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26 movies to watch this summer (we hope)

Newsday film critic Rafer Guzmán tells us what to expect if and when movie theaters reopen this summer.  Credit: Rafer Guzman

What if they gave a summer movie season and nobody came?

It’s a distinct possibility, and one that Hollywood hopes to avoid this year. With the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us (we hope), theaters are cautiously reopening. Studios are taking their movies out of limbo and setting release dates again, banking that homebound audiences will feel safe enough to venture out into the warm weather. After months of virtually zero box-office, augmented only by the occasional title that shifted to streaming (thanks, “Trolls World Tour!”), Hollywood can’t afford to wait much longer.

Right now, all eyes are on Christopher Nolan’s big-budget thriller “Tenet,” which at the director’s behest has never wavered from its July 17 release. It’s a game of chicken: Who’ll back down, Nolan or the pandemic? For weeks, “Tenet” looked to be the first big movie of the post-virus era – that is, until a thriller called “Unhinged,” starring Russell Crowe, snuck into the July 1 spot. Meanwhile, Disney is giving theatrical releases to two guaranteed blockbusters, the live-action version of “Mulan” and the much-awaited “Wonder Woman 1984,” even as its recorded production of Broadway’s “Hamilton” goes straight to Disney+ on July 3.

In short, as studios make hard choices about where to put which movies, we’re seeing an unpredictable mix of theatrical and streaming/digital release dates. And with so much uncertainty still in the air, just about anything could change. For now, here are the 26 big releases of what we’re calling the summer movie season.

June

SHIRLEY (June 5, in select theaters and on demand)

Josephine Decker’s drama about the horror-writer Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) is based on a novel by Long Islander Susan Scarf Merrell.

BECKY (June 5, on demand) Talk about playing against type: This R-rated thriller features comedian Kevin James as a neo-Nazi who terrorizes a vacationing family. Also with Lulu Wilson and Joel McHale.

ARTEMIS FOWL (June 12, Disney+)

Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the young-adult novel features newcomer Ferdia Shaw as a boy genius in a magical but dangerous world.

DA 5 BLOODS (June 12, Netflix)

A group of African-American veterans return to Vietnam to find the remains of a fallen solider – and find his buried gold. Spike Lee’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman” features Chadwick Boseman (“Black Panther”), Paul Walter Hauser (“Richard Jewell”) and Delroy Lindo.

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND (June 12, on demand)

Pete Davidson co-wrote and stars in this semi-autobiographical film about an aimless young man whose father, a firefighter, died during a rescue. Judd Apatow directs. Also with Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr and former firefighter Steve Buscemi.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (June 26, Netflix) Will Ferrell spoofs the 60-year-old television show that gave us ABBA, Celine Dion and Bucks Fizz. He and co-star Rachel McAdams recently released a music video, “Volcano Man,” to promote the film and its soundtrack.

IRRESISTIBLE (June 26, on demand) A Democrat political consultant (Steve Carell) helps a retired Marine (Chris Cooper) run for mayor in a small Wisconsin town. Also with Rose Byrne and Natasha Lyonne. Written and directed by Jon Stewart.

July

UNHINGED (July 1, in theaters) A traffic-light encounter between a young woman (Caren Pistorius) and a rageaholic (Russell Crowe) triggers a series of violent events.

HAMILTON (July 3, Disney+) A 2016 recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hopped history of America. With Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs and many others.

THE OUTPOST (July 3, Theaters and on demand) Scott Eastwood and Milo Gibson star in this dramatization of the Battle of Kamdesh, the bloodiest American engagement of the Afghanistan War. Based on Jake Tapper’s best-selling book.

THE OLD GUARD (July 10, Netflix) Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this graphic-novel adaption about mercenaries who have existed for centuries. Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball”) directs.

TENET (July 17, in theaters)

Christopher Nolan’s intriguing-looking thriller – no plot details have yet been released -- features John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh.

MULAN (July 24, in theaters)

Disney’s live-action remake of its 1998 animated film stars Liu Yifei as a girl who disguises herself as a man to fight in the Imperial Army. Niki Caro, of the family favorite “Whale Rider,” directs.

August

AN AMERICAN PICKLE (Aug. 6, HBO Max) Seth Rogen plays an early 20th-Century laborer who falls into a vat of pickle-brine and emerges 100 years later, perfectly preserved, to meet his great-grandson (also Rogen).

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN (Aug. 7, in theaters)

Nickelodeon’s squishy hero returns in his third movie, this one centered around the abduction of his pet snail, Gary. Snoop Dogg, Keanu Reeves and Awkwafina lend their voices.

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (Aug. 14, in theaters) A gorilla living in a shopping mall takes a baby elephant under his wing. Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie and Danny DeVito are among the stars of this live-action/CGI hybrid. Based on Katherine Applegate’s Newbery-winning book.

THE SECRET GARDEN (Aug. 14, in theaters) The fourth film version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel (about a cholera epidemic!) features Colin Firth, Julie Walters and young Dixie Egerickx.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (Aug. 14, in theaters) The DC superheroine (Gal Gadot) who broke the glass ceiling in 2017 is back, this time transported from the Great War to the Cold War. Also with Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig and Connie Nielsen. Patty Jenkins returns to direct.

ANTEBELLUM (Aug. 21, in theaters) A successful author (Janelle Monae) finds herself inexplicably transformed into a slave on a Southern plantation. From the directing duo known as Bush + Renz.

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (Aug. 21, in theaters) Alex Winer and Keanu Reeves team up for a third go-round as lovable dimwits – now middle-aged dudes with kids – who must once again save the world.

TESLA (Aug. 21, in theaters and on demand) Ethan Hawke plays the electrical pioneer (and one-time Long Islander) Nikola Tesla. Also with Kyle MacLachlan, Jim Gaffigan and Eve Hewson.

THE NEW MUTANTS (Aug. 28, in theaters) Marvel’s long-awaited superhero-horror hybrid follows a group of troubled teens with strange powers. The "X-Men" spin-off features Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy and Charlie Heaton.

September

A QUIET PLACE PART II (Sept. 4, in theaters) John Krasinski directs the sequel to his 2018 horror hit about alien creatures who hunt by sound. Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe reprise their roles. Also with Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou.

THE BEATLES: GET BACK (Sept. 4, in theaters) Peter Jackson’s documentary draws from more than 55 hours of unseen footage and 140 hours of mostly unheard audio from the making of the band’s final album, “Let It Be,” and its accompanying film, both from 1970.

HONEST THIEF (Sept. 4, in theaters) A bank robber (Liam Neeson) decides to turn himself in just as he’s falling in love. With Katie Walsh, Jai Courtney and Jeffrey Wright.

MONSTER HUNTER (Sept. 4, in theaters) Director Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich, of the now-complete “Resident Evil” franchise, reteam for another Capcom video-game adaptation. Also with Thai action-star Tony Jaa and the rapper-actor Tip Harris.

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