Since the mid-1970s, blusterous big budget Hollywood films have dominated the hotter months of the calendar year. Millions of marketing dollars are spent selling these titanic products (sometimes years ahead of time) to properly rile up the masses for an event-style release. This trend has hit another recent apex with the ongoing war of attrition between the Marvel and D.C. franchises.
As a result, small art house festival films and eccentric studio fare sometimes suffocate underneath this extensive blockbuster canopy. In an effort to give these much more rewarding films their due, let's redefine what "summer movie" means to focus on the unique trends and categories that stand out as anecdotes to blockbuster fatigue. Look beneath the hype and you'll find another bustling eco-system of cinematic options.
With less pressure to perform at the box office than their far more expensive "A-level" counterparts, the B-movies of summer often take more risks with casting, story and tone. This gives them a unique identity compared to the homogenized look and feel of most Hollywood blockbusters.
Shane Black's dark comedy/neo-noir The Nice Guys (May 20) pits Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling against each other as wise-cracking detectives trying to uncover a conspiracy in 1970s Los Angeles. Early clips promise a brutal and funny homage to the genre perfected by Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye.
From the looks of its terrifyingly bare bones trailer, Jaume Collet-Serra's The Shallows (June 29) might be a one-woman horror show. Blake Lively's wounded vixen sits atop a rock off the coast of a beautiful island, the shadow of something large and sinister gliding beneath the surface. The director of Non-Stop and Unknown loves to play with shifting perspectives, so this one could turn the genre on its head.
The Purge: Election Year (July1) will surely fit into the B-category as well, possibly with even more relevance considering the chaotic Republican National Convention that could take place three weeks after release.
The Festival Films
To combat the dour monotony of summer blockbuster season enterprising distribution companies such as A24, Sony Pictures Classics and the newly minted Grasshopper Film strategically release eccentric art house films that have had solid festival runs.
Ben Wheatley's High-Rise (May 6), a stylized adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "unfilmable" novel, fits the bill nicely. It stars Tom Hiddleston as a tenant in a futuristic apartment building for the rich and famous where class conflict and anarchy soon reign supreme. The film has garnered much acclaim after premiering at Toronto International Film Festival last September.
Yorgos Lanthimos' dystopian English-language debut The Lobster (May 27) is even weirder. Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and John C. Reilly, the film is set in the not-so-distant future where all single people must attend a state-run resort in order to find a mate. If unsuccessful after 45 days, they are transformed into an animal. The film premiered to mostly positive reviews at Cannes last May.
Other notable festival films that will be taking a bow over the summer are Whit Stillman's Lady Susan adaptation Love and Friendship (May 20) starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloé Sevigny and Hirokazu Koreeda's intimate drama Our Little Sister (July 8).
The American Indies
Every summer a gaggle of independent American films hits the market, many fresh off the heels of Sundance, Tribeca and SXSW. Rebecca Miller's long awaited fifth film Maggie's Plan (May 27) debuted to rave reviews at its Park City premiere in January. It stars Greta Gerwig as a single woman whose quest to have a baby is derailed when she falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke).
The toast (or scourge) of Sundance 2016 depending on who you talk to was Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's Swiss Army Man (July 1), which features Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as the castaway who befriends him. We'll just leave it at that.
Other American indies of note include Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's portrait documentary De Palma (June 17), the latest Todd Solodnz oddity Wiener-Dog (June 24), and the "Obamas first date" movie Southside With You (August 19).
Finally, there are some big budget films by major auteurs worth mentioning. Steven Spielberg's The BFG (July 1) brings the classic Roald Dahl story to the silver screen with Mark Rylance (Oscar winner for Bridge of Spies) as the eponymous "Big Friendly Giant." The material seems perfectly suited to the filmmaker who has so often explored the nuances of parent/child relationships.
Paul Feig's Ghostbusters (July 15) stands out for its all-female casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the squad of phantasm-fighting New Yorkers. Considering Feig's penchant for smart genre busting revisionism (see Spy), this particular reboot has the chance of being something special.
For as long as I can remember Woody Allen has released a film every summer, and the unveiling of Café Society (July 29) keeps that streak alive. This looks to be vintage Woody: Jesse Eisenberg plays a nebbish young man (surprise, surprise) who arrives in 1930s Hollywood only to get consumed by the culture of movie stars, backroom deals, and betrayal. Did I mention it's a light-hearted comedy?
The underrated gem Magic in the Moonlight proved Allen still had a zest for the period piece, so let's hope this one can deliver with equal wit and charm. The film co-stars Kristen Stewart as the main love interest, giving the world another opportunity to see how great of an actress she is becoming. I'm not joking.
Other films of interest in this category are Jason Bourne (July 29), with Paul Greengrass returning to the franchise that made him bankable. David Ayerís bonkers-looking Suicide Squad (August 5) could also be something of an outlier for the superhero genre. Cross your fingers.