So begins the summer movie season, when we willingly pay to see movies we know will be bad. But between the raunchy comedies (A Good Old Fashioned Orgy) and silly sequels (Spy Kids 4, Final Destination 5), some of which we'll love, are some intriguing flicks well-worth watching—and not just to escape the heat. Below, the good, the bad and the we-will-reserve-judgment-for-now rundown. Happy summer, movie fans. (As always, all dates are subject to change.)
* JUNE 24 *
Radiators Springs' resident race-car champ, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), is off to Europe for the World Grand Prix, along with his best buddy, Mater the tow truck (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy). Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer voice the spy cars who think Mater's a secret agent in John Lasseter's sequel.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
Filmmaker Rodman Flender follows Conan O'Brien on the 32-city comedy tour he embarked upon shortly after losing his Tonight Show-hosting gig. Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert appear in selected concert segments.
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
In this documentary, co-directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman tell the complex story of Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist whose crusade against timber companies involved in deforestation eventually led him to be indicted as an “eco-terrorist” by the U.S. government.
* JULY 1 *
Newly unemployed, the perennially optimistic Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) enrolls in junior college and begins to woo a perpetually cranky professor (Julia Roberts). Hanks directs from a script he wrote with Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
The dream trip 18-year-old Grace (Selena Gomez) and her two friends (Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy) have taken to Europe is going horribly wrong until the press mistakes Grace for a British heiress. Suddenly, fancy hotel rooms, champagne and hunky men are flowing their way in this sudser from Thomas Bezucha (The Family Stone).
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, seasoned veterans of the never-ending robot wars, head to Chicago to stop a fresh assault by the evil Decepticons. Michael Bay directs in 3-D!
* JULY 8 *
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
For his first film as director, actor Michael Rappaport documents the history of A Tribe Called Quest, the influential hip-hop band from Queens. Film footage includes the band's 2010 reunion show in Japan.
Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are three men who decide to actually carry out what so many worker bees before them have dreamed of doing: kill their bosses. Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston co-star as their respective targets in this tale directed by Seth Gordon (The King of Kongs: A Fistful of Quarters).
The animals are talking to the zookeeper (Kevin James) and—even better—giving him sage advice on how to improve his love life. Rosario Dawson co-stars in this film directed by Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer).
* JULY 15 *
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
“Voldemort had raised his wand. His head was still tilted to one side, like a curious child, wondering what would happen if he proceeded. Harry looked back into the red eyes and wanted it to happen now, quickly, while he could still stand, before he lost control, before he betrayed fear.” David Yates directs Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes.
Pastor Dan (Pierce Brosnan), TV evangelist, is all set to break ground on a pre-fab Christian community when he accidentally shoots a visiting atheist (Ed Harris). In this film from George Ratliff, Greg Kinnear co-stars as the disciple who helps the good pastor cover up the mess.
The Weird World of Blowfly
In case you missed his last album, Blowfly is a 60-something rapper who specializes in songs so profane you have to laugh. In this documentary, director Jonathan Furmanski reveals Blowfly's roots in the Miami soul scene of the 1960s, while also tracking the artist's late-life attempt to find real fame.
* JULY 22 *
Captain America: The First Avenger
Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, a runty little guy who volunteers for a World War II Army experiment that turns him into a muscle-ripped superhero ready to take on a Nazi weapons genius named Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). Tommy Lee Jones co-stars for director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman).
Friends With Benefits
“No emotion. Just sex” is the mantra agreed upon by two friends (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) who've decided they're both too damaged for love and just need good, regular, no-strings sex. Good luck with that. Woody Harrelson and Patricia Clarkson co-star for director Will Gluck (Easy A).
Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, this documentary by Asif Kapadia tells the life story of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian race-car driver who died in a 1994 Grand Prix crash.
* JULY 29 *
Cowboys & Aliens
In the Wild West of old, Lonergan (Daniel Craig) and Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) are enemy gunslingers, but their shootout will have to wait until they kill off the space aliens who have just landed in their dusty desert town in this flick directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man).
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Night after night, sad-sack Cal (Steve Carell), whose wife (Julianne Moore) has left him, sits in a bar and watches a young guy named Jacob (Ryan Gosling) effortlessly pick up women. Desperate, Cal asks him for a ladykiller make-over. The film was co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris).
The Devil's Double
The true story of the Iraqi army lieutenant who was forced to undergo plastic surgery to become the body double for Uday Hussein, Saddam's psycho-killer son, inspired this Scarface-like thriller. Dominic Cooper plays both versions of Uday; Ludivine Sagnier co-stars for director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day).
* AUG. 5 *
Two buddies—a hunky single guy (Ryan Reynolds) and a bored married guy (Justin Bateman)—experience a magical body switch and discover the pros and cons of living the other's life in this film directed by David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers).
The infamous 1964 cross-country trip novelist Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters took across America—while happily blitzed-out on a new drug called LSD—is recalled in this new documentary by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Alison Ellwood (American High) that's narrated by Stanley Tucci.
Rachel Weisz stars as the real-life Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who went to Bosnia in 1999 as a U.N. peacekeeper and eventually uncovered a sex-trafficking operation with ties to the U.N. itself. Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn co-star for director Larysa Kondracki.
* AUG. 12 *
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Once upon a time—1973, to be exact—a made-for-TV movie about a woman being terrorized by whispering, invisible goblins living beneath her bricked-up basement fireplace scared the heck out of many a viewer. Katie Holmes stars in this long-in-the-works remake, with Guy Pearce as her clueless husband. This thriller was co-produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by newcomer Troy Nixey.
In 1962, a budding journalist (Emma Stone) returns to her Jackson, Mississippi, hometown and stirs up trouble when she begins interviewing and writing about the black women who work as maids for the town's rich whites. Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard and Cicely Tyson co-star in this film written and directed by Tate Taylor, who adapted his friend Kathryn Stockett's bestseller.
30 Minutes or Less
The only method Dwayne (Danny McBride) can devise to raise the cash he needs to hire a hitman (Michael Peña) to kill his father (Fred Ward) is to strap a bomb onto a pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) and order him to go rob a bank. The comedy was directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland).
* AUG. 19 *
The rarely discussed U.S. occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th Century is dramatized in the new film from writer/director John Sayles (Matewan). Joel Torre stars as a mild-mannered village elder torn between loyalty to his people and a desire to appease the Americans. Garret Dillahunt co-stars.
Conan the Barbarian
Jason Momoa stars as the sword-and-sorcery hero who battles ancient gods, monsters and other big-pec'd men. Rose McGowan co-stars for director Marcus Nispel.
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World
Only a retired secret agent (Jessica Alba) and her stepkids (Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook) can save the world from the evil Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven), as written and directed by Robert Rodriguez.
* AUG. 26 *
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) produced this documentary-style thriller that purports to tell the true story of the alien life forms that ate the crew of Apollo 18, as directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego.
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy
The Hamptons home where 30-year-old Eric (Jason Sudeikis) and his friends have partied for years is being sold. What to do? Throw an orgy, of course. Lake Bell, Leslie Bibb and Will Forte co-star in this film, written and directed by Pete Huyck and Alex Gregory.
Our Idiot Brother
Paul Rudd stars as the idiot in question, who is broke and homeless and creating havoc in the lives of his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks), in this film directed by Jesse Peretz.
This article appeared in print as “This Season Opener: Superheroes, sequels and TWO Conans! Summer 2011 has arrived.”