Johnson and Efron won’t be the only ones baring skin, with the bodacious trio of Rohrbach, Daddario, and Hadera donning the scant red swimsuits that helped turn their predecessors–led by Playboy darling Pamela Anderson–into American icons.
Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Who: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush.
When: May 26
What: Johnny Depp continues to get mileage out of his boozy swashbuckler Jack Sparrow in the fifth (yes, fifth) installment of this bloated franchise.
Why: You know what’s cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars. Disney’s going to keep pumping these movies out as long as they keep hitting or approaching that box office milestone, Depp’s personal troubles be damned. But despite the inevitable feeling of deja-vu, early buzz is that this is the best Pirates film in years. That might have something to do with Javier Bardem’s delicious turn as Jack Sparrow’s undead nemesis, Captain Salazar, or it might be the work of directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, whose Oscar-nominated film Kon-Tiki was one of the most gripping depictions of life on the sea in years.
Who: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis.
When: June 2
What: After years of false starts and missteps, Princess Diana of Themyscira finally gets the origin story she deserves.
Why: In this golden age of superhero movies, we’ve yet to see one led by a woman, until now. The immensely likable Chris Pine crash lands his plane off Themyscira and is about to drown when Diana rescues him. Naturally, she then finds herself smack dab in the middle of WWII. With Paddy Jenkins at the helm and Gadot more than capable of pulling double duty as the enigmatic Diana Prince and her lasso-wielding alter ego, this one’s more about women wrecking shit than anything Pine has to offer.
Who: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage,Steve Zissis Alison Tolman, Michaela Watkins.
When: June 3
What: A milquetoast husband and wife duo get a taste of life in the fast lane when they open a basement casino to fund their daughter’s tuition.
Why: There’s a murderer’s row of comedies en route this summer but Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell first team-up tops the list. After all, no one does ill-advised hijinx as an antidote to suburban ennui quite like these two (we miss you, Frank The Tank.) Also, any movie that features gambling as a force of good instead of evil gets major brownie points.
Who: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe.
When: June 9
What: Tom Cruise finds himself in all-too familiar territory as he tries to rescue humanity from an unimaginable evil.
Why: By now, there should be little doubt that Cruise can save the world with a single flash of his million-dollar grin. We’re really wondering if he can take a moribund franchise and transform it into the next great cinematic universe? Universal is counting on it. The studio is banking on this Cruise-led reboot to spawn a monster movie universe–Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein and you, the viewing public–built in the vein of the Marvel and Star Wars expanded universes. Helping him with the heavy lifting will be Russell Crowe, whose Dr. Jekyll looks to be Universal’s take on Nick Fury.
Who: Scarlett Johansson, Illana Glazer, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, and Jillian Bell.
When: June 16
What: The elevator pitch probably went something like this: “The Hangover, but with chicks. And instead of losing the groomsman in Vegas, they accidentally kill a male stripper instead.” Works for us.
Why: Because those so-called chicks just so happen to be led by Scarlett Johansson toplining her first out-and-out comedy. ScarJo will share laugh lines with Zoë Kravitz and three of the funniest women doing it in Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell and Ilana Glazer. With Broad City’s Lucia Aniello behind the camera, there should be plenty of jokes to go around for these women behaving badly.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Who: Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Jerrod Carmichael.
When: June 23
What: For the fifth and–despite what the title may suggest–definitely not the last installment of this cornball franchise, Optimus Prime is bad, someone has a sword, and Mark Wahlberg’s hair is long. Sure, whatever.
Why: This will not be the last Transformers film. According to Michael Bay, there are at least 14(!) others in various stages of development. No matter how long ago you gave up on these things, there are still enough people out there who’ll pay money to watch giant robots crash into shit. See you in 2030, Bumblebee.
Who: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover.
When: July 7
What: You know what they say: With great power comes grea–oh fuck it, you know the drill.
Why: Before you curse Hollywood and its obsession with nostalgia (re: making money), hear us out. Sure there’s been five solo Spider-Man movies in the last decade and a half. But none of them were made under the watchful eye of Marvel Studios. Now that Peter Parker is coming home (homecoming, get it!?), a once stale universe could potentially be injected with the same playfulness that made Sam Raimi’s 2002 original such a joy to watch. Tom Holland finally gets to spread is webs after a dynamite showing as Spidey in Captain America: Civil War, and RDJ showing up as father Marvel, aka Tony Stark, makes this one virtually bulletproof.
War of The Planet of The Apes
Who: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer.
When: July 14
What: The conclusion to one of the most thrilling trilogies ever which pits man vs ape in one last battle. The winner goes on, the loser faces extinction.
Why: When done right, a reboot can elevate its source material to unexpected new heights. That’s exactly what director Matt Reeves has done with his emotional and thought-provoking take on the 1968 original. Andy Serkis once again shows off his mad motion capture skills as Caesar, while Woody Harrelson leads the last of the humans in their quest to reclaim planet Earth. If you haven’t been paying attention to this quietly ambitious franchise, now’s the time to start.
Who: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy.
When: July 21
What: After exploring the future in Interstellar, Christopher Nolan turns his lens on the past in this WWII saga chronicling a group of doomed Allied soldiers fighting for their survival on France’s Dunkirk Beach.
Why: Christopher Nolan is already synonymous with event cinema. When the British auteur decides to make a war movie, it’s a, “Holy shit drop everything you’re doing and start lining up right now” kind of moment. As the first trailers suggest, Nolan has managed to capture a grim historical moment and make it look oddly beautiful. No, we’re not talking about the presence of Harry Styles, though that certainly doesn’t hurt.
Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets
Who: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, John Goodman.
When: July 21
What: Based on the revered French sci-fi comic series Valérian and Laureline, Luc Besson’s first space opera since The Fifth Element chronicles the exploits of a special ops duo tasked with saving the universe.
Why: Luc Besson always regretted making The Fifth Element right before the CGI boom changed modern filmmaking forever. The cult director was a kid in a candy store with Valerian. He meticulously recreated the fantastical worlds that defined his childhood and helped shape the filmmaker he became. Introducing a new world to audiences is always a dicey proposition. We’ll see if Valerian will be more Jupiter Ascending than Star Wars but fingers crossed. If nothing else, Besson has never once been boring. Hiring real life aliens Cara Delevingne and Rihanna is a good place to start.
Who: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones.
When: July 28
What: John Wick gets a platinum blonde makeover in this Cold War-era spy thriller starring Charlize Theron as an MI6 agent whose legs should be probably registered as lethal weapons.
Why: It’s only been two years since we saw Charlize Theron crack skulls and take names as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. But that’s two years too many, if you ask us. With the help of John Wick and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch, Theron brings the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City to vivid, bone-crushing life and reclaims her spot as our most exciting action star. That was the word out of SXSW, where the film had its triumphant premiere. Attendees were still talking about “that scene” between Theron and Sofia Boutella long after the curtains closed.
The Dark Tower
Who: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Katheryn Winnick,Jackie Earle Haley.
When: August 4
What: The Stephen King cinematic renaissance continues with this long-gestating adaptation of the horror maestro’s ambitious western/sci mashup about a sprawling multiverse battle between the Gunslinger (the good guy, duh) and the Man in Black (the bad guy, double duh).
Why: There’s a lot riding on director Nikolaj Arcel’s big screen version of what many consider to be King’s best work of fiction. If it hits, a new franchise is born, with eight more novels to draw on for material. Though the action-heavy trailer made the visionary source material feel generic, hiring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey to play mortal enemies is a good place to start. If it misses, fans who’ve been waiting years for someone to figure how to make this movie will be out for blood. Lucky for them, the Gunslinger never misses.
Who: Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, Adam Driver, Sebastian Stan.
When: August 18
What: Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement for another star-studded heist movie, this one set at the biggest NASCAR race of the year.
Why: Well, well, well, look who it is. After promising that HBO’s Behind the Candelabra would be his final feature-length film, Soderbergh is coming out of retirement to reteam with Channing Tatum on a movie that feels one part Magic Mike, one part Ocean’s 11, and one heck of a good time.
These under-the-radar hits and awards candidates are vital to the hip moviegoer this summer and into fall. They may not be blockbusters but they could well be the finest films of the summer.
It Comes at Night
Who: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Carmen Ejogo.
When: June 9
What: What do you get when you throw two desperate families into a remote house in the woods while a deadly threat wipes out the world around them? The year’s most anticipated horror movie, that’s what.
Why: Director Trey Edward Shults showed his chops with his 2015 debut, the criminally underseen headturner Krisha. Don’t expect his follow-up to go so quietly into that good night. Led by a red-hot Joel Edgerton as a patriarch charged with defending his clan from threats both human and otherwise, the film dropped jaws when it premiered at the Overlook film festival. We’re not saying this is the next Get Out, but we’re not saying it’s not, either.
47 Meters Down
Who: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt and Matthew Modine.
When: June 16
What: When a cage-diving trip goes horribly wrong, two sisters find themselves at the bottom of the ocean with very little oxygen and a shark whose favorite food just happens to be Hollywood starlets.
Why: After the surprise success of The Shallows, we can probably expect to see at least one shark movie per summer until the genre, if you’ll excuse the expression, jumps the shark. That doesn’t figure to be for a while; we’ve already weathered several Sharknados. For now, a contained story where time and nature are the villains still feels thrilling. And with a rejuvenated Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as the leads, this one looks like it might have some legs, er, fins.
Who: Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, NIcole Kidman, Angourie Rice, Colin Farrell.
When: June 23
What: Jealousy, betrayal and maybe even some light castration are on the menu when a wounded Union Army soldier is taken in by the ethereal teachers and students that occupy a remote all-girl school in 1864 Virginia.
Why: If you’ve ever wondered what a revenge thriller might look like in the nimble hands of Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is your answer. The film is already an early favorite to take home the top prize at this year’s Cannes. And though a festival darling based on a 1966 Southern Gothic novel (originally titled, A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan) doesn’t exactly scream summer, an incredible cast of women messing with Colin Farrell for two hours might be enough to make this the sleeper hit of the season. We have to keep in mind, however, the Coppola has done nothing but disappoint of late. Hopefully this film will be the end of her slump.
Who: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx.
When: June 28
What: For his first feature since wrapping up his “Cornetto Trilogy” in 2013, Edgar Wright made a heist movie musical mashup about a getaway driver who’s never not listening to music to drown out a constant ringing in his ear. Think Drive: the remix.
Why: Few directors have as singular a vision as Wright, which is probably why it’s so hard for him to get his movies off the ground (see: the drama around Ant-Man). But when he does make something, it feels wholly unique, especially in a summer of sequels, remakes and reboots. Word from SXSW–where Baby Driver had its world premiere–is that this is Wright at his Wrightiest: a kinetic crime thriller whose soundtrack syncs up with the action beats onscreen. In other words, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Who: Jake Gyllenhaal, TIlda Swinton, Lily Collins, Steven Yuen, Paul Dano.
When: June 28
What: When a little girl’s BFF disappears, she must race untold distances to find him before a ruthless corporation does. Did we mention that her best friend is a massive animal named Okja, and the corporation is led by Tilda Swinton? In other words, this ain’t your average monster movie.
Why: When Netflix snatched up this $50 million curiosity from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, we wondered why a movie with such box office potential would be sent to streaming purgatory before a proper theatrical release. But after watching how Harvey Weinstein bungled the roll out of Joon-ho’s dystopian scorcher Snowpiercer, it’s no wonder the director is a little disillusioned by traditional studios. Besides, this thing is apparently so good, Netflix decided to give it a limited theatrical release so fans can see Okja in all its big screen glory.
Ingrid Goes West
Who: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
When: August 4
What: A dark and biting parable about an unhinged millennial who becomes dangerously obsessed with an #instafamous celebrity.
Why: If you’re looking for some social commentary on generation Instagram, director Matt Spicer has crafted an unsettling cautionary tale about what happens when dope ass filters blur the line between artifice and authenticity. With rave reviews out of Sundance and career-best performances from Plaza and Olsen, Ingrid Goes West is set to rack up likes all summer long.
Who: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski, Hannah Murray, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore.
When: August 4
What: The 1967 Detroit race riots get a long overdue closeup, as Kathryn Bigelow zeroes in on the infamous Algiers motel incident, which ended in the unlawful death of three unarmed black men. Sound familiar?
Why: If any film this summer is poised for Oscar glory, it’s Bigelow’s unflinching look at one of the darkest moments in U.S. history. The director’s last two efforts–The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty–were awards season juggernauts. That pedigree coupled with the film’s timeless social and political themes will be catnip for voters come awards season.
The for-those-who-know sleepers for the Hollywood insider in all of us. See all these and you’ll be able to lord it over your friends for months.
Who: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen.
When: June 2
What: Every couple has their own way of coping with the realities of being in a longterm relationship. For some that means being adventurous in the bedroom. For others, all it takes is some time apart. But the husband and wife at the center of this indie comedy decide to confront their problems by starting a kickass rock band. Why: Remember the name Zoe Lister-Jones. The talented polymath is poised for a breakout after pulling triple duty as the star, writer and director of this Sundance standout. Superlatives like “sophisticated,” “touching,” and “hilarious” were used to describe the film after its Park City premiere, and apparently its roster of original songs are pretty special feat, too.
The Bad Batch
Who: Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi.
When: June 23
What: A film about vampires, cannibals and cults has all the makings of a summer blockbuster. But this post-apocalyptic desert romp about an amputee’s fight for survival relies way more on atmosphere than your usual big budget bruiser.
Why: A Girl Walks Alone at Night introduced Ana Lily Amirpour as a genre-busting, expectation-smashing creative force. Here, she cranks the oddball meter to eleven and brings some major star power along for the ride. While we can’t wait to see Jim Carrey play against type as a mute, the real draw here is Suki Waterhouse, the posh supermodel who swings for the fences in her bid for movie stardom.
The Big Sick
Who: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Bo Burnham.
When: June 23 What: A couple divided by their disparate backgrounds is forced to reexamine their relationship under unimaginable circumstances.
Why: Perhaps no film at this year’s Sundance engendered more good will (and drew more tears) than this unexpected rom-com about the way tragedy unites us all. Kumail Nanjiani, who’s long been one of our most underrated comedians, finally gets his due in a film he stars in and co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon. Based on their real life romance, The Big Sick is small, surprising and has the potential to become the most talked about comedies of the year.
A Ghost Story
Who: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, WIll Oldham.
When: July 7 What: A gone-too-soon man returns from the hereafter to find where it all went wrong.
Why: David Lowery is one of our most exciting young directors. He sets out to prove why in what by all accounts is not your average ghost story. And for those of you who can’t stand the sight of Casey Affleck, don’t worry. Word is he’s covered in a white sheet the whole damn time.
Who: Kyle Mooney, Beck Bennett, Claire Danes, Michaela Watkins, Andy Samberg.
When: July 28
What: An overgrown superfan pays homage to his childhood obsession–a children’s show about a giant bear–by making it into a movie.
Why: Kyle Mooney has been our favorite SNL-er for years. This strange look at extreme fandom and the lies we tell to shield ourselves from pain announces him as a major new force in comedy. Not only does Mooney star as cheerful manchild, he co-wrote the film as well. And based on the enthusiastic reaction at Sundance (there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at its premiere) Brigsby Bear bodes very well for Mooney’s post-Saturday Night Live career.