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Critics pick the summer movies likely to sizzle at the box office


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

William Brangham: It's officially summer, which means it is a great time to go to the movies, and not just to get out of this heat.

Jeffrey Brown learns what's headed to the big screen for our arts and culture series, Canvas.


Jeffrey Brown: Last summer, Hollywood strikes time and the blockbuster Barbenheimer phenomenon.

Actor: You are the men who gave them the power to destroy themselves.

Jeffrey Brown: This summer, a slow box office start, with "Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga" and "The Fall Guy" underperforming expectations.

For a look ahead, I recently spoke with Alisha Harris of NPR and Mark Olsen of The Los Angeles Times, starting with some of the season's biggest upcoming films.

Alisha Harris, NPR: I am definitely looking forward to, or at least curious, about "A Quiet Place: Day One."

Actor: Shelter in place.

Alisha Harris: You may remember "A Quiet Place," the original film, which was John Krasinski's debut and it was all about a family struggling to survive and raise their children in a world where the apocalypse has come, giant aliens who are hungry and who have ultrasonic sound are lurking and waiting to kill them and eat them.

But what I am most interested about this is the fact that it stars Lupita Nyong'o. It's great to see her actually helming a big-budget franchise.

I'm also very curious about "Fly Me to the Moon." I don't know if it's necessarily going to be a big blockbuster hit, but it's a space rom-com directed by Greg Berlanti. He's known for "Love, Simon," "You."

And "Fly Me to the Moon" is actually a sort of -- set during the space age. It stars Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.

Woody Harrelson, Actor: NASA needs a marketing specialist, and you are the very best.

Channing Tatum, Actor: Excuse me. What are you doing?

Scarlett Johansson, Actress: I tracked you down because I felt we had a connection.

Channing Tatum: What?

Alisha Harris: And they are working together to try to create a version of the moon landing in case the actual moon landing doesn't work.

Jeffrey Brown: Mark Olsen, your turn. Some big films you want to call our attention to?

Mark Olsen, The Los Angeles Times: Yes.

Well, I think since the summer has kind of had a bit of a slow start at the box office with movies like "The Fall Guy" and "Garfield" and "Furiosa" underperforming, it's kind of putting a lot more pressure now on the movies that are coming out. I'm thinking of, for example, the movie "Twisters."

Actor: Guys, whatever's in there, it's big and it's moving fast. Drive. Go.

It's directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who made the film "Minari" a few years ago that was kind of a small family drama. And now he's helming this really big-budget summer action sequel that's a reboot of the movie from the '90s.

Another movie that's going to be coming out is going to be "Deadpool and Wolverine," which is another film in the sort of Ryan Reynolds-Deadpool sort of superhero satire universe, but this time adding Hugh Jackman'S Wolverine character. And it's -- I think those are two movies that Hollywood is going to be putting a -- betting a lot of chips on that those movies do well to help save the summer.

Jeffrey Brown: How about a couple of smaller independent films perhaps you saw in the festival circuit.


Alisha Harris: Yes, the first I want to recommend people look out for is "Thelma," which is the directorial debut of Josh Margolin.

And this is a movie I saw at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It starts June Squibb in what I believe is her first leading role in her 90s. And she plays a grandmother who finds herself on the end of a scam, and a scam that is usually perpetuated against elderly people.

And she goes on the hunt to find the scammer and get the bet.

Actor: Mail $10,000 to this address.

June Squibb, Actress: Ten thousand dollars?

Actress: How did you think this is real?

Actor: Mom, you thought it was real too.

Actress: Oh, my God.

Alisha Harris: It's a fun sort of action comedy about aging and also about just trying to live your life and enjoying life at that age. It also features a really lovely performance by Richard Roundtree, one of his final performances before he passed away last year.

And another film I want to recommend, which was actually at Sundance in 2023, is "Fancy Dance" that stars Lily Gladstone. And it's directed by Erica Tremblay. And Lily Gladstone has a fantastic performance here. She is playing a woman who is taking care of her niece after her sister goes missing.

And she has to sort of figure out how to both bond with her niece, but also search for her for her sister.

Lily Gladstone, Actress: I'm calling about my sister's case. No, I did speak to the sheriff's.

Alisha Harris: It shows a perspective of indigenous life that we don't often see in Hollywood movies. So I'm very excited for that.

Jeffrey Brown: Mark Olsen, some smaller films?

Mark Olsen: One film that premiered on the festival circuit back in the fall and it's just coming out now. It's called "Janet Planet." It's being released by A24.

It's the writing and directing debut from the celebrated playwright Annie Baker, and it stars Julianne Nicholson as a single mother, kind of raising her 11-year-old daughter over a summer in the kind of rural Massachusetts.

Julianne Nicholson, Actress: And I think maybe it's ruined my life.

Actress: Can you stop?

Julianne Nicholson: Stop what?

Actress: Stop trying.

Mark Olsen: And it's just a very tender mother-daughter story that I think is really exciting.

Actress: Have you ever played the nervous game before? Are you nervous?

Actor: Yes.

Mark Olsen: Another film from Sundance, it was called "Didi." It's a feature directing debut from Sean Wang. And it's just a tender coming-of-age story of an Asian American family.

And it's just got a real energy to it. The young Actor who plays the lead in that movie is just really thrilling to watch.

Jeffrey Brown: So here we are a year after the strikes, a year after the Barbenheimer phenomenon. Where do you see the industry today?


Alisha Harris: We are still very much in a transition/trying to figure out things mode.

"Barbie" and "Oppenheimer," that was such a phenomenon that you could never duplicate. What I'm hopeful for is that we will see a little bit -- continue to see sort of a mixture of films that are both very, very big budget in theaters, but also smaller.

The problem is, like, streaming just complicates everything. So people are just like, I can wait a couple weeks. I can wait a month until it goes on streaming. And I think that's been an option that's been way more enticing for the average moviegoer than it ever was before.

Jeffrey Brown: Mark Olsen, where do you see the industry today?

Mark Olsen: Well, I think to Aisha's point that moviegoing is a habit, and people have just fallen out of that habit. And it's for a number of different reasons. Streaming certainly is one of them, I think, as you're saying, a lack of product. The strikes last year really impacted just what movies are coming out.

Studios have become much more cautious and what they want to green-light and spend money on. So there just simply doesn't feel like there are as many kind of big movies as there should be in a typical summer. And I think you look at the prices for movies, especially with premium format, I think a lot of people are choosing to wait and see things at home, except for those movies that do feel like you want to get out in the theater to see it with a crowd.

And, right now, Hollywood's really struggling to deliver those impact films to audiences.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, much still in flux, but much on the screen this summer.

Mark Olsen and Alisha Harris, thank you very much.

Mark Olsen: Thank you.

Alisha Harris: Thank you. Thank you.

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