[Web Exclusive!] Summer Grows Up: The Season of Big-Budget Bangs Uses Its Brain

Explosions, pratfalls, and robots; heroes, aliens and blondes—it must be summertime at the movies.

Beyond the flash, though, it's striking to note just how many movies will require us to actually think this summer—aren't we supposed to save thinking for the fall? Maybe it's the election, but there are some pretty serious and intense flicks coming our way—docs and foreign films and dramas that don't guarantee a happy ending. The distributors must be nuts, but in a sweetly brave and naive way. And so, as an act of solidarity, we're taking the pledge: For every movie we see that's playing on more than one screen at the multiplex, we hereby vow to see one film that might be good for us. Because, as with pop idols and presidents, we get the movies we deserve.

[As with summer weather, baseball, and presidential race forecasts, all dates are subject to change. Opening dates are approximate for some films, meaning that they may not necessarily be opening in Orange County.]

The summer in action and horror

May 22

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.Man. Hat. Whip.

May 30

The Strangers.In a remote cabin, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman match wits with three home invaders wearing creepy masks . . . very creepy masks.

Stuck. A retirement-home caregiver (Mena Suvari) hits a newly homeless executive (Stephen Rea), and his body gets stuck in her windshield. She goes to bury him, but—uh, oh—he's still alive. Based on a true story. From Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon.

June 6

The Mother of Tears.Dario Argento directs his daughter, Asia, as an art student who inadvertently frees a demonic witch from an ancient urn. Concludes a trilogy that began with 1977's eternally creepy Suspiria.

June 13

The Incredible Hulk.Edward Norton goes green.

June 27

Wanted. Angelina Jolie, once again channeling her inner assassin, teaches James McAvoy the tricks of the trade in this adaptation of Mark Miller's graphic novel. With Morgan Freeman.

July 2

Hancock.Will Smith as a modern-day superhero who's becoming more famous for being drunk than for his ability to lift a whale with one hand.

July 11

Hellboy: The Golden Army.Ron Perlman returns as the lobster-hued demon with the mean right punch, and this time he's guided by Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro.

July 18

Mad Detective.Hong Kong action masters Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai team up for this tale of an insane detective (literally) and his search for two missing cops. Watch for the split personality/split screen scene.

July 25

Red.When teen hoodlums shoot Brian Cox's dog Red, the pissed-off owner seeks revenge—but the little killer's dad (Tom Sizemore) has evil ideas of his own.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe.David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return as Mulder and Scully, a sorta-kinda couple whose kid must be in high school by now.

July 18

The Dark Knight.Batman (Christian Bale) vs. the Joker (Heath Ledger). And an excuse for the tabs to rehash Ledger's death for newsstand sales. Christopher Nolan directs.

Aug. 1

Midnight Meat Train.Bradley Cooper stars as a Manhattan photographer who becomes obsessed with finding a subway serial killer. The first in a series of films to be based on Clive Barker's hardcore-horror collection, Books of Blood.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.Brendan Fraser, lifelong Mummy catcher, goes to China.

Transsiberian.An American couple (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) find themselves enmeshed in a murderous drug plot aboard the fabled express train between China and Russia. With Ben Kingsley.

Aug. 15

Mirrors. In this remake of a South Korean film, Kiefer Sutherland battles a vengeful ghost in a haunted department store. In other words, stay out of the dressing room.

Aug. 22

Bangkok Dangerous.Nicholas Cage is a hitman on assignment in this action thriller from China's talented Pang Brothers (The Eye), here remaking their 1999 debut film.

Aug. 29

Traitor. A CIA terrorist thriller starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce and based on a story idea from . . . wait for it . . . Steve Martin.

Babylon A.D.Vin Diesel in a near future world all gone to hell, trying to protect a woman whose baby will be the next Messiah. Don't worry: Vin will save us.

The summer in drama

May 30

Savage Grace.Scandalous events in the lives of the Baekeland family—heirs to the inventor of plastic—are recounted by director Tom Kalin (Swoon) and actors Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane and Eddie Redmayne

June 6

When Did You Last See Your Father?Colin Firth as an English writer attempting to reconcile with his ailing, larger-than-life father, played by Jim Broadbent. Based on Blake Morrison's acclaimed memoir of his 1950s childhood.

June 13

Quid Pro Quo.A mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) leads a young radio reporter (Nick Stahl) into the strange world of those who desire—and not necessarily in a sexual way—to be disabled or maimed.

June 20

Brick Lane.A young Muslim woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), born in Bangladesh, rebels against convention in modern-day London.

Expired. Love—or is it abuse?—blossoms between a shy meter maid (Samantha Morton) and her aggressive co-worker (Jason Patric). This film marks a welcome return to the screen by the recently ill and always delightful Teri Garr, in a dual role.

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