There’s already been a lot for movie buffs to talk about during the first four months of 2016 – the unexpectedly huge commercial success of Deadpool, Disney hitting it big by telling stories both new (Zootopia) and familiar (The Jungle Book), the passion behind both the love and hate for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and so on. It’s easy to forget that we haven’t even yet gotten to the summer movie season; a.k.a., that time of year when kids, teenagers, and many college students are on summer vacation, when the hot temperatures give people all the more reason to seek out an air-conditioned theater and catch a fun flick there… and, when many of the year’s most anticipated movies arrive on the scene.
A lot of films are going to be released in theaters from the month of May through to August of this year, so we’ve whittled down that list to 20 movies (and a handful of honorable mentions) that are, essentially, must-sees for cinephiles this summer. Naturally, the roster includes the highly-anticipated superhero movies, big-budget sequels, and nostalgic franchise reboots that you’ve been hearing about for some time now. However, there are also other genre films (supernatural horror, dark comedy), more intimate character-driven dramas and – gasp! – even some original titles to pick from.
Here are our 20 Films to See in Summer 2016 (presented in the order of their theatrical release date).
Captain America: Civil War (May 6th)
Plot Summary: After another incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability. The new status quo fractures the Avengers, resulting in two camps—one led by Steve Rogers and his desire for the Avengers to remain free to defend humanity without government interference, and the other following Tony Stark’s decision to support government oversight.
The Breakdown: Captain America: Civil War is not just directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s anticipated followup to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s also the first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Phase 3” and the movie that marks the screen debut of both Marvel Comics superhero Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the MCU’s version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Early word of mouth for Civil War is very positive, as reviews claim that this film is more successful at expanding the MCU mythology in a meaningful fashion without simultaneously sacrificing its quality as a standalone narrative, compared to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. On top of that, Civil War is described as having the best action scenes of any Marvel Studios film produced to date. In short, Civil War is poised to kick off the Summer 2016 movie season with a bang and is one of the must-see mainstream films that will be hitting theaters over the next few months. Buy your tickets asap!
The Nice Guys (May 20th)
Plot Summary: Down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March and hired enforcer Jackson Healy must work together to solve the case of a missing girl and the seemingly unrelated death of a porn star in 1970s Los Angeles. During their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest circles of power.
The Breakdown: More Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys is the new film by writer/director Shane Black: a specialist in the area of buddy cop/detective genre entertainment for nearly thirty years now, following his breakout work as screenwriter on the original Lethal Weapon in 1987. Black is a filmmaker who, when he’s not working on mainstream properties such as Iron Man and the upcoming Predator franchise revival (titled The Predator), has more of a cult following than a mainstream one. However, for those who have loved Black’s work over the years, The Nice Guys looks to deliver everything you could ask for from a Shane Black “joint”: unabashedly dark humor, crackling energy between the two leads (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe), and a fine knowledge of and appreciation for the pulpy Neo-Noir tradition (here with a comical touch and historical Californian setting, a la Inherent Vice). And yes, the film will probably take place around Christmastime, too.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (May 20th)
Plot Summary: Now that Mac and Kelly Radner have a second baby on the way, they are ready to make the final move into adulthood: the suburbs. But just as they thought they’d reclaimed the neighborhood and were safe to sell, they learn that the new occupants next door are a sorority even more out of control than Teddy and his brothers ever dreamed of being.
The Breakdown: Neighbors was a critical/commercial hit back in 2014 and the sequel reunites most of the players on the first movie – including, stars Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, and Zac Efron, as well as co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller – while adding such names as Chloë Grace Moretz into the mix. That being said, comedy sequels have a somewhat notorious track record of failing to reach the benchmark cleared by their predecessors, in particular when they retread the same premise… something that Neighbors 2 is doing, to a degree. On the other hand, there have been comedy followups in recent memory that’ve found creative ways to riff on their familiar premise (see 22 Jump Street) and/or continue the franchise in a meaningful way from a storytelling/character development perspective (see Barbershop: The Next Cut). Perhaps Sorority Rising will prove to be another exception to the comedy sequel “rule”?
X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27th)
Plot Summary: Upon awakening after thousands of years, Apocalypse – the first and most powerful mutant – is disillusioned with the world as he finds it and recruits a team of mutants to cleanse humankind and create a new world order, over which he will reign. It’s up to the X-Men to stop their greatest nemesis and save humanity from complete destruction.
The Breakdown: Director Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse is not only the conclusion to the X-Men: First Class trilogy (which also includes Days of Future Past), it’s also a film that will introduce younger versions of well-known X-Men such as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Storm (Alexandra Shipp) – some of whom may appear in future X-Men films too, including The New Mutants – and mark the screen debut of Apocalypse, as portrayed by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Apocalypse has understandably taken a back seat in the 2016 superhero movie discussion so far, behind heavy-weights like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. Nevertheless, for those who are fans of the X-Men films, Apocalypse is not only a cinematic “event” unto itself, it’s also a chapter that will pave the way for the (increasingly intriguing) next era of the big screen X-Men franchise.
Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 27th)
Plot Summary: Alice returns to the whimsical world of Underland and travels back in time to save the Mad Hatter. We are also introduced to several new characters, including: Zanik Hightopp, the Mad Hatter’s father and Time himself, a peculiar creature who is part human, part clock.
The Breakdown: Six years will have passed since director Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland grossed more than $1 billion in theaters, by the time that its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, arrives. The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobin served at the helm on the Alice in Wonderland followup (with Burton producing), while the cast features both returning players from the first installment – Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and the late Alan Rickman – as well as new additions, like Sacha Baron Cohen. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland “brand” is strong enough on its own to ensure that the sequel will do well enough at the box office – but can Alice Through the Looking Glass also clear the bar for quality set by the last two Disney live-action fairy tale films (Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book)?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (June 3rd)
Plot Summary: After supervillain Shredder escapes custody, he joins forces with mad scientist Baxter Stockman and two dimwitted henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady, to unleash a diabolical plan to take over the world. As the Turtles prepare to take on Shredder and his new crew, they find themselves facing an even greater evil with similar intentions: the notorious Krang.
The Breakdown: The 2014 reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie franchise earned an overall chilly reception from critics, yet that Michael Bay-produced movie managed to gross nearly half a billion dollars in theaters worldwide anyway. Out of the Shadows, a sequel to the TMNT reboot that was directed by Dave Green (Earth to Echo) and once again produced by Bay, has a real shot at being a TMNT film that pleases both those who liked and didn’t like the 2014 reboot – namely, by abandoning the pseudo-serious tone of its predecessor and integrating beloved TMNT cartoon TV show characters like Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), Rocksteady (Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) and Krang (Fred Armisen) into the mix. In a year full of comic book movies where superheroes are either fighting each other and/or world-ending threats, a “superhero film” as unashamed of its own goofiness as TMNT: Out of the Shadows could be a breath of fresh air.
The Conjuring 2 (June 10th)
Plot Summary: Director James Wan brings this supernatural thriller to the screen with another real case from the files of renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren – who, in one of their most terrifying paranormal investigations, travel to north London to help a single mother raising four children alone in a house plagued by malicious spirits.
The Breakdown: Horror movies often manage to turn a profit because they weren’t all that expensive to make in the first place, but The Conjuring was the rare spook-fest to hit it big at the box office – grossing $318 million worldwide on a $20 million budget and earning lots of critical applause in the process, back in 2013. The Conjuring 2 reunites most of that film’s main players on both sides of the camera – including, director James Wan as well as stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson – and is positioned to succeed as (scary) counter-programming to this summer’s collection of big-budget tentpoles. Question is, will The Conjuring 2 managed to please filmgoers by delivering more of what they loved the first time around – or will it provide a different horror movie experience (a la Wan’s previous horror film sequel, Insidious Chapter 2) and in turn leave audiences more split, as a result?
Warcraft (June 10th)
Plot Summary: The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: Orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people and their home.
The Breakdown: Can Warcraft break the video game movie “curse” at long last? That question has been hanging over the film’s head since it entered development. The individuals and companies alike that have worked on the fantasy adventure these past few years – including, co-writer/director Duncan Jones (Source Code), studio backer Legendary Pictures, and the Warcraft/World of Warcraft multi-platform franchise publisher Blizzard Entertainment – have now claimed on multiple occasions that they are determined to succeed where other video game film adaptations failed in the past. Warcraft certainly looks faithful to the aesthetic of the original games and boasts a talented cast/director too, but if critics aren’t impressed with the final movie result then it won’t help the film’s efforts to cross-over and convince the mainstream ticket-buying masses that Jones’ adaptation is more than just Lord of the Rings for gamers. Either way, there’s still Assassin’s Creed to give video game fans hope, later this year.
Finding Dory (June 17th)
Plot Summary: Dory goes with her friends Nemo and Marlin on a search for answers about her past. What can she remember? Who are her parents? And where did she learn to speak Whale?
The Breakdown: Finding Nemo was released in theaters back in 2003 and it remains not only one of Pixar Animation’s most beloved films, but also one of its most lucrative movies (with only Toy Story 3‘s worldwide box office take ranking higher than Finding Nemo‘s). Hence, Nemo co-writer/director Andrew Stanton has a high bar to clear – one he set himself – with his sequel Finding Dory, a followup that brings back Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks as the voices for Dory and Marlin, and fills out its cast with several noteworthy new additions. Disney/Pixar previewed 27 minutes of Finding Dory footage at the 2016 CinemaCon well ahead of the film’s theatrical debut, which suggests that the studios are confident that Stanton’s movie can live up to the lofty expectations surrounding it. Here’s to hoping Finding Dory is indeed on the same level of quality as Toy Story 2 & 3, as far as Pixar movie sequels are concerned.
Central Intelligence (June 17th)
Plot Summary: The story follows a one-time bullied geek who grew up to be a lethal CIA agent, coming home for his high school reunion. Claiming to be on a top-secret case, he enlists the help of the former “big man on campus”, now an accountant who misses his glory days. But before the staid numbers-cruncher realizes what he’s getting into, it’s too late to get out.
The Breakdown: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has started to become synonymous with light-hearted summer movie escapism over these past few years (see Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7, Hercules, San Andreas, and so on), while Kevin Hart has starred in multiple box office hit comedies released over the same period of time (Ride Along 1 & 2, Get Hard, etc.). Central Intelligence bring the two stars together for an action/comedy romp from Dodgeball and We’re the Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who likewise boasts a number of commercially-successful – and, on the whole, solid – mainstream American comedies under his belt. Johnson and Hart are currently making plans to work together again on the Jumanji reboot (after having also co-hosted the 2016 MTV Movie Awards earlier this year), so hopefully their real-world chemistry will translate into them having comedic screen chemistry, starting with Central Intelligence this year.
Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24th)
Plot Summary: We always knew they were coming back. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force.
The Breakdown: Filmmaker Roland Emmerich has made “disaster movie porn” his speciality over the two decades that’ve passed since he directed the original Independence Day (see also The Day After Tomorrow, 2012), so it was perhaps inevitable that Emmerich would eventually make a sequel to ID4 too. Independence Day: Resurgence, as the followup is titled, brings back pretty much every major cast member still alive from its predecessor (save, most notably, for Will Smith) while also incorporating young up and comers Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, and Maika Monroe into the mix. Emmerich’s destruction spectacle-driven films have traditionally done big business at the worldwide box office, even though their critical receptions tend to be lukewarm at best. How Resurgence fares by comparison remains to be seen, but the world-building behind the sequel does appear to be pretty solid – maybe even enough so as to sustain a new ID4 film trilogy, as is rumored to be the plan.
Free State of Jones (June 24th)
Plot Summary: Banding together with other small farmers and local slaves, Southern farmer Newt Knight launches an uprising that leads Jones County, Mississippi to secede from the Confederacy, creating a Free State of Jones.
The Breakdown: Free State of Jones is the next installment in the “McConaissance”, a.k.a. Matthew McConaughey’s career resurgence that has been going on since at least 2011 and has seen the Oscar-winner star in such lauded films as Magic Mike, Dallas Buyers Club, and Interstellar, among others. McConaughey’s latest movie is shaping up to be another worthwhile notch on his belt too, with its compelling real-life historical subject matter and talented ensemble cast that includes such names as Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell, and Mahershala Ali. Free State of Jones was also written and directed by Gary Ross of Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, and The Hunger Games fame – providing all the more reason to think that the Civil War drama could make for a nice change of pace from the other mainstream releases that will be arriving this summer.
The BFG (July 1st)
Plot Summary: A young girl named Sophie is whisked away one night by the Big Friendly Giant or BFG, a giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. However, when Sophie’s presence in Giant Country attracts the unwanted attention of other blood-thirsty giants, she and the BFG come up with a plan to make Giant Country (and the world) safe once and for all.
The Breakdown: Steven Spielberg’s last three directorial efforts (War Horse, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies) were all historical dramas, which make his upcoming family-friendly adventure The BFG – based on the widely-loved novel of the same name by Roald Dahl – a change of pace from his recent work. The BFG not only brings to mind E.T. with its story about a lonely child who befriends a fantastical creature, but also because E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison worked on both films before sadly passing away shortly after The BFG wrapped production. Spielberg’s Roald Dahl adaptation is thus shaping up to be not only a very heartfelt piece of whimsical storytelling, but also one that impresses on a technical level – thanks to the experience Spielberg previously gained while making the 2011 motion-capture film, The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg’s latest film ought to be able to attract a sizable crowd when it reaches theaters too, for those reasons.
Ghostbusters (July 15th)
Plot Summary: Thirty years after the beloved original Ghostbusters franchise took the world by storm, director Paul Feig brings his fresh take to the supernatural comedy, joined by some of the funniest actors working today. This summer, they’re here to save the world!
The Breakdown: Ghostbusters is coming back to the big screen for the first time since 1989 and many of the franchise’s dedicated fans are excited to see what acclaimed director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) and his talented comedic cast (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon) deliver with their reboot. Others, however, have been quite vocal about their displeasure with this film, be it because it’s a “hard” reboot of the Ghostbusters series, because the movie features four women as its leads, and/or some other reason altogether (ex. they simply haven’t found the movie’s trailers to be funny). Nevertheless, between elements like the film’s splashy and colorful aesthetic, as well as the attention to detail being paid to the Ghostbusters’ fictional scientific gadgetry, a good deal of effort is being poured into making the Ghostbusters reboot something special. Here’s to hoping that effort shows in the final movie result.
Star Trek Beyond (July 22nd)
Plot Summary: The U.S.S. Enterprise is only part-way through its five year mission into uncharted territory when it’s nearly destroyed in a battle – leaving its crew stranded on a hostile alien planet. Captain James Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew struggle to reunite and make their way back home safely.
The Breakdown: The third installment in the rebooted/alternate timeline Star Trek movie franchise, Star Trek Beyond has gone through quite the journey on its way to the big screen. The original version of the film (which was to be co-written and directed by Roberto Orci) wound up being abandoned, leading to the movie starting over completely from scratch – with Fast & Furious alum Justin Lin directing from a script co-written by cast member Simon Pegg. Beyond‘s action-heavy teaser trailer and comments about Paramount not wanting the film to be “too Star Trek-y” have given some Trekkies reason for concern about Beyond, even as new cast additions like Idris Elba and having a script that was developed with input from die-hard Trek fans have given them reason to be excited. Either way, 2016 is Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary, so here’s to hoping that Beyond commemorates the event in a fitting fashion.
Jason Bourne (July 29th)
Plot Summary: In the next chapter of the Bourne franchise, the CIA’s most lethal former operative is drawn out of the shadows after having lived off the grid since the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. Jason Bourne soon learns the truth about his past, even as the U.S. government attempts to hunt him down.
The Breakdown: The Matt Damon-headlined Bourne film trilogy (Bourne Identity, Bourne Supremacy, and Bourne Ultimatum) was arguably the most critically-acclaimed action/thriller movie series released during the 2000s. Hence, most Bourne fans seem both excited and a little nervous about Damon returning to the role of Jason Bourne in 2016’s… Jason Bourne. Supremacy/Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass is back at the helm for this Bourne installment too – and much like the first three Bourne movies tapped into the post-9/11 zeitgeist of the ’00s, Jason Bourne aims to reflect the state of things in the “post-Edward Snowden” world of today. 2012’s Damon-less spinoff/”side-quel” Bourne Legacy failed to reach the same level of critical/commercial success as the original Bourne trilogy, but the series may rebound with Jason Bourne – and if it does, then it will keep hopes alive for a future crossover featuring Damon and Legacy‘s Jeremy Renner.
Suicide Squad (August 5th)
Plot Summary: U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller assembles a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provides them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. Will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?
The Breakdown: Suicide Squad is the first installment in the DC Extended Universe – which started with Man of Steel and continued with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – that was not directed by Zack Snyder. The DC super-villain team up adventure was instead helmed by David Ayer: the director of Fury and End of Watch, as well as the writer of Training Day and The Fast and the Furious. Ayer has seemingly infused Suicide Squad‘s comic book-based aesthetic and plot beats with the L.A. street crime genre elements that he knows so well, giving rise to a DC Comics adaptation that looks comically-demented, thrilling, and unique in all the best ways. Suicide Squad‘s nostalgic pop song-driven trailer marketing has been compared to that for Guardians of the Galaxy – maybe Ayer’s actual movie will prove to be comparable to James Gunn’s Marvel action/comedy in terms of its creative merits and box office success, too.
The Founder (August 5th)
Plot Summary: 1950s milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc becomes America’s most successful fast food entrepreneur, after he transforms a small chain of fast-food restaurants into the multibillion dollar McDonald’s Corp.
The Breakdown: There are always a handful of intriguing, smaller-scale dramatic films that make their way into theaters amidst the sea of big-budget tentpoles every summer – and in 2016, The Founder is certainly one of the former. Michael Keaton is on a hot streak after having starred in Best Picture Oscar-winning movies back to back for the past two years (see Birdman and Spotlight), which makes the prospect of watching him play McDonald’s “founder” on the big screen all the more enticing. With John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks) directing and Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler) serving as the film’s screenwriter, it’s reasonable to think that The Founder could thrive as a piece of counter-programming to 2016’s slate of blockbuster offerings. Who knows, maybe The Founder will even be to Summer 2016 what Straight Outta Compton was to Summer 2015.
Pete’s Dragon (August 12th)
Plot Summary: Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. With the help of Natalie, an 11-year-old girl whose father Jack owns the local lumber mill, forest ranger Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.
The Breakdown: Pete’s Dragon is arguably one of Disney’s more… unusual live-action/animated musicals to be released during the 1960s and ’70s, so it’s perhaps fitting that the 2016 remake looks to be a far cry from other recent Disney live-action re-imaginings/re-tellings. Whereas films such as Maleficent and The Jungle Book carried over specific elements from their Disney-animated predecessors, the only thing that co-writer/director David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon remake seems to have in common with its 1977 predecessor is that both are about a young boy and a dragon who becomes his pet/friend/guardian. That’s not, per se, a bad thing, either; the teaser trailer paints Lowery’s remake as being an imaginative family adventure (with a dark edge, but not too dark) that recalls the beloved Amblin movies of the 1980s. A talented cast that includes Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Wes Bentley should only further help Lowery’s cause.
Kubo and the Two Strings (August 19th)
Plot Summary: Clever, kindhearted Kubo ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town. But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past. Now on the run, Kubo sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.
The Breakdown: Laika Entertainment isn’t a household name the way that other animation studios are (Pixar, DreamWorks, etc.), but the former has continued to churn out one imaginative stop-motion animated film after another over the years – most recently, with the Oscar-nominated The Boxtrolls in 2014. However, this year’s Kubo and the Two Strings looks to be perhaps the most visually-audacious and thematically ambitious piece of storytelling from Laika since the release of Coraline in 2009. Kubo was directed by longtime Laika animation supervisor Travis Knight and penned by ParaNorman co-writer Chris Butler, with the voice cast here including A-listers like Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Matthew McConaughey, and George Takei. That cast simply provides all the more reason to give this animated film a look in theaters, even as the summer movie season winds down in August.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (June 3rd) – Could Lonely Island’s movie prove to be the irreverent, star-studded, timely showbiz industry satire that many hoped Zoolander 2 was going to be earlier this year?
Now You See Me 2 (June 10th) – The Now You See Me sequel doesn’t necessarily look to continue this magicians-on-a-heist-thriller franchise in an inventive fashion, but it might yet prove to have some unexpected tricks up its sleeve.
The Legend of Tarzan (July 1st) – Director David Yates was heavily praised for his work on the final four Harry Potter films, but with rumors of behind the scenes issues having circulated since 2015 you have to wonder: will Yates’ expensive Tarzan movie become a surprise hit… or the next Lone Ranger-sized dud?
The Secret Life of Pets (July 8th) – The Secret Life of Pets probably won’t reach the levels of popularity achieved by Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me/Minions franchise, but the studio’s latest animated offering looks to be one for the animal lovers of the world.
Sausage Party (August 12th) – This animated comedy’s R-Rated humor won’t appeal to anyone who’s tired of Seth Rogen and his friends’ raunchy antics, but its premise (anthropomorphic grocery store products try to escape their grisly final destination) may be… unorthodox enough to attract a decent-size crowd, regardless.
How about it: what movies are you planning to see in theaters this summer? Let us know in the comments section!