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When you walk up to a movie theater and decide where you'll spend your money, whether you know it consciously or not you're basing that decision at least in part on all the things you've seen before. Maybe you bought a ticket for Your Highness because you've seen and enjoyed other stoner comedies. Odds are you turned up to see Fast Five last weekend because you've seen enough car movies to know that you think they're a lot of fun. We could sit here and frame our Summer Preview the same way everyone else does, by republishing a bland plot synopsis or running pre-packaged interviews with the stars. But what's the point? When we look forward to the big Hollywood movies coming out this summer, what we really see are all the other movies we've seen before.

So we're taking you through summer in our own way, by trying to determine what other films this year's crop of blockbusters might resemble. In the process, maybe we'll learn a little something about what to expect from them. If that's not enough for you, just click on the movie titles for each film to get detailed information, trailers, images and release dates related to all the movies hitting theaters during the summer of 2011.

This is our complete guide to upcoming summer movies, and where you might have seen them before.

May Movies

Thor is Flash Gordon? It's hard not to watch the trailers for Thor and think of Flash Gordon. All those scenes in Asgaard are missing is a Queen soundtrack, and you'd have the same movie. Winged helmets and Queen just go together. Thor is, however, likely to be at least a little less campy. Especially in the parts of the film that seem to take place in the desert with Natalie Portman.

Thor is Iron Man. When it comes to box office numbers and critics, Thor will probably end up performing more like the original Iron Man. Like that movie, it's a superhero film based on a somewhat lesser known comic book character (at least when compared with the likes of Batman or Spider-Man), but it's the first big movie of the summer and it's got a big enough marketing campaign behind it that, whether anyone knew Thor before this movie or not probably doesn't matter. Reviewers love it, and audiences are likely to love it too, in much that same unexpected way we all fell in love with Iron Man.

Priest is Judge Dredd? It seems clear that what this movie would really like to be is I Am Legend, a film about a post-apocalyptic future where a handful of people fight off a plague of vampires. Actually a lot of those CGI vampire even look like the ones in I Am Legend, which is to say the CGI used in both movies is/was bad. But I think Priest looks more like Judge Dredd, Stallone's 1995 failed, post-apocalyptic future movie in which he rode around on a hover bike and bucked the oppressive ruling regime to dish out his own version of justice. Make Judge Dredd religious and give him some guys with fangs to fight, and it's the same movie.

Priest is Jonah Hex. Whatever it seems like it's going to be, I'm betting that Priest is actually Jonah Hex, that already forgotten summer flop from last year in which Josh Brolin played a bounty hunter trying to stop the unleashing of hell. Both movies suffer the bad CGI in a shaky, dark premise problem and I doubt that Paul Bettany is going to fare any better than Brolin when it comes to carrying a movie well enough to put butts in seats.

Bridesmaids is The Sweetest Thing? In trailer Bridesmaids seems kind of like The Sweetest Thing, a now all but forgotten attempt by Christina Applegate and Cameron Diaz to make female-fueled buddy comedies a viable source of entertainment. Or maybe it looks a lot like an all-girl version of Old School or The Hangover, with women standing in for men but basically doing the same things. Much as it seems like those movies from the trailers, it's something else entirely.

Bridesmaids is The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The thing is, this isn't the throwaway raunch comedy you might assume, and it's not just another movie in which women try to seem funny by acting like men. In a way it's like Spring Breakdown, a little Amy Poehler indie-movie which you haven't seen, but attempted to pull off female-driven comedy in which the point of view was also distinctly female. In the same way Apatow's 40-Year-Old Virgin managed to balance comedy and heart in a film that was distinctly male, Bridesmaids is funny and smart and sweet, while still also being a movie that feels distinctly feminine. There haven't really been a lot of other movies like it before, but in tone an intent this feels like an Apatow movie at its best. My hope is that it will latch on to critics and audiences in much the same way Apatow's first effort did.

On Stranger Tides is Chicago? Big changes are in store for the world of Captain Jack Sparrow. For this fourth entry in the franchise Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are gone, replaced by a very pregnant during filming Penelope Cruz. Perhaps more importantly director Gore Verbinski is gone, replaced with director Rob Marshall, best known as the mind behind the Oscar winning musical Chicago. While it's still the same Pirates franchise, you'd hope that Marshall might be able to bring some of the same fun and flair of his musical endeavors to the world of Captain Jack. I don't expect anyone to actually sing and dance, but if we're lucky maybe the look of the film will be something a little more fresh than the CGI explosion the last couple of Pirates of the Caribbean movies were saddled with.

Pirates of the Caribbean is still Pirates of the Caribbean. No matter what Marshall brings to the table, this is still a Pirates movie and Disney's probably not going to let him stray very far from the established formula. As long as they've kept him in check, audiences will probably turn out in droves pretty much like they always do for these movies, and critics will remain completely befuddled by how boring and bland this whole thing has become to anyone who sees more than one or two movies a year. The pirate craze is over, but people still love Captain Jack.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is Toy Story 2? I'd like for Kung Fu Panda to be Toy Story 2, a rare animated film that's as good as or better than the first one. The original movie was the first DreamWorks film since the original Shrek to be up to Pixar's lofty standards, and the fact that they followed it a year later with the equally good How to Train Your Dragon provides some reason to hope that DreamWorks may have finally figured this animation thing out.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is Shrek 2. Much as I want this sequel to be something special, odds are it'll be more like Shrek 2, an animated movie which takes the premise of the previous movie and makes it even more silly. The premise for the sequel seems that way, with Po fighting a villain with the vaguely comedic aims of “destroying Kung Fu”. Remember that haunting beautiful scene in the first film where Master Oogway died and dissolved in a flurry of peach blossoms? Somehow I doubt we'll get anything that soulful and sublime in the sequel. It'll be fun for one film and it'll make a lot of money, but that'll just mean Kung Fu Panda 3, a sequel we won't need and which will probably be just as bad as Shrek 3 was.

The Hangover Part II is The Hangover. With a plot nearly identical to the original, rumored celebrity cameos and anticipation running high, director Todd Phillips seems to have decided what better way to market his new film than by harkening back to the original that had so many of us laughing. Part of the joy of The Hangover was embracing a film so apologetically R-rated. No doubt its sequel will be just as filthy, but because we're expecting more line-stepping, The Hangover Part II is unlikely to feel nearly as original or refreshing.

The Hangover Part II is Beverly Hills Cop 2? It's incredible to think about in retrospect, but the original Beverly Hills Cop was the number one movie in America for fourteen weeks during 1984 and 1985. People couldn't get enough. They saw it over and over again. Three years later, they also turned up in droves for the largely mediocre sequel. It still made money but lacked the staying power and cultural impact of its predecessor. More than twenty years later, The Hangover, another R-rated comedy, destroyed the box office for most of the 2009 summer. Now we're all bracing for The Hangover Part II, which will likely make a fortune but seems unlikely to generate nearly the buzz of the original.

June Movies

X-Men: First Class is Austin Powers? Ok it's not really Austin Powers but the bulk of the film is set in the time period Austin comes from, the swingin 60s baby, and a lot of the production design has that Austin Powers in the 60s vibe. Really X-Men: First Class is going to be the first of its kind. This is the first superhero movie that's also a period piece, and the first of Hollywood's modern crop of superhero movies which is a prequel to some other series of films which came before it. Actually if it's anything, this is basically the X-Men equivalent to Muppet Babies. Hey, Muppet Babies was kind of good.

X-Men: First Class is The Incredible Hulk. While technically this movie is a prequel to the other three X-Men movies, really that's just an excuse to reboot the entire X-Men franchise after Brett Ratner sort of ruined it with his horrific third entry. Marvel tried something similar with Hulk. When Ang Lee's attempt to bring the big green character to the big screen was tepidly received, they did it over in a different style and gave us The Incredible Hulk, which, incidentally didn't really do any better than the Ang Lee movie. First Class is sure to be better critically received than X-Men 3, Brett Ratner is Ang Lee, but lukewarm box office could be in the cards unless Fox does something to win more people over.

Super 8 is Spielberg without Spielberg? The trailers feel like Steven Spielberg at the height of his powers, an electric mix of all the best things about both E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind layered into a nearly perfect two minutes of advertising. And they haven't even shown us the aliens yet. Heck we don't even know what this movie is about. But the trailers are stunning and lyrical, and though it's not actually directed by Spielberg, J.J. Abrams' career so far indicates that he has it somewhere within him to become his modern successor.

Super 8 is Inception. Whether or not Abrams can be the Steven Spielberg we want him to be, Super 8 seems poised to become this year's Inception. Like Inception much of the plot remains a mystery, and like Inception it's pretty much the only noteworthy summer movie being released that's not a remake, a redo, prequel, sequel, adaptation, or some other form of recycling someone else's material. Super 8 is an original idea from one of the most original filmmakers in Hollywood, outside of Christopher Nolan himself. If it's as good as we hope, expect an Inception-like fervor. This could be the 2011 movie everyone ends up talking about, for the rest of the year and years to come.

Green Lantern is Speed Racer? Warner Bros. new superhero movie is set at least partially in outer space and involves all sort of strange aliens and otherworldly creatures, whom Ryan Reynolds will meet once he takes possession of his ring of power. But all that CGI and all those crazy visuals in the trailer make it seem a little like Speed Racer, all special effects and maybe no room for much else. Even Ryan Reynolds' costume is computer generated, after all. The potential for dazzling, glitzy effects overload is pretty great here.

Green Lantern is Star Trek. Yet there's something in the footage we've seen from the film so far that says they're determined to get this right. Ryan Reynolds is incredibly talented as an actor, and he's taking the whole thing seriously. So is everyone else involved. This isn't the Wachowski Brothers given free reign to throw whatever up on the screen, it's a group of talented filmmakers and actors taking a massive budget and making what could be the first ever superhero space opera. Done right this could be the superhero version of JJ Abrams' Star Trek, with the box office benefits to boot. If nothing else, their approach to the superhero genre is fresh and new, as fresh and new as Abrams' managed to make Star Trek feel.

Cars 2 Is Toy Story 2? Betting against Pixar is simply bad business. The Disney offshoot has never made a bad film, and the two sequels its done, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, have arguably been better than the original. That being said, Cars was by the first the worst of Pixar's great movies. In fact, I wouldn't even call it great. I would call it good, which comparatively means it was awful. It barely topped 75% in positive reviews, and the excitement surrounding the sequel is barely a whimper compared to the normal hooting and hollering that accompanies anything Pixar touches.

Cars 2 Is Madagascar 2. I say that not only because I expect it to be better than the somewhat disappointing original but also because I expect it to make serious hay at the box office. Madagascar 2 easily topped six hundred million in world wide grosses, and despite its less than reputation, Cars has sold more merchandise than any other Pixar brand. People will show up, and I expect most critics to like it better than the first one , even if it languishes in comparison to Toy Story 2.

July Movies

Dark of the Moon is a Pink Floyd song? It isn't a Pink Floyd song, but when this movie is finally released on DVD I plan to sync it up with Dark Side of the Moon just to see if anything matches. That name can't be an accident, can it?

Dark of the Moon is Independence Day. The third entry in the Michael Bay directed Transformers franchise seems to be as much an epic-scale alien invasion movie as it is a movie about robots who can turn into cars. The trailer is all about collapsing buildings and cities being demolished, and it seems almost as much like a Roland Emmerich movie as it does a Transformers film. Stick Will Smith in there somewhere and it's easy to imagine the whole thing turning into Independence Day or just a flat out disaster movie. The last movie suffered from shaky-cam, but that didn't seem to hurt it's box office potential. Like all the other Transformers movies this one will be huge.

Larry Crowne is You've Got Mail? Tom Hanks plays a down on his luck nice guy who falls for someone with far more power than him, in this case his teacher. In You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan played a down on her luck lady who fell for someone with far more power than her, in that case a bookstore owner. I'm not sure the internet is involved in Larry Crowne, but the uplifting journey should mirror the struggle for love and personal success motto in You've Got Mail. If only this one had snarky comments from Steve Zahn and Dave Chappelle.

Larry Crowne is That Thing You Do. Tom Hanks' last directorial effort remains one of my all-time favorite films. With a subtle wit and an unrelenting and cheerful optimism, That Thing You Do cycles its characters through just the right number of highs and lows, never devolving into something superficial but always preaching that good things do happen to good people. The trailer for Larry Crowne captures that same exact magic. I don't expect it to change many lives, but I do think millions of people will leave the theater with a greater appreciation of Tom Hanks' awesomeness. If only this one had more Oneders.

Zookeeper is Night At The Museum? Night watchman falls victim to and then bonds with a circus full of goofy, prank hungry animals confined in a closed space? That's the basic plot outline, but anyone who saw Grown Ups can tell you Kevin James' comedic sensibilities don't exact overlap with Ben Stiller's. Night At The Museum may have contained its share of monkey slaps, but it was also heavy on history lessons and character development.

Zookeeper is Paul Blart: Mall Cop. … with animals. In that groan-worthy film, Kevin James also played a guard, complete with a slew of jokes about tripping, falling down, riding on Segways, and falling down again. Paul Blart ultimately made way more money than expected, shoehorned in a plot about falling in love and only pleased a small segment of third graders. I expect the same performance here … with animals.

Horrible Bosses is Very Bad Things? Very Bad Things was a horrifying, perverse and extremely dirty black comedy starring Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Cameron Diaz and Christian Slater that revolved around one murder that slowly snowballed into multiple homicides and a lingering sense of dread. Horrible Bosses too is a comedy about a murder plot that doesn't carry out quite as planned, but I'm not sure I've seen a studio movie made in the last ten years, save Observe & Report that's as filthy and moralless as Very Bad Things. People just don't have the stomach for it, and while I advocate going as far as possible, doing so would alienate a large percentage of viewers.

Horrible Bosses is An Episode Of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Letting three impulsive dudes brainstorm solutions to perceived problems in their lives is rarely a good thing. The possibility of group think taking over and peer pressure leading to some truly egregious behavior is just too high to risk it, at least in real life. On It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, these ill-advised blurt sessions are par for the course, and with star Charlie Day on board as one of the deep thinkers here, it's no wonder the Sunny vibe is showing through the clouds. I'd wager the main characters won't follow through on their murderous intentions in Horrible Bosses, but the truth is I kind of hope they do. Some people just have it coming…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country? Eight movies with the same cast. That's a feat that hasn't even come close to being pulled off by any major Hollywood franchise since the original cast of Star Trek took a run at it in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. When that franchise came to an end, it wrapped up with an epic farewell in which the aging cast kicked a little Klingon ass and then stopped down to say a few well-earned goodbyes to each other and the fans who'd supported them decade after decade after decade. For Harry Potter fans this is that kind of finale, and maybe that same kind of long, indulgent goodbye is warranted but…

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is just another Harry Potter. These movies are too locked in to an established story to really give us one of those nostalgic, goodbye sequences. Besides, the cast is so young we're bound to see plenty more of them elsewhere. It's not as if Rupert Grint is going senile like Scotty. Don't expect a lot of deviation from the established Potter movie formula here. The battles will be bigger, the stakes will be higher, but only because the stories which have already been written and read by everyone demand it. Harry Potter will leave theaters as it entered, being the Harry Potter it has always been.

Captain America is The Rocketeer? The First Avenger is directed by Joe Johnston and it's no coincidence that he's also the director of the underrated 1991 movie The Rocketeer. Both movies are set in the midst of World War II and with The Rocketeer Johnston demonstrated that he has a clear feel for that specific, time and place in American history. His influence is clear even in the Captain America trailers, even the design of Cap's costume is in some ways faintly reminiscent of the leathers Cliff Seacord wore while the rocket was strapped to his back. If Johnston can take the golden age aesthetic of The Rocketeer and apply it to Captain America: The First Avenger this could be something pretty special.

Captain America is X-Men 2. Cap may look and feel like The Rocketeer but it's likely to do a lot better at the box office. With Thor as a pretty fantastic lead-in, by the time Cap shows up in theaters audiences should be worked up into an absolute Marvel frenzy. It's not going to perform like Spider-Man or The Dark Knight, but pulling in X-Men 2 style box office numbers seems like a reasonable expectation for the debut of The First Avenger.

Cowboys & Aliens is Wild Wild West? The last time Hollywood tries to combine the old west with futuristic technology, it resulted in one of Will Smith's worst movies, Wild Wild West. Cowboys & Aliens looks similar on the surface, with cowboys riding around on horses while aliens in strange vehicles shoot lasers at them and Daniel Craig fires lightning out of his arm. Though it doesn't have current top box office draw Will Smith, it has former top box office draw Harrison Ford. The similarities are there, but turning into Wild Wild West is only a worst case scenario.

Cowboys & Aliens is Iron Man. Cowboys director Jon Favreau knows how to balance special effects and story, and he's unlikely to let his movie turn into a complete, special effects overloaded monstrosity. I have faith in his ability to balance gritty western elements with spacey sci-fi aliens, I mean he managed to turn a movie about Will Ferrell dressed as a giant Elf walking through stop-motion landscapes on his way to New York into a holiday classic. By comparison, this should be easy. Jon Favreau doesn't need Marvel to make a blockbuster, expect Iron Man level success from Cowboys & Aliens… and let's not talk at all about Zathura.

August Movies

The Smurfs is Alvin & The Chipmunks? Based off an animated children's series that once targeted a generation that's now mostly grown up, The Smurfs takes a page from the Chipmunks playbook, CGIing the little guys into the real world but surrounding them with Neil Patrick Harris rather than Jason Lee. If the ultimate box office takes even approach the three hundred sixty million in world wide business Alvin, Simon and Theodore squeaked their way into, I'm sure producers would be celebratory Smurfs, but the truth I'd have to be Smurfing crazy to predict it or any future sequels would approach those figures.

The Smurfs is G-Force. Following a team of walking science-experiment like creatures unleashed in a large city, the eclectic cast of A-minus list voice talent will likely water any efforts at plot down with out of place one-liners that don't quite fit. Scores of people will be blandly entertained, far more will be slightly annoyed, and the Smurfs will be one and done, unless an unasked for sequel is bizarrely put into production lacking several of the leads, a la Hoodwinked Too.

The Help is Eat Pray Love? Like Eat Pray Love, The Help is adapted from a book no man has ever seen, let alone heard of yet nearly every woman in the world has read or at least thought about reading. It doesn't have Julia Roberts, but it does have Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Sissy Spacek. Combine all of those women together into one estrogen-powered force and you'll probably end up with Eat Pray Love like box office totals, especially in a summer where there's almost nothing out there, except maybe Bridesmaids, catering to the fairer sex.

The Help is Steel Magnolias. Box office numbers aside, women are excited about The Help in a way I haven't seen women excited about anything since Steel Magnolias. Like that movie, interest in the book and the upcoming film cuts across a pretty wide age-range among the women in America. Every female from my mother-in-law to Cinema Blend's own Katey Rich is excited about what writer/director Tate Taylor has in store for them. Race, age, it doesn't matter. As long as you're a woman you're probably interested in this story of black and white southern women forging friendships, resulting in the kind of sisterhood that's sure to get Oprah excited and by extension, every other woman in the world.

Fright Night is Zombieland? One of the trademarks of Fright Night is that it actually pays strict attention to vampire lore, from sleeping in a coffin to avoid daylight to not being able to enter a house without being invited. In recent years few did this better than Zombieland. Both are horror/comedies that actively try not to alienate fans of the classic creatures they are structuring their story around.

Fright Night is Fright Night. Just like with some of the other remakes on this list, this one is kind of a no-brainer. The original film from 1985 is a bona fide cult classic and any remake director will tell you that the first goal is not to estrange those who made the first film a classic. We can likely expect some changes to the story – unless they go the Gus Van Sant Psycho route – but overall this movie will likely appeal most to those that liked the original.

Conan the Barbarian is Conan the Barbarian? In theory you should think about this movie and think about the other movie which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger that it's remaking, and then get all excited about seeing that same story told again. There's some indication that they're really trying to keep the whole thing muscle-bound and appropriately barbaric, though it's hard to imagine the orgy of blood and women which made the original such eye-popping fun working in the modern era.

Conan the Barbarian is The Scorpion King. This new Conan is being released at the tail end of the summer in August, and that's not really a good sign for a film which seems like it ought to be a middle of the summer blockbuster if it's been done well at all. If it hasn't been done well, expect it to be a lot like The Scorpion King, only without anyone as talented as The Rock in the lead.

For more on every movie being released this summer, just visit the complete Blend Film Database.

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