Sequels, comic-book heroes and romantic comedies star in summer movie season

Summer 2011 will be more of a numbers game than usual.

The eighth and final "Harry Potter" movie will bring the fabled franchise to a close, having already grossed more than $2 billion since the boy wizard crawled out from under the stairs and into the world's heart.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" will set sail for a fourth time, while the wolf pack of "The Hangover" reunites and heads to Thailand, where Stu (Ed Helms) hangs onto his teeth but not his unblemished face.

"X-Men" turns back the clock for a prequel, and sequelitis will be rampant with "Kung Fu Panda" and "Cars" back for second helpings, "Transformers" in line for a third, "Spy Kids" for a fourth and "Final Destination" for a fifth.

Comic books will be king as four-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh tackles not Titus Andronicus or Hamlet but "Thor," Ryan Reynolds goes green in "Green Lantern" and Chris Evans becomes a super-soldier known as Captain America.

Summer vacation may still be weeks away, but summer movie season starts May 6 and it promises:

Wedding bells: Three wedding romcoms will march down the aisle. "Something Borrowed" and "Jumping the Broom" will slug it out May 6, while "Bridesmaids" will burst out of the cake May 13.

Magic date: The first or second Friday in August has become chick-flick time. It started with "Julie & Julia" Aug. 7, 2009, continued with "Eat Pray Love" Aug. 13, 2010, and this year will deliver a movie version of the book "The Help" Aug. 12.

Critter crazy: The spring brought elephants in the living room and the wild, plus big cats in two movies, but the summer will deliver talking animals and Kevin James in "Zookeeper" and peripatetic penguins with Jim Carrey in "Mr. Popper's Penguins." And let's not forget "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Keeping the streak alive: "Cars 2" seems like it cannot miss, but it faces the daunting task of keeping Pixar's unbroken streak of winners alive. This time, it will have the help of some new voices, including Michael Caine's.

Double duty: Justin Timberlake will star opposite Cameron Diaz in "Bad Teacher" and Mila Kunis in "Friends With Benefits." Colin Farrell will play one of the "Horrible Bosses" in the raunchy movie of the same name and turns up in a remake of 1985's "Fright Night."

Triple duty: Anton Yelchin plays Mel Gibson's character's son, a high-school senior who fears he will inherit his father's crippling depression, in "The Beaver," speaks for Clumsy Smurf in the big-screen version of the blues and is part of the "Fright Night" remake along with Farrell.

A year ago: Summer 2010 grossed a record $4.35 billion, thanks to such releases as "Toy Story 3," "Iron Man 2," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "Inception" and "Shrek Forever After," although tickets sold were down from the previous summer.

At this point in 2011, attendance is off 18 percent compared to 2010. We may never again see a summer like 2002, when blockbusters such as "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" helped to sell more than 653 million tickets.

Here's a look at what's ahead, but opening dates are subject to change, and vary from city to city.


"Thor": Thank heavens Natalie Portman is such a good actress, because she turns up (again!) in this movie about the powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Kenneth Branagh directs an ensemble that includes Chris Hemsworth, Stellan Skarsgard and Anthony Hopkins.

"Something Borrowed": Emily Giffin's novel of the same name inspired this romcom starring Ginnifer Goodwin as a perpetual good (and single) girl who unexpectedly ends up in the arms of her best friend's fiance -- a guy she's had a crush on since law school. Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield and John Krasinski co-star.

"Jumping the Broom": Things go awry when two very different African-American families meet for the first time at a weekend wedding on Martha's Vineyard. Paula Patton and Laz Alonso are the engaged couple, while Angela Bassett is an old-money mom and Loretta Devine the down-to-earth postal-worker parent.

"In a Better World": Anton is a doctor who toggles between his home in an idyllic town in Denmark and his work at an African refugee camp. In these very different worlds, he and his family are faced with conflicts and choices between revenge and forgiveness in this Oscar winner for Best Foreign-Language Film.

"Lebanon, Pa.": Bittersweet comic drama exploring the cultural divide in America through one extended family and starring Josh Hopkins, Rachel Kitson and Samantha Mathis.


"American: The Bill Hicks Story": Feature-length animated documentary about the comedian who started performing at 15, fell in with the Texas Outlaw Comics and developed an alcohol and drug problem, got clean and

skewered organized religion, the American media and government hypocrisies before dying of pancreatic cancer at 32.

MAY 13

"Bridesmaids": "Saturday Night Live" regular Kristen Wiig's character promises to be her best friend's maid of honor even though her life is unraveling in this comedy. Wiig co-wrote the screenplay with Annie Mumolo, and Maya Rudolph is the bride-to-be.

"Priest": Post-apocalyptic action thriller, set in a world ravaged by war between men and vampires, stars Paul Bettany as a legendary warrior priest. When his niece (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, he must find her before she's turned into one of them.

"POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold": "Super Size Me" filmmaker Morgan Spurlock explores the world of product placement, marketing and advertising in this entertaining, eye-opening documentary.

"Everything Must Go": A short story by Raymond Carver sparked this movie starring Will Ferrell as a salesman who is fired and, on the same day, discovers that his wife has left him, changed the locks on their home and dumped his possessions out on the front yard. He turns it all into a giant (and symbolic) yard sale.

"Winter in Wartime": Nazi-occupied Holland in 1945 provides the backdrop for this story about a 13-year-old boy drawn into the Resistance when he aids a wounded British paratrooper.

MAY 20

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides": Rob Marshall takes the directing wheel of this blockbuster franchise pairing Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow with an enigmatic woman (Penelope Cruz) who might be using him to find the fountain of youth. In an inspired bit of casting, Ian McShane plays Blackbeard the pirate.

"The First Beautiful Thing": Italian comedic drama, known by its original title of "La Prima Cosa Bella," about a strong and optimistic mother who teaches her family to remain open and loving despite grief and pain.

"Beautiful Darling": The story of transgender pioneer Candy Darling, a star in the constellation that was Andy Warhol's Factory. New and vintage interviews and footage along with diary and letter excerpts tell the story of the Long Island native born James Slattery but transformed into a blonde from Hollywood's golden age.

MAY 21

"Queen of the Sun": Subtitled "What are the bees telling us?," this investigation examines colony-collapse disorder in which honeybees vanish from their hives, never to return. It focuses on beekeepers, philosophers and scientists whose voices haven't been heard in other films.

MAY 26

"Kung Fu Panda 2": Jack Black returns as the voice of Po, no longer the klutzy panda who works in his family's noodle shop. He is now living his dream as the dragon warrior, but a formidable villain emerges and threatens his awesome existence.

"The Hangover Part II": Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to exotic Thailand for Stu's wedding.

MAY 27

"The Beaver": Jodie Foster directs and co-stars, with Mel Gibson, in the story of a man plagued by demons. Once a successful toy executive and family man, he now suffers from depression and cannot get back on track until a beaver hand puppet enters his life.

"Bill Cunningham New York": Audience favorite from festivals about a New York Times photographer who is obsessively interested in only one thing -- the pictures he takes that document the way people dress.

"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives": 2010 Cannes Film Festival winner, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, tracing the dreamlike final days of a man dying of kidney failure as the ghost of his dead wife returns to tend him and his long-lost son comes home in the form of a furry jungle spirit.

"The Tree of Life": Terrence Malick's impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn star.


"X-Men: First Class": Director Matthew Vaughn spins the clock back to the beginning of the X-Men and explores a secret history of the Cold War and the world on the brink of Armageddon with the help of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Platt and Kevin Bacon.

"Beginners": Story of an adult son, newly in love with an irreverent woman and flush with memories of his father who came out of the closet at age 75 after his wife of 45 years died. Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer star.

"Submarine": A 15-year-old boy has two big ambitions -- to save his parents' marriage via carefully plotted intervention and to lose his virginity before his next birthday in this coming-of-age story based on Joe Dunthorne's novel.


"Super 8": A sci-fi story, set in the summer of 1979 when a group of friends in a small Ohio town witnesses a catastrophic train crash while making a Super 8 movie. They soon suspect it was

not an accident.

"Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer": When her best-laid plans for a summer full of fun go comically awry, an imaginative third-grader creates her own vacation adventures in this movie based on the books by Megan McDonald.

"Incendies": This Denis Villeneuve film, about twins who learn after their mother's death that they have a brother and that their father is not dead, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film.


"Green Lantern": The fabled DC Comics characters come to life, with Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a gifted and cocky test pilot who could become the greatest member of the Green Lantern Corps, protectors of peace and justice, of all. Cast also counts Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins.

"Mr. Popper's Penguins": When Thomas Popper receives a mysterious crate from Antarctica, it marks the end of his well-ordered existence as a New York real-estate mogul and his new life as caretaker and parent figure to six penguins in this family comedy starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino and Angela Lansbury.

"The Art of Getting By": Freddie Highmore is a lonely, fatalistic teen who's made it to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, and Emma Roberts plays a complicated girl who befriends him and recognizes in him a kindred spirit.


"Cars 2": When race car Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas for the first World Grand Prix, Mater is detoured by international espionage. Michael Caine speaks for Finn McMissile, a master British super-spy, while Emily Mortimer is Holley Shiftwell, a spy in training, in this sequel to the 2006 original.

"Bad Teacher": Cameron Diaz is a foulmouthed, ruthless and inappropriate teacher who is dumped by her fiance and sets her sights on a rich, handsome substitute (Justin Timberlake). She finds herself competing for his affections with an overly energetic colleague, Amy (Lucy Punch).


"Larry Crowne": Tom Hanks plays the title character, the affable superstar team leader at a big-box store who loses his job and heads to a local college to start over. That's where he meets a teacher (Julia Roberts) who has lost passion for her profession and her husband in this dramatic comedy.

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon": When a mysterious event from Earth's past erupts into the present day, it threatens to bring a war so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. Shia LaBeouf returns, and Frances McDormand turns up, too.

"Monte Carlo": Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy are friends who land in a fairy-tale European vacation thanks to a case of mistaken identity involving a socialite.

"Vincent Wants to Sea": German comedy about a young man with Tourette's syndrome who loses his mother and is sent to a rehab clinic by his politician father. He and a couple of fellow residents embark on a road trip to the Mediterranean Sea.


"Zookeeper": Animals at the Franklin Park Zoo break their time-honored code of silence and reveal they can talk when their kindhearted caretaker (Kevin James) contemplates leaving in the search for romance. They decide to teach him the rules of courtship in this comedy with the voices of Cher, Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler and Sylvester Stallone.

"Horrible Bosses": Strangers on a train? What about beleaguered employees plotting to get rid of their intolerable bosses? The underlings are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, while their odious overlords are Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston, and Jamie Foxx turns up as a hustling ex-con.

"One Day": Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are a principled, ambitious working-class young woman and a wealthy charmer who meet on July 15, 1988, the night of their college graduation. For the next two decades, every July 15 reveals how they are faring as their friendship ebbs and flows in this adaptation of the David Nicholls novel.


"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2": In the franchise finale, the battle between the good and evil forces of the wizarding world escalates into all-out war. For the first time, Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort will be shown in 3-D in select theaters.

"Winnie the Pooh": Jim Cummings leads the voice cast in this Disney return to the Hundred Acre Wood. Owl sends the gang on a wild quest to save Christopher Robin from an imaginary culprit in this hand-drawn feature inspired by A.A. Milne stories.


"Captain America: The First Avenger": More Marvel characters, as Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into a super-soldier known as Captain America. He joins Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to wage war on Hydra, a subversive organization dedicated to global domination.

"Friends With Benefits": This is the second 2011 movie about friends hooking up and realizing it complicates everything. This one

stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis while the first, "No Strings Attached," featured Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.

"Sarah's Key": Kristin Scott Thomas stars in an adaptation of the Tatiana de Rosnay best-selling novel of the same name. It's a fictionalized account of the roundup of Jewish families in Paris that sentenced thousands to their deaths.

"Another Earth": On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes and the lives of strangers -- a young woman accepted into MIT's astrophysics program and a brilliant composer -- become irrevocably intertwined.


"Cowboys & Aliens": Jon Favreau directs Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in a cross between the classic Western and alien-invasion movie that is set in 1875 in the New Mexico Territory.

"Crazy Stupid Love": Premise sounds sad, but the preview is funny. Steve Carell demands a divorce after learning his wife (Julianne Moore) cheated on him, but he doesn't love the single life, even after a handsome playboy (Ryan Gosling) takes him under his wing.

"The Smurfs": In this blend of live action and animation, the evil wizard Gargamel chases the Smurfs out of their village, through a portal and into our world. They land in New York's Central Park and must find a way to get back home in this 3-D comedy.

"The Devil's Double": Dominic Cooper stars in an adaptation of Latif Yahia's autobiographical novel, set in 1987 Baghdad, about an army lieutenant summoned from the front line to be Iraq's notorious Black Prince Uday Hussein's body double.

AUG. 5

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes": Modern-day San Francisco provides the backdrop for epic battles involving man and primate in this movie starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo and, as the principal ape character, Andy Serkis.

"The Change-Up": Body-switching comedy starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as once-inseparable friends who wake up in the other's body. Before the change-up, Bateman is an overworked lawyer, husband and father of three while Reynolds is a single, quasi-employed man-child.

"Dirty Girl": Danielle is the "dirty girl of Norman High" in 1987 Oklahoma, but when she gets banished to special ed, she meets a shy, friendless, closeted gay boy. California, here they come, with the mismatched misfits played by Juno Temple and Jeremy Dozier.

AUG. 12

"The Help": The adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel stars Emma Stone as an aspiring writer who turns her friends' lives and her small Mississippi town upside down in 1963 when she decides to interview black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent Southern families. Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer co-star.

"30 Minutes or Less": Action comedy featuring Jesse Eisenberg as a small-town pizza-delivery guy who is kidnapped by wanna-be criminal masterminds (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) and forced to rob a bank.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark": Reboot of the 1973 film of the same name, this time in the haunted hands of writer Guillermo Del Toro and director Troy Nixey. A young girl who moves to Rhode Island to live with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in the 19th-century mansion they are restoring starts to hear malevolent voices in this horror film.

AUG. 19

"Fright Night": Remake of the 1985 comedy-horror flick, this time starring Colin Farrell as the neighbor a high-school senior (Anton Yelchin) suspects is a vampire.

"Conan the Barbarian": Robert E. Howard's pulp-novel warrior, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980s, gets a new star in Jason Momoa, a relaunch and 3-D, to boot.

"Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World": Jessica Alba is a retired secret agent turned wife and mother who is called back into action when the maniacal Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven) threatens to take over the planet in this Robert Rodriguez sequel returning spy kids Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara to the franchise.

AUG. 26

"Final Destination 5": Yeah, yeah. You can run but you can't hide from death.

"Our Idiot Brother": Paul Rudd steps into the title role of Ned, an erstwhile organic farmer who relies on the honesty of mankind. When his girlfriend dumps him and boots him off their farm, his sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel) come to his rescue.

AUG. 31

"The Debt": John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") directs this espionage thriller starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds and trafficking in issues of life, death and a nation's honor.


"Shark Night 3-D": A sexy summer weekend for college students turns into a bloody nightmare when they realize they're marooned near a lake stocked with flesh-eating sharks.

ALSO ...

"I Am Comic": Jordan Brady calls on his fellow comedians to pull the curtain back on stage routines, hecklers, trends and how jokes are structured in this documentary. (June)

"Harvest": A beautiful shoreline town provides the backdrop for three generations drawn together by the family patriarch, played

by Robert Loggia. (June)

"Queen to Play": Kevin Kline, in his first French-speaking role, and Sandrine Bonnaire star in a feel-good comedy set on Corsica. (June)

"Midnight in Paris": New Woody Allen movie, starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Marion Cotillard. Characters move through the whole of Paris, from Montmartre to the banks of the Seine, with some key places such as the Rodin Museum and the Musee de l'Orangerie, Variety reports. (June)

"The Tree": Mystical drama of loss and rebirth in the Australian countryside, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a widow with four young children. Her 8-year-old becomes convinced her late father is whispering to her through the leaves of a gargantuan fig tree that towers over their house. (July)

"Small Town Murder Songs": Modern gothic tale of crime and redemption about an unidentified female crime victim and the aging small-town police officer (Peter Stormare) whose life starts to unravel as he tries to solve her murder. (July)

"Road to Nowhere": Monte Hellman's first feature film in 21 years is, according to Variety, "one of his finest and deepest, a twin peak to his 1971 masterpiece, 'Two-Lane Blacktop.' " A filmmaker is drawn into a web of intrigue as he straddles art and truth. (July)

"Hesher": Indie drama, about a heavy-metal drifter who befriends a grieving boy, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, who also served as producer.

(Email Barbara Vancheri at bvancheri(at)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,