Summer movies: The 30 coolest things to see this summer

From high-fiber docs to hot-buttered-popcorn blockbusters, we’ve got the lowdown on the movies you need to see this summer.

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  • We love summer movies and all the wonderful, elephantine nonsense they supply. Still, it must be said, our definition of summer movies has changed. Sure, as office cubicles get chillier, we can expect plenty of large-scale dumbness: Superman returns in Man of Steel, the Wolverine returns in The Wolverine and zombies return in World War Z. But we'd be lying if we told you we didn't have our eye on the counterprogramming that ensures a cinema fan's balanced diet: Computer Chess, set during an '80s-era tournament, is a lo-fi geek's paradise; Sofia Coppola is back with more spoiled rich kids in The Bling Ring; and Michael Cera apparently hunts for hallucinogens in Crystal Fairy. Add to this a retrospective devoted to the majestic work of Yasujiro Ozu—and another one showcasing Jackie Chan flicks—and we'd say our plate is full. So what's a summer movie? Let's just say it's a movie and it comes out during the summer. Here are 30 of them worth seeing.

    Click the right arrow on the image above to see our summer movies preview.

  • Summer movies: Before Midnight

    When we left Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset (2004), they were contemplating their future in Paris. This third part of Richard Linklater’s series picks up nine years later—and tackles notions of adult responsibilities, regret and fading passions with characteristic grace. (May 24)

  • Summer movies: Fill the Void

    Among Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Haredi, the men make the decisions and the women look on respectfully. But in Rama Burshtein’s quiet powder keg of a drama, a teenager defies the marital wishes of her community and draws unusual power from her resistance to tradition. (May 24)

  • Summer movies: Now You See Me

    A group of magicians make money disappear from banks and reappear in their audience’s pockets. We’re hopeful that this star-studded conjurers thriller—featuring everyone from Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo to Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine—will be truly enchanting, as opposed to the same old hocus-pocus. (May 31)

  • Summer movies: After Earth

    These days, it’s tough being an M. Night Shyamalan fan (we’re still scrubbing The Last Airbender from our minds). But this father-son science-fiction adventure, starring Will and Jaden Smith as starship-crash survivors trapped on postapocalyptic Earth, looks like an action-packed return to form. (May 31)

  • Summer movies: Dirty Wars

    Investigative journalist and author Jeremy Scahill takes viewers on a tour of the world of black-ops military raids, “kill lists” and secret assassinations in this damning political documentary. Dirty warfare, indeed. (June 7)

  • Summer movies: Much Ado About Nothing

    That playful wit Joss Whedon, fresh off his audience-delighting blockbuster The Avengers, helms a modern-day, black-and-white take on the Bard’s classic romantic roundelay. There are few artists better equipped to tackle both spandex superheroes and William Shakespeare. (June 7)

  • Summer movies: “Ozu” series at Film Forum

    The downtown venue devotes four weeks to the Japanese filmmaker who gave us such classic tearjerkers as Tokyo Story and Late Spring. If you’ve never seen this master’s work, plan on getting your mail forwarded to Film Forum. (June 7–27)

  • Summer movies: This Is the End

    The apocalypse is here, and unfortunately, it coincides with a celeb-studded party at James Franco’s house. (Michael Cera macking on Rihanna, that cad!) Seth Rogen cowrites, codirects and costars in what looks to be a bad-mannered, gut-busting good time, Armageddon or no. (June 12)

  • Summer movies: Berberian Sound Studio

    A fastidious sound engineer (Toby Jones) heads to 1970s Rome for a gig on a squishy horror movie. Amid all the screaming and melon-crushing—his backstage craft is lovingly detailed—there’s a distinct possibility that the guy might be going nuts. A one-of-a-kind thinker. (June 14)

  • Summer movies: The Bling Ring

    Sofia Coppola brings her twin strengths of celebrity sympathy and punkish abandon to a fitting tale, based on the real-life exploits of gang of teen thieves raiding wealthy Hollywood homes for a taste of the luxe life. Harry Potter’s Emma Watson continues to take worthwhile postfranchise risks. (June 14)

  • Summer movies: Man of Steel

    You’ve seen the down-and-dirtier Batman; now meet the new, sensitive Superman. Director Zack Snyder reimagines Krypton’s favorite son (played by Henry Cavill) as faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and moodier than a 15-year-old girl. We are so there. (June 14)

  • Summer movies: A Hijacking

    If you see only one movie about Somalian pirates and hostages on the high seas this year, make it Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm’s nail-biting procedural, about a cargo ship’s crew held for ransom and the corporate CEO negotiating their release. (June 21)

  • Summer movies: World War Z

    Max Brooks’s somber postwar zombie novel is the inspiration for this immense-looking action movie, starring Brad Pitt and thousands of tumbling, clawing flesh-eaters ravaged by a global pandemic. Rumors of on-set ego friction had us worried, but the trailers suggest a solid summer diversion, more Danny Boyle than George Romero. (June 21)

  • Summer movies: “The Jackie Chan Experience” at Film Society of Lincoln Center

    Just to clarify, that would be the experience of lightning-fast kicks to bad guys’ faces, catlike escapes, and life-threatening stunts involving cars, trains and hot-air balloons. Jackie Chan is exactly what cinema was invented for; specific titles in this series haven’t been announced yet, but just dive in wherever. (June 23–27)

  • Summer movies: I’m So Excited

    After the landing gear breaks on a flight bound for Mexico City, the passengers and crew slowly lose all sense of social and sexual decorum. If Pedro Almodóvar’s ribald comedy is anywhere near as joyously liberated as its Pointer Sisters–scored trailer, we’re sure to leave the theater with an ear-to-ear grin. (June 28)

  • Summer movies: White House Down

    The latest disaster film from Roland Emmerich pits D.C. policeman Channing Tatum and POTUS Jamie Foxx against some pissed-off paramilitaries. (Didn’t the bad guys learn anything from Olympus Has Fallen?) Prepare for plenty of blustery speechifying à la Independence Day, as well as some iconic landmarks—bye-bye, Capitol Building!—getting blown up real good. (June 28)

  • Summer movies: Passion

    Returning to the genre he does best, Brian De Palma concocts a deliciously catty erotic thriller, about an advertising-agency protégé (Noomi Rapace) out for revenge against her manipulative boss (Rachel McAdams). Throat-slitting straight razors and sapphic sex scenes are, of course, included. (July TBD)

  • Summer movies: The Lone Ranger

    Johnny Depp’s latest opportunity for high-paid strangeness has him changing races as cryptic Native American sidekick Tonto. We also like the guy playing the outlaw hero: Armie Hammer, most famous for his Winklevii in The Social Network. (July 3)

  • Summer movies: Crystal Fairy

    A tourist (Michael Cera) searches for a mythic hallucinogenic cactus in Chile, joined by an obnoxious hanger-on/hippie chick named Crystal Fairy (a pitch-perfect Gaby Hoffmann). Sebastián Silva’s stoner comedy takes on first-world entitlement and transcendental drug-trip clichés with its tongue firmly in its cheek. (July 7)

  • Summer movies: Only God Forgives

    Lately, Ryan Gosling has stared out of a lot of iffy crime movies (Gangster Squad, The Place Beyond the Pines), but this one, a reunion with stylish Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, should be worth the wait. It takes place in a neon-lit, blade-happy Bangkok. (July 12)

  • Summer movies: Pacific Rim

    When an alien invasion threatens Earth’s existence, humanity takes up arms in the form of giant robots to (as one character rousingly intones) “cancel the apocalypse!” We’re always excited for a new Guillermo del Toro project, and this one seems to play to all of his fantastical strengths. (July 12)

  • Summer movies: Computer Chess

    Mumblecore, schmumblecore: The so-called godfather of the indie movement, Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha), brings the goofiness with this gloriously wonky, lo-fi tale of ’80s computer geeks engaged in a man-versus-machine competition. Nerdtastic doesn’t even begin to describe it. (July 17)

  • Summer movies: Blue Jasmine

    What would a year be without another Woody Allen feature? Few story details have been released about his latest, beyond the fact that Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins star as a pair of neurotic New Yorkers—a promising setup for what we hope is another of the writer-director’s searching and sidesplitting dramedies. (July 26)

  • Summer movies: The Wolverine

    Hugh Jackman’s clawed wiseass of a superhero is too enjoyable a creation to be stalled by less-than-successful sequels. In the new one (helmed by Walk the Line’s James Mangold), our hero travels to modern-day Japan, no doubt with sideburns in tow. (July 26)

  • Summer movies: The Spectacular Now

    The sleeper hit of this year’s Sundance, James Ponsoldt’s coming-of-age movie focuses on a charming fuckup (Miles Teller) and the young woman (The Descendants’ Shailene Woodley) who gets caught in his destructive orbit. Credit the chemistry between the two young leads for making this a genuine gem. (Aug 2)

  • Summer movies: Elysium

    Welcome back, Neill Blomkamp, director of 2009’s thoughtful sci-fi smash District 9. His new one sounds upsettingly similar to a lot of recent dystopian fare: wealthy humans in space stations, the losers left behind on a ruined Earth. But Blomkamp will undoubtedly tease out a social dimension. (Aug 9)

  • Summer movies: Planes

    From the company that owns Pixar—and thus kinda sorta brought you Cars—comes this cartoon tale of a crop-dusting aircraft that’s afraid of heights. Disney is determined to anthropomorphize those magnificent flying machines to the max; we applaud casting Top Gun’s Val Kilmer to voice an animated fighter jet. (Aug 9)

  • Summer movies: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

    David Lowery’s poetic tale of an escaped con (Casey Affleck) trying to make it back to his wife (Rooney Mara) has already earned plentiful comparisons to the early work of Terrence Malick. But a cover version this ain’t; the young filmmaker has a sure hand with actors and a singular knack for making rural magic-hour shots feel fresh. (Aug 16)

  • Summer movies: The World’s End

    The ever-inventive Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz) reteams with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for this comic-apocalyptic tale of five pub-crawling friends who have to save the world. We’re especially excited to see how the Brit-tastic supporting cast (Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine) handles the end of days. (Aug 23)

  • Summer movies: You’re Next

    Horror went through its gory Saw phase; now it looks like the pendulum may be swinging back to Scream-era cheekiness (e.g., The Cabin in the Woods). Here’s more evidence: a terrific besieged-mansion thriller that puts as much care into catty domestic squabbles as it does the kills. (Aug 23)

We love summer movies and all the wonderful, elephantine nonsense they supply. Still, it must be said, our definition of summer movies has changed. Sure, as office cubicles get chillier, we can expect plenty of large-scale dumbness: Superman returns in Man of Steel, the Wolverine returns in The Wolverine and zombies return in World War Z. But we'd be lying if we told you we didn't have our eye on the counterprogramming that ensures a cinema fan's balanced diet: Computer Chess, set during an '80s-era tournament, is a lo-fi geek's paradise; Sofia Coppola is back with more spoiled rich kids in The Bling Ring; and Michael Cera apparently hunts for hallucinogens in Crystal Fairy. Add to this a retrospective devoted to the majestic work of Yasujiro Ozu—and another one showcasing Jackie Chan flicks—and we'd say our plate is full. So what's a summer movie? Let's just say it's a movie and it comes out during the summer. Here are 30 of them worth seeing.

Click the right arrow on the image above to see our summer movies preview.

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Abigail Hirsch
Abigail Hirsch

For those of you in NYC June 13 - 20th, You can watch all the latest films at the New York City International Film Festival, the NYC response to Cannes. My documentary, "Yiddish: A tale of survival" will be screened for the first time on June 18th. NYCIFF Check it out.