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The 19 Movies NPR Critics Are Most Excited About This Summer

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Clockwise from top left: ‘Inside Out 2,’ ‘Thelma,’ ‘Twisters,’ ‘Hit Man,’ ‘Fancy Dance’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F.’ (Disney/Pixar, Magnolia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Netflix, Apple TV+, Netflix)

At this time of year, there’s air conditioning, and then there’s movie theater air conditioning — a frigid blast forceful enough to cool down the biggest crowd on a hot summer’s day. And if that’s not enough, your neighborhood multiplex also boasts enormous ice-cold drinks to go with popcorn and candy and … oh, right … it also has movies! Comedies, action-adventures, coming-of-age tales, animation.

If you’re wondering which to catch, NPR critics have you covered. Here’s our take on the cream of the cinematic crop — Marvel to just plain marvelous — from now through Labor Day.

‘Hit Man,’ in theaters May 24, on Netflix June 7

Red-hot star Glen Powell plays the titular hit man — well, a cop pretending to be a hit man — in this action rom-com. Romantic comedies are much rarer than they used to be, and the ones that do show up are often disappointing. But! Powell co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Linklater, whose skill with love stories is well established (the Before trilogy is all the love-story credibility anybody needs, forever). A lot of Netflix movies have fizzled. Hopefully this one will not. — Linda Holmes


‘Ghostlight,’ in theaters June 14

The title of this warmly engaging drama refers to theatrical superstition: a light left onstage to keep the theater ghost at bay — or at least to keep it happy — when actors aren’t present. Actors are everywhere here, as family tragedy blends into Shakespearean tragedy (a grieving construction worker getting roped into a community theater Romeo and Juliet), and the film doubles down on connections by casting a real-life father, wife and daughter as the construction worker, his wife and their daughter. — Bob Mondello

‘Inside Out 2,’ in theaters June 14

Inside Out was one of Pixar’s best films, but sequels haven’t always been the studio’s strength. Still, it’s exciting to know that Joy (Amy Poehler) is back, as are Phyllis Smith’s Sadness and Lewis Black’s Anger. New voices and new emotions arrive as Riley enters her teenage years, and the world may not be ready for Maya Hawke as Anxiety or Ayo Edebiri as Envy (OK, I may not). But get out the tissues or whatever else you need to cope with an onslaught of feelings, because it’s coming. — Linda Holmes

‘The Bikeriders,’ in theaters June 21

A melodrama about a fictional 1960s motorcycle gang starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy? Sure, why not! This is Jeff Nichols’ first feature in almost a decade (following 2016’s Loving and Midnight Special), and he has proved himself again and again as a filmmaker who excels at capturing mood and ambience, through setting as well as a great Michael Shannon performance. At the very least, this could be a thrill ride. — Aisha Harris

‘Fancy Dance,’ in theaters June 21, on Apple TV+ June 28

It has taken far too long for Erica Tremblay’s profound feature debut to get a proper release — it premiered at Sundance back in January 2023 — but the wait is worth it. Lily Gladstone plays Jax, a woman caring for her young niece on a Native American reservation after her sister goes missing. Part crime drama and part road trip movie, it avoids emotional clichés while offering an underseen perspective and a dynamic performance from Gladstone. — Aisha Harris

‘Kinds of Kindness,’ in theaters June 21

Viewers who know Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent work — Poor Things, The Favourite — might find him whimsically absurd. Those of us who’ve been with him from his 2009 breakthrough, Dogtooth, however, know him to be a deadpan satirist of the most scalding, remorseless variety. He has reteamed with Dogtooth writer Efthimis Filippou for this anthology film featuring the same stable of actors playing different roles in three shorts. Can’t wait to see him getting back to his roots; bring on the bleak. — Glen Weldon

‘Thelma,’ in theaters June 21

Ninety-three-year-old Thelma (June Squibb) is duped by a phone scammer in the opening reel and then sets off on a geriatric Mission: Impossible across Los Angeles to get her money back. Along the way, she enlists the aid (and electric scooter) of an old pal (the late Richard Roundtree), runs rings around her frantic daughter (Parker Posey) and matches wits with scammer Malcolm McDowell. An understated riot that’s arguably the most Sundance-ean comedy since Little Miss Sunshine. — Bob Mondello

Horizon: An American Saga, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, in theaters June 28 and Aug. 16

Kevin Costner’s passion project (he has said he mortgaged his 10-acre oceanfront property in Santa Barbara to finance it) returns him to Dances With Wolves territory — settlers arriving in covered wagons, expecting Indigenous communities to disappear. Chapter 1 is reportedly roughly three hours long. Chapter 2 will hit theaters seven weeks later. And depending on whether audiences show up, Costner will spend his summer either shooting the next chapter or, I guess, nursing his wounds. — Bob Mondello

‘A Quiet Place: Day One,’ in theaters June 28

It’s not a spoiler anymore that A Quiet Place‘s story made sequels complicated — but there are always prequels. This one, starring Lupita Nyong’o, rewinds all the way back to the alien invasion that got everybody to shut up in the first place. And unlike the other two films, it takes place smack in the middle of New York City, not the most natural place to attempt total silence. John Krasinski stepped back from both directing and writing the screenplay, which could be a problem — or a fresh start. — Linda Holmes

‘Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F,’ on Netflix July 3

Street-smart Detroit detective Axel Foley is the role that made Eddie Murphy a movie star in 1984. This Part 4 has been in development since the mid-1990s, after morphing briefly into a TV pilot that never got picked up. Joining Murphy from the earlier films will be fellow cops Judge Reinhold, John Ashton and Paul Reiser, as well as Bronson Pinchot’s star-making art gallerist, Serge. Franchise newbies include Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Kevin Bacon. — Bob Mondello

‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ in theaters July 12

“Space race rom-com” isn’t exactly well-trod territory, so this project from Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon) could be a light, refreshing summer diversion starring a pair of ridiculously good-looking actors. Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum play a marketing consultant and NASA launch director who team up to stage a “backup” recording of the moon landing in case the actual moon-landing attempt fails. Presumably they fall in love, with at least one Sinatra song crooning in the background. — Aisha Harris

‘National Anthem,’ in theaters July 12

This is the first feature by photographer Luke Gilford. Charlie Plummer stars as a young man in New Mexico who takes a job at a homestead of queer rodeo performers where, as often happens in films like this, he comes to learn things about himself. I haven’t yet seen it, but by all accounts it’s a quiet and lyrical movie that tells a queer story that isn’t rooted in trauma and tragedy, but in self-discovery and finding your people. It arrives at a time when those stories are much needed. — Glen Weldon

‘Sing Sing,’ in theaters July 12 (limited), Aug. 2 (wide)

One current rule: If it has Colman Domingo in it, it will be worth watching. Sing Sing is about a man played by Domingo who is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit and who joins the New York prison’s theater program to produce a comedy with his fellow inmates. The movie’s publicity campaign makes some broad claims (including that it’s a “true story of resilience, humanity, and the transformative power of art”), but if it lives up to them the way its early reviews suggest, it will be special. — Linda Holmes

‘Twisters,’ in theaters July 19

The most intriguing thing about this sequel to the classic, bombastic disaster movie Twister is that it’s directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who directed Minari — one of the least bombastic films in recent memory. Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones star in this sequel, which certainly tries in its trailer to call to mind the goofy, special-effects-heavy, not-actually-advisable-in-a-storm feeling of the original. Will it have a plot? Who knows? Does it need a plot? Probably not! — Linda Holmes

‘Deadpool & Wolverine,’ in theaters July 26

Marvel may be releasing only one superhero movie this year, but it’s a double-header, with two regenerative dudes in spandex — one joke-spewing and disfigured, the other snarling and adamantium-clawed — teaming up to save something or other. Technically, it’s Ryan Reynolds’ movie, so he’ll be setting the tone, meaning lotsa laughs. What? — you say — Wolverine died in his last movie? Well, to that I say … multiverse … or time-shift … or who cares, if Hugh Jackman’s willing to come back. — Bob Mondello

‘Dìdi,’ in theaters July 26

Thirteen-year-old Chris begins Sean Wang’s semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age dramedy trading insults with his older sister, and he ends it choked up as she leaves home (and him) for college. In between, there are pranks, misadventures, a clumsy first romance and an ill-advised attempt to ingratiate himself with some cool high school skateboarders by claiming to be an expert filmmaker. The film, which charmed at Sundance, is a lot like its pint-size hero — cute, exasperating, promising. — Bob Mondello

‘Kneecap,’ in theaters Aug. 2

Raw, raunchy, violent and uproarious, this origin story of the titular Irish-language hip-hop group is both a riot and a call to arms. Filled with the fury of a populace that had to fight for the right to keep its own language, the film features rappers Naoise Ó Cairealláin and Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh, as well as the mild-mannered substitute music teacher who became their DJ, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, playing themselves — entirely professionally — through sex scenes, police beatings and drug-fueled jam sessions. — Bob Mondello

‘Close to You,’ in theaters Aug. 16

A shirtless young trans man leans up against a window frame and gazes outside.
Elliot Page in ‘Close to You.’ (Me+You Productions)

With Elliot Page, in his first movie role in six years, playing a trans man who’s wary about attending his first family reunion since his transition, this story already had hooks for audiences. Throw in reports that the film’s scenes were mostly improvised on the day of shooting, and it sounds like an emotional high-wire act. Page, who came out as trans in 2020, is also involved with another queer coming-of-age story this summer, as executive producer for the cheerleading tale Backspot. — Bob Mondello

‘Between the Temples,’ in theaters Aug. 23

An older woman leans her head onto the shoulder of a younger man.
Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane in ‘Between the Temples.’ (Sean Price Williams/Sony Pictures Classics)


A depressed cantor (Jason Schwartzman) who can’t sing since his wife’s death gets an odd request while teaching bar/bat mitzvah classes at his synagogue. His septuagenarian grade-school music teacher (Carol Kane) recognizes he’s foundering and wants to help, so she asks him to tutor her for a late-in-life bat mitzvah. He resists, she insists, and things go predictably Harold and Maude from there in plot terms, though Schwartzman and Kane bring their own quirks. — Bob Mondello

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