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The 16 Must See Summer Movies of 2016

Every week of the year is home to at least one movie release, but for many people the ones they look forward to most are the sixteen (or so) weeks that make up the summer movie season.
By  · Published on April 26th, 2016

Every week of the year is home to at least one movie release, but for many people the ones they look forward to most are the sixteen (or so) weeks that make up the summer movie season. They’re the biggest as studios try to get eyeballs young and old to focus on an increasing number of sequels and hopeful franchise starters, and this summer is no different — the next four months feature 15 sequels, four remakes, and at least seven movies hoping to begin a series of their own.

There are 99 movies opening this summer (per Box Office Mojo) — keep reading for a look at our sixteen most-anticipated. Only six of them are sequels!

Captain America: Civil War

The first two Captain America films, The First Avenger, and The Winter Soldier, make up two-thirds of what I consider to be the best of the Marvel universe. The scripts are sharply-written, and the action is fantastic — thanks in part to him being far more grounded than other, CG-heavy heroes — but more than that both movies make room for real character depth and heart in Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) story. I’m hoping for more of the same from returning directors Anthony & Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, but I can’t help but be worried by the overflowing character roster as the sad disappointment of The Avengers: Age of Ultron is still fresh in my mind. I’m staying optimistic though because if anyone can beat the bloat, it’s Captain America.

Opens May 6 from Walt Disney Studios.

The Lobster

I’ve already seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ (Dogtooth) English-language debut, but I’m excited to immerse myself in its darkly-satirical genius again soon. The cast (including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly) is pitch-perfect in their balancing of the story’s humor, love, and pathos. It’s not a film for wide audiences, for reasons well beyond a certain dog-related scene, but it’s guaranteed to mesmerize and delight those of you who appreciate smart, human-focused sci-fi in the vein of James Morrow and Kurt Vonnegut.

Opens May 13 from A24.

The Nice Guys

If this were a ranked list, writer/director Shane Black’s third directorial effort in eleven years would easily find a home in the number one spot. His 2005 debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, is absolute perfection and offers a masterclass in action/comedies of the “bantering buddies” variety — no surprise as Black wrote Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and others. This new pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling looks to highlight both actors’ oft-ignored comedic skills in the same way Kiss did for Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon and then re-watching it shortly after that.

Opens May 20 from Warner Bros.

X-Men: Apocalypse

It’s become something of an unpopular opinion over the past couple of years, but I’m a fan of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sure it has issues common to too many comic book movies (too many characters) and others particular to this franchise (steamrolls its timeline), but it’s an immensely entertaining and fun adventure. Director Bryan Singer and writer Simon Kinberg return for this follow-up — that yes, appears to add even more characters and mess further with the timeline — and while it looks to be a somewhat more somber affair the promise of grand entertainment remains. If nothing else, you just know that Oscar Isaac is probably going to show off some sweet mutant dance moves.

Opens May 27 from 20th Century Fox.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

The latest from The Lonely Island collective of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone tackles the world of musician “documentaries” like Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Katy Perry: Part of Me, and Justin Bieber: Never Stay Never. There are probably a few more f-bombs and-and dangling male members here, but the odds are good there’s also going to be a lot more laughs. Taccone previously directed MacGruber while Schaffer helmed the much-maligned The Watch — I’m apparently that film’s sole fan — and Samberg has been continuing to prove himself weekly on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Add in a supporting cast that includes Imogen Poots, Will Arnett, Joan Cusack, Will Forte, Bill Hader, Sarah Silverman, and others, and it’s almost guaranteed to be one of the summer’s funnier films.

Opens June 3 from Universal Pictures.

The Conjuring 2

2013’s The Conjuring is the rare horror film to gross over $100 million — it passed $300 worldwide — but even better for those of us without a financial stake in the film it’s also a damn solid spookfest. The character work and performances are strong, and the scares are both plentiful and highly effective. I’m a bit more partial to director James Wan’s Insidious, but there’s an appeal to The Conjuring‘s old-fashioned feel. Wan returns for another adaptation of an Ed and Lorraine Warren case file — maybe in a few years this budding franchise will give us a new Amityville Horror? — and hopefully, he’s once again delivering some quality horror in a period setting.

Opens June 10 from New Line Cinema.

Swiss Army Man

You’ll know in the first ten minutes if this movie is for you — Paul Dano rides Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse like a jet-ski powered by the dead man’s flatulence — but if you can get onboard, you’re in for an incredibly creative and somewhat affecting experience. Both leads give it their all, and they deliver big laughs alongside the script’s wildly inventive set-pieces and story turns. It’s one of two films on this list that I’ve already seen, but like The Lobster, I’m excited to see it again and share it with like-minded friends.

Opens June 24 from A24.


The first of two kids movies to make the list, there are three behind-the-scenes names associated with The BFG that make it a must-see feature. Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair automatically earns a film a watch, and while they’re not always winners his last kid’s adventure, The Adventures of Tintin, was a terrifically entertaining ride. This is also the final script from Melissa Mathison, who passed away last year, and she long ago proved herself a master of capturing the wonders of childhood with The Black Stallion and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Finally, it’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl tale, and some of his others include Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. Spielberg, Mathison, Dahl… The BFG has our attention.

Opens July 1 from Walt Disney Studios.

The Purge: Election Year

The first two films have their share of strengths and weaknesses, but you have to give writer/director James DeMonaco credit for building an entertaining franchise out of a simple, high-concept idea. The Purge tacked the concept onto a home-invasion thriller, The Purge: Anarchy brought the action out into the streets, and now DeMonaco is pairing his “all crime is legal” setup with this riff on Olympus Has Fallen. That’s already enough to have me interested, but bringing the fantastic Frank Grillo back as the lead protagonist seals the deal. All that plus some trenchant commentary on the American election cycle?! I vote yes, please.

Opens July 1 from Universal Pictures.


Probably the lowest profile entry on this list, Paul Feig’s (Spy) latest is a remake of a little known supernatural comedy from the ’80s about four guys who save New York City from a walking marshmallow. This new incarnation looks to take place in the same world as the original but with four funny ladies — Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig — busting ghosts instead, and get this, they have a male secretary. What’s next, dogs and cats living together? None of this is a problem of course, and we’re hoping it’s as fun as the cast and crew’s involvement would suggest. And if not? The 1982 original still exists. (Too bad they never made a sequel, though.)

Opens July 15 from Sony Pictures.

Star Trek Beyond

The ongoing Star Trek reboot has given us two flawed but entertaining movies, and there’s no reason to suspect the third will be any different. Justin Lin replaces J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, but as the man behind four of the Fast & Furious films including the series’ two best, Fast Five and Furious 6, it’s probably a safe bet that Star Trek Beyond will feature some ridiculously fun action scenes. This is also star Simon Pegg’s first stab at co-writing one of these space adventures, but let’s just hope his contributions lean more towards The World’s End than Paul.

Opens July 22 from Paramount Pictures.

Jason Bourne

The Bourne trilogy is probably the most consistently excellent action film franchise going right now, and it accomplishes that through a mix of fantastically choreographed sequences and a lead character/performance imbued with humanity. The return of Paul Greengrass as the director is great news — his shaky camera never bothered me, and the man knows how to craft an action scene — and the only open question mark on the film is with the story. The Bourne Ultimatum ended on a perfect note, but hopefully this new script from Greengrass and editor (?) Christopher Rouse gives Bourne and viewers a reason to care once again. It was enough to lure Matt Damon back, so I don’t think we should worry.

Opens July 29 from Universal Pictures.

The Founder

A movie about the man behind McDonald’s doesn’t exactly scream “must watch,” but that’s the beauty of films that go beyond the typical public personas and personal challenges dished out by most biopics. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and writer Robert Siegel (Big Fan) have collaborated on this look at Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) with a focus on his efforts to wrest control of the small restaurant chain away from its owners. It’s a juicy role for Keaton — never a bad thing — and he’s joined by a stellar supporting cast including Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak, Nick Offerman, and Patrick Wilson. Now if only someone would bring the life and times of the Burger King to the big screen.

Opens August 5 from The Weinstein Company.

Suicide Squad

They’re bad guys (and gals) working for the good guys (and gals). What could go wrong? I have no familiarity with the comics, and I think that alligator dude is dumb, but I’ll follow director David Ayer (Street Kings) anywhere. He understands how to shoot action and give the scenes real impact, and even when the script is garbage (ahem, Sabotage) the action rattles your bones. Suicide Squad may end up being silly, but it looks to be a lot of fun with an incredibly game cast, and if they can keep Jared Leto’s screen time to a minimum it might just be one of the summer’s biggest surprises.

Opens August 5 from Warner Bros.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Pixar gets all of the attention when it comes to animation studios, but Laika deserves to be a big part of the conversation. They use CG for touch-up work and effects, but their preferred animation style is stop-motion, and the result has been a handful of beautiful films for children and adults alike. Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls all place young characters at the center of big adventures, and Laika’s latest looks to be their grandest yet. Their voice cast is equally strong with talented performers like Rooney Mara, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey bringing the characters to life.

Opens August 19 from Focus Features.

Don’t Breathe

I’m in the minority on this, but I prefer Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake over the original trilogy. Sam Raimi’s films are entertaining comedies, and Bruce Campbell is a fun slapstick lead, but come on you guys, that tone makes them lightweight horror films at best. The remake, by contrast, features legitimately intense and grotesque sequences that hit hard, and that’s enough of a reason for me to be excited about Alvarez’s sophomore effort. The lovely Jane Levy in a lead role is another reason. Reviews out of SXSW were mostly positive, and I’m hoping it breathes life into the idea that August horror releases can be scary, creepy, and great.

Opens August 26 from TriStar Pictures.

Honorable Mentions:

Our list of the most anticipated movies releasing over the next four months could probably have been a few titles longer, so here are a few others that have some of us excited and hopeful for the season. Two big question marks aiming for blockbuster status are Duncan Jones’ Warcraft (6/10) and the (probably) far too belated sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence (6/24) — neither film’s box-office is even remotely predictable at this point. By contrast, the little ones in your household are getting two guaranteed heavy hitters in the form of Pixar’s Finding Dory (6/17) and The Secret Life of Pets (7/8) from the folks behind Despicable Me, Minions, and other loud kids films.

History buffs should find contentment with Free State of Jones (6/24) and the excellent Indignation (7/29), horror fans should keep an eye out for Bite (5/6), The Darkness (5/13), The Shallows (6/24), and Lights Out (7/22), and action junkies will definitely want to make time for Kill Zone 2 (5/13). Finally, for those of you looking at the list and thinking, but what about a film that speaks to my peculiar tastes and interests — see High-Rise (5/13). It’s something special. Just like you.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.