The summer blockbuster season was born on June 20, 1975, when Steven Spielberg's Jaws was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. It was the scariest shark movie ever and launched the career of one of America's greatest living filmmakers. And it set a template that studios have been following ever since: big budgets, high concept, and huge hype.
The industry release calendar that planted the budget tentpoles after Memorial Day has become less stringent in recent years, says Malco Theaters' vice president and director of marketing Karen Melton. "It used to be concentrated in the summer and the holiday season — from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Now we have releases like Black Panther that come out in February, which throws that model out the window. There's no reason that films should be pigeonholed, when Black Panther can perform like that on Valentine's Day."
Even so, the 2018 summer moviegoing season is jam-packed with releases big and small. Here's a preview of some of the best bets between now and Labor Day.
The debut of Star Wars on Memorial Day weekend, 1977, set the precedent for the holiday as the traditional beginning of the summer blockbuster season. But since The Force Awakens bowed in December 2015, Star Wars movies have moved to Christmas season. The story of the meeting of Han Solo, his furry sidekick Chewbacca, and frenemy Lando Calrissian returns the franchise to the summer season. (See our review on page 34).
- Ocean's 8
Ocean's 8 (June 8th)
One of the most unlikely franchises of the century began with Ocean's 11, Stephen Soderberg's 2001 heist film in which he defined the Rat Pack of the 21st century. This all-female spinoff, directed by Hunger Games helmer Gary Ross, seems timely in the Me-Too moment. Sandra Bullock leads the ensemble cast as Debbie Ocean, a member of the series' family of master thieves. The rest of the powerhouse dramatis personae include Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rhianna, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Sara Paulson, and Awkwafina.
Hotel Artemis (June 8th)
Veteran Marvel writer Drew Pearce makes his directorial debut with this flick set in a dystopian, near-future Los Angeles ruled by warring organized crime houses. Jodi Foster stars as the nurse who runs a secret hospital fronted by the titular hotel where combatants different factions can come to get patched up between battles. The cardinal rule is no fighting, but I'm guessing that rule doesn't last long. Sterling K. Brown, Zachary Quinto, Dave Bautista, Sofia Boutella, and Jeff Goldblum co-star. Will this be a cheeky sci-fi thriller or a look into the future of the American for-profit health care system? Why not both?
Hereditary (June 8th)
After a pair of intense screenings at Sundance 2018, the buzz is strong around this debut horror flick by director Ari Aster. Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne star as a family who, in the wake of their mother's death, slowly uncovers horrible truths about their ancestors. It's currently sitting at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with film critic A. A. Dowd describing it as "pure emotional terrorism" and "warped genius."
Incredibles 2 (June 15th)
Brad Bird returns to Pixar to deliver a long-awaited sequel to his 2004 superhero spoof. Now that the family is out of the superpower closet, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) finds herself more in demand than Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), leaving him to adjust to stay-at-home dad mode. Trying to keep a lid on three kids, Violet (Sara Vowell) Dash (Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack is made even harder by a toddler who can shoot lasers from his eyes.
Superfly (June 15th)
Music video maestro Director X makes his feature film debut with this remake of the blacksploitation classic, transporting the action from Harlem to Atlanta. Broadway star Trevor Jackson struts as the titular well-dressed crime lord, and Future walks in the shoes of Curtis Mayfield's all-time classic musical-scoring job.
Action Point (June 15th)
In the 1980s, there was a cheap amusement park in New Jersey called Action Park. The rides were so unsafe, and the staff so regularly and visibly intoxicated, that doctors at nearby hospitals took to calling it "Traction Park." Now that it has passed into legend, killed by multiple class action lawsuits, it is commemorated with this Johnny Knoxville movie. Expect multiple injuries, real pain, and at least a couple hard shots to the groin.
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (June 22nd)
Spielberg's dinosaur dynasty continues his blockbuster legacy that began with Jaws. This time he's executive producing, and Spanish director J. A. Bayona is replacing Colin Trevorrow, as the troubled amusement park adds volcanoes to its attractions. Chris Patt and Bryce Dallas Howard reprise their roles from 2015's Jurassic World, as does the clever velociraptor named Blue, but let's be real — we're all turning out for Jeff Goldblum. The man's a national treasure. Can we make him president?
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (June 22nd)
Summer blockbuster season doesn't usually include room for documentaries, but this portrait of Fred Rogers is looking like an instant classic. Director Morgan Neville, winner of the Academy Award for best documentary for 20 Feet From Stardom, and who co-directed the Emmy-winning Best of Enemies with Memphian Robert Gordon, delves into the history of the PBS children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and the Presbyterian minister-turned-TV-host and national father figure. Even the trailer for this movie has been known to draw tears.
Sicario: Day of the Solodado (June 29th)
The A-team of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins has moved on, but Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin are back as undercover narcotics agents operating on both sides of the Mexican border and the law. 2015's Sicario was a tightly wound thriller with one incredible shot after another, so here's hoping the magic repeats.
- Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew (June 29th)
Something like Ocean's 11 for current and retired basketball stars, this film started out life as a Pepsi commercial. NBA all-star Kyrie Irving stars as a bearded, aging playground baller who assembles his old team to settle a score with his rival Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. Shaquille O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, and Nate Robinson all try to make the leap to the big screen.
The First Purge (July 4th)
For the last five years, The Purge series has stealthily been one of the most subversive commentaries on contemporary America. Creator James DeMonaco steps out of the director's chair, while horror powerhouse Blumhouse produces this prequel, which looks less and less like sci-fi horror with each passing day.
Sorry to Bother You (July 6th)
Boots Riley was making political hip-hop with the Coup while Kendrick Lamar was still in middle school. Now, the anti-capitalist rapper makes his debut as a director with a surrealist comedy about a supernaturally gifted telemarketer, played by Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield, who finds himself drawn into a shadowy conspiracy. This one looks like a spiritual successor to Get Out, laced with a little aughts Spike Jones/Charlie Kaufman vibe.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6th)
Marvel fired its big guns early this year. With Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, the blockbuster machine owns the top two grossing films of 2018. Ant-Man featured some incredible special-effects sequences, unlike anything else in the superhero genre. This time, Paul Rudd gets small with Evangeline Lilly as a partner. Michael Douglas as superscientist Hank Pym continues his quest to rescue his wife Janet, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, from the quantum realm.
Under the Silver Lake (July 6th)
For my money, the best of the decade's art horror explosion is 2014's It Follows. Director David Robert Mitchell follows up his atmospheric hit with a neo-noir set in Los Angeles' hip neighborhood. Former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield stars as a stoner who uncovers a vast conspiracy while searching for his disappeared neighbor, played by Elvis' granddaughter Riley Keough.
Skyscraper (July 13th)
It's time for the latest entry in the increasingly overstuffed Dwayne Johnson Doing Stuff genre! This time, The Rock is doing stuff that looks like Die Hard, only in Hong Kong. Did we mention he's an amputee? Because he is! That's a big twist that will certainly separate this stupidly expensive disaster movie from all the other stupidly expensive disaster movies.
Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20)
The most aptly named film of the summer is this sequel to the single-band jukebox musical hit of 2008. Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth are joined by everyone's favorite mononym Cher to sing all the recognizable ABBA songs not covered in the first one.
Mission Impossible: Fallout (July 27th)
Look, this is the sixth one of these. Tom Cruise as super spy Ethan Hunt always succeeds. Maybe the missions aren't so impossible after all? Just throwing that out there. Anyway, these wank-fests are usually good for one or two balls-out action sequences, and you get can get a good nap in during the rest of it.
The Spy Who Dumped Me (August 3rd)
On the flip side of the super-spy genre is writer/director Susanna Fogel's action comedy about a woman named Audrey (Mila Kunis) whose ex-boyfriend comes crawling back after ghosting her. Turns out, he was CIA, and now Audrey and her bestie Morgan (comedy genius Kate McKinnon) are caught up in the spy-jinx. The trailer for this one looks phenomenal, and with the talent on board, I'm hopeful.
BlacKkKlansman (August 10th)
Film legend Spike Lee directs and Get Out mastermind Jordan Peele produces this story based on, in the words of the director, "some for-real shit." John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, Colorado Springs' first black policeman, who, with the help of his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) infiltrates a violent KKK cell led by future Republican politician David Duke (Topher Grace). BlacKkKlansman earned Lee the highest award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, so this one's going to be a must-see.
Orpheum Summer Film Series
Seeing classic movies in Memphis' greatest classic movie palace is a long-running summer tradition. This year's lineup includes some sure-fire winners.
School Daze (June 2nd)
Spike Lee's second film, a musical based on his experiences attending a traditionally black college, was mostly overlooked upon its 1988 release, but it's become a cult classic with a huge cast that includes future stars Larry Fishburne and Giancarlo Esposito. Plus, it's got the all time banger "Da Butt"! Sexy sexy!
Independence Day (July 3rd)
This crowd-pleasing alien invasion picture catapulted Will Smith to international stardom and features Randy Quaid's greatest onscreen moment as a drunk fighter pilot and Jeff Goldblum as a hacker who figures out that the aliens' master computer is Mac compatible.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (July 6th)
Where's Jimmy Stewart when you need him? He's setting an example of civic engagement in this classic film of patriotism and its responsibilities.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (July 13th)
Captain America: The First Avenger director Joe Johnston made the leap from special-effects wizard to the big chair with this one. Rick Moranis and a friendly bee became the breakout stars of the sleeper hit of 1989.
Selena (July 20th)
This biopic of martyred Tejano music phenom Selena Quintanilla-Pérez made Jennifer Lopez a household name. Edward James Olmos supports as her father in this new classic tearjerker.
The Wizard of Oz (July 27)
It just wouldn't be an Orpheum summer without it! An absolute must. Take your kids.
Superman/Batman Double Feature
Christopher Reeve is the definitive onscreen Man of Tomorrow, Michael Keaton originated the tortured genius take on Bruce Wayne, and Jack Nicholson's Joker redefined the character. Wash the horrible memories of Batman vs. Superman out of your mind with two of the best superhero movies ever made.
Steel Magnolias (August 10th)
Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts: Is this the greatest female ensemble cast ever assembled? Get the girl gang together for this classic tale of Southern womanhood.
Love & Basketball (August 17th)
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood's breakthrough film introduced Omar Epps to the world and inspired a dozen imitators.
Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella (August 18th)
This 1998 Disney production retold the fairy tale with an multiracial cast including Whitey Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Brandy in the title role.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Sing along with your fellow freaks to the film that defined "cult classic," led by a barn-burner drag performance by Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. It's the pelvic thrusts that really drive them insane!
IMAX Comes to the Paradiso
Late last year, Malco's flagship theater, the Paradiso, got a huge upgrade — and I do mean huge — when the renovated Screen 1 became the city's first theatrical IMAX theater. "It's been in the works for a very long time," says Malco marketing director Karen Melton. "It opened in December with The Last Jedi, and it's been going gangbusters ever since. You have to buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale. And now we're offering reserved seating, so you actually get to pick your seat before you get in."
The numbers are staggering. The screen is three stories tall and more than 65 feet wide. The dual projectors are among the most expensive and technically advanced equipment in the world, delivering images 60 percent brighter and with 30 percent higher contrast than a standard-issue digital setup. The 315-seat theater was designed by IMAX so that there is not a bad seat in the house, and the seats are as comfy as your favorite recliner.
Melton says the reaction to the new theater has been "Very positive. We've got people lining up a long time in advance for the big releases. I can't wait to see the dinosaurs of Jurassic World in IMAX."