Ever since Steven Spielberg unleashed "Jaws" to audiences in 1975, essentially inventing the summer blockbuster, the hottest months of the year have become home to the biggest-budget pictures of the Hollywood slate.
Each year, the summer season seems to expand a little — "Furious 7" was breaking records in early April — but the general consensus is that it truly starts with the first weekend of May. As "Avengers: Age of Ultron" kicks off the season with midnight showings tonight, the Times has made a guide of all of the big-budget flicks to keep your eyes on this summer.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The sequel to 2012's monster team-up hit, "Age of Ultron" has a lot to live up to in the pop imagination. So far, all of Marvel Studio's movies post-Avengers, have been better than any of their pre-Avengers output, and with the return of writer/director Joss Whedon and a selection of new heroes and villains, it's likely this flick lives up to the hype. In this installment of the superhero franchise, the Avengers face off against Ultron, a James Spader-voiced killer robot with daddy issues created by Tony Stark to protect the world.
Opening May 8
You hear about Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in a zombie film, and immediately the mind races with ideas of the Austrian oak blasting his way through hoards of the undead. "Maggie" takes a different tact, telling a somber tale of a father who loses his daughter to the zombie infection. He breaks quarantine rules to have one last day with her. This indie film impressed the festival world with its bleak look and legitimately heartfelt performance from the normally stoic Schwarzenegger.
Opening May 15
Mad Max: Fury Road
Exactly 30 years since "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" was released, director George Miller returns to the franchise that launched him into fame with "Fury Road." This film has been under production for more than a decade and has overcome setbacks at every turn. When Warner Brothers saw an early cut in 2013, they dedicated millions to amp up the action even more. A nearly wordless symphony of destruction, this film represents action-master George Miller's dedication to the genre.
Pitch Perfect 2
A left-field hit from 2012, "Pitch Perfect" broke records with its peppy, poppy production and a surprise radio hit from star Anna Kendrick with "Cups." This sequel represents the directorial debut of actress Elizabeth Banks, whose comedy chops and improv skills have stolen films like "Wet Hot American Summer" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." The film follows the classic sports sequel plotline — think "D2: The Mighty Ducks" — by having our ragtag group go up against the world in a global championship.
Opening May 22
Director Brad Bird might have only a single live-action film under his belt, the masterful "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," but his career in animation has earned him a lifetime pass. Director of "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," as well as a producer on the best seasons of "The Simpsons," Bird has a keen eye for character and story, in genres that often forget both. Technically based on the Disneyland area, little is known about the particulars of the plot, other than that it follows a technologically gifted young girl who is transported to a world of tomorrow and meets up with George Clooney.
Until now Melissa McCarthy has been in search of a leading role that suits her talents as well as her supporting appearances in "Bridesmaids" and "Gilmore Girls" have. This film, from "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig, casts McCarthy as a spy who is often overlooked by her co-workers. The film plays McCarthy's character as hypercompetent and looks to be making some salient points about workplace discrimination among its spy-movie spoofery.
Normally, a remake of a stone-cold classic like Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist" would be cause for concern rather than excitement, but this flick has at the helm Gil Kenan, who made the children's Halloween masterpiece "Monster House" in 2006. Headed by the always compelling Sam Rockwell, taking over from Craig T. Nelson, this film looks to hit many of the same beats as the original with a slight bent toward the technological age. Let's hope Kenan can scar as many kids as Hooper did with the "face tear-off" scene from the original.
Opening May 27
The Rock punches an earthquake until it stops. What else needs to be said?
Opening June 12
In the original "Jurassic Park," Spielberg took care to depict the dinosaurs as natural animals, making sure not to turn them into drooling monsters. After three films, Hollywood is interested in monster dinos again. A genetically engineered serial killer dinosaur is on the loose at the now-operating theme park, and only Chris Pratt and his team of trained Velociraptors can stop it. This film looks to embrace all of the pulp fun the earlier films avoided for naturalistic wonder.
Opening June 19
It's been a while since Pixar's last original film, "Brave" was released to moderately pleasant reviews, but "Inside Out" looks to recapture the brand's acclaim that lasted from the original "Toy Story" all the way through "Up." The film follows anthropomorphized emotions as they travel through a teenage girl's brain. In the movie, Amy Poehler plays Joy; Phyllis Smith, Sadness; Bill Hader, Fear; Lewis Black, Anger; and Mindy Kaling plays Disgust in the young girl's mind.
Opening July 1
Magic Mike XXL
Can Magic Mike XXL score a bigger audience than the first, or will it suffer from shrinking interest over the intervening years? The studio is hoping audiences will come despite the loss of director Steven Soderbergh and actor Matthew McConaughey. It shouldn't be too hard to pack theaters when you've got Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer returning.
Opening July 17
After director Edgar Wright left because of creative differences with Marvel Studios, this film about a superhero who shrinks and talks to ants seemed doomed. Who wanted a movie about Ant-Man, really? Marvel refused to give up on the hero, one of the founding members of the Avengers, and tapped underrated director Peyton Reed to helm a new script by "Anchorman's" Adam McKay. Reed is a huge Marvel fan from the 1960s, and his films "Bring It On" and "Down With Love," may not show a predilection for special effects, but are masterpieces in their respective genres.
Amy Schumer has been on a roll, with "Inside Amy Schumer" featuring biting commentary and hilarious sketches to Comedy Central every week. Schumer wrote the film, which will be directed by comedy giant Judd Apatow, whose last few films have lost the edge of his early works. It's hoped the collaboration between Schumer and Apatow will reignite the spark in his work.
Opening July 31
Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation
Acclaimed screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie reteams with Tom Cruise after 2012's Jack Reacher for the fifth installment of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. Brad Bird's part four seemed like the first time this series knew where it was going, and McQuarrie seems to be carrying on the momentum gained in the last entry. The hook of the film is an incredible stunt in which Cruise attaches himself to an actual airplane during takeoff, with no green screen or digital enhancements.
Opening Aug. 13
Straight Outta Compton
"Friday" director F. Gary Gray directs this biopic about the hip-hop group N.W.A., leading up to and following the release of its album "Straight Outta Compton." The film is being produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, so don't expect too critical a look, but on the whole, the film seems energetic, entertaining and an enlightening look at a particular period in hip-hop history.