Summer 2014 preview

The temperatures are rising, the coats are going into storage, and the TV spots are getting more prevalent. That's right, it's almost time for summer movie season again. The months of May through August are traditionally the biggest in the multiplex calendar, though the lines have become increasingly blurred in recent years—if "Noah" and "Divergent" didn't kick off blockbuster season, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" certainly did, and that was three weeks ago.

Even so, things are different from the first weekend of May onwards, with at least one blockbuster hitting every week until mid August or so. So, with the release of season opener "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" approaching (which we've already seen, and it's fair to say we're not fans of), we thought we'd help you sort the wheat from the chaff by putting together the 40 films we're most looking forward to over the next few months.

It's an egalitarian mix of blockbusters and indies, united only by the fact that we're looking forward to them, or in some cases have already seen them. You can find them below in ascending order, and let us know what you're most looking forward to in the comments section.

The Giver

40. "The Giver"
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Alexander Skarsgård
Synopsis: In a dystopian future, a young man is chosen to be the new Receiver Of Memories, the last connection with the period before the Sameness, and with his predecessor begins a plot to revolt against the system.
Why It's Worth Seeing: The last thing we need is another young adult movie as we've hardly been starved of those of late. But there's reason to think that this might be something a little more impressive than "Divergent," et al. For one, the source material, by Lois Lowry, is legitimately well-regarded in the literary world, preceded most of the recent run of "Hunger Games" ripoffs, and could have more thematic weight. For another, it's been something of a passion project for star/producer Jeff Bridges, and he's recruited a reliable pair of hands in the shape of director Phillip Noyce (as well as multi-Oscar winner Meryl Streep, in a villainous cameo). We're not especially excited about the footage so far, but there's every chance this could turn out better than it looks, given the talent involved.
Release Date: August 15th

Transformer: Age of Extinction

39. "Transformers: Age Of Extinction"
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer
Synopsis: A struggling single father uncovers the long-hidden Optimus Prime, and just in time, as a terrifying new invasion of Transformers hits Earth.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Although the fourth film in the hugely successful "Transformers" franchise promises to be something of a reboot—dumping Shia LaBeouf and co. to focus on a new set of human characters led by Mark Wahlberg—early footage suggests this isn't going to be a huge departure from what worked before. Namely, Michael Bay's signature style, thin characters and, most importantly, a ton of stuff exploding. But love or hate the original trilogy (the latter is the correct answer, obviously), there's no denying that Bay knows how to shoot action like few else, so for sheer spectacle, there's likely to be little that can compete with this. Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer and T.J. Miller should make things a little more bearable, while for fans of Marvel-style shoehorned-in scenes set in China, there should be plenty to see, with much of the movie taking place there to boost foreign box office receipts.
Release Date: June 25th

Happy Christmas

38. "Happy Christmas"
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham
Synopsis: Trying to get over a break-up, an irresponsible twentysomething moves back in with her sister and sister's husband, who have a newborn baby.
Why It's Worth Seeing: For those of who'd gotten a little tired of his prolific-but-interchangeable output, "Drinking Buddies" was something of a refresher for Joe Swanberg, who took what he had learned from his many, many previous indie movies but deployed it with a bigger budget and better-known names to mostly warm and successful effect. "Happy Christmas" looks to be along much the same lines, with Swanberg teaming with Playlist favorites like Kendrick, Lynskey and Webber for another low-key comedy-drama. Our Sundance review suggested it wasn't quite as successful, but praised the performances and said that it "unwraps a lot of thoughtful ideas over its brief 78-minute running time," concluding that the film was "engaging, truthful and affecting."
Release Date: July 25th 

The Purge: Anarchy The Purge 2

37. "The Purge: Anarchy"
Cast: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams
Synopsis: It's the time for the annual Purge, when all crime in America becomes legal for 24 hours, and a man out for vengeance hits the streets but soon finds himself reluctantly protecting strangers who couldn't get to safety in time.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Last summer's sleeper hit "The Purge" was a great idea in search of a script that wasn't completely idiotic, but that idea was great enough that we'd be intrigued to see more of the Purge-enabled world, and that's exactly what the hastily-put-together sequel promises. Rather than Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey's yuppies, we're on the streets with those that can't afford to shut themselves in a house. That promises something less like a standard-issue slasher movie, and something more intriguing (there's a John Carpenter and Walter Hill vibe from the trailer). And there are some good actors involved too, most notably the always welcome Frank Grillo in the lead role. That writer/director James DeMonaco is back to helm doesn't bode hugely well, but he'll hopefully up his game this time around.
Release Date: July 18th

Jersey Boys,

36. "Jersey Boys"
Cast: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
Synopsis: The story of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, who went from humble New Jersey beginnings to become musical megastars.
Why It's Worth Seeing: In the works for literally years at this point (Jon Favreau got as far as beginning casting before the studio pulled the plug), the long-running Broadway smash finally makes it to the screen, thanks to none other than Clint Eastwood. The former Man With No Name might not strike you as a natural fit for this (especially if you've seen "Paint Your Wagon"), but let's not forget that his last musical biopic, "Bird," is probably one of his better films, so there's every reason to think this could follow in those footsteps. Eastwood looks to be adapting the show fairly faithfully, keeping a number of actors who played roles on stage, and the trailer promises beats so familiar that they've been included in almost every musical biopic. But anyone who counts out Eastwood entirely is something of a fool, and if nothing else, the soundtrack should be solid.
Release Date: June 20th

A Million Ways to Die in the West

35. "A Million Ways To Die In The West"
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris
Synopsis: In the deadly Old West, a cowardly man recently dumped by his girlfriend must enlist a female gunfighter to help him survive a duel with a legendary outlaw.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Even with a lukewarm reception for his Oscar-hosting gig, Seth MacFarlane remains pretty much on top of the entertainment world, with his TV shows still going strong, and "Ted" being one of the most successful comedies in history. For his follow-up as writer/director, he's heading in front of camera as well, taking the lead role in a cast full of former cohorts, comedy ringers or people playing against-type (Theron, Neeson). We can't say we were huge fans of "Ted" or MacFarlane's fish-in-a-barrel comic style in general, but we'd also be lying if we denied laughing at least once at the trailer for this "Blazing Saddles"-esque comedy. In a summer that's lacking in big-name comedy, this should make an absolute killing and maybe it'll even be funny this time around.
Release Date: May 30th


34. "Maleficent"
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Juno Temple
Synopsis: The untold story of one of Disney's most iconic villains, Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty."
Why It's Worth Seeing: Disney's latest live-action retelling of a classic story is molded from the same stuff as "Alice In Wonderland" and "Oz: The Great & Powerful," and the worst-case scenario is that it turns out as the same kind of garish, CGI-heavy nightmare as those films (especially with Robert Stromberg, a veteran production designer on those two films, making his directorial debut here). But by telling the story from the villain's perspective, the film's giving itself a reason to exist that the other ones didn't necessarily have, and few would deny that Jolie is phenomenal casting in the title role (and she looks to be having lots of fun in the part, her first on-screen turn in four years). The star alone would be reason to watch, but trailers suggest something with a little more promise than 'Alice' or 'Oz,' so we won't write it off just yet.
Release Date: May 30th

Get On Up

33. "Get On Up"
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Jill Scott
Synopsis: Biopic of legendary musical sensation James Brown, focusing on his relationship with the mother who abandoned him, and his rise after being released from prison.
Why It's Worth Seeing: From his early years being raised in a brothel and spending time in prison to a colorful later life, few would argue that James Brown doesn't provide enough material for a biopic, and one's been in the works in various forms for over a decade. The film was finally shot last year, with "The Help" director Tate Taylor behind the camera and "42" star Chadwick Boseman in the lead role. It looks very much in the mold of "Walk The Line" and "Ray" et al., so expect some cliches, but with a script co-written by "Jerusalem" author Jez Butterworth, there's some hope that it could be a cut above. And if nothing else, it should be well acted. Boseman's a real talent, and Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (who both got Oscar nominations for Taylor's previous films) are among the supporting cast. Plus, by the start of August, we might well be starving for a mainstream movie that doesn't have superheroes or explosions, so there's always that.
Release Date: August 1st

Scarlett Johansson, Lucy

32. "Lucy"
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Pilou Asbaek, Julian Rhind-Tutt
Synopsis: A young woman is forced to be a drug mule, only for the drugs to leak into her system, giving her superhuman, even godlike, powers.
Why It's Worth Seeing: He had a global success with "Taken," but Luc Besson's attempts to turn the likes of Kevin Costner, John Travolta and Robert De Niro into similar-sized action stars haven't worked out so well. But could Scarlett Johansson be his next success? The actress has been on a hell of a roll recently, and looks to have a good showcase in this. The film seems to start as a sort of superpowered-Bourne, but looks to get increasingly batshit and trippy (Besson himself has compared the third act to "2001," which is a tantalizing prospect). It could turn out to be the same kind of undercooked Euro-actioner as "3 Days To Kill" or "From Paris With Love," but we've got higher hopes that this could be something more distinctive, and maybe even return Besson to his "Leon"-era form.
Release Date: August 8th

Jupiter Ascending

31. "Jupiter Ascending
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton
Synopsis: An unassuming cleaner is rescued by a half-human half-wolf hybrid from another world, and discovers that she has the same genetic make-up as the Queen of the Universe.
Why It's Worth Seeing: Say what you like about the Wachowskis, but they do not play safe. The creators of "The Matrix" haven't stopped to lick their wounds over the failure of "Speed Racer" or "Cloud Atlas" (movies that, while not entirely successful, are bolder and better made than 90% of would-be blockbusters), and somehow convinced Warner Bros. to give them a nine-figure sum to make this bonkers-looking space opera. An unwise financial investment perhaps (if anything this year is destined to be a mega-flop, it's probably this), but we're glad it exists, in theory—there's an ambition, and a not-caring-about-what-you-think-about-them-giving-Channing-Tatum-elf-ears spirit, to the film that little else in the summer can match. After all, "Star Wars" probably looked as silly as this in advance, and maybe "Jupiter Ascending" can surprise and become the same kind of pop culture phenomenon? Probably not, but we're looking forward to seeing the Wachowskis swing for the fences and try.
Release Date: July 18th