Summer on the big screen
As the weather hots up so will the battle of the superheroes, as they swoop in to rescue us from the daily grind. But the last ever Harry Potter movie, some laddish comedy and a couple of intriguing thrillers will also be fighting for our attention, reveals Paul Whitington
The blockbuster season is upon us once again, and as in 2010 the big studios are definitely playing it safe. There's a good dozen big-budget sequels and prequels on the way, including the last ever Harry Potter film, which will dominate the cinemas in late July and August.
Superheroes are most definitely in vogue, starting with Kenneth Branagh's Thor, which arrives here next week, and Captain America and The Green Lantern will square off in a battle for multiplex domination in June and July. JJ Abrams' sci-fi thriller Super 8 sounds more interesting than most of the summer fluff on offer, and there's also the new Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life, to look forward to. Here, anyway, is our guide to what to watch out for.
Kenneth Branagh makes his Hollywood directing comeback in this big-budget superhero film (above right) based on the Marvel comic character. Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, an impetuous warrior with a very large hammer who's cast out of Valhalla and sent to live on earth, where he tends to stand out. With Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins.
Out next week
After the mess that was The Soloist, Joe Wright turns to the action genre with this strange tale starring Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl who has been raised to kill by her CIA father in the wilds of Finland, and embarks across Europe on a mission with a small army of enemy agents on her tail. Cate Blanchett co-stars.
Out May 6
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
What is there to be said about the four of the Pirates films (left), except that we hope it's the last? Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, who this time ends up on Blackbeard's ship and gets involved with the captain's glamorous daughter, played by Penelope Cruz. Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane co-star.
Out May 18
The Tree of Life
In Terrence Malick's eagerly awaited drama, a young boy in 50s America is torn between his mother's kindly, charitable view of the world and his father's dog-eat-dog approach. A fine cast includes Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Fiona Shaw and Jessica Chastain.
Out late May
The Hangover: Part 2
Todd Phillips will attempt to replicate the huge success of his laddish 2009 comedy The Hangover with this sequel, in which the boys travel to Bangkok for a stag party. Liam Neeson was called in on short notice to do a cameo after certain high-minded cast members refused to work with Mel Gibson.
Out May 27
X-Men: First Class
January Jones and Michael Fassbender are among the cast of this fifth film in the hugely lucrative X-Men series (right), which is set in the 60s and charts the formation of both the X-Men and their bitter rivals, the Brotherhood of Mutants. With James McAvoy and Rose Byrne.
Out May 30
Kung Fu Panda 2
Jack Black reprises his role as the voice of high-kicking panda Po in this sequel to the extremely popular 2009 Dreamworks animation. Gary Oldman supplies the voice of an evil albino peacock who develops a powerful new weapon that threatens the whole of China, and Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen and Angelina Jolie are among the supporting voice cast.
Out June 10
Among the rash of superhero films coming out this summer, Green Lantern is expected to be one of the biggest. Directed by Martin Campbell (of Casino Royale fame), the film stars Ryan Reynolds as an air-force pilot who joins an elite force of intergalactic peacekeepers. And with a budget of over $150m, Warner Brothers are banking on it being a big hit.
Out June 17
Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne head the cast of this comedy about a group of bridesmaids whose destructive rivalry threatens to overwhelm their friend's impending wedding. Paul Feig directs, and John Hamm, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd and Matt Lucas co-star. Looks funny.
Out June 24
It looks like being a fairly grim summer for comedy, but Bad Teacher is among the more promising. Cameron Diaz is a foul-mouthed and unscrupulous high-school teacher who goes to ridiculous lengths in her battle with a colleague for the attentions of a handsome substitute teacher. Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch and Jason Segel co-star.
Out late June
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
In what should be the last of the three Transformers films, Sam Witwicky and the Autobots race to the moon for a final battle with the Decepticons. Shia LaBeouf will once again star, but the bad news for the boys is that Megan Fox will not be reappearing as his girlfriend.
Out July 1
Whether or not you look forward to the arrival of a new Lars von Trier film is very much a matter of personal taste, but good or bad they always excite comment. This one (below right) stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters who react very differently to the news that the world may be about to fatally collide with another planet.
Out July 1
Among the weightier of this summer's releases, Robert Redford's historical drama will tell the story of Mary Surratt, a boarding-house owner who was charged in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and subjected to a murder trial just because John Wilkes Booth stayed at her place.
Out July 14
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Having dragged out the final Potter novel into two films, the hugely profitable series will finally come to an end this summer, as Harry faces up to Voldemort in a decisive battle. You can rest assured fans will be queuing around the block to see it.
Out July 25
The first Cars was one of those rare Pixar disappointments, but with John Lasseter at the helm of this one it could be an improvement. Owen Wilson, Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer provide the voices for this story in which star race car Lightning McQueen competes in a race to find the world's fastest car.
Out July 22
Captain America: The First Avenger
Another heavyweight superhero (right) steps into the ring in mid-July. Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a sickly young man who has turned into a superhero with the help of an experimental serum, and Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell co-star in a film that cost $140m to make.
Out July 29
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In a prequel intended to relaunch the 60s franchise, a scientist in present-day San Francisco embarks on a series of genetic experiments that radically enhance the intelligence of apes and lead to an inter-species war. James Franco, Brian Cox, Andy Serkis and Freida Pinto star.
Out early August
Steven Soderbergh's conspiracy thriller, which was partly shot in Dublin, stars Gina Carano as a freelance black ops specialist who sets out to get revenge on the government handlers who double-crossed her. An impressive cast includes Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Antonio Banderas.
Out August 5
Big-budget CGI animation based on those strange blue cartoon characters that emerged from Belgium to annoy us all the way back in the 70s. Katy Petty and Neil Patrick Harris are among the voice cast in a 3D adventure that sees the Smurfs arrive in midtown Manhattan.
Out August 10
Cowboys & Aliens
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are among the cast of this comic action film based on a graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. A desperate outlaw and a ruthless sheriff join forces in 70s Arizona to save a town from an alien attack. Jon Favreau directs.
Out middle of August
In JJ Abrams' intriguing thriller, a group of children in 70s Ohio are using a Super 8 camera to make their own zombie movie when they witness a spectacular collision between a train and a truck, after which something inhuman crawls from the wreckage. Elle Fanning and Amanda Michalka star.
Out late August
Conan the Barbarian
In this revival of the Conan franchise, beefy Hawaiian model Jason Momoa plays an ancient warrior who must survive on his wits after his father is killed and his village is destroyed. Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols and Ron Perlman co-star.
Out late August
Day & Night