The summer movie season seems to start earlier every year. At the all-important box office, Iron Man has already soared to great heights, Speed Racer crashed and burned in its first frame, and this weekend's crown will surely belong to Prince Caspian.
But where I'm from, the season doesn't officially start until Memorial Day weekend, a weekend 19 years in the making for Indiana Jones fans. That's right, the world's most heroic archaeologist returns to theaters with a new sidekick (Shia LaBeouf), a new nemesis (Cate Blanchett) and some new tricks, courtesy of 65-year-old star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg. While most pundits expect Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to be the highest-grossing film of the summer, if not the year, it will have to pack audiences into theaters in a hurry; a slew of cinematic competition will be nipping at its heels.
Don't Mess With the formula
June features a glut of family-friendly comedies headlined by established leading men. Adam Sandler plays a Mossad agent who fakes his own death and moves to New York to become a hairstylist in You Don't Mess With the Zohan (June 6). On June 20, Steve Carell's Get Smart will do battle with Mike Myers' The Love Guru, which both feature beautiful women (Anne Hathaway and Jessica Alba), buff bodies (The Rock and Justin Timberlake) and wily old-timers (Alan Arkin and Sir Ben Kingsley), all vital ingredients in the not-so-secret recipe for success. On July 11, audiences will Meet Dave, in a comedy about tiny aliens who pilot a human spaceship played by Eddie Murphy.
The real laughs may arrive on July 25, when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly find themselves playing Step Brothers, as produced by Judd Apatow. On Aug. 8, Seth Rogen and James Franco will play stoners on the run in another Apatow production, the action-comedy Pineapple Express. Just one week later, in an unfortunate bit of scheduling, Ben Stiller will lead Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. into the jungle in Tropic Thunder.
On Aug. 22, the director of Thunder's film-within-the-film, Steve Coogan, will again play a director in the Sundance hit Hamlet 2, co-starring Elisabeth Shue as herself. Elsewhere, Anna Faris plays an ex-Playboy bunny turned sorority adviser in The House Bunny (Aug. 22) while Nickelodeon star Drake Bell continues to dirty up his squeaky-clean image in the raucous College (Aug. 29).
Have no fear
In the thriller department, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman's The Strangers will try to live up to its bone-chilling trailer on May 30. In June, M. Night Shyamalan stakes his claim on Friday the 13th with The Happening, starring Mark Wahlberg and an angry ecosystem. July 25 finds David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reuniting as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files: I Want to Believe, while hardcore horror fans will have to sweat out the summer until Aug. 1, when Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train opens.
Of course, summer belongs to the action genre, and a number of blockbusters will vie for viewers. Expect Will Smith's Hancock (July 2) to make the biggest splash, if only because The Dark Knight (July 18), Christopher Nolan's sequel to Batman Begins, looks decidedly dark thanks to the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who stars as The Joker.
But they're not the only two superheroes in town. On June 13, Marvel reboots its Incredible Hulk franchise with Ed Norton in the title role, while Universal looks for a heavenly opening for Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army on July 11. That same day, Brendan Fraser takes a 3-D Journey to the Center of the Earth before battling The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Aug. 1).
Elsewhere on the schedule, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman recruit James McAvoy into their fraternity of assassins in Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's English-language debut, Wanted (June 27), based on the popular graphic novel. And speaking of assassins, on Aug. 22, Nicolas Cage teams up with the Pang Brothers for Bangkok Dangerous. The season wraps up on Aug. 29 with Mathieu Kassovitz's sci-fier Babylon A.D. , featuring the acting talents of Vin Diesel.
Females and families
And fear not Hollywood has not forgotten to target females. It has high hopes for the big-screen adaptation of Sex and the City (May 30). After Carrie and Co. set the bar, you'll be treated to Meryl Streep in the movie musical Mamma Mia! (July 18), the lovable ladies of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Aug. 8), and Uma Thurman in The Accidental Husband (Aug. 22).
As for the kiddies, on June 6 DreamWorks Animation unveils its animated ode to the Shaw brothers, Kung Fu Panda, with Jack Black in the title role, while Pixar rolls out WALL-E on June 27. Young girls will delight in seeing Abigail Breslin as Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (July 2). And finally, the film sure to deliver world peace, Space Chimps, flies into orbit on July 18.
Other films worth noting include animated prequel Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Alan Ball's controversial coming-of-age film Towelhead, Sundance smash The Wackness, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as a marijuana-smoking psychiatrist, plus Danny McBride as a karate instructor in The Foot Fist Way, Kevin Costner as a man deciding a presidential election in Swing Vote, and Russia's Oscar-nominated action epic Mongol.