“Avengers: Infinity War” heralded the start of the summer movie season, kicking off a four-month period in which CGI spectacle reigns supreme. But every summer, a handful of Sundance and Cannes alums complement the four-quadrant pleasures of superheroes and dinosaurs with healthy doses of innovation and subversion. Without further ado, here are 15 must-see summer films, though there are plenty more that didn’t make it onto this list — sorry “Deadpool 2,” you just weren’t worth recommending.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” — May 25
Three directors, two editors and one acting coach later, the latest “Star Wars” spinoff coheres in ways that shouldn’t be possible, given a production so troubled that the Galactic Civil War seems like a walk in the park by comparison. Come for Donald Glover’s performance as Lando Calrissian, stay for the museum-worthy cinematography of Bradford Young.
“Hereditary” — June 8
A24 continues its horror hot streak, following up “The Witch” and “It Comes At Night” with a film that had Sundance audiences squirming in terrified revulsion. Few horror films have received the rapturous response that “Hereditary” has, with many calling it the most singularly momentous fright-fest since 1973’s “The Exorcist.” You’ll want to bring a friend for this one.
“Ocean’s 8” — June 8
The Avengers might have spawned infinite “most ambitious crossover event” memes, but “Ocean’s 8” assembles an all-female crew to rival it. The cast speaks for itself — Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and Awkwafina are bound to make previous “Ocean’s” ensembles pale in comparison.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — June 8
Need a dose of wholesomeness after “Hereditary”? This documentary chronicling the life of children’s TV staple Fred Rogers drove many at Sundance to tears with its narrative of a man as caring and genuine as his onscreen persona — a seeming rarity these days. We could all use the insight of Mr. Rogers, and this film doesn’t seem like it will disappoint.
“Incredibles 2” — June 15
One of the most anticipated superhero films of the year doesn’t belong to Marvel or DC, but rather, Pixar. Returning to the big screen 14 years after its predecessor, “Incredibles 2” seems more relevant than ever, as it enters a cinematic landscape dominated by non-animated superheroics.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” — June 22
2015’s “Jurassic World” became the surprise hit of the summer despite many critics calling for the franchise to remain extinct. But the film’s sequel has J.A. Bayona at the helm, who is a far more accomplished director than “Jurassic World’s” Colin Trevorrow. Bayona’s command over spectacle and tragedy, seen in films such as “A Monster Calls,” positions him to take the franchise to unexplored territory, rendering this mesozoic mashup one to look out for.
“Under the Silver Lake” — June 22
Though reviews for this Cannes-premiering film have been mixed, David Robert Mitchell’s neo-noir riff looks like just the sort of gonzo risk-taking that we’ve come to expect from the director behind the low-fi horror hit “It Follows” and indie powerhouse studio A24. With trailers that suggest an invocation of Thomas Pynchon and David Lynch, “Under the Silver Lake” promises enigmatic weirdness of the best sort.
“Sorry to Bother You” — July 6
The summer only gets more surreal with the release of Bay Area-native Boots Riley’s debut feature. Lakeith Stanfield capitalizes on the momentum generated by breakout appearances in “Atlanta” and “Get Out,” portraying a telemarketer whose career is built upon his “white voice.” Making waves at Sundance and then at warm homecoming screenings for the San Francisco International Film Festival, this social satire just might be an all-time great science fiction film.
“Eighth Grade” — July 13
Will A24 be three for three this summer? Bo Burnham’s debut feature follows in the footsteps of “Moonlight” and “Lady Bird,” telling a coming-of-age story brimming with commendable performances and a heavy dose of heart. “Eighth Grade” is bound to take us back to the days of our adolescence, in all its awkwardness.
“Blindspotting” — July 20
Oakland native Daveed Diggs makes his feature-writing debut alongside Rafael Casal, both of whom star in a dramedy chronicling the racial and class tensions within Diggs’ increasingly gentrifying hometown. Early reviews laud a film that’s as stylish as it is stirring.
“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” — July 27
This adaptation of Cartoon Network’s hit television show based on the eponymous DC Comics characters looks like it’ll pack more of a spoofing punch than Deadpool himself. In a world where every comic book character gets their own blockbuster outing, the Teen Titans are determined to see themselves immortalized on screen — what follows are animated antics that could be this summer’s “The Lego Movie.”
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” — July 27
Joining Tom Cruise in his eternal quest to narrowly escape death via elaborate practical stunt is Superman himself Henry Cavill. And his mustache. That’s right, Cavill’s mustache gives Chris Evans’ “Infinity War” beard a run for its money as this summer’s finest facial hair.
“The Meg” — August 10
Jason Statham. The director of “National Treasure.” A shark. Need we say more?
“BlacKkKlansman” — August 10
Director Spike Lee and producer Jordan Peele teamed up for a ‘70s-set comedy telling the true tale of a Black detective (John David Washington) who infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan and becomes the head of its local chapter. Earning a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, “BlacKkKlansman” could very well be on its way to an awards season campaign.
“Crazy Rich Asians” — August 17
While “The Big Sick” put a South Asian man in the leading role of a rom com, it’s high time that more Asian Americans get their share of the spotlight, making “Crazy Rich Asians” a film to celebrate. Additionally, Awkwafina makes her second major film appearance of the summer here, positioning herself to become the season’s breakout star.
Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].