WHEN THE GOING GETS tough, the tough go to the movies. As we learned from the Great Depression, hard economic times are good for the movie business. This year, attendance is up about 10 percent, according to the National Association of Theater Owners, whose spokesman explained: "People still have to get out." Movies offer a temporary escape, safer than liquor, tobacco and guns, other recession-proof industries.
Those numbers will certainly rise during the summer, which promises the usual array of guns 'n' ammo, sequels, remakes and animation. The season, slimmed down from last year (16 percent fewer releases), opened in early May with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Star Trek. But there's still plenty of excitement on deck and vital questions to be answered. Will kids embrace the animated Up, even though it's about an old man? Will the latest retro gimmick, 3D, fill seats or be abandoned as a fad, as it was in the '50s?
Memorial Day weekend brings Terminator Salvation (May 21), the fourth installment in the sci-fi series, which reveals the origins of the T-800 cyborg, played by California's Governator Schwarzenegger who makes a "virtual" appearance. Wayans Brothers nephew Damien Dante Wayans gets into the movie-spoof act with Dance Flick (May 22), a parody of teen dance flicks like Save the Last Dance.
When a movie grosses $600 million, like Night at the Museum, a sequel is mandated by law. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (May 22) has Ben Stiller reprising his museum-watchman role, this time at the D.C. institution. This summer's Pixar entry, the first in 3D, is Up (May 29), featuring the voice of Ed Asner as a grumpy balloon salesman who fulfills his dream of visiting South America by airlifting his house with balloons.
One appealing alternative to high-decibel fare is Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom (May 29), starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as con men that team up with a beautiful heiress (Rachel Weisz). If drunken hilarity is your thing, try Todd Phillips' The Hangover (June 5), about three groomsmen who lose their about-to-wed buddy on a trip to Vegas. And it's back to the '70s with Land of the Lost (June 5), based on the 1974 TV series about the dinosaur-related adventures of a paleontologist (Will Ferrell).
Simpsons scribe Mike Reiss wrote the original screenplay for My Life in Ruins (June 5), but My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos retooled it as a vehicle for herself. She plays a tour guide who leads a comically disastrous Greek tour and, of course, finds love. In another blast from the '70s, Tony Scott remakes the tense caper film The Taking of Pelham 123 (June 12), in which gunmen hijack an NYC subway train. The superb cast includes Denzel Washington and James Gandolfini, with John Travolta as the criminal mastermind. The trailer for Year One (June 19) evokes horrifying flashbacks to Ringo Starr's Caveman, but this Apatow-produced prehistoric comedy promises some anachronistic laughs. Jack Black and Michael Cera star, in loincloths. The romantic comedy The Proposal (June 19) pairs Ryan Reynolds with Sandra Bullock. She's a book editor who, facing deportation to her native Canada (oh noes, free health care!), fakes an engagement to her assistant.
Most of the original cast returns for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24), sequel to the 2007 sci-fi movie based on a line of action toys. Michael Bay again directs, with Shia LaBeouf doing further battle against the Decepticons. Based on Jodi Picoult's novel, My Sister's Keeper (June 26) holds the record for number of tears jerked by at the trailer alone. Abigail Breslin plays an adolescent whose parents conceived her as a "harvest child" for her cancer-stricken sister and who sues for medical emancipation.
Another entry in the 3D derby is Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1), part three of the prehistoric animated series voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Queen Latifah. Miami Vice's Michael Mann returns with Public Enemies (July 1), a gangster flick featuring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover — sadly, without the dress and feather boa.
Former presidential candidate Ron Paul is among those hoodwinked in Brüno (July 10), Sacha Baron Cohen's latest mockumentary. The movie's facetious working title sums it up: Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner.
Simpsons writer Larry Doyle has adapted his novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper (July 10), about a nerdy valedictorian who declares his love at graduation for the school's most popular girl. One surefire summer hit is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 15), the penultimate chapter in the J.K. Rowling series, focusing on the young wizard's sixth year at Hogwarts, when he discovers a Potions book with notes by a mysterious prince.
Andrew Jarecki, who made the brilliant documentary Capturing the Friedmans, makes his feature debut with the All Good Things (July 17), a mystery based on the case of real-estate heir and accused murderer Robert Durst. The romantic comedy The Ugly Truth (July 24) pairs Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. She's a romantically challenged producer, and he's the chauvinistic TV personality who schools her about men and women. Do they fall in love? I wonder!
Who will save the world from an evil billionaire intent on destroying the world? (No, not Rupert Murdoch). Call in G-Force (July 24), secret-agent guinea pigs voiced by Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi and Penélope Cruz in this live-action/animated romp. Adam Sandler is an acquired taste, but advance word on Judd Apatow's comedy-drama Funny People (July 3) is very enthusiastic. Sandler plays a standup comedian who learns he has less than a year to live; Apatow regulars Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann co-star.
When I was a kid, my friend and I thought her brother's G.I. Joe made a hotter boyfriend for Barbie than Ken, that stiff. But Joe's more fighter than lover, as proven by G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Aug. 7), a live-action military-technology showcase based on yet another Hasbro toy line. On a gentler note, Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams star in The Time Traveler's Wife (Aug. 14), based on Audrey Niffenegger's novel about a man with a disorder that causes him to hurtle through time.
And the winner of the Perfect Summer '09 Title Award goes to ... Final Destination: Death Trip 3D (Aug. 28), in which a man (Bobby Campo) realizes a horrible race-car accident he witnessed was a premonition of a future event. Let's see, it's got death, it's a sequel and it's in 3D! Summer-wise, this baby has it all.