The summer movie season is starting earlier than ever this year.
Blame Marvel and its distributor, Disney, the kings of modern blockbuster moviemaking. The studio had staked out the traditional start of movie summer — the first weekend in May — with its superhero mash-up spectacular “Avengers: Infinity War.” Late in the game, though, Marvel announced it would jump up a week, from May 4 to April 27, to bring the U.S. opening closer to the movie’s international release date.
“Avengers: Infinity War” is expected to dominate the summer box office, and may challenge fellow Marvel title “Black Panther” as the highest-grossing title of 2018. (The king of Wakanda’s story, as of last weekend, has pulled in $681 million in North America, since it opened in February, the third highest-grossing movie ever.)
Other blockbusters will try to claim some of the summer action. They include the latest chapters in popular franchises: “Deadpool 2,” “The Incredibles 2,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Marvel’s “Ant-Man and The Wasp,” “Hotel Transylvania 3,” “The Equalizer 2” and “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.”
Even in a season dotted with franchise films, there are smaller movies also seeking an audience. Here are five major releases nearly everyone is expected to see this summer, and for each one a less-obvious movie that pairs well with it.
You’re going to see: “Avengers: Infinity War” (opens April 27)
As the internet would have you believe, this is the crossover movie to beat all crossovers: All the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes — Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the Guardians of the Galaxy, newcomer Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and more — are joining forces to battle the planet-destroying evil of Thanos (Josh Brolin). Can directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: Civil War”) juggle this unwieldy cast of characters and deliver a full-throttle action movie? And will everyone survive to fight in next year’s sequel?
You should also see: “Teen Titans Go! to the Movies” (opens July 27)
Speaking of superhero group meetings, DC Comics’ junior-varsity squad arrives on the big screen, in cartoon form, in this expansion of the off-the-wall Cartoon Network series. The Titans — Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire and Beast Boy — are headed to Hollywood to find fame and fortune, but they get sidetracked by a villain (voiced by Kristen Bell) with global domination on her mind. The voice cast is dotted with cameos, none more important than Nicolas Cage as Superman, letting Cage fulfill a dream that was thwarted when Tim Burton’s “Superman Lives” was deep-sixed decades ago.
You’re going to see: “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (opens May 25)
Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich, says so himself in the movie’s trailer: “I got a good feeling about this.” Director Ron Howard pilots this account of the young Corellian smuggler Han Solo, played by Ehrenreich, as he’s recruited by a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) for an impossible job. Among those Solo meets on the boss’s crew are Chewbacca (performed by Joonas Suotamo) and the roguish Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise will be watching Ehrenreich’s performance intently, to compare it with Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal — and to see if Howard’s late arrival to the set, after producers fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“21 Jump Street,” “The LEGO Movie”) during shooting, will make for a better movie.
You should also see: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (opens in June)
Like “Solo,” this documentary tells the complex backstory of a beloved hero from the 1970s. Here, the hero is Fred Rogers, the pioneering children’s TV host whose “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” entertained, educated and soothed a generation of kids. Director Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar for “20 Feet From Stardom,” combines interviews with archival footage to explore how Rogers handled hard issues — racism, war, divorce — through a lens of kindness and love.
You’re going to see: “Ocean’s 8” (opens June 8)
Why should the guys have all the fun? Sandra Bullock stars as Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s character in “Ocean’s 11” and its sequels, herself finishing a prison term with a scheme in mind: to steal an expensive diamond necklace off movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) during the Met Gala in New York. Debbie’s crew includes Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and the rapper/comedian Awkwafina. Director Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) is expected to serve up fast action and a ton of cameos from the fashion world and the “Ocean’s” movies.
You should also see: “The Spy Who Dumped Me” (opens Aug. 3)
Another caper comedy with a female viewpoint, this comedy starts when Audrey (Mila Kunis) learns her ex-boyfriend (Justin Theroux) is a CIA agent — and when bad guys are after him, they start chasing her. This leads Audrey and her best pal Morgan (the always-funny Kate McKinnon) on a mad chase through Europe. Unlike “Ocean’s 8,” here there’s also a woman in the director’s chair: “Chasing Life” creator Susanna Fogel, who also co-wrote the script.
You’re going to see: “The Incredibles 2” (opens June 15)
It’s been 14 years since Pixar’s superhero family, the Parrs, saved the city and knocked out the wannabe super Syndrome. Director Brad Bird picks up where the last movie left off, with the supers trying to restore their reputations — and Helen Parr (voiced by Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, performing superheroics while Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) holds the fort at home. This promises to be as cool and visually stunning as the original, if not more so.
You should also see: “The Darkest Minds” (opens Aug. 3)
Superpowers take on a more sinister look in this adaptation of Alexandra Bracken’s dystopian young-adult novel. Set in a dark society where adults imprison everyone under 18, the story centers on teens who channel their unique abilities and mount a resistance to regain their freedom. Amanda Stenberg (“Everything, Everything”) is the most familiar face among the teens; the adults include Mandy Moore and Gwendoline Christie (“Game of Thrones”). The movie is the live-action directing debut of Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
You’re going to see: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (opens June 22)
Welcome back to Isla Nublar, home to not one but two destroyed amusement parks, and to genetically re-engineered dinosaurs roaming wild. When the island’s dormant volcano becomes active, park marketing executive-turned-dino activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) urges former dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to help her save the dinosaurs from extinction. Director J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible,” “A Monster Calls”) guides the action this time, but the big news is the return of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, chaos-theory expert and voice of reason.
You should also see: “The Meg” (opens Aug. 10)
It’s always promising when a monster movie has its tongue in its cheek, no matter how many teeth are in its mouth. This adaptation of Steve Alten’s 1997 novel centers on a crew of ocean scientists who discover a supersized megalodon shark off the Chinese coast — and when it wakes, it heads for the beach to snack on tourists. The cast is led by British beefcake Jason Statham and Chinese star Li Bingbing, and includes Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) and Ruby Rose (“Orange Is the New Black”). If it plays as a smarter version of “Sharknado,” it could be a lot of fun.