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Image: Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz
Disney Enterprises
Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz are in 3-D this time in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides", the fourth movie in the Disney swashbuckling, sword-fighting franchise.
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updated 5/13/2011 12:35:47 PM ET 2011-05-13T16:35:47

Pirate Jack Sparrow embarks on a new quest. Wizard Harry Potter comes to the end of his saga. And swarms of new superheroes come out swinging.

Add in a third round of giant robots from space, the dawn of a planet of intelligent apes and an alien invasion in the Old West, and Hollywood has one of its most action-packed summers ever in store.

Continuing franchises include Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"; the battling 'bots sequel "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"; and the prequels "X-Men: First Class" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

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New comic-book adaptations join Hollywood's superhero fixation with "Thor," "Green Lantern" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig team up to take on extra-terrestrial raiders in the sci-fi and Western hybrid "Cowboys & Aliens." "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams directs his own E.T.-style adventure with "Super 8," a tale of teen filmmakers whose monster movie turns real after a train wreck unleashes an alien force.

Video: Watch the 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4' trailer (on this page)

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint head back to Hogwarts one last time for the final showdown between good and evil wizards with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

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The adaptation of J.K. Rowling's finale to her fantasy series was split into two films, the first leaving off with last fall's cliffhanger involving the death match between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

Radcliffe provides a refresher in case anyone has forgotten where things stand.

"There are two concepts that you have to understand. There are seven Horcruxes that we're tracking down. They're pieces of Voldemort's soul that we're going to kill. I'm looking for them, and there are the three Deathly Hallows. Voldemort's looking for those, and it's a race to see who can get to which ones first."

Video: Watch the 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2' trailer (on this page)

Millions of Potter fans already know the answer, but that should not undermine the film's prospects of becoming the top-grossing installment in a franchise that already has taken in $6.4 billion worldwide.

"Deathly Hallows: Part 2" joins other action franchises that are going the 3-D route for the first time, among them the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers" sequels.

Story: Which summer films have the best toys?

"Dark of the Moon" reunites "Transformers" star Shia LaBeouf and director Michael Bay as an event out of Earth's past touches off a new round in the struggle between two warring robot races.

Megan Fox, who co-starred in the franchise's first two movies, is gone this time, but other returning cast members include John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson.

Battle-scene choreography
After wrapping up the original story line in a trilogy, "Pirates of the Caribbean" returns in a stand-alone story that sends Depp's Jack Sparrow on a hunt for the fountain of youth.

"On Stranger Tides" co-stars Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, with Geoffrey Rush back as Jack's old nemesis Barbossa.

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Director Rob Marshall jumped right in on the sword fights and other action in "On Stranger Tides," saying the song-and-dance moves he crafted in such musicals as "Chicago" and "Nine" were good training ground.

"I think a lot of people were surprised I was doing action," Marshall said. "But it's choreography. It's absolutely choreography. So I felt the most at home in the big battle scenes with lots of people there, and working with stunt people who are like dancers. Oddly enough, it was right up my alley."

Return of the superheroes
Superheroes are everywhere this summer, with the stars of "Thor" and "Captain America" making solo debuts before joining the all-star lineup of summer 2012's "The Avengers." That ensemble tale will feature Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson from the "Iron Man" franchise along with Mark Ruffalo as the Incredible Hulk.

"Captain America" stars Chris Evans, padding his superhero resume after co-starring as the Human Torch in the "Fantastic Four" flicks.

theGrio: Sequels we'd like to see

Evans' Steve Rogers is a 98-pound weakling who volunteers for a military program that bulks him up into super-soldier Captain America, leading a team of heroes battling arch-villain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

"Thor" casts the Norse god of thunder into exile among puny humans on Earth, where he hooks up with a team of scientists (Natalie Portman among them) and joins the fight against a bad guy from his own realm.

In his fall, Thor has lost much of his power, including the ability to wield his mighty hammer.

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"He's not quite worthy at that point of possessing it," said Chris Hemsworth, the Australian actor who landed the role of Thor. "We see Thor as a cocky, brash young warrior who needs to learn some humility, so he's sent to Earth. It's his exploration of how he fits into the world."

While Thor is sent down to the minors, the hero of "Green Lantern" is called up from Earth to join a league of galactic peacekeepers.

Ryan Reynolds stars as an ordinary guy who gains superpowers from a ring bestowed by a dying alien. As the first human to join the Green Lantern Corps — essentially, interstellar cops on the beat — his character becomes the key to stopping an evil force. But he encounters a little alien bigotry along the way.

"Human beings' inclusion in the corps is a point of contention for some of the other Green Lanterns," Reynolds said. "They feel we're kind of a subspecies, sort of a laughable group of creatures that inhabit Earth. So there's definitely a bit of an integration process for them."

"X-Men: First Class" features James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the future Professor X and Magneto — superpowered mutants who start as allies but end up deadly enemies in their quest to find a place for their freak-of-nature kinsmen.

Another prequel, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," has James Franco and Freida Pinto leading the human cast as research into simian intelligence puts the world under new management.

Mashing up genres
Interspecies conflict comes to the Old West, too, in "Cowboys & Aliens" as a mysterious gunslinger (Craig) and a cattle baron (Ford) put together a posse of townsfolk, outlaws and Apache Indians to go after bad guys from space in 1873.

"Cowboys & Aliens" director Jon Favreau, who made "Iron Man" and its sequel, said the hit Western "True Grit" and the Wild West animated comedy "Rango" were nice lead-ins after a long dry spell for the genre.

"The Western, that may have been the aspect of the film that made the studio the most cautious when it was first green-lighted. Now, it's turned into the aspect that makes it more original and stand out from the crowd," Favreau said. "The fun comes from the mash-up of genres."

Director Abrams created his own mash-up with "Super 8," combining two projects he had been developing: A story inspired by his boyhood filmmaking endeavors and a sci-fi adventure about a train that derails while carrying an alien presence from Area 51.

The teen filmmaker idea had good characters but lacked plot punch, Abrams said.

"It needed something to sort of elevate it out of the realm of pure drama into some kind of spectacle, at least for me to want to direct it," Abrams said.

Other action highlights:

— "Fright Night": The remake of the 1980s horror comedy stars Colin Farrell as a newcomer targeting the kid next door (Anton Yelchin), who has discovered his neighbor's a vampire.

"30 Minutes or Less": Jesse Eisenberg stars in an action comedy about a pizza delivery guy abducted by crooks and forced to rob a bank.

"Conan the Barbarian": The new take on the ancient warrior has Conan (Jason Momoa) on a personal vendetta that turns into a heroic mission against supernatural evil.

— "Priest": A warrior priest (Paul Bettany) in a world besieged by vampires sets out to rescue his abducted niece before the blood-suckers make her one of their own.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Summer's upcoming blockbusters

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  1. Summer movie season

    Summer's here, and the time is right for hiding in dark, air-conditioned theaters, watching some sequels that are already sequels to sequels. And perhaps a good original movie or two. Strap yourself in for the blockbusters to come -- "Bridesmaids," seen here, is already marching down the theater aisle. --Dave White (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (May 20)

    Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush

    What it is: "Pirates 4" focuses on something about mermaids and Blackbeard and zombies and the Fountain of Youth. Look, are you going to see this for the plot or because you want to watch Johnny Depp and Keith Richards out-stagger each other? Don’t lie to yourself.

    Biggest fear going in: That the filmmakers will muddy the water with foolish ideas about having something to say instead of allowing Depp’s antics and the special effects to rule the moment. (Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' (May 27)

    Starring: Voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman

    What it is: Having established his awesomeness as the awesomest fighting panda in the awesome original, Po (voiced by Black) returns in "Kung Fu Panda 2" to awesomely battle a very mean peacock.

    Potential to be awesome: Show of hands, who didn’t like the first film? If the filmmakers don’t mess with that installment’s formula of great animation plus charm plus wit, all will be well and children’s karate classes will reap the benefits. (DreamWorks) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'The Hangover Part II' (May 27)

    Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms

    What it is: "The Hangover Part 2" is, a) The same movie as before but in a new city and b) a kind of shameless cash-in and c) Zach Galifianakis’ ticket to never having to work again if he doesn’t feel like it (except he feels like it a lot and is currently tied with Natalie Portman in what feels like a bizarre ubiquity contest).

    How funny it will be: Pointlessness be darned, you can count on Galifianakis. He owned the original and will probably do it again. (Warner Bros) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 'X-Men: First Class' (June 3)

    Starring: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, January Jones

    What it is: "X-Men: First Class" is set in the early 1960s, showing how the X-Teens at Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters became the X-Adults. That means the cast is newer and younger and dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis. You probably never knew that mutant superheroes were part of that thing. That’s what you get for sleeping through history class.

    A lesson in jump-starting a stalled franchise: After “X-Men: The Last Stand” annoyed its core audience, a tune-up was needed. What better way to accomplish that goal than to time-travel back to an origin story with a hip young cast? And it makes much more sense than simply saying, “OK, we’re going to make another first chapter film about 'The Incredible Hulk'” or “Hey, remember those old 'Spider-Man' movies from five minutes ago? They don’t count anymore.” (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'Super 8' (June 10)

    Starring: Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning

    What it is : It’s 1979 and some geeky, filmmaking kids find an alien. Not a cute one. You can call "Super 8" “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams’ more menacing “E.T.” if you want but what you can’t call it is a sequel or remake or reboot. And for a big movie landing smack-dab in the middle of the summer movie season, that feels like some kind of miracle.

    Most excellent stamp of approval: Producer Steven Spielberg’s, of course. Advance word is that Abrams has made an exciting valentine to that director’s heyday. Now here’s hoping it lives up to those expectations and avoids falling into the cracks caused by an X-Men/Green Lantern earthquake. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 'Green Lantern' (June 17)

    Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard

    What it is: Reynolds is The "Green Lantern." He wears a green suit, fights bad guys and works with an interplanetary corps of power-ring-wearing space cops to maintain order in the universe. Blake Lively plays someone who wears really fashionable clothes, no doubt. OK, lie, she plays an aerospace executive.

    Extreme nerd alert: More than “Thor,” more than “Captain America,” this is the Comic-Con date movie of the summer. It comes with the most fan yearning attached and, therefore, the most to lose. If you aren’t on a date with a nerd when you see this, at least you’ll finally get what that circle-in-between-two-lines T-shirt means. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 'Mr. Popper’s Penguins' (June 17)

    Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury

    What it is: In "Mr. Popper's Penguins," a heartless corporate type (Carrey) learns to be nice when a brood of penguins show up at his doorstep (no word on whether or not he also learns to do that marching thing they’re so famous for). Based on the beloved classic children’s book, it could go a long way toward erasing the memory of Carrey's creepy animated “A Christmas Carol.”

    Tailor-made for: Everyone.The book was published in 1938. That means it was also your grandmother’s childhood favorite. And who doesn’t love penguins? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'Bad Teacher' (June 24)

    Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel

    What it is: In "Bad Teacher," Cameron Diaz drinks and smokes weed. In the classroom. She hates the kids. She doesn’t care if they learn. Think an easier-on-the-eyes Billy Bob Thornton minus the Santa suit and you have every teacher union’s worst public relations nightmare.

    What Diaz keeps proving: The pretty woman can also be the funny woman. And if this one and “Bridesmaids” hit audiences in the right spot, that whole grown-up female comedy snowball will just get bigger, badder and more impossible for Hollywood to ignore. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 'Cars 2' (June 24)

    Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine

    What it is: Um… OK, so… now the cars are… spies? Whatever, "Cars 2" is about these talking cartoon automobiles, see, and you have to take your children to it. No exceptions. It’s the Pixar joint that’s least loved by adults and most loved by the under-10s, but you have to concede that even when this studio is only batting .500, that’s a way better average than just about everybody else.

    Coolest marketing move they could make: Give away tickets. That’s right, let everyone in for free. Pixar already makes about a billion dollars a year on toys and talking Larry The Cable Guy toothbrushes — no joke, they do — so why not just consider the movie itself a loss leader? (Ho / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' (July 1)

    Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

    What it is: In "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," the cars-that-turn-into-robots continue their never-ending quest to fight and fight and fight and fight. And this time they do all that on the moon and in 3-D. Haters are invited to go see “The Help” or that new Woody Allen movie, whatever it’s called.

    Funny joke Michael Bay has already made publicly: He claims that because this one is in 3-D, he held the camera still for more than half a second at a time. What’s he trying to do, make an art film or something? Brace yourself for coherent visuals. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' (July 15)

    Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

    What it is: 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows -- Part Two' is THE movie of the summer, 10 years in the making. When other sequels tell you they’re the last in the series, they’re always lying to you. This one isn’t. So long, Harry.

    Chance it will live up to its own hype: Have you seen that trailer? Or, for that matter, have you seen the most recent bigger, better, darker Potter films? The “Boy Who Lived” is going out with a big bang. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 'Winnie The Pooh' (July 15)

    Starring: Voices of Jim Cummings, John Cleese, Craig Ferguson

    What it is: In "Winnie the Pooh," Eeyore the donkey needs a new tail so Pooh and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood help him find one. Honey is also consumed. And then Piglet and Tigger turn into giant metallic fighting robots and make fart jokes. Guess which one of those plot points is fake.

    What’s the appeal?: They are not digital animals interacting with a live-action Christopher Robin. They are not in 3-D. They are rated “G.” They do not conduct a dance-off to “Baby Got Back.” They are as old-fashioned and sweet as you remember them. Need any more reasons? (Disney Enterprises) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (July 22)

    Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones

    What it is: The theme song to the crudely animated Saturday morning cartoon of the 1960s really says it all about "Captain America: The First Avenger": “When Captain America throws his mighty shield, all those who chose to oppose his shield must yield. If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due, then the red and the white and the blue’ll come through.” And in this introductory course in all things Captain, he throws his shield at Nazis during World War II. Klang!

    Where all this is leading: Marvel is building a kingdom at the movies. It started with “Iron Man” and continues with “Thor” and will soon encompass this and other superhero characters that will team up and form The Avengers. If you’re one of those people who wish all this stuff would just go away, sorry but you’re out of luck. It’s just gearing up. For the rest of you: WHOOO-HOOOO! (Marvel Entertainment) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 'Cowboys & Aliens' (July 29)

    Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde

    What it is: "Cowboys and Aliens" is exactly what it says it is — cowboys in the Old West find themselves battling aliens, only without the benefit of a history of science-fiction movies and TV shows informing their sensibility. In other words, no “Star Wars” points of reference to hang their strategy on. Sorry, Han Solo.

    What’s at stake, box-office-wise: The production schedules of other genre mash-up style projects like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 'The Smurfs' (July 29)

    Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria

    What it is: It's "The Smurfs," an adventure revolving around characters who haven’t been seen on Saturday-morning TV for decades — not that selling nostalgia to parents and cute CG creatures to kids wasn’t a winning formula for the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise. The tiny blue dudes (and one tiny Smurfette) cross over from their magical land to New York City where, presumably, Harris can at least help them pick up hard-to-get tickets for Broadway shows.

    Parental advisory: It’s quite likely your children will leave the theater wanting to buy little blue dolls and/or using various forms of “Smurf” to substitute for any and all other words. But there are worse things than that. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (Aug. 5)

    Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, Andy Serkis

    What it is: The prequel "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is actually sort of a remake of 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” which was one of the sequels to the original “Planet of the Apes,” which was itself weirdly remade by Tim Burton a few years back. Confused yet? Have a banana and calm down.

    Lingering question: Did Franco take this gig because it’s part of his ongoing life-as-art project, which includes a stint on “General Hospital,” gallery exhibitions of his own weird video work revolving around cultural offerings like “My Own Private Idaho” and “Three’s Company,” hosting the Oscars and strenuously colleging his way to half a dozen graduate degrees? Or does he just really like jobs? (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. 'The Help' (Aug. 12)

    Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Sissy Spacek

    What it is: "The Help" is that book everybody's book club loved so much. White Southern belles and their African-American maids negotiate the upheaval surrounding the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.

    Built in counter-programming appeal: No robots, but lots of hats, gloves, shoes and social justice. (DreamWorks Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 'Fright Night' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette

    What it is : "Fright Night" is a remake of the schlocky 1985 horror movie that no one was demanding be remade.

    What’s already very, very strange about it: The project stars Toni Collette and Colin Farrell, two respected actors whose careers tend to point more in the direction of leading roles in higher-profile indie films. And its director is Craig Gillespie, who made the Oscar-nominated/Sundance Film Festival hit “Lars and The Real Girl.” So it’s the arthouse “Fright Night” now? (DreamWorks II) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. 'Spy Kids 4: All The Time in The World' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale

    What it is: In "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," the spy kids grew up and, presumably, went off to spy university or something, but they do appear — in what capacity is uncertain — in this movie that’s all about Jessica Alba as a spy mom . Look, whatever it takes.

    Secret appeal to fans of “Grindhouse”: Danny Trejo shows up as Machete! (The Weinstein Company) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 'Conan the Barbarian' (Aug. 19)

    Starring: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan

    What it is: "Conan the Barbarian" gets the reboot treatment with newcomer Momoa (“Stargate Atlantis,” "Game of Thrones") as the man who devotes equal time to sword-swinging, death-avenging and pectoral-oiling. There was much more opportunity to fully commit oneself to each pursuit in fantasy olden times of yore.

    Beware the ides of, well, August: This very late summer release might not be the best news for fans of this title. It’s from the man whose last films were the reboots of “Friday the 13th” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and has, sadly, a distinctly minor-league vibe going on already. Also, the closer a film’s release is to Labor Day, the more it all starts to smell like “clearance sale.” Forewarned is forearmed. (Simon Varsano / Lionsgate) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Final Destination 5' (Aug. 26)

    Starring: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, David Koechner

    What it is: With "Final Destination 5," Death is not a guy you can trust to just go away, even after he promises everything’s cool. He’s got more teens to kill in convoluted ways, this time starting with a suspension bridge collapse and, who knows, maybe winding up at a miniature golf course. All bets are off.

    Lies piled up on top of lies: The previous installment was titled “THE Final Destination” and we all believed you. Clearly, “final” means something else in your dictionary, movie. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Watch the 'Pirates of the Caribbean 4' trailer

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