Summer always starts early at the movies, and this year it starts with a big finish: “Avengers: Endgame,” which promises to be the culmination of a decade of Marvel superhero movies, and a box office bonanza.
There’s more going on this summer than the rematch between Iron Man, Captain America, et al, and the universe-shifting Thanos. This summer’s biggest movies promise to show us big monsters, pocket-sized monsters, a genie, computer-generated lions, alien-busting peacekeepers, a friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, and the dreamy pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
But there are a lot more movies that won’t get big marketing pushes, yet have more unusual and intriguing premises: Satanic gadflies, an evil superhero, a perky comedy writer, star-crossed young lovers, a zombie-fighting Bill Murray, creepy Europeans, and a Chinese family keeping a big secret.
Here are seven surefire blockbusters hitting theaters this summer, and seven smaller movies that could make a big splash. (Release dates are tentative.)
• “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” • (May 10) One of the world’s most popular franchises hits the big screen in a weird way: The cute lightning-emitting Pikachu turns out to be a sleuth, but only Tim (Justice Smith), the son of a missing detective, can hear him talk (with the voice of Ryan Reynolds). Together, can they solve a mystery in a city where humans and Pokémon co-exist?
• “Aladdin” / “The Lion King” • (May 24 / July 19) Disney’s plundering of its back catalog continues with these two money machines. The first has director Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”) turning Will Smith into the genie who gives three wishes to a “street rat” (Mena Massoud). In the other, director Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book”) trades cel animation for computer animation to retell the story of a young lion (voiced by Donald Glover) facing his doubts to lead the animal kingdom.
• “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” • (May 31) The beloved movie monster goes up against three winged creatures — Mothra, Rodan, and the three-headed King Ghidorah — as a warm-up for next year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) and Vera Farmiga (“The Conjuring”) lead the human cast.
• “Men in Black: International” • (June 14) The black-suited alien control squad has always been better in concept than in execution, Will Smith’s charms notwithstanding. This time, under director F. Gary Gray (“The Fate of the Furious”), the team includes Liam Neeson as the old pro, and Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson — reuniting from “Thor: Ragnarok” — as the young enforcers of the intergalactic peace.
• “Spider-Man: Far From Home” • (July 5) Not to toss out any spoilers for “Avengers: Endgame,” but the fact that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are here suggests some Marvel characters come back in the un-snappening. (I know, it could be a pre-Thanos story. Theories abound.) Parker accompanies his class on a European road trip, but he is pressed into service by Fury when a mysterious presence (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) appears.
• “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” • (July 26) Writer-director Quentin Tarantino is reportedly still finishing this comedy-drama, hence its (temporary?) exclusion from the Cannes Film Festival lineup. The story centers on a TV star (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt), and its setting in 1969 apparently makes room for studio intrigue and the rise of cult killer Charlie Manson.
The hidden gems:
• “Hail Satan?” • (May 10) Director Penny Lane’s funny and biting documentary (which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival) profiles The Satanic Temple, ruffling feathers and battling government-sanctioned religious monuments in the name of the First Amendment.
• “The Sun Is Also a Star” • (May 17) Nicola Yoon’s young-adult best-seller becomes a movie, as Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi, from “Black-ish”), a quantum physics student, falls for Daniel Bae (Charles Melton, from “Riverdale”), an exchange student — the day before Natasha’s Jamaican family is to be deported. Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”) directs this timely romantic drama.
• “Brightburn” • (May 24) What if Clark Kent was born bad? That’s the idea behind this James Gunn-produced horror-thriller, in which a child who landed on Earth shows signs of evil intentions, but has a protector in his adopted mother (Elizabeth Banks).
• “Late Night” • (June 7) One of the biggest distribution deals at Sundance this year was for director Nisha Ganatra’s comedy, starring Mindy Kaling (who wrote the screenplay) as the first woman on the writing staff of a prickly late-night talk show host (Emma Thompson) who’s in danger of cancellation.
• “The Dead Don’t Die” • (June 14) Audiences at Cannes will have first crack at maverick filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy, which stars Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits.
• “Midsommar” • (July 3) Writer-director Ari Aster, who creeped out audiences last year with the filmed-in-Utah “Hereditary,” follows up with another horror movie. This one stars Florence Pugh (“Fighting With My Family”) as a young woman caught in the rituals of a strange European festival.
• “The Farewell” • (July 12) Writer-director Lulu Wang mined her life (and her “This American Life” story) for this comedy, another hit at Sundance ’19. It follows Billi (played by the comedian/rapper Awkwafina), a Chinese-American grad student, who goes back to China with her family for a wedding — and, in reality, to see her grandmother (Zhou Shuzhen), who hasn’t been told that she’s been diagnosed with cancer.