If you were to glance at this year’s summer movie schedule, you might think it was the mid-1990s: New installments of Toy Story and Men in Black will hit theaters, and The Lion King is getting a reboot for some reason (money). But a closer look reveals plenty of original—actually original—movies to watch over the next few months.
Once a late-May-to-mid-August affair, “summer movie season” has been in expansion mode of late. The concept of a “summer movie” is also changing: Franchise blockbusters now come out in April (Avengers: Endgame) or as early as February (Black Panther), when release schedules are less crowded and films can hog the headlines. In short, Hollywood is now so blockbuster-driven that summer movie season spans the entire year.
That presents more opportunities than ever for smaller, quirkier films to break through during actual summer months. Last year, Eighth Grade dazzled critics in July, while BlacKkKlansman‘s August release date didn’t stop it from becoming a serious awards contender. In 2017, films like The Beguiled, Logan Lucky, and Lady Bird proved that some of the best indie offerings come out in the summer.
So no matter your particular niche, there’s probably a “summer movie” coming out for you. Here’s some of the counter-programming to look out for if you’re in the mood to spend a few hours in an air-conditioned theater:
Release date: June 7
Niche genre: “Emma Thompson playing a legendary late-night talk show host in a scenario we wish were real life”
FYI: The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Amazon for a whopping $13 million—the largest sum of this year’s festival.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Release date: June 7
Niche genre: “Films whose trailers alone should probably win Oscars”
FYI: Directed by Joe Talbot and starring Jimmie Fails as himself, the film tracks Fails’ attempt to reclaim the childhood Victorian home that his grandfather built. Like Late Night, it premiered at Sundance, where it won multiple awards including Best Directing.
Release date: June 28
Niche genre: “There’s only one person in the world who remembers a famous band in a cinematic concept that will probably be cool once but we hope Hollywood doesn’t milk forever”
FYI: The cost of licensing The Beatles’ music made up a large chunk of the film’s overall budget. Director Danny Boyle wrote letters to surviving band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as widows Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono. He said he received “lovely” letters back from Starr and Harrison.
Release date: July 3
Niche genre: “Horror films that take place entirely during the daytime at a picturesque Swedish countryside retreat”
FYI: Director Ari Aster’s follow-up to last summer’s horror hit, Hereditary, Midsommar stars Florence Pugh as a young woman roped into attending what looks like Fyre Festival for cannibals. The film will look to revive the lost art of “daylight horror” that was popular in the 1970s.
Release date: July 12
Niche genre: “Films that make you realize their normally comedy-centric lead performer is capable of doing drama”
FYI: Another Sundance Hit, The Farewell went to indie distributor A24 after a bidding war that also included Netflix and Amazon. It currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 42 reviews. Look for Awkwafina at the Oscars next year.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Release date: July 26
Niche genre: “Leonardo DiCaprio deigning to do comedy,” “Hollywood movies about how great Hollywood is”
FYI: The Quentin Tarantino film received a seven-minute standing ovation at its Cannes premiere, which sounds like a lot, but was actually pretty average for the prestigious French film festival. It also stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and everyone else who has ever acted in a film.
Release date: Aug. 16
Niche genre: “Superbad, but with 12-year-olds”
FYI: Quartz was in attendance at the film’s raucous SXSW premiere in March. Produced by Seth Rogen and directed by The Office writer Gene Stupnitsky, Good Boys could continue the trend of successful R-rated studio comedies, following recent movies like Game Night and Blockers.
Other films to watch this summer:
“Kumail Nanjiani is an Uber driver” (Stuber, July 12)
“The Rock and Jason Statham smash things with their bodies” (Hobbs & Shaw, Aug. 2)
“Those books that scared the crap out of millennials when they were kids” (Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, Aug. 9)
“Cate Blanchett wearing cool sunglasses” (Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Aug. 16)
“The scary clown is back, but this time Bill Hader is in it” (It: Chapter Two, Sept. 6)