Even though spring has seen an increasing number of blockbuster releases, one can’t help but feel excited for the official start of the summer movie season. The films released between May and August are some of the most exciting of the year as blockbusting CGI-fests and Oscar contenders alike convene at the multiplex. Striking a balance between both types of films, though, is the true mark of a great summer movie season. Last summer was packed with big-budget films that went straight from the marquee to “Worst of the Year” lists. No bucket of popcorn was large enough to justify watching “The Legend of Tarzan,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” or “Warcraft.” In contrast, indie gems such as “Swiss Army Man” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” offered cinematic rays of hope, while “Hell or High Water” began its journey to the Oscars.
This summer, however, looks like it could offer a truly great balance of big-budget fare and indie greatness. Ridley Scott returns to his iconic franchise through “Alien: Covenant,” while future Batman helmer Matt Reeves is sure to end an epic trilogy with “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Two powerhouse studios are also poised for greatness — Marvel promises to deliver action and heart with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and A24 is set to release the poetic “A Ghost Story” and the creepy “It Comes At Night.” This summer’s Oscar contenders are particularly strong too, as Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” Sofia Coppola’s Cannes entry “The Beguiled” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” are all slated for release. And who can forget Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver,” whose stunning trailer I will probably watch for the millionth time after writing this blurb?
With a plethora of exciting films slated for release in the coming months, here are the most anticipated of the bunch.
— Harrison Tunggal
- “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
Seeing Tom Holland’s debut as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man was one of the highlights of last summer’s “Captain America: Civil War.” Sure, we’ve had six movies with Spider-Man in them within the last 15 years, but Holland’s version of the character seems poised to be the definitive, comic-book-accurate interpretation, capturing both Peter Parker’s geeky identity and the rapid-fire quips of his superhero persona. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” has also assembled one of the finest casts to appear in a Marvel standalone film, as Robert Downey Jr., Zendaya and Donald Glover are all making appearances. Jacob Batalon seems poised to steal every scene he’s in as Peter Parker’s best friend and Lego Death Star builder extraordinaire, Ned Leeds. But the real kicker is the film’s villain — as the Vulture, Michael Keaton has become a literal bird-man, a true credit to the casting team.
— Harrison Tunggal
- “The Beguiled”
Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) returns with the Cannes in Competition premiering “The Beguiled.” Whether it wins the Palme d’Or or not, the film seems to promise a new direction for Coppola’s filmography. While she is typically known for doing soft, emotional films, “The Beguiled” appears to be an entirely different beast. Seemingly a remake of the 1971 Don Siegel-directed and Clint Eastwood-starring original, which itself is based off the book “The Painted Devil,” “The Beguiled” looks to play more on camp and quietly building fear than Coppola’s past work. Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, leaders of an all-women house during the Civil War, reluctantly take in an injured Union soldier, played by Colin Farrell. Once there, Farrell’s character appears to rupture the dynamic of the house, setting off many twists and betrayals that will surely lead to lost blood. How it all plays out remains to be seen, but it’s always good to see Sofia Coppola behind the camera.
— Levi Hill
The last time writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow worked together, it was for Best Picture nominee and timely political war thriller “Zero Dark Thirty.” The time before that? Best Picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” which also made Bigelow the first woman to take home Best Director, ever. The fact that “Detroit” is a reunion of the two artists is, alone, enough of a reason to be unbelievably excited for this film. But the buck doesn’t stop there. “Detroit” follows the 1967 riots in the titular city, and Boal and Bigelow seem to be setting up an investigation of race and police relations that is sorely needed at this moment. With Bigelow’s visceral grasp of tension and the trailer’s evidence of her heavy reliance on handheld cinematography for this film — a choice that should put us right in the thick of the action — “Detroit” should be a widely impactful film, one we see next year at the Oscars. Oh, and did I mention that Star Wars’ John Boyega is in it? Boyega is a gem.
— Kyle Kizu
- “Alien: Covenant”
After the hilarious, gut-busting, Golden Globe-winning comedy “The Martian,” Ridley Scott is ready to cement his directorial comeback by returning to the ever-jubilant, light-hearted world of “Alien.”
With “Alien: Covenant,” Scott seems to meld the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first film with the high-flying concepts of “Prometheus.” The result should be a film filled with never-before-seen creatures to haunt your dreams, a badass new heroine in Katherine Waterston’s character and chest-bursting galore. If that doesn’t get a chuckle from you, I don’t know what will. If anything, see this film because James Franco is in it and will likely die a horrible death at the hands of the universe’s deadliest creature in some blood-stained, darkened hallway, all but ensuring another Golden Globe victory in the Best Comedy category.
— Harrison Tunggal
- “War for the Planet of the Apes”
The simple fact that many viewers will be coming into this third “Planet of the Apes” installment on the side of the apes is a testament to the franchise’s incredible success; through masterful storytelling, the first two have induced us to root for the possible extinction of the human race. That is amazing. But truly, the new sci-fi trilogy seems to be building to an — in the purest essence of the word — epic conclusion. Motion capture master Andy Serkis and company have built Caesar into a Shakespearean figure, and his rise and dawn (puns intended) into an utterly Shakespearean tale. Caesar and the apes represent an ideal grander than us — a sense of peace, community and compassion unseen in much of today’s world. We root for the apes not because we want them to defeat the humans, but because they see a world where they don’t have to fight, where apes and humans can have empathy for one another. That’s what’s truly special about this franchise, and it’s the type of efficient, impactful and honest storytelling that makes for great films. And it’s also pretty badass to see CGI utilized to its fullest form — those apes on horses look so mind-blowingly real.
— Kyle Kizu
- “It Comes At Night”
Featuring a stunning, frighteningly ambiguous first trailer, “It Comes At Night” is shaping up to be one of the best, most cerebral and artistic horror films of recent memory — like “The Witch,” “The Babadook” and “It Follows” before it. Directed by Trey Edward Shults (an Independent Spirit Award winner for his debut “Krisha”), “It Comes At Night” has recently been revealed to have been written shortly after Shults’ father passed away after fighting cancer. From this traumatic moment, Shults turns his own personal heartbreak into what sounds like a horrific allegory for the inner pandemics we all face. Starring Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough, “It Comes At Night” could be the horror film event of 2017.
Also, the very fact that A24 is behind the film means nothing but great things.
— Levi Hill
- “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Making a great sequel is no easy task, but if any studio could, it would be Marvel, which is tasked with one-upping the critical and commercial success of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Even though Marvel generally produces fun popcorn movies with seeming ease, its track record with second installments is shaky: “Iron Man 2,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” are all considered to be the studio’s weakest films. Still, initial critical reactions to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” suggest that it will retain the heart and humor of the first film, while adding in some deep family drama as Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meets his father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell). On a side note, can we all take a minute to appreciate that Ego the Living Planet is an actual character in a major blockbuster? Ultimately, writer-director James Gunn is one of Marvel’s more visionary directors, so seeing his take on a sequel will be one of 2017’s cinematic highlights.
— Harrison Tunggal
- “A Ghost Story”
After the studio experience of “Pete’s Dragon,” writer-director David Lowery returns to his indie roots with the Sundance-premiered “A Ghost Story.” Lowery’s past two films, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Pete’s Dragon,” packed powerful emotional wallops, and the Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck starrer appears to be no different. Following rave reviews from Sundance and a cosmically beautiful first trailer (and the distribution of A24, the company behind “Moonlight”), “A Ghost Story” looks to be the most profound film of the summer and potentially the most original of 2017. Featuring Casey Affleck, hidden behind a white bed sheet with two black eyes, as a literal ghost left to wander silently and sullenly behind his widowed wife (Mara), the film promises to be a quiet yet heavily emotional rumination on time, love, life and, yes, death.
— Levi Hill
The first name that comes to mind when the question “Who’s pushing the boundaries of modern cinema?” arises is Christopher Nolan. Whether it’s based in his filmmaking, such as the practical effects and narrative structuring in each of his films, or the concepts, such as the mind-bending intrigue in “Inception” and “Interstellar,” or the grand themes, such as those at the center of our generation’s “The Godfather” (“The Dark Knight”), Nolan proves time and time again that, even if they’re not the greatest movies of the year, his films will undoubtedly provide some of the most affecting and immersive moviegoing experiences by the end of each year.
So, when one hears that Nolan is taking on the miraculous, massively scaled true story of the evacuation of about 338,000 Allied soldiers surrounded by the Nazis on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, during World War II, the obvious response is: Of course he is. He’s using an actual naval destroyer and Spitfire plane, and he’s taking IMAX film cameras up into the sky to shoot aerial sequences? Of course he is. He’s bending time, telling the story from three different points of view on different experiential levels? Of course he is. He’s stripping away the dialogue, allowing for the suspense of the image to grip audiences throughout the runtime? Of course he is.
The “Dunkirk” prologue that played during the trailers ahead of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” offered a small glance at the visceral journey that the end result will be, showing that methodically and meticulously constructed action can take breaths away within seconds. If the rest of the film is much of the same, which the ominous marketing campaign suggests, then “Dunkirk” will be the cinematic experience of the year.
— Kyle Kizu
- “Baby Driver”
The simple name of Edgar Wright placed “Baby Driver” at number 14 on our most anticipated list from the beginning of the year. But then the trailer dropped (or international trailer, I should say; it’s better), and it’s going to be a hard task for any other trailer of even the entire year to be as lively, hilarious and visually arresting as this one. Wright is the genre director we need, with a sleek, polished directorial edge and masterful visual comedy that make for some of the most purely fun experiences in the movie theater à la “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and “Baby Driver” might just be the synthesis of his cinematic capabilities. The trailer’s snippets of fast-paced, whirling car chases, captured in stunning form and played multiple times to expansive effect, hint that this film might end up heralding new heights for his action chops. His genre flair seems dialed to 11, with many who’ve attended advance screenings reporting a music experience as rockin’ and kick ass as it can be — maybe even more so than the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Each character we’ve had a chance to glimpse pops with an eccentricity and humor that deftly sidesteps camp, and the scene construction and editing in both this trailer as well as in his entire filmography display a firm control of filmmaking that so few ever hold. I mean, how ridiculously awesome is the car drift, and the flying cinematography accompanying it, at 1:43? Set to the absolutely classic song “Radar Love” by Golden Earring, which will be utilized diegetically as well (hell yes), the trailer is a small taste of the giddy, exhilarating energy raring to be let loose upon the film’s release. “Baby Driver” might not be the most serious drama, but sometimes two hours of unabashed, unwavering fun is the best kind of time at the movies.
— Kyle Kizu