The summer movie season is upon us once again - that odd seasonal conundrum in which we give thanks for all the bright, warm, days by rushing into dark, cool, theaters to watch Hollywood's big tentpole films (and a few counter-programming hopefuls) crash together in competition for audience dollars.
The presence of Avengers: Age of Ultron at the start of the lineup pretty much signals that there will be a clear king of summer this year (Marvel) - but nonetheless, some big budget reboots (Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road), new installments of popular franchises (Minions, Mission: Impossible 5) and a few new entries (Tomorrowland, Ant-Man) could all pull in serious dollars, and probably deserve your attention.
Unlike in previous years, we will NOT be focusing on the overall release schedule between May and August; since it's 2015, we've picked 15 films off of the summer slate that we think are the ones you should see - for reasons we will explain and discuss, below. NOTE: films are listed in the order of their release date.
16 Avengers: Age of Ultron
Why to Watch: Is that even a question? We're not going to waste the typing effort even trying to sell this film; you're probably already in line to see Avengers 2 right now. But if you're one of the few who has no intention of ever seeing this in theaters, nothing WE say is going to change your mind. Good for you, I guess?
15 Mad Max: Fury Road
Why to Watch: Summer blockbusters often try to appeal to a larger public, but Mad Max: Fury Road is the rare case of a movie that has blockbuster production values, but the niche appeal of a great cult film. It gets extra points for bringing back original Mad Max director George Miller, and for tapping Tom Hardy to take over the titular role from Mel Gibson. Fury Road looks like a wonderfully designed and blessedly straightforward non-stop action/chase film - albeit one that could have a few insights (gender politics) and some unique visuals, now that Miller is using modern film tech to realize his vision. Action fans, start your engines and get to the theater.
Why to Watch: Much like Insidious 3, the Poltergeist remake clawed its way onto our list through the quality of its trailer, From what we've seen, the film could be that gem of a remake which manages to preserve the spirit of the original (no pun), while still justifying its own existence with a creative new (and seemingly polished) vision. Some real spooky scenes could give summer a much needed chill of good horror.
Why to Watch: Director Brad Bird made some incredible animated movies (The Incredibles), but he really gained acclaim when he successfully took on a big-budget franchise tentpole like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Now Bird has a bit more creative freedom to bring Tomorrowland to life, and after some impressive NYCC '14 footage we can say: if you have fond memories of adventure films like Goonies - or you loved how a Disney ride became an epically fun adventure in the first Pirates of the Caribbean - then this film is a must-see.
12 Insidious: Chapter 3
Why to Watch: Truth be told, horror movie sequels had a hard time breaking onto our list (see: honorable mention of Sinister 2); however, Insidious: Chapter 3 made the cut because trailer was so creepy that it really sold us on the film's potential. That shouldn't be all that much of a surprise, though: Insidious 3 is directed by Leigh Whannell, who has been a longtime writer/collaborator of Insidious 1&2 director James Wan. Whannell has also starred as one of the ghost hunters in the series, so his knowledge of the franchise really does extended to all sides of the camera. Few sequels are lucky enough to remain in such capable hands, this far in.
11 Jurassic World
Why to Watch: Look, everyone is wondering, hoping, or doubting that Jurassic World can recapture of the magic of Steven Spielberg's original Jurassic Park... But we all have to show up to the theater and see for ourselves to know for sure. If you're in the family demographic, it's probably even less of a choice: kids do love dinosaurs (and so do big adult kids). Brand recognition will go a long way to making this film a success, regardless of its quality.
10 Inside Out
Why to Watch: Sure, this just happens to be the big Pixar summer movie offering - and it's an original work, not a sequel (always a good sign). However, what makes Inside Out worthy of attention is the fact that it may be Pixar's most mature subject matter yet. Up drew tears with its "life story montage" opening, but Inside Out's "Herman's Head" examination of our complicated emotions is the type of thing adults can relate to almost better than children. Could be powerful life insights mixed in with all that fun and humor brought forth by the excellent voice cast (Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Phyllis Smith and Lewis Black).
Why to Watch: We can sum this up in one easy question: Do you have kids? Yes? Then if they saw the Despicable Me movies, you're automatically signed-up to see this spinoff. If you don't have kids, the "must-see" factor drops exponentially.
Why to Watch: Look, when Guardians of the Galaxy came out last year, many fans were wondering if Marvel had enough brand power to make talking Raccoons and monosyllabic tree aliens into a box office successes. And Marvel proved that it did. However, due to a divisive director switch (so long Edgar Wright, we'll always wonder...) and some lackluster early marketing, it seems the question of how far Marvel can go now hangs over Ant-Man. Skepticism and morbid curiosity are arguably bigger lures than excitement to see this film.
7 Mr. Holmes
Why to Watch: Look, by mid-July your brain is going to need a rest from superheroes, sci-fi, ghosts, and the cacophony of theater sound systems running at deafening volumes. Your good 'ol noggin may crave the recharge of actual cinema, punctuated by great set design and top-caliber performances. Seeing Hobbit, LOTR, and X-Men movie star Ian McKellan playing an older Sherlock Holmes will allow you keep your geek cred, and still feed you some cinematic chicken soup for the soul before you head back out into the summer movie jungle. Keep Mr. Holmes on your radar.
Why to Watch: Seeing Adam Sandler and Kevin James' names headlining a new action/adventure/comedy movie may seem more like a warning sign than an endorsement. However, if you were ever a gamer in the '80s, you are seemingly compelled by universal mandates of nostalgia to check this one out. You could also do worse for a family summer movie outing.
Why to Watch: At this point it is late July; a lot of viewers will be exhausted with the usual summer movie fare - perfect time for Training Day director Antoine Fuqua to bring his new boxing drama Southpaw to the silver screen. Featuring yet another great character performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (who is hot with awards acclaim thanks to both Prisoners and Nightcrawler), plus a hard-boiled script by Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, this is a testosterone flick that seems to have a lot of substance to go with the flashy boxing action.
4 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Why to Watch: Is it yet socially acceptable to admit that Tom Cruise has been on a comeback streak the last few years? Making solid genre films like Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol? Is it okay to admit that? Even if it is not, we're excited to see Cruise and his longtime collaborator/Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie unite to make their own Mission: Impossible movie. Plus, a "good guys vs. evil dopplegangers" storyline is one we tend to enjoy, so all the better.
3 Fantastic Four
Why to Watch: The Fantastic Four reboot has been the subject of so much heated debate that at this point it's almost mandatory that anyone who ventured an opinion (either way) at least check out the final product. Has director Josh Trank transcended the Marvel Comics source material to create an even better film? That's the question we want answered by actual response and analysis - not knee-jerk assumptions.
2 Straight Outta Compton
Why to Watch: It may seem odd to have this film as our summer list finale, but there's reasoning behind it. Besides looking like a cinematically sound biopic for the 20 - 30 demographic, Straight Outta Compton just so happens to be arriving at a time when real-world events like Ferguson or the Baltimore Riots have us once again examining and discussing what has been festering unseen within the streets of urban America - much as N.W.A. intended when putting out their revolutionary and controversial music. Besides being good counter-programming, this is timely, thought-worthy material to reflect upon.
1 Honorable Mentions: WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK
There are more movies coming out in summer 2015 - but whether or not to watch them is a call you and your wallet have to make. We can't say that any of the films listed below will be duds (haven't seen them); but it's a riskier bet whether they will deliver what audiences want.
Entourage (6/5) - Can the bromance fantasy series still find relevancy as a summer movie? We're not so sure "guys night out dates" are enough of a thing to prop this film up.
Ted 2 (6/26) - Ted was well-received; A Million Ways to Die in the West? Not so much. Does Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane have some funny left in the tank? Or is Ted 2 to Ted what Cleveland Show was to Family Guy?
Terminator: Genisys (7/1) - Some SPOILERY trailers have revealed that this highly ambitious attempt at a soft-reboot will either breathe new life into the franchise, or kill it for good. Don't ever say they didn't take risks with this one...
Magic Mike XXL (7/1) - If you liked the first one, no reason to hate on the second one; if you wouldn't go near the first one, stick with that impulse.
Self/Less (7/10) - While not the most original sci-fi concept (man switches his consciousness to new body, finds original inhabitant still has presence), recent films like Ex Machina have given us some measure of renewed faith in smart, insightful, sci-fi parables.
Vacation (7/31) - We're all for summer comedies - and even actors like Ed Helms, Leslie Mann, Christina Applegate, Chevy Chase (and a laundry list of funny people and/or big stars) all sharing the same movie. But to place so much faith in a remake of one of the most enduring comedies we know of seems like sacrilege.
Sinister 2 (8/21) - First one was creepy; second one seems more like studio product, rather than inspired idea.
Hitman: Agent 47 (8/28) - We're hoping for a good action flick, but not expecting too much of one.