The summer blockbuster is dead — or at least, it has ceased to exist as a distinct entity. Four decades after “Jaws” set the template for mass-market Hollywood spectacle, the so-called event movie has expanded its turf so dramatically that July and August, once the most fiercely contested box-office battlegrounds, are now mere blips in the calendar. Each year, the blockbuster season seems to start a little earlier: the first major contender of 2016, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” opened way back in March.
Of course, the season, such as it is, looks rather different when viewed from Japan. While rampant piracy has forced most of the world’s movie markets to fall in step with U.S. release schedules, distributors here enjoy an uncommon degree of flexibility. Some of the most hotly anticipated pictures of the summer, including “Jason Bourne” and “Star Trek Beyond,” won’t arrive on these shores until autumn. And many of the biggest earners over the coming months are likely to be homegrown productions, including the return of a bona fide screen legend.
Guess who’s back?
Two years after Gareth Edwards gave Godzilla the Hollywood treatment, Japan is reasserting its claim on the radioactive monster. Co-directed by “Evangelion” creator Hideaki Anno and special effects guru Shinji Higuchi, “Shin Godzilla” (released on July 29) promises an all-star cast and the guilty pleasure of watching Tokyo get stomped by a man in a creature suit. Who needs CGI?
If seeing one city get destroyed isn’t satisfying enough, you can watch half the planet get splattered in “Independence Day: Resurgence” (July 9). Roland Emmerich’s vastly scaled-up sequel to his 1996 megahit sees veteran actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman team up with a band of youngsters to save the world from an alien invasion — again.
Speaking of comebacks, the Lord of the Jungle returns to the screen in the long-delayed “The Legend of Tarzan” (July 30), a gritty take on the matinee staple with “True Blood” star Alexander Skarsgard in the title role. Meanwhile, Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” (Aug. 11) gives the 1967 Disney classic a vivid live-action makeover, with hyper-real digital animation and Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.
For sheer notoriety, no resurgence, remake or rehash this summer can compete with “Ghostbusters” (Aug. 19), already a shoo-in for the most loathed movie of the year. Paul Feig’s all-female reboot of the 1984 supernatural comedy has been a pinata for online abuse since the first trailer was released in March. Is there a correlation between box-office performance and YouTube dislikes? With “Ghostbusters,” which set a record for the latter, we’re about to find out.
Parent-friendly kids’ fodder
Pity the mums and dads who have to accompany their children to the latest “Pokemon” and “One Piece” movies during the school holidays. Thankfully, some of the other animated offerings at the cinema this summer are more thoughtfully crafted.
Pixar’s “Finding Dory” (July 16) revisits the 2003 underwater fantasia of “Finding Nemo,” in what is reportedly a worthy sequel, focusing this time on the amnesiac fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.
Continuing in an aquatic vein, Tomm Moore’s “Song of the Sea” (Aug. 20) taps into Celtic folklore to conjure a visually sumptuous world of seals and sea faries. With its old-school hand-drawn animation, it’s the kind of film that may appeal to parents even more than their kids.
If you can wait until September, there should be just as much to swoon over in “The Red Turtle” (Sept. 17), a dialogue-free fable about an island castaway and his waterborne friends. Directed by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit, it’s notable for being the first international co-production by Studio Ghibli, which is probably hoping for a hit following the retirement of its biggest earner, Hayao Miyazaki.
Sound and vision
If you can’t afford a ticket for Fuji Rock Festival or Summer Sonic, don’t despair: There are some choice musical pickings to be had at the cinema, too. “Once” director John Carney returns with another winsome musical, “Sing Street” (July 9), a bittersweet adolescent romance set amid the new wave fervor of 1980s Dublin.
In Brazilian crowd-pleaser “The Violin Teacher” (Aug. 13), a struggling concert violinist takes a job teaching unruly teens in a Sao Paulo slum, with predictable but well-crafted results.
Both films should be a lot easier to watch than “Amy” (July 16), Asif Kapadia’s gut-churning documentary about the life of British singer Amy Winehouse, who died five years ago at the age of 27.
For serious masochists, though, there’s only one option: “High & Low The Movie” (July 16), the debut feature from J-pop colossus Exile Tribe. The film marks the culmination of a nearly yearlong “comprehensive entertainment project” spanning TV series, manga, albums, live tours and social media. And if the trailer just looks like a stale rehash of “Tokyo Tribe” and the “Crows” movies, fret not: That probably means you can give this one a miss.
The inevitable comic-book capers
For all the carping about Hollywood’s obsession with superhero movies, there’s a relative shortage of costumed characters at the multiplexes this summer. Bryan Singer’s overreaching, overcrowded “X-Men: Apocalypse” (Aug. 11) makes a belated appearance here, months after it opened to mixed reviews in the U.S.
Viewers who haven’t reached puberty yet may prefer the Michael Bay-produced “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (Aug. 26), a superfluous sequel that nevertheless clears the low bar set by its 2014 predecessor.
A more intriguing prospect is “Suicide Squad” (Sept. 10), an ensemble movie featuring supervillains from the pages of DC Comics, including Jared Leto as the Joker. After the damp reception afforded to “Batman v Superman” earlier this year, the film’s performance may determine whether DC ever becomes a viable contender to Marvel, the reigning champ of comic book cinema.
On the home front, “Rurouni Kenshin” series veteran Keishi Ohtomo is helming the big-screen version of “Himitsu” (“The Top Secret,” Aug. 6), Reiko Shimizu’s manga about a group of forensic scientists who solve crimes by retrieving memories from corpses. Don’t expect anything too heavy, though — Ohtomo looks to be saving the darker stuff for his adaptation of Ryosuke Tomoe’s serial-killer manga “Museum,” due in November.
Looking for a summer scare?
The original tagline for “Jaws” — “Don’t go in the water” — could easily be applied to “The Shallows” (July 23), a survival horror in which Blake Lively plays a surfer who gets stranded offshore with only a hungry great white shark for company. Too bad the film isn’t opening a week earlier — it would’ve been a perfect date movie for Umi no Hi (Marine Day), on July 18.
While “The Shallows” looks to “Jaws” for inspiration, James Wan’s “The Conjuring 2” (July 9) pinches liberally from another 1970s hit, “The Exorcist.” Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reunite for a second round of retro ghostbusting, this time in London.
For a more modern kind of horror, try “Unfriended” (July 30), an ingenious (some might say ridiculously contrived) slasher movie that takes place entirely within the confines of a teenager’s computer screen. You’ll never look at Facebook or Skype the same way again.
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