Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Boogaloo Shrimp and pogo sticks
My mind takes me back there oh so quick
Let you off the hook like my man Mr. Limpet
Think about that summer and I bug ’cause I miss it
—Lyte Funkie Ones
The summer movie season does not exist.
(Stay with me, this gets fun, I promise.)
There are actually no seasons at all when it comes to entertainment these days, though we act like there are. It’s not just that your quote-unquote “summer movies” have been expanding past their traditional release-date borders for years now, either. It’s that the change in the nature of the things themselves—how many movies are made and released, and where and when they’re released, and how much they cost to see or rent or buy, and what seeing or renting or buying even means in an era when entertainment consumption has been almost totally divorced from physical artifacts or even leaving the house—anyway, that that change has been so fundamental that we have to come up with new ways of understanding the world.
The idea of the summer movie season, though: that’s something else. It’s vacations from school, breaks from the routine, and a chance to spend two air-conditioned hours away from the smothering July sun. It’s sequels, roller coasters, fireworks, second dates. It’s trailers that summon a sense of the unknown and tell you that it’s attainable. It is pure escape, pure retreat, pure transport. Pure nostalgia.
Because what is nostalgia if not a wishful way to control the world around you? The very concept is rooted in turning away from reality and attempting to travel back to a time that you’ve told yourself is simpler and easier. The emotional heart of the summer movie season isn’t about what’s coming out in the next few months. It’s about trying to rekindle the excitement you used to feel in summers past.
Which is what makes this summer so impossible to predict. As of this writing, movie theaters are still closed—though in Texas, where I live, they’re opening back up at partial capacity, so it’s been nice knowing everyone—which means that for most people, even something bearing a superficial resemblance to a summer movie season is an illusion, with most releases delayed or moved to video on demand.
So for this summer movie preview 2020 (how’s that for SEO, Marvel Star Wars Disney TikTok), we’ll try to split the difference between the summers of old and the one we’re in now. It’s going to be a weird summer, but we’ll make it. After all, if there’s no more summer movie season, then it’s always summer somewhere.
Instead of: Black Widow
See: Atomic Blonde
Look, Black Widow was probably not going to be good. Most of the Marvel movies are not good, but these people are very attractive and they deal with outlandish property tax rates, so work is work. However, if you still want to see a woman in a wig kill people in a stylish way, check out this surprisingly solid Charlize Theron thriller from 2017. You are all but guaranteed to not know the difference.
Instead of: Fast and Furious 9
You want car chases? I mean real car chases? Then you want 1998’s Ronin, starring Robert De Niro and directed to within an inch of its life by John Frankenheimer. One viewing, and you will never again want to see a CGI Vin Diesel drive a CGI coupe across a CGI bridge while being chased by CGI helicopters. This movie will take you home.
The Lovebirds (May 22, Netflix)
The Lovebirds is a comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae that was originally scheduled to play South by Southwest Film Festival in March before a theatrical release in April. Then the worst global pandemic in a century hit, and all that didn’t happen, so Netflix picked it up. The movie has that perfect SXSW-then-harmless-spring-dump-from-a-major-studio feel (think Bridesmaids or Source Code), as Nanjiani and Rae play a couple who accidentally get tangled up in a murder and then have to solve the crime while also figuring out their relationship. If you started getting bored halfway through reading that sentence, rest assured that writing it was not fun, either. In other words, it looks like the ideal thing to watch if you want to turn your brain off for 90 minutes and forget that we’re currently living through Mike Judge’s Children of Men.
Instead of: The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run
See: Uncut Gems (May 25, Netflix)
Imagine the most visually arresting panic attack you’ve ever had. Now also Adam Sandler is there.
The High Note (May 29, VOD)
I genuinely mean this in a good way: every single aspect of The High Note looks comfortably predictable. It stars Tracee Ellis Ross as a superstar singer whose label wants to put her out to pasture with a Las Vegas residency, even though she wants to make a new record. And guess who secretly dreams of being a record producer? Yep, the singer’s frazzled personal assistant, played by Dakota Johnson. The only thing missing is somebody like Ice Cube as the lovably grumpy manager—wait, there he is. You will see every beat of this trailer coming a mile away, but that kind of certainty feels wonderful and safe these days.
Instead of: Wonder Woman 1984
Watching Gal Gadot beat people up in Wonder Woman was maybe the only good thing about 2017. You can recapture that glory with Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller, starring Gina Carano as a black-ops agent who’s double-crossed and has to fight for her survival. It’s got some of the best fight scenes of the century, and it’ll tide you over while you’re (I apologize for what’s about to happen) waiting for Gadot.
Instead of: Soul
See: A Matter of Life and Death
Pixar’s upcoming film is about a guy who dies and winds up in the corner of the afterlife where new souls are developed. But good news: you can satisfy your needs for a tear-jerking metaphysical dramedy with 1946’s A Matter of Life and Death, which is about a Royal Air Force pilot who accidentally escapes death and petitions the spiritual world to grant him reprieve so he can be with the woman he loves. It’s visually inventive, imaginatively lush, bursting with color, and absolutely wonderful. You will wonder why they even bothered making movies after this.
Instead of: In the Heights
See: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
A quest for identity? Check. Theatrical bona fides? Check. Music guaranteed to bury its hooks in your brain? Eleven checks. The 2001 film of John Cameron Mitchell’s ode to outsiders is the musical fix you’ll need this summer.
Instead of: Top Gun: Maverick
See: No Country for Old Men
Instead of: Minions: The Rise of Gru
See: Literally anything else, your kids are worth more than this
There is no conceivable way that your suffering through this movie would be worth whatever fleeting happiness it might bring your children. They are children, after all. They are dumb. Not dumb-dumb, just kid-dumb. I know you think they’re smarter than average, but the very existence of the average means that they are probably not. They will laugh at anything. Show them whatever else you can get your hands on. Buy them a Switch. Tell them Gru died. Do whatever it takes, but save them, and save yourself.
Instead of: Jungle Cruise
See: The Rundown
The Rock Paradox: The Rock is an incredibly charming movie star, yet his movies are almost uniformly terrible; rather than harm him, this somehow gives him more power. While pondering that, check out one of the few genuinely good ones, 2003’s action-comedy The Rundown. It will make you wish we’d gotten a sequel.
Instead of: The French Dispatch
See: The Grand Budapest Hotel
If you were in the mood for an anthology-flavored, visually unique story that’s both romantic and tragic, featuring an all-star cast and with that signature Wes Anderson flair, just … see a movie that is already that (and great, to boot).
Tenet (July 17)
Christopher Nolan’s new film is probably about a man who’s haunted by his past but determined to change the world or his relationship for the better, even as he uncovers more about the hidden truth or conspiracy or something that’s governed his life. It will look great. It’s currently still set for theatrical release on July 17, which is both wildly optimistic and perfectly reflective of the steely-eyed determinism of the man who made a movie about how love travels through black holes.
Your guess here is as good as anybody’s. For instance, Wonder Woman 1984 has had its release postponed to August, but who knows if it will actually come out in theaters then? Maybe theaters will open at partial capacity? Or maybe it’ll have a shortened distribution window, becoming available to rent a month or so later; or maybe it’ll get delayed again, and again, and again. As of this writing, there’s no way to know. The world will forever be divided by what happened before this and what happens after, and we’re all taking this journey together, one uncertain step at a time. All expectations of what we used to call normalcy are suspended until further notice.
Have a great summer!