15 Movies to Watch Before the 2015 Summer Movie Season

By  · Published on April 23rd, 2015

Warner Bros.

Are you ready for summer? You probably have some time left before you need to buy that new bathing suit, and if you’re in school you’ve got a little while longer before vacation begins. But if you’re into movies, then you’re nearing the last minute to get prepared for the season and the blockbusters it’s bringing to theaters. As usual, a lot of this summer’s crop consists of sequels and remakes, which means you may want to catch up with or re-watch the previous installments or original property.

The list of titles below will no doubt seem obvious if you’re just taking a glance at what I’ve selected as essential viewing. Well, of course. Little-seen obscurities don’t get sequels and don’t normally get remade as huge tentpoles. The titles are not the point. It’s the why, not the what. Think of this as more a guide to the 2015 summer movie season by way of the past, by what old movies made these new movies possible. Someone once said that we need to look at the past to see the future. He may have been referring to the unoriginality of summer blockbusters.

To ease your sense of urgency or panic, you do have more than a week to get through this list, though you should keep in mind that the summer will be so busy that after May 1st, there may not be a lot of time. I’ve included the release dates for each respective new movie as your deadlines.

The Avengers (2012)

There are the diehard MCU fans who’ve seen or will see everything in the franchise leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron. And I guarantee you there are also a lot of moviegoers who haven’t seen a Marvel movie since seeing this first crossover installment. It’s almost impossible to quantify how many people have watched The Avengers versus how many people have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier and each of the other related features, shorts and series. I’m certain the numbers are remarkably different, though. Age of Ultron will surely reference things that happen in other installments, but it will mostly play to the mainstream audience as a follow-up to The Avengers. So, if you still haven’t seen any MCU entries at all and want to see Age of Ultron opening night, this alone is the most necessary to see beforehand. Due Date: 5/1

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1982)

Anyone looking forward to George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise this summer with Mad Max: Fury Road is doing so primarily with and because of fond recollection of this second installment. The first Mad Max, released in 1979, is beloved by many, but even some of its biggest fans will recommend The Road Warrior as the movie to start with. And some Road Warrior devotees will tell you not to bother with either of the other two, especially 1985’s much-hated Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. With its extensive, action-packd multi-vehicle chase sequence occupying a good percentage of the movie, Fury Road also looks most like The Road Warrior, to which it will most be compared. Due Date: 5/15

Pitch Perfect (2012)

The first sequel of the season that let’s even the most ignorant moviegoer know it’s a sequel, the numerically titled Pitch Perfect 2 may also be the one most easily watched and enjoyed completely without a lot of familiarity with the original. Like this first Pitch Perfect, it’s sure to be so charming that it’ll woo you immediately at any point. As was the case for many discovering the original on cable, you probably don’t even need to start watching part 2 from the beginning. Still, just like The Avengers, you should see Pitch Perfect to see how the team came together and developed their winning chemistry. Due Date: 5/15

Poltergeist (1982)

I don’t normally say a movie is too sacred for a remake, but this haunted house flick by Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg is at least something I believe can’t be improved upon. And it doesn’t seem like the new version, helmed by Gil Kenan (director of the animated haunted house flick Monster House), is trying to make something better. It just looks the same, save for it now being 33 years later and for some computer effects in place of the brilliant practical work of the original. Feel free to be redundant and see the remake, too, but not without seeing this classic first. Due Date: 5/22

Insidious (2010)

FilmDistrict

Technically, Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel and therefore shouldn’t require a viewing of the first or second movies. But prequels aren’t really like newly inserted prologues or forwards to the story. They’re almost always more like flashbacks and are best appreciated with familiarity of what takes place afterward. It is considered the third chapter, going by the title, after all. Due Date: 6/5

Jurassic Park (1993)

The latest Jurassic Park sequel, Jurassic World, isn’t dismissive of the previous two sequels, but it’s going to be more directly linked to the first movie. The island is the same, so there will be little allusions to things like the East Dock sign tweeted by director Colin Trevorrow last September. You’ll be able to pick up on more of those Easter eggs if you revisit (or finally see) Spielberg’s initial adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel. You may want to see The Lost World: Jurassic Park, too, as it will be good for relativity when you’re thinking this latest effort might be the worst installment yet. Due Date: 6/12

Ted (2012)

The trailers for Ted 2 aren’t doing a very good job assuring us that the sequel will be funny, but the original initially seemed kind of stupid, too. Go back and watch Seth MacFarlane’s feature directorial debut and enjoy the chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and a talking bear (voiced by MacFarlane) as well as the cameo from Sam Jones. Or, if neither of those things work for you, because you’re not a 35 to 45 year old with an appreciation for immature humor, consider that a reason to avoid the sequel. But give it a shot, at least. Due Date: 6/26

Magic Mike (2012)

Have you noticed yet how many movies from 2012 are on this list? It seems three years is all you need to deliver a sequel to anything from a giant superhero team-up movie to a little male stripper team-up film. Rather than lament the fact that Matthew McConaughey isn’t going to appear in Magic Mike XXL, go watch him and his short shorts and cut-off t-shirt in Steven Soderbergh’s movie starring and based on the pre-fame life of Channing Tatum. Due Date: 7/1

The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator Genisys looks like it could be very, very, very confusing to anyone unfamiliar with the rest of the Terminator franchise. Above all, it’s the sequel that appears to require the most knowledge of its predecessors. In order to totally retcon the hell out of their plots. From the trailer, it looks like a lot of that retconning involves things that happen in the first movie. But there are also links to T2 in that there’s a new T-1000. I also suspect, without giving away my potentially spoilery theory, that one of the characters we haven’t really seen yet in marketing for Genisys has a significant connection to the second installment. I want references to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, as well, but so far I’m not seeing any. Due Date: 7/1

The Act of Killing (2012)

I don’t want to imply that I think Joshua Oppenheimer’s new documentary, The Look of Silence, a follow-up of sorts to this Oscar-nominated film, is a “summer blockbuster,” but it is a movie releasing this summer and it is a very big deal. We’ve already seen it (read Scott’s A+ review calling it “maybe the most important film of the year”) and can recommend it as one of the most essential titles coming out in the next few months. Firstly, though, you must see The Act of Killing, even if it might ruin your enjoyment of all the action and death to be found in actual summer blockbusters. Due Date: 7/17

Pixels (2010)

This awesome little short by Patrick Jean went viral before it was picked up for a feature-length redo led by Adam Sandler and directed by Chris Columbus. I suspect there’s very little about the original that makes its way to the new movie, aside from its basic premise, and therefore it’s not necessary to see beforehand. But I can’t resist yet another reason to share the short. It’ll likely be worth watching a number of times throughout the next few months, maybe instead of ever bothering with the awful-looking remake. Due Date: 7/24

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

I may be alone in this, but since the Mission: Impossible movies began with Brian DePalma’s 1996 effort, I’ve found each installment to be better than what came before it. Yes, even with the first two, only because I really disliked that original franchise starter. Given that opinion coupled with the fact that these movies have never been too concerned with a continual big-picture narrative, there’s rarely a need to have seen the previous episodes to enjoy the latest. I’m having a hard time believing that this summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation could possibly be better, or at least more enjoyable, than Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol. Also, it could potentially be the first one where you need to be familiar with the last sequel. I don’t know yet. To be safe and well-entertained, I recommend seeing this one. Due Date: 7/31

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

The Vacation movies have also been more episodic and not closely linked as an ongoing series as some other comedy franchises. The casting of the children hasn’t even been consistent once. The latest, though, is very much tied into a previous installment. That sixth part is simply titled Vacation and is closely associated with this original, also titled Vacation if you leave off the National Lampoon credit, almost to the point of being a next-generational (in terms of the characters and the audience) remake. If for some reason you don’t know about Walley World, take the holiday road to a copy of the epitome of family road trip comedies. Due Date: 7/31

Sinister (2012)

Like many horror movies, this one is receiving a sequel that doesn’t feature the main actors of the original. But Sinister 2 is indeed a continuation of the events of Scott Derrickson’s creepy play on the found-footage genre, and you’re best off seeing the first movie in order to meet the two returning characters, Detective So & So (James Ransone) and the boogeyman baddie, Bughuul (Nicholas King). I bet there will be plenty of references to Ethan Hawke’s character and his family from this movie, too. Due Date: 8/21

As for the handful of other remakes and sequels opening this summer, none of their original or precursor kin are essential. Minions appears to be enough of a prequel and spinoff that it doesn’t require familiarity with the two Despicable Me features nor the Minions-based shorts already spawned from them. And the previous versions of Fantastic Four and Hitman are best forgotten, at least in relation to their respective reboots. For Straight Outta Compton, I could recommend the VH1 documentary N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group, but Ice Cube has promised the new biopic goes into “the nooks and crannies, I think deeper than any other article or documentary on the group.” There’s also the new adaptation of “Far from the Madding Crowd,” but you don’t have to see previous versions before watching the latest, which is apparently decent.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.