It’s been shouted over and over again (by me, actually) for years: The summer blockbuster is dead! Kaput! Pushing daisies! Why on earth would we schlep to a sticky, old movie theater anymore when we can enjoy the comfort and convenience of Netflix, Grubhub and couch?
Making the cinema situation more dire, the past several years of June, July and August releases have been pitiful. In 2019, we were saddled with “Dark Phoenix” and “The Kitchen.” Quadratic equations are more fun.
Yet — thank God — our first summer of reopened America is easily the biggest movie season in recent memory. Thanks to a backlog from 2020, there are so many hot flicks that, as a movie critic, I don’t expect to see the sun again till Labor Day. There’s Marvel and musicals, Disney and DC, The Rock and “Respect,” horror and heartwarming.
And it’s a big test for Hollywood. Studios are closely observing whether audience habits have been changed forever by being able to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul” at home — instantly, for no extra charge — during the past year. Will Average Joes still shell out $15 for the glory of the big screen?
I reckon they will. And this summer, they have plenty of reasons to go. Here are 10.
“In the Heights”
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s movie musical is the best film of the year so far, and a fantastic excuse to get out of the house. It’s an adaption of his Broadway show about the New York neighborhood he grew up in, Washington Heights, told through the composer’s signature mix of hip-hop, R&B and Latin music. If you loved “Hamilton,” you’ll love “In the Heights.”
This funny, touching story of a young guy (Ramos) trying to live out his dream of moving back home to the Dominican Republic will restore your faith in movie musicals, which tend to be fun but slight. This gem is in the tradition of “West Side Story” and “Chicago” — a new classic. In theaters and on HBO Max June 11.
Pixar played a major role in many families’ pandemic experiences. The studio released “Onward” on Disney+ early, right after theaters were shuttered, and the brilliant “Soul” hit Disney+ on Christmas Day. For now, their latest, “Luca,” will follow suit and hit the streaming service on June 18 for no extra charge. Hopefully it will wind up at a few brick-and-mortar theaters, too.
In the Italy-set story, two mermen-like sea creatures venture onto the surface where they become human boys, and go on a dangerous, silly journey. “Luca” features the voices of Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan. On Disney+ June 18.
The — you guessed it! — ninth installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise starts where 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” left off. Dominic (Vin Diesel) must face off against his assassin little brother Jakob (John Cena, not so little). Which car-loving meathead will come out on top? In theaters June 25.
“The Forever Purge”
This is supposedly the end of the “Purge” franchise, the surprisingly smart horror films in which it is legal for one day a year to commit any crime you want. This time, the Purge has finally been outlawed, but a podunk Texas town quietly keeps it going. A couple gets stranded there, and then things go full “Deliverance.” In theaters July 2.
The first stand-alone film for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (a k a Black Widow) also marks the return of Marvel Cinematic Universe films after “Spider-Man: Far From Home” two years ago. Doesn’t feel like it was so long ago, does it? That’s because fans have been kept at bay by Disney+ MCU shows “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” But nothing beats the big honkin’, explosion-filled genuine article.
The Phase 4 film takes place not after “Avengers: Endgame,” but in the wake of “Captain America: Civil War,” when an isolated Black Widow, a former KGB agent, must confront her messy past. In theaters and on Disney+ (for $30) July 9.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy”
The first “Space Jam” came out in 1996 at the height of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ international fame. It was the perfect time to pair them with Bugs Bunny for an animated basketball game in space.
The Looney Tunes are back for more — but Jordan isn’t — in Warner Bros.’ sequel. This time, the b-ball player is LeBron James, and the titular “Space” won’t be outer, it’ll be cyber. James is trapped in the digital “Serververse” where he and the Looney Tunes need to win a basketball game to escape. In theaters and on HBO Max July 16.
Like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Jungle Cruise” takes a Disney World ride, throws a plot on it and recruits a bunch of A-list stars. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the big name here as a riverboat captain who goes on an expedition with a scientist (Emily Blunt) to find the magical Tree of Life. In theaters and on Disney+ (for $30) July 30.
“The Suicide Squad”
The first “Suicide Squad” movie was a widely mocked and hated debacle directed by David Ayer. Well, DC has tacked on a “The” and brought aboard James Gunn, who mined comedic gold out of “Guardians of the Galaxy” for Marvel.
While the last “Suicide Squad” was self-serious torture, Gunn’s movie looks refreshingly funny and not so dark. The film makes stars out of second-tier villains such as King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Peacemaker (John Cena). In theaters and on HBO Max August 6.
Jennifer Hudson can only go up from her last film — “Cats.” The Oscar winner follows up her role as a struggling feline by playing legendary singer Aretha Franklin in a new biopic. The rest of the cast is bursting with talent: Audra McDonald, Forest Whitaker, Tituss Burgess and Broadway’s Hailey Kilgore. In theaters August 13.
The sight of a dude covered in live bees from the 1992 horror classic “Candyman” is seared onto horror lovers’ minds forever. That great Chicago projects-set movie will be tough for director/co-writer Nia DaCosta and co-writer Jordan Peele to top, but the pair have smartly decided not to remake it, but use the character in a new story.
The Candyman, if you recall, is an urban legend where if you say his name five times into a mirror, he’ll come and kill you. Naturally, a lot of idiots try it out and get whacked. In theaters August 27.