With all due respect to “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Elvis” and “Nope,” this summer movie season marks the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that feels like it’s firing on all cylinders. Selected by L.A. Times entertainment staffers, the titles below — all scheduled to open between Memorial Day weekend and the dog days of August — represent the full range of possibilities that longer days and sunny weather seem to offer, from in-your-face indies to Indiana Jones, with films for all tastes arranged in between. So dust off those sandals, fire up your favorite ticketing app and get ready to hit the cinema.
Here are the movies we’re most excited for this summer:
‘The Little Mermaid’ (May 26)
There’s photographic proof in my family circle of my failed attempt as a toddler to dress as Ariel for Halloween — my mom couldn’t find a red wig and thought one that looked more like Tina Turner’s coif in the “What’s Love Got to Do With It” music video was somehow a suitable alternative. Still, I was Ariel. And grown or not, I’m looking forward to watching the live-action reimagining (and “Barbie” too!) with the kids and women in my life. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film features Halle Bailey as our beloved mermaid, Melissa McCarthy as the terrifyingly wicked Ursula the Sea Witch, and Javier Bardem as Ariel’s strict father, King Triton. Then there are, of course, Ariel’s scene-stealing animal companions, Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle, who have caused a stir on social media with their disturbingly naturalistic looks — adding to the discourse on realism as it relates to what people want from fairy tales. Reenvisioning a classic is always a tall order, and I don’t expect this update to live up to my memories of the animated version, but I’m grabbing my dinglehopper and snarfblat and hoping for some fun. — Yvonne Villarreal
‘You Hurt My Feelings’ (May 26)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ best film role came opposite James Gandolfini in Nicole Holofcener’s delightful romantic comedy “Enough Said.” Now, a decade later, Holofcener and Louis-Dreyfus have reunited for “You Hurt My Feelings,” a sharp, spiky comedy about a happily married couple confronting the limits of honesty in a relationship. The movie’s titular conflict comes when Beth, Louis-Dreyfus’ writer character, overhears her husband (an excellent Tobias Menzies) complain about having to read yet another draft of her long-gestating novel. This truth bomb crushes her. How can Beth trust anything this guy says? We’ve taken delight in watching Louis-Dreyfus come undone over the years. What distinguishes her work here is the moving way she makes us feel Beth’s dejection along with her angst about growing older. Like we needed another reminder, but she really is a treasure. — Glenn Whipp
‘Past Lives’ (June 2)
Celine Song’s autobiographical masterpiece begins and (just about) ends with a sequence in a dimly lit New York bar, in my memory all brocade and mahogany and the warm fuzz of a first drink finished. Initially, we’re spies across the room, listening in on whispered speculations about the trio onscreen; by the time we return, alongside Nora (Greta Lee, in a career-making performance), her childhood friend Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) and her husband, Arthur (John Magaro), we have been transformed by the year’s most luminous and surprising love story. Nora and Hae Sung have been separated since her family emigrated from Korea, reintroduced through Facebook and Skype, and finally reunited by an all-too-brief visit, and their relationship hews to rhythms so organic that to say much more would spoil the experience. Suffice it to say that the conversation in the bar, when we hear it firsthand, exceeded even my wildest dreams, and that ever since I laid eyes on “Past Lives,” I’ve been waiting to see it again. — Matt Brennan
‘Asteroid City’ (June 16)
It’s become too easy to take Wes Anderson for granted, with his reliably intense level of filmmaking craft and impeccable attention to detail. Yet his reputation for fastidiousness and melancholy overlooks how varied his films are — and the wild emotions he explores. His new film “Asteroid City,” set in a fictional American desert town circa 1955 against a backdrop of space-age hopefulness and paranoia, finds him poised to hit his stride again after a few (relative) stumbles. Frequent collaborator Jason Schwartzman matures in the Anderson universe from lonely boy to sad dad, along with a cast that also includes Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Steve Carell, Maya Hawke, Tilda Swinton, Hong Chau, Tony Revolori, Margot Robbie and many more. Anderson has a knack for somehow one-upping himself while simultaneously finding fresh twists on his ever-evolving aesthetic world, as if each new film is the most Wes Anderson a Wes Anderson film can ever be. Fingers crossed “Asteroid City” will land in the right spot. — Mark Olsen
‘The Blackening’ (June 16)
In the horror genre, there are two tropes that are almost automatic — a young white girl will be the final survivor, and the first person to get killed will be Black. So what happens when all the characters in a horror movie are Black? That’s the irresistibly clever premise of “The Blackening,” which takes the “terror in the woods” formula and injects it with edgy cultural humor. The comedy from Lionsgate follows a group of friends reuniting for a Juneteenth celebration in a remote residence, who discover to their dismay that they are being targeted by a vicious masked killer playing deadly racist games. Tim Story (“Barbershop”), who directs, and writers Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) and Dewayne Perkins, who is also in the cast, have certainly done their homework, riffing on “Saw,” “Scream,” “Halloween” and “The Evil Dead” while also taking shots at Donald Trump and, of course, “Friends.” The jokes are accompanied by commentary about what it means to be Black. Comedy vets Jay Pharoah (“Saturday Night Live”) and Yvonne Orji (“Insecure”) join the cast. And rest assured, no young white girl will be coming to the rescue. — Greg Braxton
‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (June 30)
Anyone who stood in line in 1981 to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — no, you couldn’t buy your ticket in advance in those days — will never forget the throat-clutching thrill of seeing the film for the first time, following the outrageous adventures of whip-carrying archaeologist Indiana Jones. Directed at a breathless pace by Steven Spielberg and starring the incomparable Harrison Ford, the film set a new standard for the summer blockbuster, leading to three sequels, all directed by Spielberg. Fifteen years after “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Indy and Ford are returning in the franchise’s fifth film, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” just in time for summer. There is cause for concern — Spielberg is only a producer this time around, and Ford is 80 years old — but Ford still has his movie star chops, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is along for the ride, and the director this time around, James Mangold, is no slouch. — Greg Braxton
‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken’ (June 30)
A coming-of-age story involving teenage cryptids? Sign me up! Suffice it to say, “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” had me from its title alone. Ruby is a shy, awkward teen who just wants to fit in at school even before learning that she comes from a royal line of krakens. This movie flips the traditional fairy tale script, so the beautiful, vain mermaids are the villains trying to take over the (undersea) world. And of course, Ruby’s gorgeous new classmate turns out to be one of these mermaids. No knock to ongoing franchises, but I’m always excited to see original animated stories on the big screen and cannot wait to learn more about the long history of warring krakens and mermaids as Ruby inevitably embraces her heritage and destiny. — Tracy Brown
‘Joy Ride’ (July 7)
This gonzo misadventure comedy — think “Bridesmaids” meets “The Hangover” — features a female Asian American cast led by Ashley Park (“Emily in Paris”), comedian Sherry Cola, newcomer Sabrina Wu and Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”). As Lizzo would say, it’s about damn time. Add to that mix the consistently funny Ronny Chieng and Billie Lourd, and we’ve got a hootenanny. Veteran writer-producer Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) makes her directorial debut with a script by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, who have collaborated with Seth MacFarlane and Awkwafina. And here’s the secret sauce: Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a strong record of turning potentially extreme material into smart and hilarious results. — Michael Ordona
‘Afire’ (July 14)
German writer-director Christian Petzold is one of those filmmakers whose work I invariably look forward to; his dramas “Transit” and “Phoenix” are among the finest (and saddest) thrillers to have emerged from Europe in the last decade, and his gift for putting classical genre conventions into play with historical and political themes is practically nonpareil. (If you loved Nina Hoss’ work in “Tar,” you owe it to yourself to check out her earlier work with Petzold, including “Barbara,” “Yella” and “Jerichow.”) I’ve been trying not to read too much about the director’s latest, “Afire,” which is about four characters trapped by raging forest fires on holiday. It did win the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize (effectively second place) at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, which is certainly an auspicious sign. — Justin Chang
‘Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One’ (July 14)
Why would I be so jazzed for the seventh installment in a popcorn spy franchise? Because the sixth, “Fallout,” is one of my favorite action films. Ever. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is back for parts one and two, along with several key department heads — though cinematographer Fraser Taggart (“Rogue One,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) and production designer Gary Freeman (“Children of Men”) are new. Among the returning collaborators: stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, fight coordinator Wolfgang Stegemann, composer Lorne Balfe and key members of the sound department. McQuarrie (who also co-wrote “Top Gun: Maverick”) and Tom Cruise seem to have cracked the code for delivering top-tier, big-screen thrill rides, as one highly publicized stunt demonstrates. I’m expecting this one to be worth the wait. — Michael Ordona
‘Barbie’ (July 21)
It’s taken more than half a century, but America’s polyvinyl chloride synthetic-fiber sweetheart is finally getting her own live-action film. The fashion doll that ensured generations of girls were stricken with body dysmorphic disorder before the age of 10 comes alive in “Barbie,” a comedy written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Margot Robbie is perfect as Barbie. Ryan Gosling is her hardbody sidekick, Ken. They love rollerblading, volleyball and the color pink, but their Dreamworld is turned upside down when they’re thrust into the real world. Directed by Gerwig, the film features Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie, Issa Rae as President Barbie, Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie, and Simu Liu as one of many variations of Ken. Will Ferrell plays the film’s antagonist, a toy company CEO. And if that cast isn’t impressive enough, Helen Mirren narrates. — Lorraine Ali
‘Oppenheimer’ (July 21)
The development of the atomic bomb might seem an unlikely jumping-off point for a summer tentpole film — audiences are generally not known to flock to movies about theoretical physicists — but it’s never been wise to bet against Christopher Nolan. As the reigning king of mind-bending blockbusters, Nolan has proved he can take seemingly esoteric and cerebral ideas and topics, from the intricacies of dreams (“Inception”) to a lesser-known World War II battle (“Dunkirk”), and spin them into box office gold. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” Nolan’s period thriller gathers a star-studded cast, featuring Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Emily Blunt and, in the title role, Cillian Murphy as the Manhattan Project leader who agonized over the morality of building a weapon that could destroy the world in order to save it. Shot using a combination of Imax 65 millimeter and 65 millimeter film photography, “Oppenheimer” promises an epic scale befitting its — quite literally — explosive subject. — Josh Rottenberg
‘Haunted Mansion’ (July 28)
It’s been 20 years since Disney released a movie based on its ghostly theme park attraction, which disappointingly landed with a thud. This second attempt, written by Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) and directed by Justin Simien (“Dear White People”), stars Rosario Dawson as a mother who enlists self-proclaimed supernatural experts to rid her New Orleans home of some stubborn spirits. The cast boasts Jamie Lee Curtis, Owen Wilson, LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto, Winona Ryder and Hasan Minhaj. From the looks of its trailer, it seems like this reboot will be slightly more frightening and exciting than its relatively timid predecessor. — Ashley Lee
‘Talk to Me’ (July 28)
Ari Aster. Robert Eggers. Danny and Michael Philippou? A24’s track record of launching first-time horror helmers-turned-hitmakers gets a promising new addition in July’s “Talk to Me,” the nifty, nasty supernatural debut of the twin Aussie filmmakers better known by their YouTube moniker, RackaRacka. Sophie Wilde plays Mia, a teen whose participation in a party trick involving peer pressure and an embalmed, spirit-conjuring hand turns dangerously addictive. Dripping with angst, energy, genuine dread and adrenaline-jolting practical effects, “Talk to Me” isn’t just a major level up from the stunt-laden comedy and horror shorts with which the Philippous racked up more than a billion views; it marks the first genuine discovery of the content creator-to-Hollywood pipeline, with the kind of electrifying thrills that could make this season a summer of horror. — Jen Yamato
‘Bottoms’ (Aug. 25)
A movie that often feels dangerously out of control even as it knows exactly what it’s doing, “Bottoms” is an outrageous queer teen comedy that could hit summer audiences like a sucker-punch surprise. Directed by Emma Seligman, who co-wrote the script with Rachel Sennott, the star of Seligman’s sleeper hit debut, “Shiva Baby,” the new film is a stinging, freewheeling and fresh riff on the high school tale of self-discovery. Two misfits, played by Sennott and “The Bear’s” Ayo Edebiri, somewhat inadvertently start a self-defense class/fight club and soon discover it’s getting them closer to the popular girls (Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber) they have crushes on and who were previously unattainable to them. “Bottoms” walks a fine line between silly and smart, with a provocative ridiculousness and unexpected sincerity that can at moments leave audiences wincing and laughing at the same time. Unveiled with an uproarious premiere at SXSW, “Bottoms” is an audacious, exhilarating beacon of the next generation of filmmaking. — Mark Olsen
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