It feels like it was Christmas only yesterday, and yet suddenly we blinked and it’s now the dying days of April, which means that summer movie season is about to arrive. You could argue that it’s actually been underway for a while, with “Furious 7” doing gangbusters numbers in theaters (speeding swiftly towards a billion dollars), but soon, multiplexes will be literally full of superheroes.
It’s as crowded a time as ever, not just for blockbusters but also for counter-programming indie fare, and as we’ve done traditionally at this time of year, we’ve dug into the release schedule and picked out forty of the movies we’re most excited about. It’s a varied mix, from half-a-billion-dollar-budgeted blockbusters to tiny indies, foreign films and documentaries, but all together, it’s a pretty good argument for staying indoors through to the end of August.
So with no further ado, you can find our most anticipated movies of the summer of 2015 below. Let us know what you’re most excited about in the comments.
Director: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo
Synopsis: Thirty years after his own family trip, Rusty Griswold takes a family on a cross-country trip back to Walley World before it closes.
What You Need To Know: In a summer full of comedy heavyweights, could the biggest hit turn out to be a revival of an old favorite? National Lampoon’s “Vacation” franchise spawned four movies starring Chevy Chase and Beverley D’Angelo, and the pair return as grandparents here, but it’s Ed Helms and Christina Applegate that are leading the revival this time. “Horrible Bosses” writers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (the latter also starred in “Freaks & Geeks” back in the day) make their directorial debuts here, and we’re intrigued to see how Chris Hemsworth does in his first outing in straight-up comedy as Rusty’s brother-in-law. Not much is know otherwise, but Warner Bros’ decision to move it up from October to a prime summer date certainly suggests confidence.
Release Date: July 31st
40. “Straight Outta Compton”
Director: F. Gary Gray (“Friday,” “The Negotiator”)
Cast: Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Paul Giamatti, Keith Stanfield
Synopsis: The story of NWA, five young men from Compton who electrified the world and shocked American in the late 1980s with their controversial hip-hop classics.
What You Need To Know: In development for years, with a string of writers and directors attached and more than one false start, the NWA biopic finally got in front of cameras last year, with the approval of most of the surviving participants (to the extent that Ice Cube is being played by… Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr), and F. Gary Gray directing. Early footage suggests a handsome look at the eventful story of the group (Aronofsky’s DOP Matthew Libatique is shooting the film), albeit potentially one that fits into conventional music biopic formula. But when your film’s centered around artists as powerful and controversial as these, you’ve got plenty of material to play with without having to reinvent the wheel, so we’re intrigued.
Release Date: August 14th
39. “Terminator: Genisys”
Director: Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”)
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Matt Smith
Synopsis: As John Connor’s future-war against the machines reaches its peak, he sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother Sarah and ensure that he’s born. But when Reese arrives, he soon discovers that the past has changed and Sarah is now a hard-bitten warrior protected by a Terminator.
What You Need To Know: Some distance from James Cameron’s first two movies, attempts so far to elongate the ‘Terminator’ franchise with “Rise Of The Machines” and “Salvation” haven’t been creatively and commercially successful. But it’s an iconic enough property that the rights holders will keep trying (at least until those rights revert to Cameron in a few years), and this new version, the start of a planned trilogy, essentially reboots the franchise through some “Star Trek”-style alternate timeline shenanigans. It’s a decent attempt to give new blood to the series, and Arnie’s return to his best-known role after skipping ‘Salvation’ is welcome, though we can’t say we’ve been crazy about the trailers so far. Still, while Jai Courtney’s a bit bland for our tastes, Khaleesi Emilia Clarke looks like a stellar choice for Sarah Connor, and we remain hopeful that this could help to reinvent the series.
Release Date: July 1st
38. “Testament Of Youth”
Director: James Kent
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Emily Watson
Synopsis: In 1914, a fiercely independent young woman falls in love, only for Britain and Germany to go to war, and her lover, her brother and best friend are called up for service.
What You Need To Know: With last year marking the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, it was inevitable that cinema would mark the occasion in some way, and along with Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” there’s Britflick “Testament Of Youth,” an adaptation of a seminal memoir by author Vera Brittain, who was forced to watch many of her loved ones go away to war and never return. Backed by “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman and helmed by TV director James Kent in his feature debut, it looks familiar on the surface, but as our review from last year suggests, finds a winning specificity and detail that lends it a power that other war pictures don’t always manage. The cast is strong, particularly “Kingsman”’s Egerton and the “absolutely stellar” Vikander. One of your classier summer options.
Release Date: June 5th
37. “Far From Men”
Director: David Oelhoeffen (“In Your Wake”)
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb, Djemel Barek, Vincent Mratin, Nicolas Giraud
Synopsis: During the Algerian Civil War, a mild-mannered schoolteacher is forced to take charge of an Algerian prisoner and transport him to the city.
What You Need To Know: Mortensen’s almost unique among A-listers in his adventurous spirit: he continues to work with big-name U.S. auteurs and newer indie directors, but spends as much time in foreign-language cinema like the recent Argentinean arthouse picture “Jauja.” “Far From Men” marks another bold move for the star, a French-language, Algeria-set revisionist Western co-starring “A Prophet” and “Zero Dark Thirty” actor Reda Kateb. The film premiered in Venice last year, and our Jessica Kiang enjoyed it a lot, saying that the “slow-burn” picture was an “Intimate story of personal duty and the power of friendship that nonetheless unfolds against a huge backdrop, a contrast in scale that is characterizing element of a great genre Western.” It’s principally a genre picture, but a beautifully executed one with some smart, subtle politics.
Release Date: May 1st
Director: Gil Kenan (“Monster House,” “City Of Ember”
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Nicholas Braun
Synopsis: An ordinary family are terrorized by a spirit in their new home and must band together to rescue their youngest daughter from the creatures.
What You Need To Know: A seminal horror flick from the early ’80s that melded Tobe Hooper’s hardcore scares with producer Steven Spielberg’s Amblin-ish wonder, it’s only surprising that it’s taken this long for a “Poltergeist” remake to arrive. It seems to be in good hands: a great cast led by the always-terrific Rockwell and DeWitt, a script by Pulitzer winer David Lindsay-Abaire, and Sam Raimi picking up Spielberg’s mantle as producer. Trailers suggest it’s not looking all that different from its predecessor, albeit with flatscreens, but we’re hopeful that the presence of director Gil Kenan, who was behind the excellent “Monster House,” will bring something fresh to the concept rather than just hitting the same beats.
Release Date: May 22nd
35. “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl”
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Christopher Meloni
Synopsis: A young girl has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend.
What You Need To Know: Not every comic book movie has to have stretchy men or shrinking men or Hulks. “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl,” directed by first-timer Marielle Heller, is based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, but there’s no superheroics or portals in the sky here. Instead, it’s a comedy-tinged coming-of-age drama about sexual curiosity and bad decisions, and the film was one of the breakout hits at Sundance. According to our review, the director has “technique to burn,” with the film proving “sharply observed, funny, textured, endearing, clever and intoxicating,” resting on the shoulders of an “effortlessly charming performance” from breakout star Powley. The film admittedly “starts to feel more familiar” as it goes on, but for the most part it’s “heartbreakingly authentic,” and could be a real tonic in the summer months this year.
Release Date: August 7th.
34. “Welcome To Me”
Director: Shira Piven
Cast: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins
Synopsis: A woman with borderline personality disorder wins the lottery and uses the money to set up her own talk show.
What You Need To Know: Wiig’s post-“Bridesmaids” attempts to break into more serious roles had a slightly spotty start with films like “Girl Most Likely” and “Hateship Loveship,” but she seems to be hitting her stride with projects like Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” the aforementioned “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl” and this film. Directed by first-timer Shira Piven (and produced by her husband, Adam McKay), it’s a dark comedy, with more in common than Scorsese’s “The King Of Comedy” than with the broader stuff she’s better known for, but per our review from TIFF last year, it works nicely. The film is “an uproarious comedy,” and Wiig has “never been funnier” than she is here, with central character Alice being “her greatest creation.”
Release Date: May 1st
Director: Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Hanna”)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Garret Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried
Synopsis: Young orphan boy Peter is kidnapped by the fearsome pirate Blackbeard and taken to the magical world of Neverland, where he befriends the adventurer James Hook.
What You Need To Know: Live-action reboots of classic children’s stories are ten-a-penny these days, but they seem to be either unimaginatively faithful reruns (“Cinderella”), or bland, noisy, CGI-heavy action-adventures (“Alice In Wonderland,” “Snow White & The Huntsman”). But “Pan” looks a little different. Sure, it’s delving into prequel/origin story territory that usually proves to be pretty shallow, but in the hands of Joe Wright, who’s using influences from British pantomime to, well, “Hook,” it seems like a much more distinctive view of a classic story than most. This could either be summer’s most pleasant surprise or its biggest disaster, but it looks visually stunning, and if Jason Fuchs’ script can find some substance to it, it could be closer to the latter.
Release Date: July 24th
32. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
Director: Guy Ritchie (“Snatch,” “Sherlock Holmes”)
Cast: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant
Synopsis: In the early 1960s, American spy Napoleon Solo and Soviet agent Ilya Kuryakin are teamed by the mysterious organization U.N.C.L.E. to prevent a nuclear disaster.
What You Need To Know: With “Rogue Nation,” “Kingsman,” “Spy” and “Spectre,” we hardly need another spy movie in 2015, but there’s just enough about “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that seems different that it could still earn its multiplex place. Once planned to team Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, this redo of the beloved 1960s spy show is now in the hands of Ritchie, a Warner Bros favorite after the “Sherlock Holmes” movies, and should serve as a test of stardom for Henry Cavill, away from the capes and tight, and Armie Hammer, whose career in the big leagues got off to a rocky start with “The Lone Ranger.” The trailer looks like plenty of fun, managing to find the right balance between Le Carre-style grittiness and Austin Powers-style camp: can the finished product do the same?
Release Date: August 14th
31. “Mr. Holmes”
Director: Bill Condon (“Gods & Monsters,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 & 2”)
Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada
Synopsis: In the years after the Second World War, a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes must arrest his mental decline and crack his final case.
What You Need To Know: Between the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. franchise and Benedict Cumberbatch’s TV juggernaut, Sherlock Holmes is all the rage, but “Mr. Holmes” offers something new in the shape of the master detective in winter, played by Ian McKellen. Even better, it sees the erstwhile Gandalf reteamed with Bill Condon, who won him an Oscar nomination for “Gods & Monsters” nearly two decades ago. And according to Jessica Kiang, who saw the film in Berlin for us, it’s a quiet triumph near the top of the Holmes cinematic tree, a film that “gently subverts expectations even as it surpasses them, to deliver a thoughtful and moving study of age and memory, fiction and reality, fame and privacy, and quite a lot about bees.”
Release Date: July 17th
30. “Fantastic Four”
Director: Josh Trank (“Chronicle”)
Cast: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell
Synopsis: Four young scientists are transported to an alternate universe and given amazing new abilities that serve as both a blessing and a curse.
What You Need To Know: Of all the many superhero movies in the works, “Fantastic Four” seems to have been greeted with the most skepticism. In part, that’s because of idiot racist fanboys upset that Michael B. Jordan’s been cast in a role that’s traditionally white. But in part, it’s that Fox have held their cards close to their chest with the film, and what little footage we’ve seen has been a little drab and dour, suggesting a ‘realistic’ Nolan-ish take on characters that have traditionally been somewhat lighter. All that said, Trank suggested he was a real talent with “Chronicle,” and his approach is different enough that it could wipe clear the memory of the mediocre mid-00s takes on the material. Plus we’d watch that principal cast, four of the most exciting young actors around (plus the excellent Kebbell as villain Dr. Doom), do almost anything.
Release Date: August 7th
29. “Pitch Perfect 2”
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, Skylar Astin
Synopsis: The Bellas return and enter a worldwide acapella competition that no American group has never won in order to regain their status.
What You Need To Know: No one expected“Pitch Perfect” to become the surprise, sleeper comedy hit of fall 2012, but that’s exactly what happened, the film even cracking the $100 million mark domestically. This time co-star Elizabeth Banks takes the reins and makes the sequel her directorial debut. Will it have the spark and the vivacity of the original? Or will it simply go down as cynical cash-grab from the studio? Well, Universal’s apparently pretty confident in this one because according to Rebel Wilson, they’re already developing “Pitch Perfect 3.”
Release Date: May 15
Director: Peyton Reed (“Bring It On,” “Down With Love”)
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena
Synopsis: Petty thief Scott Lang teams with reclusive inventor Hank Pym to steal technology able to shrink a person down to miniscule size, but which has fallen into the wrong hands.
What You Need To Know: Even when you take into account last year’s “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” “Ant-Man” might be Marvel’s biggest risk ever. Sure, it’ll be coming right on the heels of guaranteed megahit “Age Of Ultron,” but this is a character known to Marvel zombies but which hasn’t yet made much of an impression on the general public (though that second trailer might help a bit). And some were alienated when fan favorite helmer Edgar Wright walked away from the film only weeks after production began over Marvel’s interference. It’s certainly the company’s biggest question mark to date, but let’s at least hope that enough of Wright and Joe Cornish’s influence remains in the film, and that director Peyton Reed can step up (he does have an Adam McKay-aided script, at least), that this doesn’t feel like a missed opportunity.
Release Date: July 17th
Director: David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express,” “Joe”)
Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine
Synopsis: A small-town locksmith lives a lonely existence writing love letters to a women who left him long ago, even as he keeps himself at a remove to the people around him.
What You Need To Know: After doing everything from woozy microbudget indies to big-budget 80s-fantasy-homaging comedy, David Gordon Green’s last trick was to redeem Nicolas Cage, given the faded megastar his best role in years with “Joe.” Now, ahead of his potential Oscar hopeful “Our Brand Is Crisis,” he attempts to do the same for another living legend who’s been coasting for a while —Al Pacino. And though the film divided critics at Venice last year, our Jessica Kiang thought that Gordon Green and Pacino pulled it off, the film centering on a “quietly assured performance that not only may be among the most atypical of Pacino’s career, but may also be one of his best.” Not everything in the film works, but it “quietly dazzles,” and “Green’s humanism shines through,” ending up with a film that “dives straight down to the lower reaches of a complicated man.”
Release Date: June 19th
26. “Far From The Madding Crowd”
Director: Thomas Vinterberg (“Festen,” “The Hunt”)
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple
Synopsis: A headstrong young landowner is courted by three different men: an honest shepherd, a cavalier soldier, and a wealthy older man.
What You Need To Know: Tackling classic literature, especially works that have been regularly adapted, is a tricky task: it’s easy to either present an overly familiar version or take a radical approach that alienates the inherent fanbase (we love Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights,” for example, but it’s probably in the latter category). But Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd” (already brilliantly adapted by John Schlesinger, starring Julie Christie) and Thomas Vinterberg, redeemed after a decade in the wilderness by the success of “The Hunt,” seems like an excellent match for this material, and he’s assembled a superb cast here, particularly with Carey Mulligan as lead Bathsheba. Slotted into Fox Searchlight’s now-traditional early-May counter-programming slot, this film should be an excellent alternative if you can’t quite face the “Age Of Ultron.”
Release Date: May 1st
Director: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids,” “The Heat”)
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney
Synopsis: When all its field agents are exposed, a CIA analyst is forced to go into the field for the first time.
What You Need To Know: With mega-hits “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” bringing a welcome female-centric spin to the mainstream comedy milieu, and his “Ghostbusters” reboot hoping to do the same next year, Paul Feig (and writer Katie Dippold) turn their attention to the spy movie, placing Melissa McCarthy at the unlucky center of an honest-to-god espionage spy actioner. And according to our SXSW review of the movie, it works pretty damn well. Here, “Feig has found a winning formula between the silly and the serious, smartly housing an occasioally outrageous comedy in the strict trappings of a traditional espionage tale.” McCarthy, bringing fresh notes to her star persona, is “excellent,” with a strong supporting cast backing her up, including unlikely stand-out Statham, who is an “absolute delight” in a rare comic role. The film’s uneven in places, but ultimately proves “as lovable as its main character,” and is likely to be another home-run hit for the duo.
Release Date: June 5th
24. “Love & Mercy”
Director: Bill Pohlad (“Old Explorers”)
Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Synopsis: The story of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson, split between the making of Pet Sounds in the 1960s, and the older Wilson in the 1980s as he struggles with mental illness.
What You Need To Know: News about an approaching musical biopic of a legendary rock star normally gives us shivers of fear rather than anticipation, but “Love & Mercy” always seemed a more intriguing proposition than most, and our hopes were fortunately met when we caught the film at TIFF. Penned by “Rampart” helmer Oren Moverman, the film “isn’t a standard celebration nor a traditional music biopic,” but instead proved to be “a survival story,” dealing both with Wilson finding his own artistic feet and his later attempt to free himself from a manipulative psychiatrist (Giamatti). All the performances across the board are strong, but it’s Dano and Cusack, playing the younger and older Wilson, who are the stars of the show, the former “doing a stellar job,” while the latter “hasn’t been this good in ages.” With “unfussy” direction from veteran produce Bill Pohlad, this is a musical tale that breaks from the now-familiar “Ray”-style formula and does justice to its subject.
Release Date: June 5th
Director: Andrew Bujalski (“Funny Ha Ha,” “Computer Chess”)
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Brooklyn Decker)
Synopsis: A recently divorced Austin millionaire falls in love with a trainer at his local gym.
What You Need To Know: It’s been interesting recently to see the founding figures of mumblecore like the Duplass Brothers and Joe Swanberg start to work with bigger names, and the latest to join them is Andrew Bujalski. The Austin writer-director’s early work was something of a precursor to the movement, and after his roaring comeback with 2013’s “Computer Chess,” he’s venturing into more mainstream territory with this “weirdly optimistic and well-adjusted movie,” according to our Sundance review. The film’s admittedly “a little shaggy and rough around the edges” and has “minor point of view issues,” but it’s also “credible, funny and well observed” with a “faultless” cast led by the “fantastic” Cobie Smulders.
Release Date: May 29th
22. “The Stanford Prison Experiment”
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“C.O.G”)
Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Olivia Thirlby, Tye Sheridan, Nelsan Ellis
Synopsis: Dramatization of a real-life psychological experiment where 24 students assumed roles as prisoners and guards to wrenching result.
What You Need To Know: The famous 1971 experiment of the title by professor Phillip Zambardo has already been brought to the screen several times via Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Das Experiment” and the 2010 Adrien Brody/Forest Whitaker drama “The Experiment,” but this long-in-the-works drama, produced by Christopher McQuarrie, is the most faithful and definitive take on the story to date. Telling the story with “great skill and care,” it’s “provocative… accomplished and thought provoking,” albeit divisive picture that sees helmer Alvarez “take a quantum leap into left field.” With a “super economical” screenplay that won an award at Sundance, and an “insanely stacked cast” including the “astounding” Crudup and a “note-perfect” Michael Angarano, this isn’t one to go to for escapism.
Release Date: July 17th
21. “Jurassic World”
Director: Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”)
Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Omar Sy, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Robinson
Synopsis: Twenty years after a disastrous launch, a theme-park with real dinosaurs is a huge success. But the park’s backer, worried that audiences are getting bored, create a new breed of dinosaur with horrific consequences for the visitors.
What You Need To Know: Once the biggest-grossing movie in history, the “Jurassic Park” franchise has fallen on hard times: the sequels suffered diminishing returns and we haven’t had one in fourteen years. But the franchise is back this summer in a big way, under the seemingly unlikely stewardship of indie helmer Colin Trevorrow and featuring Pratt, the star of last summer’s most successful blockbuster, in the lead role. The conceit could be fun or could be silly (trained raptors!), and, like Joss Whedon, we have mixed feelings about the footage so far, but we hear that Universal are really high on the movie, which hopefully bodes well for the finished product. If Trevorrow can make this more like the original, rather than say, “The Lost World,” this could be worth another trip to Isla Nubar.
Release Date: June 12th
Director: Rick Famuyima (“The Wood,” “Brown Sugar”)
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, A$AP Rocky, Keith Stanfield
Synopsis: Three young outcast nerds in Inglewood who are in a band together have their lives complicated when they come into contact with a drug dealer.
What You Need To Know: If you’ve seen the trailer for breakout Sundance smash “Dope,” you could be forgiven for feeling a little bit exhausted: with its Tumblr-tastic graphics, video-game nods and 90s hip-hop beats, it feels worryingly like a movie that’s been reverse-engineered to appeal to millenials as much as possible. Fortunately, we’ve seen the movie, and know that it’s “Funny and vibrantly realized,” a “‘Pulp Fiction’-like crime-comedy sprawl” that also “Features a witty and sharp and African-American cultural commentary a la ‘Dear White People.’” Restless, inventive and with a killer soundtrack, our review found it “something very close to a new classic,” though a little overlong and overstuffed. That said, the movie’s reportedly been trimmed ahead of its release, so what you see could be even closer to greatness.
Release Date: June 19th
19. “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”
Director: Christopher McQuarrie (“Way Of The Gun,” “Jack Reacher”)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin
Synopsis: The Impossible Mission Force is disbanded, but Ethan Hunt and co have one last desperate task to track a terrorist organization known as The Syndicate.
What You Need To Know: One of the longer-lasting franchises around, the “Mission Impossible” machine has kept going both thanks to the innate appeal of dangling Tom Cruise off things that are high off the ground, but also by giving each new installment to a new filmmaker, who’s been able to put their own mark on the tropes of rubber masks and moles. This time out, it’s Christopher McQuarrie, and though he’s now as obvious an auteur name as a De Palma or a Woo, early footage suggests this could be a worthy follow-up to 2011’s “Ghost Protocol,” a high watermark for the series so far. It’s not like there wasn’t room for improvement there (hopefully Sean Harris’ villain will be more memorable than the last guy), so if McQuarrie can retain his voice while keeping the same ingenuity of execution —and pull off a release date moved up by nearly six months to avoid “Star Wars”— this could be the best yet.
Release Date: July 31st
Director: Sean Baker (“Starlet”)
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone, Mickey O’Hagan, Karren Karagulian
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, two transgender prostitutes set out to track down one’s cheating boyfriend.
What You Need To Know: Having impressed with his previous movies like “Prince Of Broadway” and “Starlet,” filmmaker Sean Baker returned with “Tangerine” at Sundance this year, and the result was one of the undoubted highlights of the festival. It’s formally inventive for one (the film was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s but still looks gorgeous), but has a value far beyond that. Katie Walsh’s verdict called it “fresh, funny, original and energetic,” a “breath of fresh air in an indie landscape that often tends to focus on #WhitePeopleProblems,” with breakout performances from its two stars “who are a joy to watch onscreen.” Baker “has a tendency to turn his camera on places where one wouldn’t normally look,” and continues that trend with his latest: that he also manages to produce “a damn fun ride” is one of the reasons we’re so excited about him.
Release Date: July 10th
17. “Hungry Hearts”
Director: Saverio Costanzo (“The Solitude Of Prime Numbers”)
Cast: Adam Driver, Alba Rohrwacher, Roberta Maxwell, Jake Weber, Natalie Gold
Synopsis: A young couple —an American man and an Italian woman— welcome the birth of their first child only to fall apart over his care.
What You Need To Know: Adam Driver’s having a pretty good year, kicking things off with an acclaimed turn in indie hit “While We’re Young” and ending it as (reportedly) the villain in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In between comes this drama from Italian helmer Saverio Costanzo, which won Driver and co-star Alba Rohrwacher the Best Actor and Best Actress trophies at Venice last year. We caught up with the film at TIFF and called it “this year’s most unique horror film,” with “suspense more in line with Roman Polanski than Alfred Hitchcock,” with Costanzo creating an intimate and claustrophobic thriller that taps into universal anxieties about parenting, and the effect it can have on a relationship. Driver is “fantastically assured,” while Rohrwacher is “perfect,” so fans of arthouse horror should be thrilled.
Release Date: June 5th.
16. “Ricki And The Flash”
Director: Jonathan Demme (“Silence Of The Lambs,” “Rachel Getting Married”)
Cast: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield
Synopsis: An aging rock star returns to the family she abandoned years earlier to help her daughter through a divorce.
What You Need To Know: After a pretty strong run to kick off her career, Diablo Cody became somewhat unstuck with her little-seen directorial debut a few years back. But there’s no better way to bounce back than by teaming up with the most lauded actress in Hollywood history, and that’s what Cody’s done with her new movie starring Meryl Streep. The role of a faded rock star should be a nice change of pace given the sort of prestige fare she ends up doing, and it’s just as exciting to see her paired in a major way with her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, who’s done a lot of impressive work without ever quite breaking out in the way she’s deserved. It’s in a safe pair of filmmaking hands with Jonathan Demme helming, who should work nicely with Cody.
Release Date: July 7th
15. “The Avengers: Age Of Ultron”
Director: Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” “The Avengers”)
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, James Spader
Synopsis: Earth’s mightiest heroes face their greatest threat yet in sentient AI Ultron, a self-replicating robot created by Tony Stark to save humanity, but whic might end up wiping it out.
What You Need To Know: Probably very little at this point: with the film opening in much of the rest of the world this week and in the U.S. the next, the hype machine for Marvel’s eleventh movie and the direct squel to the third-biggest grossing movie in history is in full effect. With an impressive cast (Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson also join the team this time around, with Andy Serkis, Linda Cardellini and Julie Delpy also involved), and a darker tale that should also retain Whedon’s trademark humor, this is sure to be the biggest movie of the summer. Whether it can be the best is another question —it’s hard not to feel a sense of CGI robot fatigue from the footage. Early buzz seems to be pretty good, though: keep an eye out for our full review tomorrow.
Release Date: May 1st.
14. “The End Of The Tour”
Director: James Ponsoldt (“Smashed,” “The Spectacular Now”)
Cast: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Ron Livingston, Joan Cusack, Anna Chlumsky
Synopsis: Magazine writer David Lipsky accompanies acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace on the press tour for his seminal book “Infinite Jest.”
What You Need To Know: It sounded, initially, like a strange joke —a movie about the late, footnote-loving hipster literary favorite David Foster Wallace, played by Apatow-comedy veteran Jason Segel? Yeah, good one, SNL. But “The End Of The Tour” is very real, and per our review from Sundance, is also very good. In the hands of Pulitzer-winning writer Donald Marguiles and excellent director James Ponsoldt, the film is “an incredibly winning and engaging portrait of friendship, lasting connection and mutual understanding,” one that “coalesces all the great little moments in a terrifically compelling way,” with some great music, including Danny Elfman’s best in years. Segel gives a “career-best” performance, with Eisenberg stellar as well, adding up to “special, lovely little gem” of a movie.
Release Date: July 31st
13. “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence”
Director: Roy Andersson (“Songs from the Second Floor,” “You, the Living”)
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom, Charlotta Larsson
Synopsis: The third and final installment of Andersson’s “trilogy about being a human,” the film follows various characters through various vignettes as they live out their banal, tragicomic existences.
What You Need To Know: It was Christmas come early for us in Venice, as Jess so fittingly declared at the start of her review, after Roy Andersson capped off his seminal trilogy with his gloriously titled existentialist masterpiece. This film’s sense of humor is so dry it will leave you feeling thirsty; you’ll still be quenched by the film’s grand artistry and intellectual bravado. “Each locked-off camera shot is a mini masterpiece of set design, choreography and perfectly offbeat timing unto itself, but the great joy of Andersson’s movies always comes from picking up on the breadcrumb trail of recurring motifs and skewering side details” writes Jess in her review, and it’s among the many reasons Andersson was honored with the Golden Lion. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the tenacious banality that digs into the very core of what it truly means to be human (and really, who hasn’t done that?), this one’s for you.
Release Date: June 3rd
Director: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, Tyrese Gibson
Synopsis: A boxer’s life goes off the rails after the murder of his wife and he loses custody of his daughter.
What You Need To Know: The boxing movie’s almost as old as cinema, and it sometimes feels that there’s nothing new to say with the genre at this point. “Southpaw” hopes to find something to draw you back into the ring, and that something is Jake Gyllenhaal. The actor’s been on a hell of a run in the last few years with movies like “Enemy” and “Nightcrawler,” and his physically transformed appearance, a world away from Leo Bloom, is pretty astonishing. The script (co-written by “Sons Of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter) seems a little preposterous from the trailer, and director Antoine Fuqua’s a little more pedestrian than the filmmakers that Gyllenhaal’s been working with more recently, but this should be worth watching just to see the star unleash his inner brute.
Release Date: July 24th
Director: Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire,” “Almost Famous”)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski
Synopsis: A defense contractor is sent to Hawaii, where his ex-girlfriend lives, to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite, only to fall for his military liaison.
What You Need To Know: This year marks the tenth anniversary of Cameron Crowe’s disastrous misfire “Elizabethtown,” and the great filmmaker’s only made one feature since then, the so-so “We Bought A Zoo.” But he looks to be back on form with “Aloha,” assembling an A-grade rom-com cast led by so-hot-right-now duo Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, while also working with Bill Murray for the first time. An unusually summery setting means this should have real production value to it, and the script’s been something of a passion project for the director for a while (it nearly got made with Ben Stiller a few years back under the name “Deep Tiki.” The trailer’s a little muddled, and word is that Sony weren’t happy with the film, but moving the film from Christmas to summer suggests a certain degree of confidence, and we have faith that Crowe’s due for a comeback.
Release Date: May 29th
10. “The Tribe”
Director: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
Cast: Grigory Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy
Synopsis: A shy boy arrives at a boarding school for the deaf. There he tries to find his place in the hierarchy of the school community, which operates like a Mafiosi group ungoverned by the outside world.
What You Need To Know: We need more bold, purely cinematic films like “The Tribe.” Playing like an even more disturbing combination of “City of God” and “Lord of the Flies,” debut Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy takes a potentially gimmicky conceit —all dialogue is spoken through sign language with no subtitles— and infuses it with dread, political subversion (it directly comments on current Ukrainian politics) and incredible filmmaking bravado. Nearly all scenes play out in impeccably choreographed long takes, with a camera that rarely stops moving —its style is akin to Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and features a similar foreboding, disquieting sense that things are going to end badly. And what’s so impressive is that although its formalism is rigid, it rises well above gimmick to become a truly great, unique piece of cinema (and a very fine crime movie to boot), conjuring its own world, commenting on ours and giving the audience something palpably new. Read our review from Cannes last year if you need more convincing.
Release Date: June 17th
9. “Inside Out”
Director: Pete Docter (“Up”) and Ronnie del Carmen
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane
Synopsis: The emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) that guide young Riley are thrown into turmoil when her family moves to San Francisco: Joy and Sadness get lost inside her mind and must find their way home.
What You Need To Know: The five years since “Toy Story 3” have been rough for Pixar, with a pair of sub-standard sequels, a middlingly-received original, behind the scenes turmoil and, for the first time in a long time, a year without the studio releasing a movie. But “Inside Out” looks like it has a very good chance at righting the ship. Marking the return of “Monsters Inc.” and “Up” director Pete Docter, it has a brilliant “Herman’s Head”-style premise that looks likely to deliver both laughs and the emotion that the filmmaker’s known for (quite literally in this case). The bright, colorful look is immediately catching, the voice cast is terrific, and footage so far has been terrific. We’ve not been truly surprised by the studio since Docter’s last film, but with buzz going through the stratosphere and the movie headed to Cannes, we couldn’t have higher hopes.
Release Date: June 19th
8. “Magic Mike XXL”
Director: Gregory Jacobs (“Wind Chill,” “Criminal”)
Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Elizabeth Banks, Andie MacDowell
Synopsis: The kings of Tampa head out on one last road trip together to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
What You Need To Know: Three years ago saw “Magic Mike” become a surprise summer hit: the film is a Steven Soderbergh indie drama that somehow tapped into the neglected female audience in a big way, rode the early stages of the McConaissance and helped to solidify Channing Tatum as a hot new star. The film’s enormous profitability and its closeness to Tatum’s heart meant it was sure to become a priority for sequelhood despite Sodebergh’s retirement. Now we’ve got “XXL,” and though the original’s helmer isn’t in charge, his presence is still felt: he shot the movie and his longtime assistant director and producer Gregory Jacobs directs. Neither McConaughey nor Alex Pettyfer are back for the follow-up, but most of the original line-up are, along with some fun new additions. So will this follow-up expand and dig deeper than the original, or is it a cash-in?
Release Date: July 1st
7. “Irrational Man”
Director: Woody Allen (“Annie Hall,” “Midnight In Paris”)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Ben Rosenfield
Synopsis: In a small college town, a philosophy professor enters a relationship with one of his students.
What You Need To Know: Woody Allen might be heading to the small-screen with his Amazon series, but he’s not abandoning cinema; he’s already prepping a film for next year with Kristen Stewart, and his latest endeavor is set to screen at Cannes next month before its summer release in the U.S. After the “comic” misfire of “Magic In The Moonlight,” this film reportedly sees Allen return to the more dramatic territory of “Blue Jasmine” and possibly even the thriller tinges of “Match Point,” and though Allen’s focus on an age-gap romance might be a little ill-advised, he couldn’t have found a more promising pair of actors to focus on. Emma Stone returns for a second picture in a row, while most excitingly of all, Joaquin Phoenix teams with the director for the first time. Will he get a showcase as good as Cate Blanchett‘s in “Blue Jasmine?”
Release Date: July 17th
6. “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (“The Town That Dreaded Sundown”)
Cast: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Ronald Cyler II, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Jon Bernthal
Synopsis: A closed-off high schooler and his filmmaking buddy are forced to spend time with a classmate with leukemia.
What You Need To Know: On paper, “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl” sounded unbearably precious: a quirky comedy-drama about terminal illness, a sort of Wes Anderson-does-“Fault In Our Stars.” And yet the film proved to be the single biggest breakout at Sundance this year, selling for a near-record sum and winning both the Jury Prize and the Audience Award, and according to our review, with good reason: it’s a “wonderfully funny, bittersweet and inventive picture [that] will headlock even the most cynical-hearted viewer and turn him or her into emotional mush.” Visually inventive and full of unlikely pop culture references and with a killer Brian Eno soundtrack, the film has a “simply terrific” script from Jesse Andrews and TV veteran Gomez-Rejon “directs the hell out of every scene.” It’s a little too long and has “three different endings,” but it’s ultimately a “beautifully charming, captivating knock-out” that should be a major sleeper.
Release Date: June 12th
Director: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”)
Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Keegan-Michael Key, Kathryn Hahn
Synopsis: A troubled young girl discovers a mysterious scientific paradise and teams with a reclusive inventor to find her way back there and save the future.
What You Need To Know: After turning a theme park attraction into a billion-dollar franchise with “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Disney are attempting to repeat the trick with “Tomorrowland.” But this shouldn’t just be a corporate tie-in: with a script by “Lost” mastermind Damon Lindelof and Pixar grad Brad Bird at the helm, this could still be one of the more distinctive and original blockbusters of the summer. Glimpses of the still-mysterious project so far have been intriguing to say the least, and that it marks the always-picky George Clooney’s first summer blockbuster in nearly a decade bodes well. Bird’s yet to make a bad film and it doesn’t look like he’s going to start here: the only question is whether the film can work at the box office or if it gets overshadowed a la “Edge Of Tomorrow” last year.
Release Date: May 22nd
Director: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Funny People”)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, LeBron James, Vanessa Bayer, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton
Synopsis: A commitment-phobic journalist is forced to reevaluate her approach to romance when she interviews a charming sports doctor.
What You Need To Know: We love Judd Apatow’s directorial films, but even we had to concede that “This Is 40” was somewhat on the indulgent side, coming across as a home movie rather than a finely honed comedy-drama. But the comedy titan seems to have come to the same conclusion: for the first time with “Trainwreck,” he’s working from a script by someone else, in this case brilliant comedian Amy Schumer, and the results have paid off with a movie that our SXSW review (of a cut described as a “work in progress”) called “one of his most hilarious and finely-tuned films to date.” Containing both a “focused, warm script” and an “utterly watchable” performance from Schumer, and with a mighty supporting cast that showcases James and John Cena as “surprise comedic talents,” it’s both “honest and hilarious” and probably the best mainstream romantic comedy since, well, “Knocked Up.”
Release Date: July 17th
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve (“Father of my Children,” “Goodbye First Love”)
Cast: Felix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Brady Corbet, Greta Gerwig
Synopsis: A young DJ comes of age during the halcyon days of the French techno/disco scene that launched Daft Punk.
What You Need To Know: Like an “Inside Llewyn Davis” for the ‘90s “French touch” scene, “Eden” centers more around failure than it does success. But maybe that’s being a bit too glib. Filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s semi-autobiographical film (her brother and co-writer Sven was an up-and-coming DJ during this period) is long and sprawling, covering nearly a decade of the protagonist’s life, and it feels more like a bittersweet recollection, ending on the melancholy autumnal note of time that’s passed us by when we’ve been busy doing… stuff. If it sounds narratively unconventional, that’s because it is, but as our review said, there’s a cumulative power to the vignette/slice-of-life approach to the film which in some ways is similar to the approach in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Whatever the comparison, it’s a strikingly memorable picture that will inevitably compel you to consider and look back on your formative years, back when the party seemed to last forever.
Release Date: June 19th
2. “The Look of Silence”
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer (“The Act of Killing”)
Synopsis: In his follow-up documentary to “The Act of Killing,” Oppenheimer turns the focus from the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide to its victims and its survivors, via the story of Adi’s quest to meet his brother’s killers face to face.
What You Need To Know: “The Act of Killing” fell like a sledgehammer blow (our dumbstruck original A+ review is here), but wisely, Oppenheimer, who is clearly in this for the long haul, didn’t try to emulate that film’s heartstopping, lurching horror this time out, as our Venice review revealed. Instead he finds a very different yet no less intelligent and no less profound tone in the story of Adi and his family, whose lives were forever scarred by the murder of his brother during the purges of the 1960s. In seeking to address unhealed wounds, a lesser filmmaker might have turned in a relentlessly backward-looking film, but Oppenheimer never neglects the complex humanity of the present, and “The Look of Silence” becomes as much a character study of the remarkable Adi as it does an expose of the near-inhuman terrors of that decade. Adi, an optician, wants to look into these men’s eyes, and neither vengeful nor forgiving, he wants to understand how one human can visit such degradation on another. There is maybe no aim more noble and no filmmaker more suited to exploring it than Oppenheimer.
Release Date: July 17th
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
Director: George Miller (“Mad Max,” “The Road Warrior”)
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitley
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, drifter Max teams with Furiosa to keep five women away from the evil Immortan Joe.
What You Need To Know: For the second time in a row, our most anticipated movie of the summer is an Australian post-apocalyptic movie revolving around motor vehicles. But “Fury Road” is very, very different from last year’s top pick “The Rover.” Keeping in the tradition of the three George Miller “Mad Max” movies that came before, it’s an explosive thrill-ride. But not just any thrill-ride: Miller’s spent years on the project, with a tumultous shoot that did as much as possible practically, and the footage unveiled so far is completely stunning and distinctive. Tom Hardy seems like a perfect choice to step in for Mel Gibson, while Charlize Theron looks to be immediately iconic alongside him. Unless we’ve been deceived by the terrific trailers, some of the best in years, this has the potential to be a landmark action movie that doesn’t just match its predecessors, but supersedes them.
Release Date: May 15th.
Honorable Mentions: Could there possibly be more? Of course there’s more. Also landing in May are Bruce LaBruce’s “Harold And Maude”-ish “Gerontophilia” (May 1st), Brit corrupt cop drama “Hyena” (May 1st), Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara comedy “Hot Pursuit” (May 8th), Jack Black in “The D Train” (May 8th), Sesame Street doc “I Am Big Bird” (May 8th), Arnie zombie drama “Maggie” (May 8th), Bertrand Bonello’s fashion biopic “Saint Laurent” (May 8th), Jean Dujardin in cop thriller “The Connection” (May 15th), Elizabeth Banks drama “Every Secret Thing” from doc helmer Amy Berg (May 15th), Ethan Hawke and Andrew Niccol reunited for drone pic “Good Kill” (May 15th), Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You In My Dreams” (May 15th), Claudia Llosa’s “Aloft” (May 22nd), Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There” (May 22nd), Dwayne Johnson (hopefully) punching an earthquake in “San Andreas” (May 29th) and Gemma Arterton in “Gemma Bovary” (May 29th).
June brings Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237” follow-up “The Nightmare” (June 5th), actual nightmare “Entourage” (June 5th), horror sequel “Insidious Chapter 3” (June 5th), hit Sundance documentary “The Wolfpack” (June 12th), Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana in “Infinitely Polar Bear” (June 19th), Joe Dante’s “Burying The Ex” (June 19th), Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman in “The Overnight (June 19th), Michael Winterbottom’s “The Face Of An Angel” (June 19th), war-dog family flick “Max” (June 26th), Seth MacFarlane sequel “Ted 2” (June 26th), Australian sex comedy “The Little Death” (June 26th), and Samuel L Jackson in Finnish actioner “Big Game” (June 26th).
In July comes documentary “Cartel Land” (July 3rd), Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” (July 3rd), horror pic “The Gallows” (July 10th), “Despicable Me” spin-off “Minions” (July 10th), Ryan Reynolds in unofficial “Seconds” remake “Self/Less” (July 10th), Sundance-approved gymnastics comedy “The Bronze” (July 10th), weepie “Paper Towns” (July 24th) from “Fault In Our Stars” author John Green, found-footage horror “The Vatican Tapes” (July 24th), Kris Swanberg‘s Sundance-approved “Unexpected” (July 24th) with Cobie Smulders, Leo documentary “Beyond The Brick” (July 31st) and Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut “The Gift” (July 31st).
And then in August, there’s questionable-looking Zach Galafianakis/Kristen Wiig comedy “Masterminds” (August 7th), animated films “The Prophet” (August 7th) and “Underdogs” (August 14th), Ryan Reynolds/Kevin Costner actioner “Criminal” (August 21st), Chris Evans’ first outing behind the camera with “Before We Go” (August 21st), Joe Swanberg’s all-star “”Digging For Fire” (August 21st), Lily Tomlin in “Grandma” (August 21st), the return of Alejandro Amenabar with “Regression” (August 28th) and unnecessary sequel “Hitman: Agent 47” (August 28th).