Hollywood’s summer movie season is delayed no more.
Can it be that it’s finally safe to say those words? After so many postponed releases, Memorial Day weekend is upon us with two major movie openings: “A Quiet Place Part II” starring Emily Blunt and Disney’s “Cruella” starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. Both were supposed to be 2020 movies, but you know the story.
Yet even as cinemas have reopened across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend traditional moviegoing. Although most of this summer’s major films will get a theatrical release — and many will be in theaters only on their opening day — others will roll out simultaneously at the cineplex and on streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Still others will make their debuts exclusively for home viewing.
But even though we’ll get our first Marvel Cinematic Universe feature after a pause of two full years (!) and the ninth installment in the “Fast and Furious” saga, after a four-year wait, don’t expect a blockbuster release every week.
Studios are still in an experimental mode, playing it cautious and holding back many big-ticket films for fall and into 2022. You’ll also continue to see some star vehicles originally intended for theaters arrive on streaming instead, including Kevin Hart’s “Fatherhood” on Netflix and Chris Pratt’s “The Tomorrow War” on Amazon. As we adjust to the brave new world of moviegoing, Times film writers have picked 12 of the movies they’re most excited to see this summer.
‘In the Heights’
In theaters and on HBO Max June 11
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda began writing “Hamilton,” he won a Tony Award for this ensemble musical about coming of age in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The feel-good adaptation is directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker with an expertise in cultural sensitivity (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and spectacular dance scenes (the “Step Up” movies). Its stars include Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Stephanie Beatriz, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Marc Anthony.
‘The Sparks Brothers’
In theaters June 18
For years, director Edgar Wright would try to explain his love for the influential bizarro cult band Sparks to the uninitiated, only to be met with bewildered stares. So he decided to make a documentary about them. An act of unbridled fan obsession, “The Sparks Brothers” chronicles the stranger-than-fiction journey of brothers Ron and Russell Mael through half a century of rock history, with famous devotees including Beck, Fred Armisen, Flea and author Neil Gaiman adding their own testimonials to the unsung greatness and utter uniqueness of Sparks.
On Disney+ June 18
Pixar’s upcoming “Luca” promises to be a gorgeous tribute to summer, the Italian Riviera and life-changing childhood friendships. Set in and around the seaside town of Portorosso, the movie follows 13-year-old Luca (Jacob Tremblay), a sea monster boy curious about the forbidden world above the surface of the water. His new best friend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) is a self-proclaimed expert about the surface world and together, they venture into the nearby town to get acquainted with the human joys of gelato, pasta, shiny scooters and more. They just have to make sure to keep their true identities a secret. “Luca” is the feature directorial debut of longtime Pixar artist and creative Enrico Casarosa and is produced by Andrea Warren.
In theaters June 25
Summer moviegoing has a ringer, and its name is “Fast 9” — because nothing screams, “The movies are back!” like Vin Diesel behind the wheel of a NOS-guzzling muscle car. Delayed for over a year due to the pandemic, the 10th entry in Universal’s hit franchise finally roars into theaters packed with #family reunions galore, a new heel in WWE superstar John Cena and over-the-top action as bombastic and brawny as ever. Directed by returning series director Justin Lin (“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” “Fast & Furious,” “Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6”) and featuring an ensemble of familiar “Fast” faces, “F9” is primed to hit spectacle-starved moviegoers with blockbuster antics so bonkers, even the toughest of moviegoers might be left misty-eyed in their seats.
In theaters June 30
Inspired by a viral 2015 Twitter thread, “Zola” follows Aziah “Zola” King and her new friend Stefani as they road trip to Florida for a weekend of stripping that quickly goes off the rails. Starring “Boogie” breakout Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, the film was directed by Janicza Bravo from a screenplay by Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris. Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo also star.
‘Summer of Soul’
In theaters and on Hulu July 2
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the directorial debut of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson unearths electrifying, never-before-seen footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, dubbed “Black Woodstock,” that had been left abandoned in a basement for 50 years. Interweaving awe-inspiring performances by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and the Staples Singers with interviews with performers and attendees, the film rescues this watershed moment in the history of Black culture — and raises thorny questions about why it needed to be rescued at all.
In theaters and on Disney+ July 9
A long two years since its last summer blockbuster, Marvel Studios — after a few TV detours — is making its return to the movies with “Black Widow.” The long-anticipated solo venture for Scarlett Johansson’s super spy Natasha Romanoff sees the Avenger reckon with some of the darker elements of her past. It focuses on the back story that has been touched on over the course of Black Widow’s numerous appearances in “Iron Man,” “Captain America” and “Avengers” films. The film will also introduce Natasha’s pre-Avengers “family,” including Yelena (Florence Pugh), Melina (Rachel Weisz) and the Red Guardian (David Harbour). “Black Widow” is directed by Cate Shortland and produced by Kevin Feige.
‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’
In theaters and on HBO Max July 16
As Miami bass legends the Quad City DJ’s so eloquently put it in the fall of 1996, “Come on and slam — if you wanna jam.” A quarter century hence, it hath been decreed once again: Another “Space Jam” approacheth. The hoops-themed hybrid animation sequel “Space Jam: A New Legacy” blends CG animation, producer-star LeBron James and just about the entire Warner Bros. IP library into an updated adventure that finds the four-time NBA MVP and his gaming-obsessed fictional son sucked into the virtual land of Serververse. There they must team up with Bugs Bunny and the Tune Squad, including Zendaya as the voice of Lola Bunny, to defeat a lineup of moonlighting NBA stars and a naughty AI played by Don Cheadle.
‘The Green Knight’
In theaters July 30
Dev Patel’s luxurious flowing hair is one of only many selling points for “The Green Knight,” based on the medieval legend of Sir Gawain, nephew of King Arthur. Directed by the ever-versatile David Lowery, the cast of this stylish adventure tale also includes Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie and Barry Keoghan.
In theaters and on Apple TV+ Aug. 13
Every year at the Sundance Film Festival, there’s one movie that gets Hollywood talking — an indie that inspires an impassioned standing ovation followed by an all-night bidding war. But in January, COVID-19 was still ravaging the country and the festival was forced to go digital. Despite the lack of in-person buzz, “CODA” managed to land the biggest acquisition deal in Sundance history. Apple TV+ picked up the drama for $25 million, topping Hulu’s $22.5-million purchase for the rights to release the time-loop romance “Palm Springs” in 2020. So what makes “CODA” so good? The movie, written and directed by Sian Heder, stars “Locke & Key” star Emilia Jones as a high school senior whose parents and brother are deaf. Because she is the only hearing member of the household, she plays a large role in the family’s fishing business, serving as a sign language interpreter. But when she leans into her passion for singing in the school choir, she struggles to choose between her ambition and her familial loyalty. Grab your hanky, because if the coming-of-age story doesn’t get you, Jones’ quietly powerful voice will push you right over the edge.
In theaters Aug. 27
A “spiritual sequel” to the classic 1992 Tony Todd horror, the updated “Candyman” from director Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele’s Monkey Paw productions stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the titular killer. He’s a Black man who was tortured to death for loving a white woman and is now summoned by victims who say his name five times in the mirror.
“There’s a really great feminist lens to watch the [original] movie through,” DaCosta told The Times in 2019. “If you’re generous, you can say, ‘Well, it’s deconstructing white feminism.’ Absolutely not on purpose, but you could look at it through that lens. And from a Black culture lens it’s really interesting to look through.” Up next, DaCosta will helm the highly anticipated “Captain Marvel” sequel “The Marvels” in 2022.
In theaters and on Amazon Prime Video in Aug.
Something of a Mad Lib for things weird and cool, “Annette” is a musical drama written by Ron and Russell Mael (better known as the group Sparks — see “The Sparks Brothers” above), directed by “Holy Motors” filmmaker Leos Carax and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard as a stand-up comedian and opera singer who have a baby together. Shot partly in Los Angeles and announced as the opening-night selection of the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, this promises to be an oddity for the ages.