These Summer Movies Might Actually Be Good, or, “How to Keep Hope Alive as Everything Blows Up”


With what’re certain to be 2018’s Mightiest Heroes, box office–wise, already having cleaned up in theaters, it’s tempting to count what your cinephile parents used to think of as The Summer Movie Season as one more casualty of the Infinity Wars. The synchronicity of releasing Black Panther during Black History Month aside, the holiday-adjacent release dates that once seemed essential to mega-productions’ success have become an afterthought in an era where the domestic gross matters less and less. Nevertheless, here are our picks for the most promising movies due in the Memorial Day–to–Labor Day frame that was responsible for keeping Hollywood solvent, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (A handful of these have screened at festivals; the author has seen none of them. I’m placing bets based on publicly available information. Also, release dates are subject to change, and limited-release films don’t yet have local premieres scheduled.)

Hereditary (June 8, wide) — Writer-director Ari Aster’s feature debut, about a household that suffers strange and terrifying events after grandma dies, earned raves at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with Toni Collette’s performance being hailed as one of the versatile actor’s best. Aster made two shorts, The Strange Thing About the Johnsons and Munchausen, that dealt with violently dysfunctional parent-child relationships. It would appear he has more to say on this subject.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (June 8, limited) — What’s the perfect counterprogramming for a family horror flick? Try Morgan Neville’s celebration of Fred Rogers’s quietly revolutionary children’s TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired five times per week from the mid 1960s until 2001. Neville’s terrific backup-singer feature 20 Feet From Stardom won the Best Documentary Oscar four years ago. Here, he turns his lens on a superhero whose uniform was a cardigan and whose power was empathy.

Incredibles 2 (June 15, wide) — Not that traditional bad guy–punchin’ superpowers aren’t great, too. It’s been fourteen years since writer-director Brad Bird and Pixar gave us the Best Animated Feature Oscar–winning The Incredibles, but through the magic of animation, the sequel picks up the story of this struggling household of “supers” — again voiced by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, and Sarah Vowell, with Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener signing on, too — soon after the original ended. In the interim, Bird turned the troubled Ratatouille into a success, gave the Mission: Impossible franchise a new lease on life with the Burj Khalifa–scaling Ghost Protocol, and did his doggone durndest to make the earnest fantasy Tomorrowland work. The capes-and-tights genre was a lot less crowded back in 2004, but if anyone can make it fresh again, it’s a Bird (it’s a plane, etc.).

Under the Silver Lake (June 22, limited) — Writer-director David Robert Mitchell made one of the more memorable horror films of the last decade with It Follows. For his follow-up, it follows that he would cast Andrew Garfield as an amateur gumshoe investigating the disappearance of a neighbor (Riley Keough) with whom he’s become smitten. A comic L.A. mystery in the vein of The Long Goodbye or Inherent Vice or The Nice Guys? Are those in the same vein? Never mind, I’m in.

Sorry to Bother You (July 6, limited) — Boots Riley borrowed the title of the 2012 album from the Coup, the marvelous agitprop hip-hop group he’s fronted since the early Nineties, for his directorial debut. The satire features Get Out’s Lakeith Stanfield as a man who takes a telemarketing gig and finds that affecting the voice of a white man (supplied by David Cross) is the key to success. Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, and Danny Glover co-star.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (July 13, limited) — I won’t lie: I picked this one for the title. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan, whose memoir inspired the film. Director Gus Van Sant adapted Callahan’s book. Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black appear, if you’re into those sorts of things.

Blindspotting (July 20, limited) — The summer’s second movie from Bay Area rappers (after Sorry to Bother You) was co-written by Rafael Casal and his high school buddy Daveed Diggs, now a Tony Award winner for his roles as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. Both performers occasionally rap directly to the camera in this tense examination of race relations, wherein Diggs’s character — out on probation and trying to stay straight despite the influence of his reckless pal Casal — witnesses a wrongful police shooting.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout (July 27, wide) — The most thrilling analog action franchise around used to essentially reboot itself with a new director and supporting cast each time. For Mission No. 6, busy screenwriter and script doc Christopher McQuarrie becomes the first director to return. He’s retained Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris from 2015’s Rogue Nation and added Henry “the world’s most expensive mustache” Cavill and Angela Bassett to the crew. The shot of age-defying producer/star/stunt-Thetan Tom Cruise shattering his ankle against the side of a London building last August, necessitating a two-month hiatus in filming while he (partially) recovered, was in the trailer, but it’s far from the movie’s biggest stunt. That would be a skydive involving Cruise’s attempt to intercept Cavill midair; the star told a CinemaCon audience he did 106 jumps to get the scene in the can. One of these guys ages at roughly a quarter of standard human rate, believes himself to be descended from extraterrestrials, and can fly. The other one is Superman.

The Spy Who Dumped Me (August 3, wide) — Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis play roommates drawn into one of those, whatchacallit, webs of intrigue, after the guy Kunis’s character had been dating (Sam Heughan, of the Starz series Outlander) is outed as a CIA spook. It sure sounds like a Paul Feig joint, but the filmmaker in charge is Susanna Fogel, the writer-director of Life Partners. Of the two films scheduled for wide release this summer directed by women (the other one is Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s YA adaptation The Darkest Minds), this is the more promising. Do better, Hollywood.

Christopher Robin (August 3, wide) — Set in 1949, this fantasy stars Ewan McGregor as the adult version of the boy from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. He’s busy running a company and raising a daughter with onetime Agent Carter Hayley Atwell when, hey, Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore and Tigger pay him a visit. (To the rest of the world, they look like inanimate stuffed toys.) Director Marc Forster made Finding Neverland, about Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, before he became the traffic cop in charge of troubled blockbusters Quantum of Solace and World War Z. Maybe this return to the period literary fantasy genre will do him good.

Crazy Rich Asians (August 15, wide) — An American economics professor (Constance Wu) of Chinese descent accompanies her boyfriend (Henry Golding) to Singapore, then discovers he’s part of a rich and aristocratic family. This adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 comic novel — a celebration or a condemnation of the leisure classes of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, depending on who you ask — comes from Jon M. Chu. He’s the director of two Step Up sequels, two Justin Bieber concert films, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Jem and the Holograms, and Now You See Me 2. At least it won’t be pretentious.

Juliet, Naked (August 17, limited) — Jesse Peretz, a founding member of soured indie rock band the Lemonheads before he became an auteur, seems like a good candidate to adapt Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel. It’s about a woman (Rose Byrne) who becomes involved with the semiretired cult musician (Ethan Hawke) with whom her boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) is obsessed. Once again, Hornby puts the aging, stunted male rock superfan under glass — but Rob from High Fidelity didn’t have reddit forums to exacerbate his condition.

ALSO: Skyscraper (July 13) / The Meg (August 10) — Dwayne Johnson vs. the World’s Tallest Building / Jason Statham vs. the World’s Largest Shark. Oh, I’m sorry: I thought you said you like movies.