The 15 movies you need to see this summer

Austin Butler in “The Bikeriders”; Sasha Lane and Glen Powell in “Twisters”; Colman Domingo in “Sing Sing.”
Clockwise from left, Austin Butler in the movie “The Bikeriders”; Sasha Lane and Glen Powell in “Twisters”; Colman Domingo in “Sing Sing.”
(Photo illustration by An Amlotte / Los Angeles Times; photographs from Focus Features, A24)

Squint your eyes and look at it a certain way, and this summer’s movie lineup could easily pass for a robust offering from, say, 30 years ago. Sequels to “Alien,” “Mad Max” and “Twister”? Eddie Murphy returning to “Beverly Hills Cop”? We’re not about to look a gift horse in the mouth (even one ridden by Kevin Costner, who’s also back), and while we love the idea of Hollywood going big again, our staffers collected the most promising indies too, because one can’t live on popcorn movies alone. (Though we’re not above trying.) Here’s our highly opinionated list of the 15 films you need to see this summer.

Ah, summer. The time of year when school lets out, days grow long and grills fire up. Even in places like L.A., though, where rain can be scarce, there are plenty of reasons (too hot, too lazy, too sunburned) to stay inside and curl up with some AC. That’s where The Times’ 2024 Summer Preview comes in: As you check out our guides to the movies, TV shows and books we’re looking forward to this season, be sure to read the stories below about some of the most highly anticipated.

‘Hit Man’ (May 24; on Netflix June 7)

A man with scraggly long hair sits in a car talking to a woman
Glen Powell in the movie “Hit Man.”
(Brian Roedel / Netflix)

If there were any doubt about Glen Powell being a bona fide movie star, his latest collaboration with Richard Linklater (following 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”) will put it to rest. Adapted from the 2001 Texas Monthly story by Skip Hollandsworth, “Hit Man” turns the real-life tale of Gary Johnson — an investigator for the Harris County, Texas, D.A.‘s office who assisted the police by posing as a contract killer — into a deliriously entertaining screwball thriller, one in which Powell appears to be having the time of his life. Shifting the action to New Orleans, Linklater populates the story with enough characters to pack a Mardi Gras parade route, in the form of cuckolded husbands and put-upon wives, yes, but also via Powell himself, in every manner of absurd getup and exaggerated accent as Gary’s various hit-man aliases. That it never comes off as just plain goofy is thanks to its lead’s white-hot charisma, his romantic chemistry with co-star Adria Arjona and Linklater’s cunning direction, which turns New Orleans from a Bourbon Street stereotype into a lived-in, fast-changing city — and your iPhone’s notes app into the source of one of the year’s most exciting scenes. I’m already looking forward to whatever these two Texans decide to make together next. — Matt Brennan

‘Tuesday’ (June 14)

A grieving woman stares upward, a stained-glass window behind her
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in the movie “Tuesday.”
(Kevin Baker / A24)

If you’ve listened to her terrific podcast, “Wiser Than Me,” you know that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is interested in talking about the ways we negotiate grief and loss as we enter the third act of our lives. So it’s not surprising that in “Tuesday,” she plays a woman literally bargaining with Death to keep her daughter (Lola Petticrew) alive. I saw writer-director Daina Oniunas-Pusić’s movie last year at the Telluride Film Festival, and it’s strange and surreal — Death takes the form of a talking bird — and unapologetically sincere. Cathartic too, if you give yourself over to its deeply felt story. It’s Louis-Dreyfus’ second film with the adventurous A24, following last year’s superb dramedy “You Hurt My Feelings,” making her own third act one to regard with utter appreciation. — Glenn Whipp

‘The Bikeriders’ (June 21)

A man in a leather jacket sits on a motorcycle.
Austin Butler in the movie “The Bikeriders.”
(Kyle Kaplan / Focus Features)

Writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Loving”) was inspired by a 1967 photobook by Danny Lyon to explore the lives of a Chicago-based motorcycle gang, and he does just that with “The Bikeriders.” At its center is the relationship between Kathy (Jodie Comer) and Benny (Austin Butler), as she maintains a relatively straight life while he becomes a zealous acolyte for the Vandals, a biker club started by Johnny (Tom Hardy). The film is deeply evocative of its time and place and, as the Vandals’ fortunes rise and fall, there’s an almost anthropological interest in the intricacies of how the gang operates and decisions get made. A group of men who wanted the simple freedom of the open road find themselves ensnared in day-to-day practicalities and dragged down by the burdens of their own growth and notoriety. Bringing a sense of epic scale to a tale of grease-stained outcasts, Nichols captures something essential about the paradoxes of the rebellious heart. — Mark Olsen

‘Fancy Dance’ (June 21; on Apple TV+ June 28)

Two women walk together outside.
Isabel Deroy-Olson, left, and Lily Gladstone in the movie “Fancy Dance.”
(Apple TV+)

Director Erica Tremblay’s debut feature premiered as a U.S. Dramatic Competition title at last year’s Sundance before hitting the festival rounds. I’ve been waiting for it to land an official release ever since. The film stars Oscar-nominated Lily Gladstone as the tough and resourceful Jax, a hustler who’s been scraping by to care for her young niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) while trying to find her missing sister. Written by Tremblay and Miciana Alise, this story about a family on the Seneca-Cayuga reservation is an unwavering look at the realities of life as a Native American woman that calls attention to systemic failures and the high incidence of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It’s also a celebration of perseverance, the complexities of connection and little moments of joy. — Tracy Brown

‘Kinds of Kindness’ (June 21)

People stand outdoors in a rough line, facing the camera over a mostly empty fountain
Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons in the movie “Kinds of Kindness.”
(Atsushi Nishijima / Searchlight Pictures)

With their two previous features — 2018’s gonzo comedy “The Favourite” and last year’s feminist Frankenstein fable “Poor Things” — Yorgos Lanthimos and Emma Stone have cemented their status as one of cinema’s most uniquely unpredictable director-muse duos. (And that’s not even mentioning “Bleat,” their 30-minute silent black-and-white exploration of sex, death and goats.) In another stylistic swerve, their latest collaboration is an anthology film set in contemporary New Orleans, weaving together three enigmatic storylines: a powerless man attempting to seize control of his fate, a policeman grappling with his dead wife’s inexplicable return and a woman on a quest to find a future spiritual leader. “Kinds of Kindness” continues Lanthimos’ creative partnership with co-writer Efthimis Filippou (“Dogtooth,” “The Lobster,” “Killing of a Sacred Deer”) and features a stacked cast that includes Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau, Jesse Plemons and Margaret Qualley, who each tackle multiple roles. Honestly, though, you had us at Yorgos and Emma. — Josh Rottenberg

‘Green Border’ (June 28)

A soldier gestures toward a kneeling man and girl, the man with his hands behind his head
Director Agnieszka Holland tackles the migrant crisis in her movie “Green Border.”
(Kino Lorber)

Agnieszka Holland’s latest thriller, a vital and harrowing dramatization of the migrant crisis playing out on the border between Poland and Belarus, arrives on a wave of controversy that would be nightmarish if it didn’t have something of a happy ending. Viewing the film as anti-Polish, the government insisted that a two-minute video refuting its depictions be shown in theaters beforehand. Holland herself received multiple death threats and was denied Oscar submission by Poland’s nominating committee. But then the worm began to turn, local box office records started to fall, international awards were won (including a career award from the Los Angeles film critics group to which I belong) and the right-wing government was ultimately ousted. What shouldn’t be lost in all of this are two facts: First, the humanitarian disaster continues and more films like this need to be made and seen. And second, Holland hasn’t directed a story this gripping since 1990’s “Europa Europa.” — Joshua Rothkopf

‘Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1’ (June 28)

A man on a horse points a pistol at an unseen target.
Kevin Costner in the movie “Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter 1.”
(Richard Foreman / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Next year brings the 25th anniversary of “Dances With Wolves,” the epic western that revived the once-popular genre while solidifying Kevin Costner as a major force in Hollywood. That Oscar-winning film and other projects, including “Open Range” and the blockbuster TV drama “Yellowstone,” have demonstrated that Costner riding a horse or wearing a cowboy hat will always have solid appeal. He returns to the big screen this summer with his most ambitious western yet: a “saga” so epic it’s divided into four parts. The first section opens June 28 after a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and the second installment arrives Aug. 16. Saddle up. — Greg Braxton

‘Janet Planet’ (June 28)

A mother and daughter sit outside watching a performance.
Julianne Nicholson, left, and Zoe Ziegler in the movie “Janet Planet.”

The debut film as writer-director from acclaimed playwright Annie Baker, “Janet Planet” sneaks up on you with a quiet, accumulative emotional power. The film follows Janet (Julianne Nicholson), a single mother, and her 11-year-old daughter, Lacy (Zoe Ziegler), in western Massachusetts in 1991. Their dynamic is difficult to immediately get a grasp of: We’re uncertain as to who needs whom more, as the diffidently observant Lacy comes off as clingy, while Janet seems to have rebuilt her life from something else to now center on Lacy. But then they are both full of surprises, as a series of other people enter and exit their orbit. With a precise but unfussy visual style, Baker seems to have come to the cinema to evoke moments in between, things that can’t be precisely put into words but have to simply be experienced and felt. — Mark Olsen

‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F’ (July 3 on Netflix)

Three old colleagues sit in a car.
From left, John Ashton, Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold in the movie “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.”
(Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix)

It remains to be seen if the old “banana-in-the-tailpipe” magic will coalesce. But the sheer amount of sign-on to this belated sequel is promising: not only Eddie Murphy and the primary cast (Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Paul Reiser and Bronson Pinchot) but mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who, with the original, along with his “Flashdance” and “Top Gun,” defined a sleek filmmaking formula that I personally wouldn’t mind seeing make a comeback. Stubbornly, I remain unconvinced that my living room is the best place to experience this (“Beverly Hills Cop” is pretty much why multiplexes thrived in the first place), but Netflix is the venue and, frankly, the 1984 classic works perfectly fine on my flatscreen. One thing is non-negotiable: We better hear OG composer Harold Faltermeyer’s one-fingered synth theme — and plenty of it. — Joshua Rothkopf

‘MaXXXine’ (July 5)

Two women walk down a Los Angeles street.
Mia Goth, left, and Halsey in the movie “MaXXXine.”
(Justin Lubin / A24)

Mia Goth arrived in a big way with horror director Ti West’s 2022 double shot of “X” and “Pearl,” scrappy productions made with a high degree of resourcefulness. A trilogy was inevitable and, with “MaXXXine,” Goth strides into her character’s next chapter flashing a confidence she doesn’t need to fake. But it’s West who looks primed to make the leap this time, into greater ambition and a lushly re-created 1985 when Los Angeles alternately seemed like a paradise and an urban hell plagued by the mysterious “Night Stalker.” West swirls these real-life elements into a De Palma-esque tale of fame, desire and payback, one that has attracted an incredible slate of talent, including Elizabeth Debicki, Kevin Bacon, Halsey, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Monaghan and, somehow born to play an adult-film power agent, the mighty Giancarlo Esposito. — Joshua Rothkopf

‘Sing Sing’ (July 12)

A performer in a crown watches.
Colman Domingo in the movie “Sing Sing.”
(Dominic Leon / A24)

I’m always floored by Colman Domingo’s nuanced performances, whether they be in episodes of “Fear the Walking Dead” and “Euphoria” or last year’s movies “Rustin” and “The Color Purple.” So naturally, I’ll be seated for “Sing Sing,” in which the Oscar nominee plays a wrongfully convicted criminal who finds a sense of purpose in a theater group at his maximum-security correctional facility. The A24 title — which garnered strong reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and South by Southwest — is based on a real-life rehabilitation program at the upstate New York prison of its title. Greg Kwedar directs the thoughtful drama, whose cast includes formerly incarcerated actors. — Ashley Lee

‘Twisters’ (July 19)

A woman is sucked up in a tornado vortex while a man grabs her hand.
Sasha Lane and Glen Powell in the movie “Twisters.”
(Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal Pictures)

“Twisters”? Really? A follow-up to the 1996 Jan de Bont blockbuster about a killer tornado that catapulted a cow? Hear me out. Every summer needs an escapist disaster movie, and it’s been a minute since we’ve had a good one. (No, the last “Sharknado” sequel doesn’t count.) Mostly, though, you want to see what Lee Isaac Chung, the filmmaker behind the delicate family drama “Minari,” will do with a reported $200-million budget and a new generation of storm chasers that includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell and Anthony Ramos. Chung grew up in the Midwest, not far from the movie’s Oklahoma setting, so he knows all about how the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain. Call me an optimist, but I think this is going to be the best kind of throwback blast. — Glenn Whipp

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ (July 26)

Two superheroes square off in a bar.
Ryan Reynolds, left, and Hugh Jackman in the movie “Deadpool & Wolverine.”
(Jay Maidment / 20th Century Studios / Marvel Studios)

I am not going to pretend I understand the evolution of Deadpool from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to his current iteration — or how Wolverine is again in a movie when he clearly died in “Logan.” None of it matters, really, because the TVA (which, in Marvel-land, stands for “Time Variance Authority,” as if the Tennessee Valley Authority is not an actual thing) exists exclusively to make no sense except as an engine for the resurrection and/or pairing of any and all superheroes on screens large and small. Nor am I going to lie and say I cannot wait to see the “other sides of Wolverine” that have been promised by early publicity. No, I am excited for “Deadpool & Wolverine” for precisely the reason everyone should be: the Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman bromance. Their faux feud, which has provided endless prank-ertainment for more than 10 years now, should by all rights lead to a rom-com, which I am assuming is what “Deadpool & Wolverine” will be, only with much more action, better costumes and many scattered body parts. Here’s hoping they get married in the end, because that is one thing Marvel hasn’t done yet. — Mary McNamara

‘Borderlands’ (Aug. 9)

A group of superheroes examining something on the ground.
From left, Jamie Lee Curtis, Cate Blanchett, Ariana Greenblatt, Florian Munteanu and Kevin Hart in the movie “Borderlands.”
(Katalin Vermes / Lionsgate)

Between HBO’s acclaimed series “The Last of Us,” the record-breaking “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” and Amazon’s postapocalyptic hit “Fallout,” we may be entering a kind of golden age for the long-maligned genre of video-game adaptations. You definitely know something is happening when Cate Blanchett, hot off her Oscar-nominated turn in “Tár,” gets on board. In director Eli Roth’s take on the bestselling space-western game franchise, Blanchett plays an infamous outlaw who leads a motley band of misfits through a desolate planet teeming with bandits, mutated creatures and killer robots. Our heroes are searching for a missing girl who may hold the fate of the universe. For Roth, the splatter auteur behind films like “Hostel” and the recent “Thanksgiving,” “Borderlands” represents his biggest canvas yet, so expect generous helpings of violence and mayhem along with the irreverent, absurdist comedy that fans of the first-person shooter have come to love. — Josh Rottenberg

‘Alien: Romulus’ (Aug. 16)

A woman patrols a spaceship with a weapon.
Cailee Spaeny in the movie “Alien: Romulus.”
(20th Century Studios)

Like a hypnotic, frightening summit on the horizon, Ridley Scott‘s immortal 1979 “Alien” continues to lure a certain breed of stylish filmmaker who thinks they can do it just as well: James Cameron and David Fincher most famously, but also the “Delicatessen” guy and even Ridley Scott himself. Now it’s Fede Álvarez’s turn, he of the horror hits “Don’t Breathe” and the unusually sturdy 2013 reboot of “Evil Dead.” Working to Álvarez’s favor: The story is set between the events of “Alien” and “Aliens,” wiping the slate clean. Additionally, “Civil War’s” electrifying Cailee Spaeny appears to be cast in a decidedly Sigourney-like role (the character’s name is Rain Carradine). If the movie returns the franchise to its original spookiness, even part of the way, then it will have served its purpose. Get climbing, Fede. — Joshua Rothkopf