LOS ANGELES – As superhero summers go, this one is truly super.
Amid one of the most-promising box-office seasons Hollywood has ever served up, three movies stand above the rest.
The first weekend in May brings The Avengers, the ensemble adventure teaming Robert Downey Jr.s Iron Man with such fellow Marvel Comics heroes as Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk.
The Amazing Spider-Man follows over the Fourth of July as Marvels web-slinger gets a fresh origin story, with Andrew Garfield taking over as teen-turned-superhero Peter Parker.
Finally, in late July, theres The Dark Knight Rises, with Christian Bale returning as DC Comics masked vigilante in the finale of director Christopher Nolans Batman trilogy.
These three are the gold standard for fans: The Dark Knight, Tobey Maguires three Spider-Man flicks and Downeys two Iron Man movies are the six top-grossing superhero adventures ever.
Add in solid receipts for solo turns of Avengers co-stars Chris Hemsworth in Thor and Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger – plus the lure of a new incarnation of the Incredible Hulk by Mark Ruffalo in Avengers – and summers superhero meter is off the charts.
The Avengers is literally one of the first books I followed regularly. ... Some of the work that was done in there was really groundbreaking and really epic, said The Avengers writer-director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Its great fun to take characters that you are so invested in, because you grew up with them, and get to put words in their mouths and figure out what theyre going to be doing with their lives for a while.
Of course, theres plenty to fill in the gaps between superhero sagas.
Other action tales include Men in Black 3, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones; Kristen Stewart and Charlize Therons fairy-tale makeover Snow White and the Huntsman; Ridley Scotts return to sci-fi with Prometheus; Avengers co-star Jeremy Renners The Bourne Legacy; Colin Farrells remake Total Recall; and the board game adaptation Battleship.
Cartoon makers offer up the Scottish adventure Brave, the latest from the animation virtuosos at Pixar, while talking-animal franchises return with Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted and Ice Age: Continental Drift.
The comedy and music front brings Adam Sandlers fatherhood story Thats My Boy; the all-star songfest Rock of Ages; Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hills suburban romp Neighborhood Watch; Sacha Baron Cohens tyrant tale The Dictator; and Whitney Houstons final film, Sparkle.
And what would summer be without vampires? Johnny Depp turns blood-sucker as he reunites with director Tim Burton for Dark Shadows, a big-screen take on the gothic soap opera. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the great emancipator taking down the undead.
Like director Whedon with The Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man star Garfield practically has Peter Parker in his DNA. Garfield has been a huge Spider-Man fan since age 4.
I know the character really well. Its part of me already. Its like Ive been preparing for the role for 24 years, said Garfield, who hints that destiny is at work in this version as orphan boy Peters search for his parents puts him on a path with the mutant spider that endows him with superpowers.
Directed by Marc Webb and co-starring Emma Stone as romantic interest Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as the villainous Lizard, Amazing Spider-Man aims to walk the line between gravity and exuberance, Garfield said.
Marc Webb has approached this with a real eye for authenticity, emotional authenticity, a kind of groundedness and grittiness. It feels a bit darker to me, Garfield said. Also, its really important that Spidey has fun and is witty. The masks a very powerful thing for anyone who wears it. It gives you leave to do anything you want, and I think in the hands of a teenager, hell just run riot. I hope weve managed to have some of that.
The Avengers has superhero puppet master Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) rounding up Downeys Iron Man, Scarlett Johanssons Black Widow, Evans Captain America, Hemsworths Thor, Ruffalos Hulk and Renners Hawkeye to take on Thors evil brother (Tom Hiddleston), who plots to unleash alien marauders on Earth.
The Avengers challenge was just not so much the scope of it, Downey said. Its funny to think about a superhero movie as being complex, but I think it was a little bit daunting imagining how you get the balance of all of these intersecting stories. ...
It was a bit of a welcome relief in a certain sense in that Avengers, once it took shape, was a very, very smartly executed and controlled venture.
Unlike Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight Rises will not be playing in 3-D. Director Nolan just isnt a fan. Nolan does like shooting for the huge-screen IMAX format, so fans can count on a visual spectacle in those theaters.
On 3-D, I dont know if that was ever even a debate, said Gary Oldman, who returns as Batmans police commissioner ally, Jim Gordon. Its IMAX. Thats as big and bold as it gets, so theres plenty of that.
Anne Hathaway signs on as Catwoman, while Nolans Inception co-stars Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy join returning Batman cast members Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.
Nolan and his cast have kept details secret, but the film could spell a dark end for Bales Dark Knight: Hardy plays the villain Bane, the brawny brute who broke Batmans back in the comic books.
Heres a look at summer highlights:
Avengers: Superheroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and others team up to take on Thors evil brother, who plots to unleash alien marauders on Earth. (Opens May 4.)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Those classy Brits put some sophistication into summer with a tale of U.K. retirees in India. With Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson. (Opens May 4.)
Dark Shadows: We bet the latest reunion of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton will bring some fresh bite to vampires as they adapt the creepy TV soap opera. (Opens May 11.)
Battleship: Taylor Kitsch and Liam Neeson are in the Navy now as sailors take on inhuman invaders in an action tale inspired by the game. (Opens May 18.)
What to Expect When Youre Expecting: Everyones in a family way with an ensemble tale about pending parenthood that features Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks and Dennis Quaid. (Opens May 18.)
The Dictator: Sacha Baron Cohen outdoes Castro with his wild beard in this comedy about a tyrant. (Opens May 18.)
Men in Black 3: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones return to fight aliens in a time-traveling action comedy that adds Josh Brolin as the young version of Jones Agent K. (Opens May 25.)
Chernobyl Diaries: Six rookie tourists mistakenly visit the site of the nuclear disaster and find unexpected horrors in the abandoned place. (Opens May 25.)
Snow White and the Huntsman: Kristen Stewarts the fiercest in the land as she teams with a tough guy (Chris Hemsworth) to battle an evil queen (Charlize Theron). (Opens June 1.)
Piranha 3DD: Its another Friday night fish fry in reverse as prehistoric piranha chow down on tourists at a water park. (Opens June 1.)
Prometheus: Ridley Scott. Science fiction. Any questions? The Alien creator returns to the genre with a cousin to his space horror tale starring Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. (Opens June 8.)
Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted: The zoo animals are still on tour as voice stars Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith return. (Opens June 8.)
Rock of Ages: Journey and REO Speedwagon ride again in a musical romance featuring old rock tunes and a cast that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julianne Hough. (Opens June 15.)
Thats My Boy: Adam Sandler tries to grow up as a bad dad hoping to make things right with his estranged grown son (Andy Samberg). (Opens June 15.)
Brave: A Scottish lass (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) must undo the chaos her defiance has unleashed on her kingdom in the latest from the animation maestros at Pixar. (Opens June 22.)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Catch the 16th president (Benjamin Walker) as he emancipates the land from blood-suckers. (Opens June 22.)
To Rome with Love: Woody Allen woos Italy and appears on-screen for the first time in years with an ensemble romance co-starring Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni and Ellen Page. (Opens June 22.)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation: The toy soldiers inspire another live-action firefight featuring Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson. (Opens June 29.)
Tyler Perrys Madeas Witness Protection: Filmmaker Perry reprises his role as saucy grandma Madea, who takes in the family of a CFO (Eugene Levy) in witness protection. (Opens June 29.)
Magic Mike: Channing Tatum takes it off again in a story inspired by his early work as a male stripper. Steven Soderbergh directs. (Opens June 29.)
People Like Us: Star Treks Chris Pine comes down to Earth as a salesman tidying up his late fathers estate. (Opens June 29.)
The Amazing Spider-Man: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. (Opens July 3.)
Katy Perry: Part of Me: The pop superstar gets the 3-D treatment in a music documentary. (Opens July 5.)
Savages: California pot growers fight a Mexican drug ring in Oliver Stones thriller featuring Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Taylor Kitsch and Uma Thurman. (Opens July 6.)
Ice Age: Continental Drift: For extinct species, these cartoon critters sure are survivors. Ray Romano and his voice co-stars are back with another prehistoric comedy. (Opens July 13.)
Ted: A teddy bear come to life is every boys dream – until the thing sticks around into the kids adult years. Mark Wahlberg stars in the comedy from Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy). (Opens July 13.)
The Dark Knight Rises: Batman resurfaces to protect Gotham City from a new enemy, Bane. (Opens July 20.)
Ruby Sparks: A character created by a novelist (Paul Dano) comes to life as a real woman (Zoe Kazan) in the latest from the directors of Little Miss Sunshine. (Opens July 25.)
Neighborhood Watch: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill learn their town is teaming with space invaders disguised as average suburban dwellers. (Opens July 27.)
Step Up: Revolution: The next round in the dance franchise has a crew of Miami hoofers fighting a neighborhood developer. (Opens July 27.)
The Bourne Legacy: The spirit of lethal operative Jason Bourne lives on, minus Matt Damon, with Jeremy Renner at the center of fallout from the first three action hits. (Opens Aug. 3.)
Total Recall: Colin Farrell steps into Arnold Schwarzeneggers sci-fi role as an average guy on the run who uncovers a secret identity even he didnt know about. (Opens Aug. 3.)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: The hapless hero (Zachary Gordon) of the best-selling books stumbles through trouble over summer vacation. (Opens Aug. 3.)
The Campaign: Dirty politics in this age of bipartisanship? Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis sling mud as congressional opponents in Jay Roachs comedy. (Opens Aug. 10.)
Hope Springs: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones are a long-married couple trying to renew the spark with a counselor (Steve Carell) at a marital retreat. (Opens Aug. 10.)
Sparkle: Whitney Houstons final movie role features the late singer as mom to a girl group (including American Idol winner Jordin Sparks) struggling with the pressures of fame. (Opens Aug. 10.)
The Odd Life of Timothy Green: A couple (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) eager to start a family get a dose of the unexpected when a mysterious boy turns up at their door. (Opens Aug. 15.)
ParaNorman: The animated comedy centers on a boy who can speak with the dead and becomes the last hope of his hometown after its overrun by zombies. (Opens Aug. 17.)
The Expendables 2: Action heroes crowd the screen again as Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li and friends seek vengeance after a mission goes wrong. (Opens Aug. 17.)
The Apparition: Ashley Greene stars in a spooky tale of a couple haunted by a presence conjured up in a college experiment. (Opens Aug. 24.)
Premium Rush: A Manhattan bike messenger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is steered into a deadly chase when bad guys come looking for the delivery hes carrying. (Opens Aug. 24.)