Looking beyond the summer blockbusters

Summer’s starting early this year. In Hollywood, at least, summer begins with the release of the first big blockbuster hopeful. Thor, due May 6, will be followed by countless other “event” movies, big-budget action flicks and a record number of sequels.

The summer box office will no doubt be dominated by the likes of the eighth and final Harry Potter, the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean and a whole lot of superheroes, mutants, cowboys and aliens.

But this summer could still deliver a few hidden gems, as long as they don’t get overshadowed by the rehashed plots and epic stunts of the summer blockbusters.

Here are a few of the movies to look forward to.

The Tree of Life, May 27

This new film from writer/director Terrence Malick is by far the most mysterious of the summer. The trailer explains  almost nothing about the actual plot of the film, and the only word so far is it revolves around a boy (the adult version of whom is played by Sean Penn) coming of age, caught between his parents. His mother (Jessica Chastain) represents a path of grace and love, while his father (Brad Pitt) stands for survival, power and nature.

The trailer offers fantastical images of revolving planets in a womb-like sky, an underwater bedroom and arctic landscapes. And, as the visual effects supervisor confirmed to the New York Post, there will also be dinosaurs.

Malick has only made two films in the last 20 years: the critically acclaimed The Thin Red Line and The New World. But his films are often considered high-minded artistic masterpieces.

It definitely isn’t your typical summer blockbuster, but the utter mystery surrounding The Tree of Life makes it a must-see.

Super 8, June 10

Okay, so this is in fact one of the summer’s big blockbusters, but with J.J. Abrams at the helm, we can still hope it will be an original film, full of intrigue and well-developed characters, either of which would elevate it above most of its competition.

Written by Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, Super 8 follows a group of kids who witness a train carrying mysterious cargo from Area 51 derail while they are filming a Super 8 video.

Abrams was inspired by his own childhood filmmaking endeavors and the monster films he grew up with.

Set in 1979, the movie is said to evoke the vibe of early Spielberg classics. With Abrams’ sense of pop culture nostalgia and the uncanny knack for character-driven sci-fi drama he honed in Lost, Super 8 could be the best popcorn flick of the summer.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, June 24

This documentary follows the late night talk show host on his cross-country comedy tour, which he embarked on after parting ways with NBC last year. Though most of us followed the drama, the film succinctly recaps O’Brien’s much-publicized falling-out with the network after he briefly replaced Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show.

But mostly, the movie is a celebration of the comedian and a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at Conan’s “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour.

The documentary, which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival last month, is earning rave reviews, and critics say O’Brien is even funnier offstage than he is on.

But anyone who saw his utterly sincere and moving farewell speech on The Tonight Show knows that Conan’s serious side is worth our time, too. His genuine anger toward NBC comes out in the documentary, but the compassion we feel for him in his time of crisis will only make us appreciate his resilient sense of humor even more.

Crazy, Stupid, Love, July 29

Ryan Gosling is one of the most talented and versatile actors of his generation. He’s played a romantic lead in mainstream and gritty indie movies, a drug addict and a delusional man-child, and he’s about to prove his comedy chops in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

We’ll have to see if he can hold his own against co-star and producer Steve Carell, in his first post-The Office role, but odds are Gosling will impress once again.

He plays the womanizing young mentor to Carell’s cuckolded and newly divorced dad, who is suddenly thrust into the dating world. These two talented actors, with support from Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, are sure to turn Crazy, Stupid, Love into much more than just your average romantic dramedy or buddy film.


These are just a few of the films that might stand out from the pack of sequels and superheroes moviegoers will be seeing this summer. Whether or not these are the ones on your list, try to give the smaller movies a chance.

If you look out for originality and heart, not just the loudest advertisements and biggest budgets, it could be a really good summer for movies.


Cara Dickason is a senior majoring in English and cinema-critical studies. Her column, “Cine File,” ran Tuesdays.