Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman and the battleship from the 1960s board game are the summer's most prominent movie characters.
Summer 2012, like all summers, will be filled with popcorn movies. But it also will offer stories for grown-ups and on occasion even food for thought.
The maturity starts with Christian Bale in "The Dark Knight Rises," final film in director Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy and the year's most anticipated movie.
Nolan's "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" set the standard for all modern blockbusters via superior acting, production design, music and special effects. Boy or not, teenager or not, any movie fan can be a fan of Nolan's films.
"Dark Knight Rises" helps bridge the gap from blockbusters to the quieter, boomer-friendly films of summer. These films are directed by Woody Allen or star Meryl Streep or Judi Dench, or feature a nearly 50-year-old Tom Cruise as a bare-chested rock star.
Distributors are not just grasping for counterprogramming. Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada"; "Mamma Mia!") and Allen ("Midnight in Paris") are proven summer draws.
Here is a select list of 2012 summer movies, divided into 10 "blockbusters" and 10 "others." Films in the "others" category share a few traits: a) minimal effects budgets; and b) few to no souvenir-cup or lunchbox tie-ins.
(Dates are subject to change)
"The Avengers": A comic-book fan's dream, this film brings together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, going where Eric Bana and Edward Norton unsuccessfully went before), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow (a catsuit-wearing Scarlett Johansson) to save the Earth. Joss Whedon ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"), a deity to message-board frequenters, directs. Opens Friday
"Battleship": The trailer brags that this film comes from Hasbro, the toy company behind "Transformers," before showing a Transformer-like creature emerging from the sea. "Friday Night Lights" veteran Taylor ("John Carter"was-not-his-fault) Kitsch leads the cast. Pop diva Rihanna plays a Navy gunner, which really strains this film's credibility. Oh wait it's a movie based on a board game, with metallic sea aliens. May 18
"Men in Black 3": Former summer-movie stalwart Will Smith makes his first big-screen appearance since 2008. Judging by his prominent mug on the movie's poster, he still makes the suit and shades look good. Smith returns as alien-fighting Agent J, who goes back in time to find Agent K (Josh Brolin plays Tommy Lee Jones' character as a younger man). May 25
"Snow White and the Huntsman": Julia Roberts went for camp in "Mirror Mirror," and Lana Parrilla's fierceness on ABC's "Once and Again" sometimes gets diminished by her over-the-top costuming. But Charlize Theron appears to be all evil, soul-sucking business in "Huntsman." She looks as if she could crush Kristin Stewart's Snow White with a pointed look, despite Snow's feminist-revisionist armor and sword. June 1
"Prometheus": It was supposed to be a sequel to "Alien," then it wasn't. Regardless, Ridley Scott's return to his sci-fi roots looks highly promising, or rather, scary and ominous. Theron, Noomi Rapace (from the Swedish version of "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba lead an international cast playing space explorers who should be less curious. June 8
"Brave": Pixar and Disney tap the current fairy-tale craze with the story of a flame-haired Scottish princess skilled with a bow and arrow. Kelly Macdonald ("Boardwalk Empire") voices the lead character, and Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Robbie Coltrane also lend their voices. That's a lot of burr. June 22
"The Amazing Spider-Man": Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network") suits up as Spidey, with Emma Stone as Gwen, Peter Parker's primary love interest here. A reboot of the Tobey Maguire "Spider-Man" films seems premature. But the leads are likable, and Marc Webb, whose best-known movie is "(500) Days of Summer," an unlikely, interesting choice as director. July 3
"The Dark Knight Rises": It will be interesting to see Anne Hathaway's approach to Catwoman, and what Tom Hardy does with his heavy-breathing, mask-wearing villain Bane. It also will be exciting to see what wonders Nolan has created with his Imax cameras (he reportedly shot more than an hour's worth of footage). Mostly, though, you wish Nolan's "Batman" series would not end here. July 20
"The Bourne Legacy": Matt Damon's Jason Bourne is out of the picture. Jeremy Renner plays a different CIA agent. Renner ("The Hurt Locker"), like Damon, always gives good performances. Director Tony Gilroy wrote the previous "Bourne" movies and directed "Michael Clayton." So those are pretty good credentials, if any credentials can be believed in the "Bourne" world. Aug. 3
"Total Recall": Colin Farrell fills the Arnold Schwarzenegger role as a guy who wants a virtual mini-break but gets a hassle instead. "Underworld" filmmaker Len Wiseman directed, and "Underworld" leading lady and Wiseman's wife, Kate Beckinsale, co-stars. This means acting might be sacrificed at times for more blue lighting. Aug. 3
"Dark Shadows": Johnny Depp plays weirdos. It is as much a fact about him as his name, birthplace or the shabby clothes he wears to premieres. Another fact: It's more fun to see Depp play a weirdo in a goofy setting. This Tim Burton film provides one, by releasing centuries-old vampire Barnabas Collins (seductively played in the old, serious "Dark Shadows" series by Jonathan Frid, who died last week) from his crypt and into swinging 1972. Collins returns to his Maine estate, where his Collins relatives, including Michelle Pfeiffer, now live. Fish-out-of-water hijinks hopefully ensue. May 11
"The Dictator": Sacha Baron Cohen immerses himself in character and potential offensiveness again, this time in a scripted movie. Baron Cohen plays a trigger- and insult-happy Middle Eastern despot visiting America. Respected actors Ben Kingsley and John C. Reilly also appear in "The Dictator," if that means anything. May 11
"Moonrise Kingdom": Director Wes Anderson ("The Royal Tenenbaums") brings his retro sensibility and wide, static shots to a New England summer camp in 1965. A bespectacled 12-year-old boy and his dream girl run away together. The boy's mother (Frances McDormand) worries, his dad (Anderson favorite Bill Murray) mostly shrugs. Other characters, one anticipates, will react with Anderson's signature blend of absurdity and ache. June 15
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel": A group of English retirees is sold a bill of goods about an Indian hotel for seniors. They arrive in India to (gasp!) crowded streets and less-than-stellar accommodations. The premise is predictable. But the cast brims with great actors, including Bill Nighy ("Notes on a Scandal"), Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. Judging by the trailer, though, it's Judi Dench's movie. She glows as a woman coming in to her own in this exotic locale. (Another cliché, but who cares?) May 11
"Rock of Ages": Tom Cruise does his own singing and leather-pantsed strutting as an Axl Rose-like rocker in this adaptation of the Broadway musical. Set in big-haired 1987, it also stars "Dancing With the Stars" performer Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the music of Pat Benatar, Whitesnake and Poison. June 15
"Magic Mike": Drawn from actor Channing Tatum's experiences as a stripper, this movie stars Tatum, Alex Pettyfer ("I Am Number Four"), Matt Bomer ("White Collar') and Joe Manganiello ("True Blood") as the peelers. Matthew McConaughey, in a brilliant, well-oiled bit of casting, plays the strip club's former owner and unofficial dean of the dancers. Director Steven Soderbergh makes films like "Traffic," "Erin Brockovich" and "Contagion" but also movies like this and "Haywire," which starred cage fighter Gina Carano. Soderberg is an examiner, a populist and just plain interesting. But who will see "Magic Mike"? It's hard to imagine men willingly accompanying their girlfriends and wives to this skin-fest. June 29
"People Like Us": Chris Pine ("Star Trek") plays the son of a recently departed man. Heavily in debt, the son could use an inheritance, but his father left money instead to an adult daughter (Elizabeth Banks) Pine's character never knew about. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Pine's mother (yes, she is old enough), but the focus is on the half-siblings' relationship. The premise intrigues, and Pine and Banks are likable actors who don't usually star in studio comedy/dramas like this one. Come to think of it, there aren't studio films like this. June 29
"To Rome With Love": Woody Allen continues his cinematic tour of Europe. Advance details on Allen movies always are scarce, but Allen veterans Penélope Cruz and Judy Davis have roles, as does Alec Baldwin. Ellen Page ("Juno") and Sacramento native Greta Gerwig also appear. July
"Hope Springs": Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a married couple who travel to a retreat hosted by a renowned relationship therapist (Steve Carell). Just seeing Streep and Jones as a couple is worth $10.50. Aug. 10.
"Sparkle": Singer Jordin Sparks plays one of three sisters who form a Motown-era girl group. This period-true remake of the 1976 film of the same name also marks Whitney Houston's final film appearance. She plays the young women's mother, who had her own musical aspirations. Aug. 17
FOR THE KIDS
And here we thought comic-book films were sequel-happy. "Ice Age: Continental Drift" (July 13) continues the adventures of acorn-pursuing squirrel-rat Scrat, woolly mammoth Manny and sloth Sid. ... Animals also are on the run in "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," right, in which the New York City zoo animals pose as performers in a traveling European circus. ... The live-action "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (Aug. 3), follows Greg from the "Wimpy" book series on his summer break. ... "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (Aug. 15) stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as a couple with fertility issues who imagine their perfect child. Then he shows up on their doorstep.