Summer movies promise a hot time in the theater 

Just as winter ushers in a season loaded with Oscar hopefuls, the dog days traditionally go to big-budget popcorn fare — star-studded comedies, explosive adventures and comic-book crusaders. This summer will be no different, with an unusually strong crop of contenders mining for box-office gold.


Matters of the heart

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan  
Opens July 15
The women: Li Bingbing, Gianna Jun, Vivian Wu
Calling the shots: Wayne Wang
The skinny: Having enjoyed success with his 1993 adaptation of “The Joy Luck Club,” Wang dips into the literary well once again with his take on Lisa See’s 2005 best-seller about two 19th-century Chinese girls bound by a friendship that withstands the test of time, upheaval in their personal lives and a series of shameful betrayals.
Rated: PG-13

The Devil’s Double

Opens July 29
The players: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi
Calling the shots: “Die Another Day” director Lee Tamahori
The skinny: Cooper (“The History Boys”) plays Uday Hussein’s body double in this disquieting, sensationalistic portrait of hedonism and barbarism behind the walls of Saddam’s palace.
Yet to be rated

The Help
Opens Aug. 12
The ladies: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard
Calling the shots: Tate Taylor
The skinny: How did Taylor, whose last movie grossed less than $7,000, get to adapt Kathryn Stockett’s controversial 2009 best-seller? Sometimes, it’s all about contacts: Taylor knows Stockett and optioned the rights to her story, about black maids and the white families they served in Mississippi during the 1960s, before it hit bookshelves.
Rated: PG-13


X-Men: First Class
Opens June 3
The mutants: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, January Jones, Kevin Bacon
Calling the shots: Matthew Vaughn
The skinny: While technically a prequel to the “X-Men” trilogy, “First Class” looks to re–energize the franchise with an origins story centered on Professor X, the wheelchair-bound mutant formerly played by Patrick Stewart. As a much younger Charles Xavier, McAvoy promises a hero more reckless and ego-driven than Stewart’s aging Boy Scout.
Rated: PG-13

Green Lantern
Opens June 17
The players: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins
Calling the shots: Martin Campbell
The skinny: Was Reynolds physically ready to raise the “Lantern”? “I’m not 19 anymore,” says the Canadian-born star, 34. “But I did six months of gymnastics training.” Was he ever a fan of DC Comics? “I was a ‘Star Wars’ kid,” he said. “But I read a lot of the comic books. I’d be kind of a [jerk] if I didn’t.”
Rated: PG

Captain America: The First Avenger 
Opens July 22
The combatants: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell
Calling the shots: “Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston
The skinny: After last year’s “Iron Man 2,” which played like a two-hour preview for the upcoming Marvel extravaganza “The Avengers,” Johnston and screenwriters were careful to create a stand-alone universe for the World War II-era captain (Evans, the Human Torch of “Fantastic Four” fame) and his Nazi rivals.
Yet to be rated



Cars 2
Opens June 24
The vehicles: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer
Calling the shots: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter
The skinny: As always, Pixar plans to raise the bar with its sequel to the 2006 fantasy about hotshot speedster Lightning McQueen (Wilson) and his oft-befuddled sidekick, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). “This is the most complicated film we’ve ever made,” Lasseter says of the movie’s backdrops and visual effects.
Rated: G

Transformers: Dark of the Moon  
Opens July 1
The returning stars: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson
Calling the shots: Michael Bay
The skinny: After 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen,” Megan Fox, who co-starred opposite LaBeouf in the first two “Transformers” as sultry love interest Mikaela Banes, compared Bay to Hitler. Not surprisingly, she’s gone — her decision, her reps said — and replaced by Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in what the director claims will be the grittiest adventure to date. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Rated: PG-13
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 
Opens July 15
The wizards: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes
Calling the shots: David Yates
The skinny: Harry’s 10-year odyssey at Hogwarts, as much a coming-of-age story as a tense chronicle of his ever-escalating struggle against the reptilian Lord Voldemort (Fiennes), draws to a climax in this eighth and final installment of the wildly popular Warner Bros. franchise. For Muggles of all ages — some of whom are getting long in the tooth — it’s a must-see.
Rated: PG-13

Rise of the Planet of the Apes  
Opens Aug. 5
The primates: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis
Calling the shots: Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) tries his stinkin’ paw at resurrecting the franchise Tim Burton turned into a damned, dirty punch line.
The skinny: While Burton’s miscalculated 2001 reboot left a sour aftertaste, early footage from this “Apes” prequel — in which Weta Digital’s masterfully animated monkey types terrorize drivers on the Golden Gate Bridge — looks less like well-intentioned camp than a haunting vision of the Ape-ocalypse.
Yet to be rated


Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 
Opens Aug. 12
The haunted: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison
Calling the shots: Guillermo del Toro, so scarred by memories of the 1973 TV movie about a mansion infested by demons that he chose to co-author and produce this edgier low-budget remake.
The skinny: “What I loved about the original is that the creatures were not big and scary, they were small and wickedly smart. They relied on the fact that no one could see them, and no one would believe they existed,” del Toro says.
Rated: R

Conan the Barbarian
Opens Aug. 19
The warriors: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan
Calling the shots: Marcus Nispel
The skinny: Having rebooted “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003) and “Friday the 13th” (2009) with uneven results, Nispel — who rose to prominence on the strength of ad campaigns for Fidelity Investments and music videos — returns with a 3-D take on the pumped-up 1982 fantasy that helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger a very long household name.
Yet to be rated

Fright Night 
Opens Aug. 19
The players: Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette
Calling the shots: “Lars and the Real Girl” director Craig Gillespie
The skinny: Tom Holland’s 1985 chiller about a centuries-old vampire sucking the life out of a quiet suburban neighborhood receives a 3-D makeover courtesy of Gillespie and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” producer-writer Marti Noxon, who promises plenty of black humor to go with the gore and Farrell’s withering gaze.
Yet to be rated

Funny people

Mr. Popper’s Penguins 
Opens June 17
The players: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Philip Baker Hall
Calling the shots: Mark Waters
The skinny: Remember Carrey, the fearless physical comedian who played so skillfully off his animal co-stars in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”? He’s back, as a wayward workaholic whose worldview is redefined by six irrepressible penguins, in this family comedy loosely based on Richard Atwater’s 1938 children’s classic.
Rated: PG


Bad Teacher
Opens June 24
The jokers: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch
Calling the shots: Jake Kasdan
The skinny: Kasdan, who directed five episodes of TV’s dearly departed “Freaks and Geeks,” reunites with Segel for this offbeat farce about a foul-mouthed, hard-partying teacher (Diaz) reaching the end of her rope, indifferent to her seventh-grade students and warring with a popular colleague.
Rated: R
Larry Crowne 
Opens July 1
The superstars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, George Takei
Calling the shots: Tom Hanks
The skinny: Hanks is back in the saddle 15 years after making his feature directing debut with “That Thing You Do!” Doubling as the star, he plays a middle-aged casualty of corporate layoffs who goes back to school. The story, co-written by Concord native Hanks and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” star Nia Vardalos, was inspired by Hanks’ experiences at Hayward’s Chabot College.
Rated: PG-13

Horrible Bosses  
Opens July 8
The employees: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day
The skinny: The guys from “Office Space” might have struck the first blow in an on-screen white-collar revolt by demolishing a fax machine, but Bateman, Sudeikis and Day vent their frustrations on three more deserving targets: their insufferable employers, played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston.
Yet to be rated

Friends with Benefits  
Opens July 22
The friends: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Emma Stone, Richard Jenkins
Calling the shots: Will Gluck
The skinny: Gluck follows the delightful “Easy A” with yet another comedy about no-strings sex and the messy aftermath. Do Kunis and Timberlake, who spent three weeks of a two-month shoot working out their, um, intimacy issues, have something new to say on the subject? Maybe, maybe not, but it should be entertaining to watch them try.
Rated: R

Extreme Action


Super 8 
Opens June 10
The survivors: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney
Calling the shots: J.J. Abrams
The skinny: Could “Super 8” be this year’s “Avatar”? History says it’s unlikely — it’s not every day a new all-time box-office champion is crowned — but with Abrams (“Star Trek”) directing and Steven Spielberg producing, the sky would seem to be the limit for this story of an alien disturbance in small-town Ohio.
Yet to be rated

Cowboys & Aliens
Opens July 29
The gunslingers: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell
Calling the shots: Jon Favreau
The skinny: Why would Favreau, the “Swingers” star turned “Iron Man” director, exit the lucrative Marvel universe? Apparently to work on this promising sci-fi Western with a formidable triumvirate of big-name producers in Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Or perhaps to collaborate with Ford, who plays a no-nonsense colonel in late 19th-century Arizona faced with the prospect of losing his town to a band of extraterrestrial interlopers.
Yet to be rated
The Debt
Opens Aug. 31
The spies: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Ciarán Hinds
Calling the shots: John Madden
The skinny: Mirren stars as an aging Israeli Mossad operative haunted by a decades-earlier hunt for an infamous Nazi war criminal that might have resulted in the murder of an innocent. Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) directs this remake of the 2007 Israeli thriller.
Rated: R

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