Despite bigger budgets, louder hype and the pervasive presence of 3-D, the building blocks for a great summer at the movies are the same as they ever were. A great summer season doesn't just have the loudest, brightest, fightingest crowd-pleasers of the year. It also presents a little something for everyone.
Summer 2009 had room for the crashing “Transformers,” the frat-boy laughs of “The Hangover,” the family-friendly animation of “Up,” and the Meryl Streepiness of “Julie & Julia.” And the summer of 2010 promises plenty of variety, too, from Tom Cruise exuding cool to piranhas chowing down in 3-D.
The Pixar people-pleaser: ‘Toy Story 3’
The Pixar backlash has got to be coming, right? Year after year of impeccably reviewed, rapturously attended, amply rewarded masterpieces — with “Cars” as the exception that proves the rule — this gravy train has got to come to an end sometime, right? And with threequel fatigue having bested franchises as mighty as “Spider-Man” before it, “Toy Story 3” is just dangling on the precipice, right? Yeah, don't bet on it. In a movie marketplace that is falling back more and more on familiarity, the Pixar name plus the return of beloved Woody and Buzz and the pig that talks like Cliff Clavin will prove hard-pressed to fail. Plus, this time it's in 3-D! Hollywood's new favorite toy married its old favorite toys. (Opens June 18.)
The A-lister: ‘Knight and Day’
Much like with “Inception,” one of the primary reasons to be excited to see “Knight and Day” is to find out just what the heck is going on. The trailer, which smartly (if bombastically) leans on the star power of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, leaves you with few clues as to why the two megastars are trotting across the globe, shooting up bad guys and alternately screaming (her) and evincing a smirking confidence (him). The plot is almost guaranteed not to make any sense when put up to even the faintest scrutiny. The plus side is, it may not matter. Action-comedy is a genre that forgives a lot if it delivers a fun, funny respite from the infernal heat outside. Plus, Diaz has never in her life been as good as she was in “Vanilla Sky,” opposite one Cruise. (Opens June 25.)
The 800-pound gorilla: ‘Twilight: Eclipse’
There's really no avoiding it this summer. Edward, Bella and Jacob will again storm theaters, as will their army of fans. (Pity poor M. Night Shyamalan, whose “The Last Airbender” opens just two days later.) In terms of story, the love triangle looks to take center stage once again, but threatening to make things interesting is the return of villainous vampire Victoria, now played by Bryce Dallas Howard, whose bright red mane of hair is the most colorful thing onscreen by a wide margin. For detractors who found the first two movies slow moving, the “Eclipse” trailer suggests things are even more ponderous this time around, what with Bella mulling over whether or not to become a vampire. The things these kids will do to avoid writing college application essays. (Opens June 30.)
The brainy sci-fi pic: ‘Inception’
Warner Bros. is being incredibly tight-lipped when it comes to the plot, but here's what we know: Christopher Nolan directs this sci-fi thriller where much of the action takes place within the human mind. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a man tasked with stealing an idea. And Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Ken Watanabe fill out the rather accomplished cast. There's a danger that being too evasive with the details could alienate the potential audience, but with Nolan's track record a solid one (look for “The Dark Knight” to get name-dropped in every bit of promotional material), the mystery feels more tantalizing than frustrating. Moreover, with another 10-wide best picture field to fill and the first half of 2010 light on contenders, a strong “Inception” reception could very well translate into Oscar nominations. (Opens July 16.)
The dude comedy: ‘The Other Guys’
Honestly, between this Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg cop spoof, the Adam Sandler/Chris Rock flick “Grown Ups” and the Steve Carell/Paul Rudd comedy “Dinner for Schmucks,” to be the Dude Comedy pickings are looking mighty slim. In all honesty, “The A-Team” is probably going to be your dude movie of choice this season, even if it's not a traditional laugher. Still, Wahlberg's always better in comedies, and Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock show up as flash-and-crash cops (as opposed to the titular desk jockeys). You could do worse. (Opens Aug. 6.)
The comic-book movie: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’
What's all the fuss about? Ask your nearest geek. Directed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), “Pilgrim” is based on the eponymous comic series that Bryan Lee O'Malley has been churning out since 2004. Michael Cera plays the ultimate Michael Cera character (hoodie, in a band, nerdy but dateable) who must vanquish his girl's seven evil exes. The preview footage suggests a candy-colored video-game fantasia, and Wright's presence suggests lots of room for humor. By the time August hits, geek anticipation should be at a fever pitch, but whether it soars like “The Dark Knight” or splatters on the ground like “Kick-Ass” might be up to its secret demographic weapon: girls. With its character-based story lines and relationship-focused central plot, strong female support at the box office could make this summer's crossover success story. (Opens Aug. 13.)
The chick flick: ‘Eat Pray Love’
If director Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) and star Julia Roberts (“Mary Reilly”... well, she was!) can marry her star presence with his skewed sentimentality, then the big-screen adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-seller about post-divorce world travel and finding yourself might not be as excruciating as it sounds. The trailer suggests an inverted pyramid of a romantic comedy, where here the heroine starts married (to Billy Crudup), finds her rebound relationship (with James Franco) unfulfilling and spends the balance of the movie falling for Italian cuisine and eastern religion. Sure, “Sex and the City 2” is gobbling up all the "chick flick" press with its gowns and girls and glamorous trips to Abu Dhabi. “Eat Pray Love” is content to nudge Carrie Bradshaw's chic self-obsession in the direction of a “Julie & Julia,” where the great love of your life (or at least the moment) might be a perfectly cooked plate of pasta. (Opens Aug. 13.)
The unexpected, low-budget smash: ‘Piranha 3-D’
It's become a semi-annual tradition in the summer: a late-breaking, word-of-mouth, out-of-nowhere hit that is all anyone can talk about during the late summer months, when the big blockbusters have given way to the dregs. Think of diamonds in the rough like “The Blair Witch Project” or last year's “Paranormal Activity.” Here, horror director Alexandre Aja delves fully into horror camp with this onslaught of killer fish and the sweet, hammy acting they're dying to feast on. Thankfully, they've got Christopher Lloyd going all the way back to the future with his Doc Browniest role in years, plus Richard Dreyfuss bringing all the “Jaws” cache he's got left. The trailer promises other delights (Ving Rhames wielding a boat propeller like a weed-whacker; a horde of prehistoric piranhas going right for the bum of some poor lady in an inner tube) and probably the least superfluous use of 3-D all summer. (Opens Aug. 27)
Joe Reid is a writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.