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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    The biggest movies hitting theaters this summer

    After Memorial Day, the floodgates open wide for new movie releases, and wave after wave of film fun crash on our cinematic shores. What's in store for the months ahead? Read on for our annual guide to the buzziest summer movies.

    Opening dates are subject to change.

    Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

    (June 9, not yet rated)

    Starring: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Tobe Nwigwe, Peter Cullen, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Pete Davidson.

    What's the story? Let this sink in: This is the seventh Transformers movie. (Kind of hits you in the gut when you see it spelled out like that, doesn't it?) Anyhoo, that's where we are, with the Autobots (Optimus Prime and company) teaming up with the Maximals, a new offshoot of the familiar robot warriors, but that turn into animals, not cars and trucks. (Perlman voices one of them, called Optimus Primal, soon to be known informally to wags as the King Kong Transformer.) Ramos stars as the human hero. The Beast Wars rage on. So does this franchise.

    What's the buzz? Taking a wild guess here, but the fate of the world might hang in the balance.


    (June 16, PG)

    Starring: Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi.

    What's the story? Set in Element City, a place where denizens of the realms of Earth, Air, Fire and Water live in not-quite harmony, Pixar's newest animated adventure centers on the odd-couple relationship between fiery Ember Lumen (voice of Lewis) and Wade Ripple (Athie), who is all wet. ("Elements don't mix," she is told in the trailer.)

    What's the buzz? Expect lots of amazing visuals and physical/conceptual gags, as well as a story about tolerance and diversity.

    The Blackening

    (June 16, not yet rated)

    Starring: Grace Byers, Jermaine Fowler, Melvin Gregg, X Mayo.

    What's the story? When a group of Black friends get together in a remote cabin for a weekend getaway over Juneteenth, they find themselves stalked by a serial killer in this meta-horror comedy, which aims to poke fun at the tropes of the slasher genre, including the widely cited rule that the Black character is always the first to die.

    What's the buzz? "Scream" meets "Get Out."

    The Flash

    (June 16, PG-13)

    Starring: Ezra Miller, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck, Michael Shannon.

    What's the story? Miller plays Barry Allen, a.k.a. the titular, lightning-fast superhero, in the troubled action-adventure film, so long in gestation that two directors (Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa) came and went before Warner Bros. settled on Andy Muschietti, director of "It" and "It Chapter Two." The time-traveling plot of this DC Comics film, in which the protagonist is trying to save his mother, involves two versions of Barry; two Batmans (Keaton and Affleck); the debut of Supergirl (Sasha Calle); and the return of Shannon as General Zod, a Kryptonian villain who was killed by Superman in "Man of Steel" — and later resuscitated as Doomsday in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

    What's the buzz? There's a lot of worrisome churn at this studio, with the cancellation of "Batgirl" and allegations against Miller related to substance abuse and assault, as well as criminal charges.

    No Hard Feelings

    (June 23, R)

    Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Feldman, Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti.

    What's the story? In this raunchy comedy, Lawrence plays a women who, to extricate herself from dire financial straits, accepts a job offer from a couple (Broderick and Benanti) who want her to, er, deflower their sexually inexperienced 19-year-old son (Feldman) before he goes off to college.

    What's the buzz? Can Gene Stupnitsky, a producer and writer on "The Office" and the director and co-writer of "Good Boys," re-create that 2019 film's mix of sex and sweetness?

    Asteroid City

    (June 23, PG-13)

    Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright.

    What's the story? Shot in Spain, the latest from Wes Anderson — an auteur so idiosyncratic, his style gets imitated on TikTok and Instagram — is set in 1955, during the annual celebration of an asteroid's landfall at a gathering of space enthusiasts in a fictional American desert town. In the retro-futuristic trailer, the putative arrival of aliens, perhaps heralded by the appearance of a distant mushroom cloud, precipitates some discussion of the meaning of life.

    What's the buzz? Anderson's films may be an acquired taste for some viewers, but it's one that continues to draw a stable of acting regulars whose loyalty to the filmmaker is arguably a sign of how much fun is to be had on one of his sets.

    Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

    (June 30, PG-13)

    Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas.

    What's the story? Set in 1969, against the backdrop of the space race, the fifth installment in the Indiana Jones franchise — and the first film in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg, who passes the bullwhip to James Mangold ("Ford v. Ferrari") — will also be the last appearance by Ford, now 80 years old, in the title role. It is therefore fitting that the plot of "Dial" seems to revolve around a device with some sort of time-travel potential: Indy's goddaughter, a new character played by "Fleabag's" Waller-Bridge, calls it a "dial that could change the course of history." A former Nazi working for NASA also wants the device so he can "correct" Hitler's "mistakes."

    What's the buzz? Mangold wanted to more directly acknowledge Indy's age, so the film opens in 1944 with a digitally de-aged Ford as Indy before jumping to the main action.

    Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

    (June 30, PG)

    Starring: Lana Condor, Jane Fonda, Toni Collette.

    What's the story? This animated adventure from DreamWorks turns aquatic fairy tale lore on its head, with mermaids being the bad guys and krakens — sea monsters — the protectors of life on land and sea. The title character (Condor) is a kraken masquerading as an adolescent human at a seaside high school who must tap into her warrior-queen ancestry when a popular classmate goes all queen bee on her, mermaid-style.

    What's the buzz? "Mean Girls" under the sea.

    Joy Ride

    (July 7, not yet rated)

    Starring: Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu.

    What's the story? A business trip to China by Asian American adoptee and corporate lawyer Audrey is the catalyst for this raunchy, cocaine-fueled road-trip comedy, which marks the directorial debut of "Crazy Rich Asians" producer Adele Lim. Audrey (Park) seeks unlikely traveling companionship from her childhood best friend Lolo (Cola); Audrey's old college pal Kat (Hsu), who is now a Chinese soap star; and Lolo's cousin (Wu), known as Deadeye.

    What's the buzz? "Girls Trip" in Asia.

    Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part 1

    (July 14, not yet rated)

    Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg.

    What's the story? Just as star and producer Cruise seems to defy his 60 years, so too does this long-running film franchise, born in 1996 and based on the 1966-1973 TV series. Like someone who refuses to divulge their age, "Mission: Impossible" dropped numbers from the film's titles after the third movie, in favor of such enigmatic subtitles as "Fallout" and "Dead Reckoning." (Excuse me, make that "Dead Reckoning, Part 1." Part 2 is due out next year.) We don't know much about this film yet, but it features the return of Henry Czerny as Eugene Kittridge, the IMF director who disappeared from the franchise after wrongfully accusing Cruise's Ethan Hunt of being a mole in the first film. In the trailer, we hear Kittridge tell a very upset-looking Hunt, "Our lives are the sum of our choices, and we cannot escape the past."

    What's the buzz? In December, producers released a jaw-dropping extended behind-the-scenes video about the film's most elaborate stunt, in which Cruise rides a motorcycle off a cliff in Demark, only to BASE jump by parachute to safety.


    (July 21, not yet rated)

    Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, John Cena, Helen Mirren.

    What's the story? Little is known about the plot of this live-action comedy by Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Noah Baumbach. So little that the merest rumors of a synopsis have gone viral on Twitter: One speculation is that the story has something to do with the conflict between life in the real world — inhabited by a Mattel CEO (Ferrell), among others — and the fictional fantasia of Barbieland, where the title character and her boyfriend Ken (Robbie and Gosling) rub shoulders with others by the same name.

    What's the buzz? Greta Gerwig! (Also, see entirely speculative plot synopsis above, which starts to sound plausible, given the theme of fact vs. fiction at play in Gerwig's Oscar-nominated "Little Women.")


    (July 21, not yet rated)

    Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr.

    What's the story? Shot on Imax cameras by Christopher Nolan ("Tenet"), this three-hour historical epic — based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer," by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin — tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Murphy), the theoretical physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II while wrestling with the ethical dilemma that the work entailed.

    What's the buzz? Such a serious, grown-up film may be an outlier in a season of popcorn movies. But Nolan has always been a maverick. "I'm often accused of magical thinking, of nostalgia, of daydreaming as opposed to a sound business plan," he told Deadline. "And it's taken the last few years for us all to realize that when you're talking about movies, magical thinking, nostalgia, daydreaming — that is the sound business plan, it's the only sound business plan."

    16. Haunted Mansion

    (July 28, PG-13)

    Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto.

    What's the story? Like 2021's "Jungle Cruise" and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies before it, this horror comedy has been extrapolated from a Disney World ride: in this case one that, over the course of a few minutes, takes visitors on a tour of a poltergeist-plagued mansion. Here, a woman and her son (Dawson and Dillon) hire a crew of paranormal problem-solvers to help rid their Louisiana home of supernatural pests.

    What's the buzz? This is not Disney's first attempt to turn the park attraction into a movie. Eddie Murphy starred in a widely panned version of "The Haunted Mansion" 20 years ago. Fear not, says Justin Simien. The "Dear White People" director told Entertainment Weekly that he used Murphy's 2003 film as a template to avoid.


    (Aug. 18, R)

    Starring: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, Randall Park.

    What's the story? Ferrell provides the voice of the film's furry hero, Reggie, a border terrier with an indefatigably sunny disposition, in this raunchy, live-action talking-dog comedy. After Reggie's reluctant owner (Forte) abandons him, Reggie teams up with a potty-mouthed Boston terrier (Jamie Foxx), who introduces Reggie to life on the streets - and an appetite for revenge.

    What's the buzz? Don't take the kids. The film's red-band trailer makes it clear that, despite similar subject matter, "Strays" is no "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."

    The Equalizer 3

    (Sept. 1, not yet rated)

    Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning.

    What's the story? Washington and his director on "Training Day," Antoine Fuqua, created a hit with the first "The Equalizer," a violent 2014 action movie, based loosely on the 1980s TV show of the same name, about a former government assassin who, in the manner of the Taken series, must dust off his lethal skills to protect the oppressed and avenge the wronged. Set in a small town in southern Italy, where the hero has settled in for a quiet retirement, the film follows Washington's Robert McCall as he takes on the Mafia.

    What's the buzz? As the 2018 installment of this franchise proved, Washington can make even a bad movie watchable.

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