June 21 may be the official start of summer, but today's release of "Mission: Impossible III" signals the official start of the summer movie season.
And it's got to be better than last summer, right?
For those with short memories, 2005 supplied a Hollywood slump that saw domestic box-office revenues plummet.
Studios blamed the rising popularity of DVDs, Netflix and On Demand. Audiences blamed the studios for churning out garbage.
Fortunately, this summer seems to be shaping up nicely with a bevy of high-profile projects. Sure, there are the requisite remakes, sequels and "reimaginings" - but even the majority of these have potential. There are also a number of intriguing original works on the horizon. Who doesn't want to see Jack Black as a Mexican wrestler or Will Ferrell as a NASCAR freak?
Warner Bros. is hoping it has another big-time disaster on its hands with this pseudo-remake of "The Poseidon Adventure." That beloved 1972 effort concerning a cruise ship turned topsy-turvy by a massive tidal wave is given a post-"Titanic" digital update. Although Shelly Winters won't be among those diving for a way out, Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Emmy Rossum are brought aboard.
The Da Vinci Code
Tom Hanks in a movie adapted from a popular and controversial best-seller? No, it's not "The Bonfire of the Vanities." It's the film in which historical fact spars with historical fiction, as a Harvard professor (Hanks) and a sexy cryptographer (Audrey Tatou) team up to solve a mystery involving religious conspiracy. If nothing else, Hanks gets to sport his worst-ever screen hairstyle.
Over the Hedge
The first of the summer's animated flicks (see also "Barnyard" and "Monster House") finds a wandering raccoon (Bruce Willis) encountering a critter community led by a tortoise (Garry Shandling) that is afraid of neighboring humans. Inspired by their new friend, the animals venture over the hedge that separates them from a suburban development.
X-Men: The Last Stand
"X-Men" director Bryan Singer bailed from this third installment to take on "Superman Returns," leaving Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") at the helm. Ratner may not be as talented a filmmaker as his predecessor, but he's got better raw material to work with, as the yin and yang of mutant groups square off after a cure for their genetic conditions is discovered. Better yet, other classic comic book characters are finally introduced onscreen, including The Beast (Kelsey Grammer), Angel (Ben Foster) and Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones).
"Pick a side," trumpets the tagline of this romantic comedy starring real-life couple (at least for the time being) Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. They play a recently split pair who refuse to move out of the condo they share, leading to a stubborn war of Zax-like proportions.
Sure, automobiles are not as intriguing as talking toys, insects, fish, monsters or superheroes. But Pixar's next can't-miss feature is ... well, by Pixar. The animation kingpin has yet to deliver a picture that is anything less than a classic, so expect cool things from this tale of a race car (voiced by Owen Wilson) detoured in Radiator Springs and given life lessons from a veteran racer (Paul Newman).
What's little Damien Thorn been up to lately? Evil. Thirty years after the original film ushered in a new definition of the phrase "bad seed," Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles step into the roles of an American couple who realize their son may be the Antichrist. Judging by the trailer, newcomer Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (who plays Damien) comes across even creepier than that kid from "Birth."
Nobody is more comfortable flaunting his unsightly body for comedic effect than Jack Black. In filmmaker Jared Hess' followup to "Napoleon Dynamite," Black tries to financially save his beloved Mexican orphanage by joining a Lucha Libre tournament populated by the iconic masked wrestlers of the region. Expect it to be the sleeper hit (and the sleeper hold) of the summer.
An architect (Adam Sandler) finds a universal remote that gives him the power to rewind or fast-forward any part of his life. Normally, this type of comedy would star Jim Carrey, but Sandler gets a chance to do something semi-original after sleepwalking his way through last summer's "The Longest Yard" remake.
After the success of "Batman Begins" - another extinct superhero series given new life by an A-list director - there are high hopes for Bryan Singer's spin on the Man of Steel. Previously unknown Brandon Routh wins the acting lottery by landing the title role, which finds the Kryptonian returning to earth after a five-year hiatus. Kevin Spacey shows up as bald baddie Lex Luthor. The good news is it can't be any worse than 1987's franchise killer "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace."
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Provided Johnny Depp is along for the ride as Captain Jack Sparrow, there's no reason to doubt the possibilities of the forthcoming sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean." In part two, Sparrow learns he owes a debt to Davey Jones (the always great Bill Nighy) and is eyeing eternal damnation unless it gets settled. Oh yeah, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley factor in somehow.
You, Me and Dupree
Owen Wilson is the master of being charmingly annoying. Here his expertise is put on display as the flighty best man to a newlywed couple (Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson) who stays on as a houseguest. Anybody remember the old "Saturday Night Live" sketch "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave?"
A Scanner Darkly
Richard Linklater employs the same visual technique he used in the meandering "Waking Life" - that of shooting a live-action movie on film then having animation artists trace over each frame. Thankfully, he actually has a script this go-around. Linklater tackles sci-fi author Philip K. Dick's story about a society in which one-fifth of the American population has been hired by the government to spy on the other four-fifths.
Lady in the Water
M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") based the plot of his latest effort on a bedtime story he recited to his kids. Paul Giamatti stars as a building superintendent who discovers a mermaid-like being (Bryce Dallas Howard) in his complex's swimming pool. He begins to fathom that they are both characters in a fable, and he must protect her from the creatures that are intent on preventing her from returning home.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
As if Uma Thurman wasn't imposing enough in "Kill Bill." In "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," she portrays G-Girl, a scorned superhero who uses her formidable powers to torment the boyfriend (Luke Wilson) who dumped her. The script comes courtesy of "Simpsons" scribe Don Payne.
Twenty years after the NBC series peaked, director Michael Mann returns to mount a big-screen adaptation of the show he originally produced for television. The swarthy, pompous roles of Crockett and Tubbs have been filled by swarthy actor Colin Farrell and pompous celeb Jamie Foxx. The undercover cops join forces to thwart a Florida drug cartel ... just like on TV.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
What will be 2006's blockbuster comedy? Look no further than Will Ferrell's latest foray into poking fun at smug, off-kilter, famous people. Ferrell plays a NASCAR legend whose dominance in racing is challenged by a French Formula One champ (Sacha Baron Cohen). Don't expect it to make any more sense than "Anchorman," but it's got to be good for a few laughs, as evidenced by the promo clip in which Ferrell runs screaming from a burning wreck, "Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jewish God. Help me, Tom Cruise."
World Trade Center
Whereas "United 93" takes a near documentary approach to its portion of the 9/11 tragedy, "World Trade Center" is a bit more cinematic. That's understandable with Oliver Stone directing and Nicolas Cage starring in the true story of the last survivors pulled from the wreckage of Ground Zero. No prediction on whether this touchy subject will help resurrect some of Stone's credibility or drop him further into the post-"Alexander" abyss.
Snakes on a Plane
The title really says it all.