Hollywood can never get enough of a good idea. Just take a look at the slate of blockbusters set for this summer. This should prove to be one of the biggest box office seasons on record, mostly because it’s based on recycling old ideas. It’s a summer of sequels and remakes, dominated by big-ass prequels — Hollywood codespeak for “We ran out of ideas to move the franchise forward.” Wolverine and Star Trek were prequels, and even Angels & Demons, made as a Da Vinci Code sequel, was adapted from a prequel. Oh, and even though it’s set in the future, Terminator Salvation is a prequel to the original.

Of course, there are plenty of other ’quels assaulting the multiplexes. The Ice Age franchise hits its threequel, and there are sequels to Transformers and Night at the Museum on the way. Bruno isn’t strictly a sequel to Borat, except that, well, it totally is. And not to be forgotten, is what feels like the 14th and is the latest installment of Harry Potter.

Does the world really need a big-screen version of Land of the Lost? Or an updated version of the gritty ’70s thriller The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3? Sure, film geeks are pumped for Tarantino’s treatment of The Inglorious Bastards, taken from the goofy Italian WWII movie from the ’70s, but that’s the capper on a summer of do-overs.

So, is imagination dead? No, but it’s on life support. Sure, you’re going to catch the critic-proof summer flicks, but sample some smaller, more original movies like Pixar’s Up, District 9 and Taking Woodstock. These days, it’s up to you to take a chance on something you’ve never seen before. And at least that way, you’ll have perspective when you hit H2:Halloween 2, the sequel to the remake, which lands in theaters in August.

— Anders Wright

 

The List 

May 22

nNight at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ben Stiller, Steve Coogan,
Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson

The perfect opener to the family movie season promises just as many laughs as its predecessor, and actually features the original cast, including Ben Stiller, who is once again being manipulated by statues and diorama figurines. Good stuff.

Terminator Salvation 
Director: Joseph “McG” McGinty Nichol
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington

Poor Christian Bale. He’s taken some heat in the last year and his association with Terminator Salvation could redeem or crucify his fragile reputation. The film jumps ahead to the year 2018 where Bale’s John Connor is battling a computer network. Expect lots of bang for your buck and, well, lots of bang.

May 29

Drag Me to Hell
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver

If you didn’t retch at the sight of a bug crawling up Alison Lohman’s nose in the trailer, then you might be a good candidate for Sam Raimi’s (Evil Dead and Spiderman franchises) return to horror. It’s all fun and games when a buttoned-up career girl with a permanent smile gets a glimpse of hell after a seemingly kind old woman puts a curse on her. Leave the kids at home.

Up
Director: Pete Docter, Bob Petersen
Starring: Ed Asner

Yet another Pixar art piece that quite possibly has no relevance to its target audience: young children. The first animated feature to debut at the Cannes Film Festival centers around an old widower unable to let go of the past and on the child who helps him move on. As always, expect stunning animation, a few laughs, but themes that probably resonate more with the adults in tow. Pack Kleenex and wipes.

June 5

lLand of the Lost
Director: Brad Silberling
Starring: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel

There are some things that are best left alone — books that should never be adapted for film (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and TV shows that should never be reimagined. In the ’70s, Sid and Marty Krofft owned Saturdays. The creators of H.R. Pufnstuf and Land of the Lost, who were recently honored by the TV Land network, made low budget fantasy television into an art form. To translate that for today’s audience using the technology currently available is to strip away the essence of really good, really bad television. It’ll be interesting to see what they manage to do with it. If you’re a Will Ferrell fan, (and who isn’t?) you’ll probably love it. But if you’re older than 40, sprinkle your favorite antidepressant on your popcorn.

June 12

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro, James Gandolfini and Luis Guzmán

Attempting a remake of a remake of a book adaptation raises the question: What can you possibly do that hasn’t been done? Maybe with this cast, anything is possible. The original 1970s crime thriller starred Walter Matthau and became a TV movie in 1998. Action-packed, intense and thrilling. Given Tony Scott’s proclivity for close-ups, you might want to sit toward the back.

June 19

Year One
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera

Are we sick of Jack Black yet? We can only hope the calming presence of Michael Cera (Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), the current “it” boy in geek world, will round out Black’s high notes in this story about slacker cavemen. Note: Chuck Taylor sneakers are mandatory for admittance.

June 26

tTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox

The return of last year’s box office king is likely to be more of the same yummies that made the original such a blast: hot chicks, giant robot action and Shia Labeouf.

My Sister’s Keeper
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric

Wait. Cameron Diaz in a serious role? Potentially the summer’s biggest tear-jerker, this one is about a 13-year-old girl who was conceived essentially to save her sister’s life with a bone marrow transplant. Later, when the sister again becomes terminal, the heroic girl sues her parents for emancipation. Once again, pack plenty of Kleenex and mood elevators.

July 1

dIce Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Director: Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeir
Starring: Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Dennis Leary

Washed-up actors/comedians provide voicing for formulaic animated franchise? A sure bet for tiny people but probably a snooze fest for the grown-ups. You’ll need at least two shots of espresso in your ice-blended for this one.

Public Enemies
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Channing Tatum

Michael Mann’s films are slow to gestate but worth the wait. Depp takes on the role of infamous depression-era bank robber John Dillinger, who goes up against the law (Christian Bale) in this potentially Oscar-worthy, even for a summer flick, crime thriller.

 

July 10

Brüno
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alice Evans

Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again, mocking our most virulent stereotypes and taking no prisoners. People either loved or hated Borat, and so it will probably be with “Bruno,” a campy gay male who continually finds himself in less than welcome surroundings. Originally introduced on Da Ali G Show, Bruno can be, uh, quite persuasive.

 

July 17

The Ugly Truth
Director:Robert Luketic
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler

Given her rapid ascent into “it” girldom, it’s surprising Katherine Heigl remained a Grey’s Anatomy cast member as long as she did. Finally killed off in the season finale, we should expect to see even more of her — hopefully not in so many romantic comedies. This one stands out from the pack because of its unlikely leading man, Gerard Butler (300). Supposedly, it’s not being released July 4 weekend because filmmakers didn’t want Heigl and Butler to upstage the real fireworks.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter

Is there no end? Another in the highest-grossing movie franchise of all time, this was originally slated for last year, but Warner Brothers decided to hold it for extra effect. The trend has been toward a deeper, darker narrative with each successive film. One wonders if Daniel Radcliffe will ever be free of the Potter association. Time will tell.

500 Days of Summer
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

Time to fall in love with Zooey Deschanel once more. Supposedly, she and co-star Joseph Gordon-Levittt quipped and fantasized about being the next Hepburn and Tracy during filming of this smart, eccentric romantic comedy. You can stop rolling your eyes now.

July 24

G-Force
Director: Hoyt Yeatman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Penélope Cruz, Sam Rockwell

A secret team of trained guinea pigs is charged with the mission of stopping an evil billionaire who plans to destroy the world with household appliances? Starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz? Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Tracy Morgan? Steve Buscemi? Zach Galifianakis? You’re kidding, right?

Orphan
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard

Nothing helps pass those lazy summer days like a film about a demonic child wreaking havoc on a charming town. Bereaved parents adopt an oddly Goth-looking young girl, and you can figure out the rest.

 

July 31

fFunny People
Written and Directed by: Judd Apatow
Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann

Long-time friends Sandler and Apatow (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) team up on this tale of two young comics, one of whom is diagnosed with a terminal disease. Apatow calls it a “demented Tuesdays With Morrie.”

They Came From Upstairs
Director: John Schultz
Starring: Carter Jenkins, Ashley Tisdale, Andy Richter

High School Musical alumna and overall Disney workhorse Ashley Tisdale has a close encounter that doesn’t involve lip gloss in this kid-friendly, alien-driven action comedy.

 

August 7

jJulie and Julia
Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Meryl Streep plays culinary maven Julia Child in this highly anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling memoir about a woman who challenges herself to cook every one of the 500-plus recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of one year. It’s a daunting task that spills over into a blog, winning the young wife a cadre of real-life and blogosphere cheerleaders. Great book — we can only hope Ephron does it justice. She usually does.

 

August 14

District 9
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, William Allen Young

Produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), District 9 is a big-budget, documentary-style, sci-fi thriller based on Blomkamp’s 2005 short film Alive in Joburg. The story line involves aliens who land in South Africa in the ’80s and, somewhat predictably, are sequestered from regular folk, sorta like Cry Freedom meets E.T.. Not your average alien blockbuster.

Taking Woodstock
Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch

Comedy Central cult comic Demitri Martin kisses a man, cries onscreen and tackles a love scene in his first acting role. Based on a memoir, it’s a coming-of-age comedy about sexual awakening and sexual identity in the midst of the legendary rock festival.

hH2: Halloween 2
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Macolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif

Horror freaks were mostly pleased with Zombie’s prequel treatment of Halloween a couple of years ago. This one promises to be even darker and more immersed in the holiday’s trimmings as Mike Meyers’ sister recalls his murderous rampage.