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Summer movies: The season of big-budget bangs uses its brain 

Explosions, pratfalls, and robots. Heroes, aliens, and blondes. It must be summertime at the movies.

Beyond the flash, though, it's striking to note just how many movies will require us to actually think this summer. Aren't we supposed to save thinking for the fall?

Maybe it's the election, but there are some pretty serious and intense flicks coming our way — docs and foreign films and dramas that don't guarantee a happy ending. The distributors must be nuts, but in a sweetly brave and naïve way. And so, as an act of solidarity, we're taking the pledge: For every movie we see that's playing on more than one screen at the multiplex, we hereby vow to see one film that might be good for us. Because after all, as with pop idols and presidents, we get the movies that we deserve.

Thrills & Chills: The summer in action and horror.

(Dates subject to change.)

May 22

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Man. Hat. Whip.

May 30

The Strangers: In a remote cabin, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman match wits with three home invaders wearing creepy masks. Very creepy masks.

Stuck : A retirement-home caregiver (Mena Suvari) hits a newly homeless executive (Stephen Rea), and his body gets stuck in her windshield. She goes to bury him, but — uh-oh — he's still alive. Based on a true story. From Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon.

June 6

The Mother of Tears : Dario Argento directs his daughter, Asia Argento, as an art student who inadvertently frees a demonic witch from an ancient urn. Concludes a trilogy that began with 1977's eternally creepy Suspiria.

June 13

The Incredible Hulk : Edward Norton goes green.

June 27

Wanted: Angelina Jolie, once again channeling her inner assassin, teaches James McAvoy the tricks of the trade in this adaptation of Mark Millar's graphic novel. With Morgan Freeman.

July 2

Hancock: Will Smith as a modern-day superhero who's become more famous for being drunk than for his ability to lift a whale with one hand.

July 11

Hellboy: The Golden Army: Ron Perlman returns as the lobster-hued demon with the mean right punch, and this time he's guided by Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro.

July 18

Mad Detective: Hong Kong action masters Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai team up for this tale of an insane detective (literally) and his search for two missing cops. Watch for the split personality/split-screen scene.

The Dark Knight: Batman (Christian Bale) versus the Joker (Heath Ledger). And an excuse for the tabs to rehash Ledger's death for newsstand sales. Christopher Nolan directs.

July 25

Red : When teen hoodlums shoot Brian Cox's dog Red, the pissed-off owner seeks revenge — but the little killer's dad (Tom Sizemore) has evil ideas of his own.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return as Mulder and Scully, a sorta-kinda couple, whose kid must be in high school by now.

August 1

Midnight Meat Train: Bradley Cooper stars as a Manhattan photographer who becomes obsessed with finding a subway serial killer. The first in a series of films to be based on Clive Barker's hard-core horror collection, "Books of Blood."

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Brendan Fraser, lifelong Mummy catcher, goes to China.

Transsiberian: An American couple (Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer) find themselves enmeshed in a murderous drug plot aboard the fabled express train between China and Russia. With Ben Kingsley.

August 15

Mirrors: In this remake of a South Korean film, Kiefer Sutherland battles a vengeful ghost in a haunted department store. In other words, stay out of the dressing room.

August 22

Bangkok Dangerous: Nicolas Cage is a hit man on assignment in this action thriller from China's talented Pang Brothers (The Eye), here remaking their 1999 debut film.

August 29

Traitor: A CIA terrorist thriller starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce, and based on a story idea from . . . wait for it . . . Steve Martin.

Babylon A.D.: Vin Diesel in a near-future world all gone to hell, trying to protect a woman whose baby will be the next Messiah. Don't worry: Vin will save us.

But Seriously, Folks: The summer in drama.

May 30

Savage Grace: Scandalous events in the lives of the Baekeland family — heirs to the inventor of plastic — are recounted by director Tom Kalin (Swoon) and actors Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, and Eddie Redmayne.

June 6

When Did You Last See Your Father?: Colin Firth as an English writer attempting to reconcile with his ailing, larger-than-life father, played by Jim Broadbent. Based on Blake Morrison's acclaimed memoir of his 1950s childhood.

June 13

Quid Pro Quo: A mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) leads a young radio reporter (Nick Stahl) into the strange world of those who desire — and not necessarily in a sexual way — to be disabled or maimed.

June 20

Brick Lane: A young Muslim woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee), born in Bangladesh, rebels against convention in modern-day London.

Expired: Love — or is it abuse? — blossoms between a shy meter maid (Samantha Morton) and her aggressive co-worker (Jason Patric). This film marks a welcome return to the screen by the recently ill and always delightful Teri Garr, in a dual role.

July 11

August: Josh Hartnett is a Manhattan entrepreneur riding the rise and rapid fall of the dot-com boom-and-bust. (Not a horror movie.)

July 23

Boy A: After spending most of his life in prison for a notorious crime, a young man (Andrew Garfield) adjusts to life on the outside.

July 25

Baghead: In a film reported to be heavier on character development than psycho-terror, two couples in a remote cabin are being watched by a potential killer. Oddly, this is a mumblecore movie (by the brothers Duplass).

Brideshead Revisited: Turned into a wildly popular '80s PBS miniseries, Evelyn Waugh's classic novel of English manners comes to the big screen, with Matthew Goode as Waugh's narrator and Emma Thompson as the lady of the manor.

Henry Poole Is Here: A dying man (Luke Wilson) is forced to face his religious beliefs when his neighbors begin to see Christ's face in a stain on the side of his house.

The Longshots: Although it's probably the last film people would have expected him to helm, rock star Fred Durst makes his directorial debut with the true story of the teenage girl who became the first female to play on a Pop Warner football team. Akeelah and the Bee's Keke Palmer stars, with Ice Cube as the coach.

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America: Two Vikings, lost in 11th-century North America, attempt to survive and then rebuild, while struggling to overcome their instinct for war. Features very little dialogue and a reportedly intense rock soundtrack. Headbangers take notice.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: Director Wayne Wang (Eat a Bowl of Tea, The Joy Luck Club) returns to his indie roots with the story of a elderly man (Henry O) who comes from China to Spokane to visit his newly divorced daughter.

August 1

Choke: A sex-addicted con artist (Sam Rockwell), his deranged mother (Anjelica Huston), and a recovering chronic masturbator (Brad Henke) populate Clark Gregg's adaptation of Chuck Fight Club Palahniuk's novel.

Frozen River: The great Melissa Leo finally gets top billing in filmmaker Courtney Hunt's story — a Sundance hit — of a single mother who gets involved in human smuggling on the U.S./Canada border.

August 8

Elegy: Ben Kingsley is a womanizing English professor who's slowly come unraveled by his obsessive affair with a student (Penelope Cruz). Based on a novella by Philip Roth, with Dennis Hopper and Patricia Clarkson.

Towelhead: A love-it-or-loathe-it film from Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) about a 13-year-old Lebanese American girl (Summer Bushil) who encounters racism and sexual abuse when she moves to Houston. With Aaron Eckhart.

August 22

Crossing Over: Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, and Summer Bushil crash into each other in director Wayne Kramer's multistory exploration of life in immigrant Los Angeles.

Study Abroad: The summer in subtitles.

May 30

The Unknown Woman: Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore's complex thriller about a Russian woman (Kseniya Rappoport) with a tragic past but questionable motives, who insinuates herself into the life of a young Italian family.

June 6

Mongol: This recent foreign-film Oscar nominee recounts the early years of Genghis Khan, the mighty 12th-century warrior and conqueror of all he surveyed.

June 27

Elsa & Fred: Manuel Alexandre and China Zorrilla star as two seventysomething neighbors, who fall in love and travel to Italy to re-enact the Trevi Fountain scene from Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

The Last Mistress: Director and provocateur Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) heads to 19th-century France, where a young nobleman (Fu'ad Ait Aattou) tries to shake his obsession with his longtime mistress (Asia Argento, 2008's most prolific actress).

Tell No One: In this César Award-winning French adaptation of an American novel by Harlan Coben, François Cluzet stars as a pediatrician under suspicion of murder.

August 15

A Girl Cut in Two: Reportedly inspired by the 1906 murder of New York architect Stanford White, this thriller by French director Claude Chabrol concerns a TV reporter (Ludivine Sagnier) torn between two charismatic and possibly treacherous men (Benoit Magimel and François Berléand).

Just the Facts: The summer in docs.

May 30

Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The war over steroids in sports, as experienced by filmmaker Christopher Bell and his pro-wrestler and pro-lifter brothers, both unapologetic juicers.

June 11

Encounters at the End of the World: Werner Herzog, who knows a thing or two about living life to the extreme, heads to Antarctica to meet the researchers who man one of the world's most remote science stations.

June 13

Chris & Don: A Love Story: In this moving documentary, artist Don Bachardy looks back on his 40-year relationship with writer Christopher Isherwood, whose Berlin Stories inspired the musical Cabaret.

My Winnipeg: Using his signature mix of silent film, animation, and delightfully weird melodrama, Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin composes a love letter to his Canadian hometown.

The Sky Turns : After 35 years away, filmmaker Mercedes Alvarez returns to the tiny Spanish village where she was the very last child to be born.

June 27

Gunnin' for That #1 Spot: Beastie Boy Adam Yauch tracks eight high-school basketball players — NBA contenders all — as they prepare for a showcase game in Harlem's legendary Rucker Park.

Trumbo: This tribute to blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Johnny Got His Gun), written by his playwright son, Christopher, features readings by Joan Allen, Kirk and Michael Douglas, and Paul Giamatti.

July 4

Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: With the help of Johnny Depp, illustrator Ralph Steadman, and a treasure trove of 1960s and '70s archival footage, filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) tracks the life of the mad-genius journalist.

July 11

Religulous: Comedian Bill Maher takes on religion in this documentary from Curb Your Enthusiasm director Larry Charles.

July 18

Lou Reed's Berlin: In a concert film directed by Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Lou Reed performs, for the first time ever, his magnificent 1973 song-cycle, "Berlin."

July 25

American Teen: In this Sundance hit, filmmaker Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture) tracks a year in the life of four Indiana teens.

August 22

Man on Wire: Filmmaker James Marsh explores the ultimate high-wire act: tightrope walker Philippe Petit's 1974 illegal stroll between the Twin Towers.

Take the Kids: The summer in family fun.

June 6

Kung Fu Panda: Po the Panda learns martial arts in order to protect his village against a marauding snow leopard. Featuring the voices of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black.

June 27

WALL-E: The new computer 'toon from Pixar director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) takes place 700 years in the future, when a lonely Earth robot called WALL-E and a sleek 'bot from space named EVE team up for adventure.

July 2

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: In a role likely to make Dakota Fanning pea green with envy, Abigail Breslin stars as Kit, the mystery-solving 10-year-old heroine of the popular Depression-era book series.

July 11

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D: Brendan Fraser digs deep.

July 18

Space Chimps: Animated monkeys blast into space to head off approaching aliens.

August 8

Fly Me to the Moon: Animated 3-D astronaut flies (very cute flies) go to the moon.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

The magic jeans follow America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Blake Lively, and Alexis Bledel to college and beyond.

August 15

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: George Lucas, who sure knows how to stretch an idea, produced this animated film about Anakin Skywalker's glorious Jedi days — before Darth got his mitts on him.

August 22

Wild Child: Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) as a spoiled Malibu teen (is there any other kind?) who's sent to a strict English boarding school.

A Laugh Riot: The summer in comedy — romantic and otherwise.

May 23

Postal: German action-director Uwe Boll — aka the man bloggers love to hate — pokes fun at contemporary America in this comedy about two thieves who run afoul of Osama bin Laden and George W. (traveling separately) while planning a heist.

May 30

The Foot Fist Way: A strip-mall tae kwan do instructor (Danny McBride) with lots of attitude and few actual skills prepares for a big fight. Giving Jody Hill's no-budget comedy some cachet? Will Ferrell's championing.

Sex and the City: The Movie: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon as four New Yorkers with unlimited clothing and brunch budgets.

June 3

The Wackness: Josh Peck as a teenage pot dealer in 1994 New York. His best client? His shrink, played by Ben Kingsley (who's everywhere this summer).

June 6

The Go-Getter: A 19-year-old (Lou Taylor Pucci) encounters Zooey Deschanel and Jena Malone after stealing a car to head across country to find his long-lost brother.

Miss Conception: Heather Graham has one month to conceive a child and enlists her friend (Mia Kirshner) to help her find a father. But that's not all! The title has a double meaning!

Mister Foe: Jamie Bell is Hallam Foe, a 17-year-old obsessed with jumping across Edinburgh rooftops and a thing for beautiful girl Sophia Myles.

The Promotion: John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott duke it out for the manager job at a Chicago grocery store in this consumer satire from writer-director Steve Conrad, who penned The Pursuit of Happyness.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan: A pumped-up Adam Sandler stars as an Israeli Mossad agent, fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a Brooklyn hairstylist.

June 20

Get Smart: Steve Carell is Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway Agent 99 in this film version of the mid-1960s TV show about an inept superspy and his smarter, sexier sidekick.

The Love Guru: Mike Myers dons a mahatma beard and golden swami robes to play an American raised in India, who dreams of becoming a Brooklyn hairstylist (or America's go-to self-help guru). With Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake.

June 27

Finding Amanda: Brittany Snow is a Vegas stripper so badly in need of rehab that her mother enlists her uncle (Matthew Broderick) to steer her sober. Trouble is, he might just need to take a detour to the track . . .

July 4

Diminished Capacity: On the heels of his wife's SATC shebang, Matthew Broderick opens another movie, this time starring as a brain-injured man who hits the road with his dementia-addled uncle (Alan Alda) and high-school sweetheart (Virginia Madsen).

July 25

Step Brothers: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly reunite as newly related men who discover that two fools are better than one.

July 11

Meet Dave: Dave (Eddie Murphy) is an alien, new to Earth. Dave tries to adjust to Manhattan life, all the while being supervised by a command post of tiny (alien) people in his head (whom we see).

Kenny: Kenny Smyth (Shane Jacobson), Australian port-o-potty entrepreneur, hopes to find a little respect at a Nashville convention of . . . port-o-potty entrepreneurs.

August 1

In Search of a Midnight Kiss: Filmed in black-and-white, this Manhattan comedy tags along with a 29-year-old man (Scoot McNairy) on a Craig's List date with a beautiful but super-intense young woman (Sara Simmonds).

The Rocker: Rainn Wilson steps out of The Office and into leather pants for this comedy about a failed rock drummer getting a second chance — with his nephew's high-school band.

Swing Vote: On the eve of the presidential election, one drunken ne'er-do-well (Kevin Costner) has the power to cast the sole deciding vote. Could be nonfiction.

August 8

Pineapple Express: Seth Rogen and James Franco are stoned on the best weed of their life, as well as running for their lives from a killer cop, in a film penned by Rogen and his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg, and directed by indie darling David Gordon Green. (Admission is half-price if you bring your own bong.)

August 15

Bottle Shock: Based on the true story of a French wine-shop owner (Alan Rickman) who traveled to Napa in 1976 to set up a blind taste test between French and California wines. The must-see summer flick for wine lovers.

Tropic Thunder: Ben Stiller (who also directs), Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. go all Rambo as Hollywood actors who don't realize that their military training is actually in a real war. With Tom Cruise in a fat-suit cameo all the world wants to see (including you).

August 22

Hamlet 2: This Sundance favorite stars Steve Coogan as a Tucson high-school teacher, whose sequel to Shakespeare's "bummer" of a play thrills his students and freaks out their parents.

The House Bunny: Ditzy Playboy bunny Anna Faris becomes college-sorority house mother, a plotline that must have made for a terribly efficient pitch meeting.

The Accidental Husband: Grey's Anatomy heartthrob Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the ubiquitous Colin Firth compete for Uma Thurman's heart in this romantic comedy from actor-turned-director Griffin Dunne.

August 29

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen down Barcelona way, steering Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Scarlett Johansson (yet again) through the complications of three-way love.

Dancing Queen: The summer in ABBA films.

July 25

Mamma Mia! : Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Amanda Seyfried dance and sing to the music of — who else? — ABBA.

(All dates are subject to change. Studios are wacky like that.)

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