1 of 30
The Avengers (May 4)
The Avengers begins with Thor's villainous exiled brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), attacking Earth, which impels some of the world's strongest — and most dysfunctional — heroes to band together to defend the planet. Writer-director Joss Whedon sees the characters as a team of unstable loners, and has turned to an unlikely film for inspiration. ''Think of this as the Taxi Driver of superhero-team movies,'' he says.
Rest assured we won't see gruesome vigilante justice from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, pictured left), Captain America (Chris Evans, right), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and team leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). The Taxi Driver parallel for Whedon comes from heroes who are so cripplingly lonely that they're both desperate to join a team and too neurotic to be part of any superhero club that wants them as members. ''The conflicts between them are going to define them, and the way they resolve them is — in the grand American tradition — through violence,'' says Whedon with a laugh. Before they decide they're on the same side, for example, Iron Man and Captain America gang up on Thor in a major brawl familiar to anyone who grew up with hostile brothers. —Anthony Breznican
2 of 30
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (May 4)
A ragtag group of British seniors — played by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith (pictured), Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson, to name a few — retires to a shabby Indian hotel run by an ambitious entrepreneur (Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel). ''The story is funny, but it also deals with some realities of being old,'' says director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Like their characters, the cast lived together during the entire nine-week shoot in India's Rajasthan state. ''I'd go to the hotel gym and pass Judi and Maggie holding hands on their way to the spa,'' recalls Patel. Just like any pair of dames. —Adam Markovitz
3 of 30
Dark Shadows (May 11)
Vampires tend to be suave, sophisticated predators. But in Dark Shadows, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp, pictured) is awkward and far outside his comfort zone when he wakes up in the year 1972 after being entombed for two centuries. He meets his gaudy descendants (among them Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, and Chloë Grace Moretz, plus Helena Bonham Carter as the clan's shrink) and is compelled to protect them from the evil witch (Eva Green) who cursed him as a bloodsucker centuries ago. She doesn't frighten him, but miniskirts and TVs do.
Director Tim Burton's comedic thriller is based on the 1966?71 gothic soap opera, which retains a fervent fan base in part because of cheesy production values that added unintentional comic relief. Nonetheless, some fans were shocked, shocked to learn that Burton wouldn't treat the source material with gloomy earnestness. ''It's got 'gloomy earnestness' as well,'' says Burton with a laugh. ''But I wanted to capture the feeling of watching the show. It was very serious, but at the same time, my memory of it has humor.'' The jokes, promises screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, are made with affection: ''Few people on this earth love the original series more than Tim and Johnny, but also they wanted to have fun with it and invite new people into this world.'' —Anthony Breznican
4 of 30
The Dictator (May 16)
Sacha Baron Cohen has a new character designed to make sexytime with our notions of political correctness. Just ask Ryan Seacrest, who had a tux-soiling run-in at the Oscars with the comic's Gaddafi-like North African strongman, General Admiral Aladeen. Trading the unscripted, Candid Camera-style format of Borat and Brüno for a more traditional screenplay, The Dictator stars Baron Cohen as a tyrant who's stripped of his power and wealth (as well as his prodigious beard) and set adrift in New York City. With revolutionary protests continuing to rock the Arab world, the movie is bound to push some buttons with its gags about oppression, terrorism, and anti-Semitism. ''What we've got going for us is it will be universally offensive,'' says Anna Faris, who plays a lefty Brooklyn health-food co-op owner who becomes Aladeen's unlikely love interest. ''We don't really leave that much out.'' Though the trailer features Aladeen and his sidekick (The League's Jason Mantzoukas) spooking a pair of tourists who think they're plotting to destroy the Statue of Liberty, Mantzoukas insists the movie isn't just trying to stir up controversy: ''It's a funny fish-out-of-water love story that is a lot more about pratfalls and boners than it is about cogent sociopolitical commentary.'' —Josh Rottenberg
5 of 30
Battleship (May 18)
Just hear Peter Berg out for a second. The Hancock director admits that he too was skeptical that Battleship could work as a movie. But then he sat down with one of Hasbro's ''toy psychiatrists'' — yes, that's a real job — to understand why the naval board game has remained so popular for 81 years. ''It first appears to be a random exercise in luck,'' says Berg. ''But the second I say 'hit' [during a game], something kind of bizarre happens. Your goal is to kill me as ruthlessly and brutally as possible, and I am now panicked and desperate to find you. It is just unrelenting murder. There's good DNA in that for a movie.''
Instead of depicting a conventional sea battle, Berg hit upon the idea of a maritime alien invasion (inspired by NASA's real-life efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials). He then recruited Taylor Kitsch — whom he'd cast on NBC's Friday Night Lights — ?to star as a ne'er-do-well naval officer, and music superstar Rihanna to play a grunt who's good with a (very big) gun. ''I've been a big believer in musicians-turned-actors,'' explains Berg, who hired country singer Tim McGraw for two of his films. —Adam B. Vary
6 of 30
Men in Black III (May 25)
The third installment of the sci-fi comedy series that's grossed more than $1 billion worldwide once again has the Ray-Ban-wearing, alien-monitoring duo of Agent J (Will Smith, pictured) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). But the threequel's story has a twist — Agent J travels back in time to 1969 to stop an alien named Boris (Jemaine Clement) from assassinating Agent K (played in his younger incarnation by Josh Brolin). And it was actually suggested by Smith during the making of 2002's Men in Black II.
Brolin worked hard to mimic Jones' staccato vocal mannerisms and brusque demeanor. ''If you're doing a bad Tommy Lee Jones impression while you're out drinking, that's one thing,'' he says. ''Then if someone says, 'We're putting hundreds of millions of dollars into this movie and the weight is on you to get this right' — you can get a little curmudgeonly yourself.'' —Josh Rottenberg
7 of 30
Moonrise Kingdom (May 25)
Should you ever score a role in a Wes Anderson movie, don't forget to pack your canteen. ''Doing a movie with Wes is a lot like going to summer scout camp,'' says Edward Norton (pictured, center), who plays an earnest scoutmaster who helps lead the search for a pair of preteen runaway lovebirds (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) on a sparsely populated New England island in the summer of 1965. Anderson, Norton, Bill Murray (who plays the girl's father), and assorted members of the cast and crew even bunked together in a big old vacation home near the film's Rhode Island set, eating communal dinners and hanging out in the evenings. ''It was like an old summer-theater troupe,'' says Norton. ''There were no trailers. Everybody just decided to stay together.'' —Rob Brunner
8 of 30
Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1)
This dark new take on the classic tale has a lot more evil than Disney-raised audiences are accustomed to seeing. In this version, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is a monstrous villain hoping to consume the still-beating heart of her stepdaughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart, pictured), and the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) ordered to track Snow White through the Dark Forest is a despondent, hard-drinking widower. And that's to say nothing of the fierce large-scale battle led by the armor-clad fairest-of-them-all heroine. What would Uncle Walt say? —Sara Vilkomerson
9 of 30
Prometheus (June 8)
Director Ridley Scott & Co. have been tight-lipped about Prometheus' plot — especially its ties to the director's visionary 1979 chest-exploding classic Alien — other than to say that the new film has strands of ''Alien DNA'' and that fans of the original will be rewarded in ''the final 12 minutes.''
Here's what we do know: The film, written by newcomer Jon Spaihts and Lost's Damon Lindelof, revolves around the crew of a spaceship that heads off to a distant planet, which is home to a civilization that visited Earth long ago and left evidence of its existence. Needless to say, the mission doesn't go according to plan. Donning the film's snug and sexy space suits are Charlize Theron as a corporate heavy, Michael Fassbender as the crew's mysterious synthetic life-form, and the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace, as the film's top-billed star, an archaeologist who leads the gung ho voyage. Whether she'll be as badass as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is anyone's guess. Scott certainly isn't saying. In fact, the only thing the 74-year-old director seems willing to spill is how young he feels returning to his genre roots. ''I really forgot how fun the world of science fiction is,'' he says. ''It's where anything goes. I'm already thinking about what I'm going to do for Prometheus 2.'' Just don't expect him to share what that is. —Chris Nashawaty
10 of 30
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (June 8)
Seven years after the original Madagascar burst into theaters, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are still trying to make it home to the Central Park Zoo. This time around, the mammalian friends end up in Monaco on the run from a crazed animal-control officer named Madame DuBois (Frances McDormand), who's determined to mount Alex's head on her wall. Since most Europeans aren't used to seeing giraffes and zebras clop down their cobbled streets, the quartet join a traveling circus to avoid attracting too much attention. While there, Alex falls for a trapeze-loving jaguar named Gia, voiced by Jessica Chastain. ''I pretend that I know how to do this trapeze act that I've never done called Trapeze Americano,'' says Stiller. ''It's not very successful.'' —Grady Smith
11 of 30
That's My Boy (June 15)
America's most popular man-child finally has a man-child of his own. In his decidedly raunchy new comedy, Adam Sandler plays a louche, hard-living playboy who impregnated his Mary Kay Letourneau-esque teacher when he was only 13. Years later, he shows up at the door of his now-fully-grown son, played, perhaps inevitably, by Andy Samberg (left). ''I felt like it was almost a birthright,'' says Samberg of his role. ''We look similar, we both have similar names, we both came from SNL, and we both look amazing in profile. It was meant to be.'' —Keith Staskiewicz
12 of 30
Rock of Ages (June 15)
Haven't you always wanted to hear Tom Cruise sing ''Pour Some Sugar on Me''? In the big-screen adaptation of the big-haired Broadway musical, Cruise plays a petulant mega-rocker named Stacee Jaxx circa 1987. The star impressively belts out period hits (including Bon Jovi's ''Wanted Dead or Alive'') and sports a revealing wardrobe inspired by '80s hair bands. ''I wasn't going to ask Tom to go as far as he went,'' says director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) of his 49-year-old star. ''We had these pictures of the guy from W.A.S.P. in a codpiece with sparks coming out of it. And it just made Tom laugh. At an age when people are starting to play junior senators, he's in assless chaps.''
As new Hollywood transplants trying to break into the music industry, Julianne Hough (Footloose, pictured center with Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin) and Diego Boneta (90210) also wear some memorable duds. ''I'd put on something and be like, 'Oh my gosh, this is so gross — it's perfect!'?'' says Hough. ''There's a purple bikini with lime green accents on it. I literally have nightmares about that bikini still.'' ? At least her behind was covered. —Dave Karger
13 of 30
Brave (June 22)
For all Pixar's success — a dozen straight hits earning a total of $7.2 billion worldwide and 40 Oscar nominations — there remains one thing the animation giant has yet to produce: a feature with a female lead. That finally changes with the medieval fantasy epic Brave, starring a red-haired Scottish teenager named Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire's Kelly Macdonald).
Merida isn't just another Disney princess. Though she's the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), she resists all efforts to marry her off to one of three suitors from nearby clans. ''She wants to be in charge of her own destiny,'' says codirector Mark Andrews, ''and to say she rocks the boat is an understatement.'' Instead of exchanging vows, Merida seeks the help of a witch (Julie Walters) and ends up endangering the entire kingdom. Luckily, she's a fierce warrior — which makes her stand apart from most animated heroines.
''It's funny to think about Merida being in a Disneyland parade,'' says Macdonald. ''I can just imagine her skulking behind all the other princesses, wishing she was off on her horse somewhere.'' In addition to horseback riding, Merida can climb, wield a sword, and use a bow and arrow, making her a relative of sorts to The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen. According to Andrews, though, Katniss wouldn't have stood a chance against Merida: ''Nobody would have even gotten to those backpacks.''—John Young
14 of 30
To Rome With Love (June 22)
Originally, Woody Allen wanted to call his 43rd film The Bop Decameron. But nobody got the reference to 14th-century Italian literature. ''Not even in Italy,'' says Allen. Then he tried Nero Fiddles. But overseas distributors objected. ''I guess it's an American expression,'' he says. Finally, he settled on To Rome With Love, again including a European city in his titles, like last year's Midnight in Paris, the biggest hit of his career. The film presents various romantic vignettes in the Italian capital acted by a big international cast (including Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg, pictured here), with Allen himself appearing on screen for the first time since 2006's Scoop. ''I give my traditional nonacting performance,'' he says. ''I whine my way through it.'' —Benjamin Svetkey
15 of 30
Abraham Lincoln:? Vampire Hunter? (June 22)
Woe to the gullible student who turns to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter before a history test. The film weaves together real-life incidents from the life of the 16th U.S. president and a fantastical backstory about vampires backing the Confederacy and triggering the Civil War (because slaves are a convenient food supply, of course). ''I loved mixing and merging the genres,'' says director Timur Bekmambetov, whose credits include 2008's Wanted and the Russian vampire saga Night Watch and Day Watch. ''Here is the first time there is a movie with a real historical character being a superhero.''
Produced by Tim Burton from a script co-written by novelist Seth Grahame-Smith, the film hits theaters six months before Steven Spielberg's more serious-minded Lincoln biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis. But Vampire Hunter star Benjamin Walker (pictured, Broadway's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) says he also tried to capture a realistic side of the president, even in the service of popcorn-flick fantasy. ''As Americans, we distance ourselves from Lincoln in some ways. We place him on a pedestal and remove his humanity,'' he says. ''The more I studied him, the thing that was magnificent about him was he was a common man who did extraordinary things.'' Lincoln was known by the working-class nickname the Rail Splitter, after all. Perhaps it's not such a stretch to imagine him as a Head Splitter, too. —Anthony Breznican
16 of 30
Magic Mike (June 29)
When Channing Tatum (pictured, center) brought up the idea of making a movie about his pre-Hollywood stint as a stripper, director Steven Soderbergh decided his long-planned retirement might have to wait just a little bit longer. ''I immediately thought, 'That's one of the best movie ideas I've ever heard,'?'' says the director, who was working with Tatum on January's Haywire and is reteaming with him on the medical thriller Bitter Pill. ''I had never seen that world before on screen.''
Tatum stars as Mike, a veteran stripper who inducts a new recruit (Alex Pettyfer) into an all-male revue of beefcake dancers (including Matt Bomer, left, Joe Manganiello, and Kevin Nash) run by a slightly unhinged owner (Matthew McConaughey). ''It could've been an incredibly awkward experience, but we became an instant band of brothers,'' says Bomer of dancing with his costars. ''We would all watch when someone was doing a dance number and clap when they called 'Cut!'?'' —Adam Markovitz
17 of 30
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 29)
The sequel to 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra features several new recruits, including director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2) and stars Dwayne ''The Rock'' Johnson (left) and Bruce Willis (right). ''The Cobra command is trying to take over the world,'' says Johnson. ''I get Bruce Willis and we start kicking ass.'' How much Rise of Cobra star Channing Tatum participates in the rump booting is unclear. The freshly minted A-lister has little screen time in the movie's trailer, which hints at a terrible tragedy befalling the Joe team. Would Mr. The Rock care to comment on Tatum's part in Retaliation? ''Um, yeah,'' Johnson laughs coyly. ''He's in the film and he reprises his role!'' —Clark Collis
18 of 30
The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
On paper, Marc Webb might seem an unlikely candidate to take the reins of a nine-figure film shot in 3-D and festooned with hundreds of F/X shots. The director's previous film, 2009's quirky rom-com (500) Days of Summer, cost a mere $7.5 million. But anyone who saw that film could tell that Webb cared about complex characters and emotions. And that's exactly what Sony wanted to see amped up in its new Spider-Man: Peter Parker as existential high school outsider. ''You look at (500) Days of Summer and you can see that Marc is a softy,'' says producer Avi Arad. ''Sam [Raimi] was very interested in the comic-book world and the specific look of certain panels. What Marc brings is a more realistic, more contemporary feel.''
As for the man replacing Maguire behind the mask, Webb auditioned hundreds of actors before handpicking Andrew Garfield, the 28-year-old Brit who had just popped in David Fincher's The Social Network. And to raise his Spider-Man above the standard superhero story, Webb filled his cast with actors as compelling as his leading man. Enter Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and Emma Stone as Peter's love interest, Gwen Stacy. Another crucial departure for the new Spidey is his nemesis. The Green Goblin and Doc Ock are out, Dr. Curt Connors (a.k.a. the Lizard) is in. Webb, whose knowledge of Spider-Man minutiae borders on the obsessive, insists that the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is a more complicated baddie than we've seen before. Not only does his past intersect with that of Peter's dead father, he also lost an arm, which leaves him scarred in more ways than one. ''The Lizard is the literal embodiment of the theme of our movie,'' says Webb. ''We all have missing pieces — Peter is missing his parents, Dr. Curt Connors is missing his arm. It's how we try to fill that void that defines us.'' —Chris Nashawaty
19 of 30
Savages (July 6)
''It's just a wholesome story about drugs, sex, and violence,'' says Blake Lively of Savages. To be more specific, director/co-writer Oliver Stone's action thriller follows two best pals and marijuana growers, Chon (John Carter's Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Kick-Ass' Aaron Johnson), who run afoul of a Mexican cartel leader named Elena (Salma Hayek) seeking to control the guys' crop of superstrong weed. Ben and Chon wind up declaring war on the cartel after Elena and her henchman (Benicio Del Toro, right) kidnap Ophelia (Lively, left), a Laguna Beach hippie who's in a relationship with both Ben and Chon.
''It's not wholly an action film,'' says Stone of the? $48 million movie, which is based on the acclaimed 2010 novel by Don Winslow. ''It's a full-blown epic story of greed, violence, the border, the drugs, the relationships, the values of people.'' —Tim Stack
20 of 30
The Queen of Versailles (July 6)
Photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield set out to chronicle billionaire David Siegel and his former-beauty-queen wife, Jackie, as they began building the biggest private house in America — a 90,000-square-foot monstrosity outside Orlando modeled in part on the Palace of Versailles. But when Siegel's time-share business took a hit in the Great Recession of 2008, Greenfield had a much more intriguing story on her hands. ''The miraculous and magical thing was that Jackie [pictured] and David were generous and trusting enough to let me stay with the story when it started to change,'' she says. Her depiction of gross opulence going to seed was a fave at this year's Sundance Film Festival. —Stephan Lee
21 of 30
Ted (July 13)
What if your childhood teddy bear came to life? What if he stayed alive long after you grew up, degenerating into a filthy-mouthed, bong-sucking little fur ball who, though he's still your best friend, is kinda ruining your life? That's the premise of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's first feature film, starring Mark Wahlberg (pictured) as the bear's owner and Mila Kunis (Black Swan) as his put-upon girlfriend. MacFarlane himself is the voice and motion-capture actor behind the CG?but decidedly not PG?creature. ''I'd say it's as R-rated as R-rated can get,'' says Kunis of the film. ''I mean, MacFarlane's truly one of the smartest people you'll ever meet, but that man can do his poo-fart jokes like no other.''
Even so, MacFarlane says he was careful not to get too gross. ''The movie is very balanced. There's a surprising amount of heart.'' Most of all, MacFarlane wanted the bear to seem truly alive, like a breathing, feeling presence rather than some computer effect. ''It's an attempt to make a relationship between a live actor and a CG character as seamless as possible,'' he says. ''The goal should be to make you forget that what you're watching is animated.'' —Rob Brunner
22 of 30
The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)
The Dark Knight Rises — Christopher Nolan's third and final Batflick, with a reported (and unconfirmed) budget of $250 million — arrives with blockbuster pressures and Oscar hopes. Rises is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham City is at peace and prospering, but Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still recovering physically and emotionally from his tragic battles with the Joker and Harvey Dent, the crusading DA?turned?cynical psycho who shot cops and crooks alike in a mad rash of violence. Batman, who took the fall for Harvey's crimes so Gotham could remain inspired by the lawman's former idealism, continues to be reviled and MIA as the story begins.
While old allies Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and potential new love interest Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) try to revive Bruce's spirits, two new threats to Gotham force Batman to end his exile. First, there's high-society grifter Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). And then there's Bane (Tom Hardy), a cunning, hulking terrorist of mysterious origin. Bane has a small army, a mean muzzlelike mask (visual inspiration: baboon mouth as painted by Francis Bacon), and a theatrical mumble that perhaps you've heard about... or heard and didn't understand. —Jeff Jensen
23 of 30
Neighborhood Watch (July 27)
It's got all the elements of a great summer comedy: Ben Stiller. Vince Vaughn. Jonah Hill (all pictured, with Richard Ayoade, far left). Plus a script co-written by Seth Rogen about a misfit band of volunteer crime fighters who battle an alien invasion. ''I'm the manager of a Costco who is always starting clubs in his community — Spanish-speaking club, senior reading centers — because I don't have any friends,'' says Stiller. Vaughn plays a suburban dad who joins mostly because, according to Vaughn, ''he's excited to get out of the house and hang with some guys.'' And Hill's character signs up after being rejected by the local police force due to emotional problems. ''You know that kid you grew up with who wanted to be in the Army since, like, the second grade?'' says Hill. ''That's me.''
Of course, the movie's title has an unintended overtone since the real-life slaying of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood-watch captain in Florida. But Stiller, who faced a similar situation with Zoolander, isn't worried about fallout, with the release date still months away: ''You're talking to the guy who had the first comedy out after 9/11.'' —Benjamin Svetkey
24 of 30
Total Recall (August 3)
Even if you haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's 1990 sci-fi/action mind-bender in a while, you may have total recall of its oft-quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger lines: ''See you at the pahty, Richter!'' ''Consider dat a divorce.'' ''Give these people ay-uh!'' It's no surprise, then, that Colin Farrell had some trepidation about taking on one of Schwarzenegger's best-known roles: Douglas Quaid, an Everyman factory worker who discovers that his memories have been artificially implanted and that he is actually a freedom fighter battling a totalitarian regime. ''Arnie did something that nobody else did at that time or has done since,'' Farrell (pictured) says. ''Don't ask me what that is, but I'm a fan of it.''
Director Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard) says the reported $200 million update takes a dramatically different approach to the source material, Philip K. Dick's 1966 short story ''We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.'' ''I had no interest in just remaking Verhoeven's film with updated effects,'' he says. ''This script goes further into the head space of the character of Quaid. What would that really be like, being told you're somebody you don't believe you are?''
There are other major differences in tone and story line from the original movie: For starters, Farrell's Quaid doesn't travel to Mars (sorry, fanboys, there will be no ''Get your ass to Mars'' in this version), while Kate Beckinsale's villain is an amalgam of the characters played by Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside in the 1990 film. Still, Wiseman is aware that he's potentially courting the ire of a loyal constituency. ''You're always going to piss people off,'' he says. ''It's just part of the process until this movie comes out.'' And implants some new memories of its own. —Josh Rottenberg
25 of 30
The Bourne Legacy (August 3)
It's been five years since Matt Damon hauled ass across the rooftops of Tangier in The Bourne Ultimatum. Since then, a lot has changed. Actually, everything's changed. After Damon and director Paul Greengrass decided to take a breather from the series, Universal was left with the thorny problem of how to keep its marquee franchise alive without its biggest marquee names. The solution: Create a new on-the-run CIA agent whose parallel story picks up where 2007's Ultimatum left off.
Enter Jeremy Renner (pictured, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol) as Aaron Cross, another covert government-trained assassin. ''The idea was to stretch the horizon of the whole franchise and leave open the opportunity for Matt to come back when he wanted,'' says director Tony Gilroy, who's helped write every script in the Robert Ludlum saga. With Renner playing an entirely new character, Universal gets the Bourne brand at the box office without the fan mutiny that might have come from casting another actor in Damon's role (á la Roger Moore as James Bond). Needless to say, the high-profile gig is another big step toward the A list for Renner, who also plays Hawkeye in May's The Avengers. Not that he wouldn't share the spotlight. Says Renner, ''I told Matt I would love for us both to do the next one together.'' We've got the title: Bourne and Bourne Again. —Chris Nashawaty
26 of 30
Hope Springs (August 10)
Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep play a Midwestern couple who endure a weekend of therapy to try to save their floundering marriage. ''I think of it as a romantic comedy about people who have been married for over 30 years,'' says director David Frankel, who assumed the helm after Mike Nichols stepped out. ''The structure of the genre holds, and yet we're talking about two people in their 60s.''
The main source of Hope Springs' humor, says Frankel, comes from Kay dragging a very reluctant Arnold off to a weekend in the titular coastal Maine town, where they squirm and emote on the couch. Steve Carell (pictured), who plays their earnest marriage therapist, is the film's unlikely straight man. ''It's a very simple, unmannered, very compassionate performance,'' says Frankel. —Karen Valby
27 of 30
The Campaign (August 10)
Good running mates are hard to find, but a Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis ballot had no trouble getting Warner Bros.' endorsement. ''We sold this movie entirely on the pitch: two of the funniest guys on the planet ripping each other to pieces in a political campaign,'' explains director Jay Roach (Game Change, Dinner for Schmucks). ''That never failed to hook anyone.''
Ferrell (right) stars as Cam Brady, a slick four-term North Carolina congressman whose Anthony Weiner-style gaffe (one of his sexy voicemails goes public) opens the door for a naive Republican challenger, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis, left). ''It's the story of a Beltway outsider who's coached up into politics,'' says Ferrell. ''Anyway, that's the jumping-off point.''
From there the race elevates — or rather, sinks — from genteel debating to all-out warfare, entailing everything from accusations of communism to pornographic TV spots. ''We just started thinking, 'What's the craziest thing an election could see?'?'' says co-writer Chris Henchy (The Other Guys), who drew much of the script's comic inspiration from straight news and political shows. Adds Galifianakis, ''You look at the climate of political ads these days, and [this movie] isn't too far from the truth.'' Be careful, Zach: You might get a few write-in votes come November. —Adam Markovitz
28 of 30
The Expendables 2 (August 17)
Sylvester Stallone's first all-star throwback epic, 2010's The Expendables, was so brimming with manliness that some filmgoers spontaneously grew beards. For the sequel, the guiding philosophy seems to be: Bigger is better. ''More action, more humor, more stars, more everything,'' promises Dolph Lundgren, who's back as the mean Swede Gunnar Jensen. ''And we do it the old-school way, which is really the only way we know how.'' That means there will be plenty of explosions, gunfights, and hard-hitting hand-to-hand combat as Stallone's team of mercenaries seeks revenge for a fallen comrade while battling a brand-new villain played by the Muscles From Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger return in beefed-up roles, while Chuck Norris and comparative youngster Liam Hemsworth notch up the testosterone levels even higher. ''I was working with all these guys I grew up watching — it was nuts,'' says the Hunger Games star. ''Once Jean-Claude kicked me in the chest by accident. It was like a present, one of the most awesome kicks you could ever receive.'' —Keith Staskiewicz
29 of 30
Sparkle (August 17)
Whitney Houston's final movie is a remake of the 1976 musical drama Sparkle, which starred Irene Cara as a singer in a Supremes-like vocal group and featured now-classic tunes written by Curtis Mayfield and performed on the soundtrack album by Aretha Franklin (including ''Something He Can Feel,'' which En Vogue covered in the early '90s). Houston, who died just three months after production wrapped, spent more than a decade trying to kick-start the film. She served as executive producer and plays the mother of the star-in-the-making title character. ''Whitney loved the idea of folks going after their dreams, what it takes to reach your hopes and wants,'' says director and producer Salim Akil. ''It was the aspirational aspect that I think she connected to.''
American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who plays Sparkle, says that she identified with her character's rough ride to success. ''I was 17 when I did Idol and was so excited to be a part of everything,'' says the singer, now 22. ''Then you go through a few things in a couple of years and meet people who aren't so nice. Sparkle goes through the same thing, and by the end she's transformed and has found her voice.'' It's a demanding role for a first-time actress, and Sparks often looked to her costar for guidance. ''Whitney was so amazing,'' says Sparks (pictured right, with Tika Sumpter and Carmen Ejogo), who performs an R. Kelly-penned duet, ''Celebrate,'' with Houston on the movie's soundtrack. ''And she didn't take any crap, either. If she wasn't feeling something, she would let you know.'' Exactly what you'd expect from a pop diva. —Rob Brunner
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Celeste and Jesse Forever (August tba)
Two NBC comedy stars (Parks and Recreation's Rashida Jones and SNL's Andy Samberg) play the title characters in a bittersweet Sundance comedy about recent exes who remain friends while exploring new romantic interests. ''The idea is that you can love somebody and you get to this certain level of growth and then it doesn't work anymore,'' says Jones, who co-wrote the script with actor Will McCormack (Brothers & Sisters). ''Even if you love each other, it doesn't mean that you're right to spend the rest of your living days together.''
When she's not figuring out her complex love life, trend spotter Celeste works with a bratty Ke$ha-like singer played by Emma Roberts, who describes her character as ''every stereotypical pop star morphed into one lovable head of extensions.'' Celeste faces even more drama on the home front: Though she and Jesse have split, there's some residual affection. So Jones found herself getting intimate with her costar and longtime buddy. ''I'm like, 'I'm going to mack so hard on Andy Samberg,'?'' she says. ''?'And I'm going to write a whole movie with my best friend just to make that happen.'?'' Mission accomplished. —Dave Karger