The season of popcorn movies (and a few crunchier nuggets) is upon us. The healthy mix of genres is encouraging, including action (fighter jets! dinosaurs! superheroes!), horror, drama, a couple of feature-length soap operas, biography and animation (for both kids and grown-ups).
“Jurassic World Dominion” (PG-13)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Isabella Sermon, DeWanda Wise, BD Wong.
Famously shot during the pandemic on a locked-down set (a situation mocked in Judd Apatow’s satirical “The Bubble”), the sixth installment in the dinosaur saga — in which dinosaurs now hunt freely alongside man — has the longest running time in the franchise’s history: 146 minutes. Maybe that’s necessary to accommodate two sets of actors — one from the original “Jurassic Park” trilogy and another from the “Jurassic World” sequels — plus all the new characters. (They include Wise’s pilot Kayla Watts.) Wong, a veteran of both “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic Word” movies as geneticist Henry Wu, can be heard in the trailer saying, “We made a terrible mistake.” Wait, wasn’t that already obvious several films ago?
What’s the special sauce? The test-tube dinosaurs have gotten bigger. Giganotosaurus, whose genetic material was used to created the hybrid behemoth Indominus rex in the 2015 film, is now the big — make that biggest — dog.
Starring: Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin.
Call it a meta-superhero origin story. In this animated feature, Evans plays astronaut Buzz Lightyear — not the familiar action figure voiced by Tim Allen in the “Toy Story” movies, but a fictional movie character by the same name that inspired the toy. Got all that? Never mind. Just trust Pixar to tell the sci-fi adventure tale with humor and heart.
What’s the special sauce? “Lightyear” arrives with another kind of “buzz.” Originally cut, a scene featuring a same-sex kiss between Aduba’s character and her scientist wife was restored in the wake of protests by Disney employees about the company’s position on Florida’s controversial bill restricting LGBTQ discussion.
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The Aussie filmmaker Baz Luhrmann brought an outsider’s perspective to his 2013 adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 critique of the American Dream. So it wouldn’t be unfair to expect Luhrmann’s biography of Elvis Presley (Butler) to also bring a jaundiced eye to this quintessentially American tale, which views the rise and fall of the King through the lens of his relationship with his enigmatic music manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker (who may or may not have been a Dutch immigrant born Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk).
What’s the special sauce? Hanks, “America’s dad,” seems cast against type as Parker. The character comes across as a kind of Svengali in the trailer: “There are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story,” he says.
“The Black Phone” (R)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw.
“Phone” marks the return of director Scott Derrickson (“Doctor Strange”) to the horror roots he established — not always to great effect — with “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Sinister” and “Deliver Us From Evil.” Set in 1978, the film follows Finney (Thames, making his film debut), a 13-year-old boy who is abducted by a masked psycho known as the Grabber (Hawke). In Finney’s dungeonlike cell, the boy finds a disconnected landline that somehow allows him to communicate, supernaturally, with the spirits of the room’s former occupants.
What’s the special sauce? “The Black Phone” is based on a short story from the Bram Stoker Award-winning collection “20th Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill (aka Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of horror virtuoso Stephen King). Like father, like son?
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” (PG)
Starring: Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews.
This 1970s-set animated supervillain origin story follows a 12-year-old Gru (voice of Carell), a budding criminal mastermind facing off against a rival gang with the help of his little pill-shaped henchmen.
What’s the special sauce? New additions to the voice cast include several veteran action stars among those playing the film’s villains, known as the Vicious 6, with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren and Danny Trejo joining Alan Arkin and Taraji P. Henson.
“Thor: Love and Thunder” (PG-13)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Taika Waititi.
The retirement plans of a war-weary Thor (Hemsworth) are put on hold by the appearance of the villainous Gorr the God Butcher (Bale), whose stated aim is nothing less than the extinction of the Asgardians. (It’s right there in his name!) In his quest to stop Gorr, Thor is aided by Valkyrie (Thompson), Korg (Waititi) and former flame Jane Foster (Portman).
What’s the special sauce? The God of Thunder is a lady. Much has been made of the appearance of Thor’s old girlfriend, who appears in the trailer brandishing Thor’s signature weapon: the celestial hammer Mjolnir.
“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (PG)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Cera, Michelle Yeoh, Mel Brooks, Ricky Gervais, Djimon Hounsou, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi.
In this computer-animated family adventure from Nickelodeon, set in a town called Kakamucho, populated almost entirely by cats, an — ahem — underdog pooch named Hank (voice of Cera) enlists the services of Jimbo (Jackson), a once-great-but-now-retired samurai cat, to train him to fight off a villainous feline named Ika Chu (Gervais) who is terrorizing their village.
What’s the special sauce? The film once had the working title “Blazing Samurai” — and is in fact an homage to the 1974 film “Blazing Saddles.” That may explain all the flatulence humor in the trailer, along with the presence of “Saddles” director Brooks in the role of the shogun of Kakamucho.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” (not yet rated)
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, David Strathairn, Harris Dickinson, Garret Dillahunt.
Based on Delia Owens’ 2018 best-selling thriller, “Crawdads” follows Kya (Edgar-Jones), aka the “Marsh Girl,” a coastal North Carolina wild child who, after being abandoned by her family, raises herself to adulthood, falls in love and is eventually put on trial for murder.
The secret sauce? There’s a line in the book: “Dear reader, I’ve steered this exquisite tale into a bit of hackneyed territory, but a girl’s gotta score a movie deal.” Well, producer Reese Witherspoon (“Gone Girl,” “Big Little Lies”) certainly thinks it has potential.
“Nope” (not yet rated)
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), the horror film centers on sibling horse trainers James and Jill Haywood (Kaluuya and Palmer), and their experiences with a mysterious force that settles over their California ranch.
What’s the special sauce? Whether it’s Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out,” his follow-up “Us” or the “Candyman” sequel he produced, the filmmaker puts his stamp on everything he touches. That’s his knack for scaring us and making us think at the same time.
“Bullet Train” (not yet rated)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A. Martínez Ocasio (aka Bad Bunny).
Five assassins — played by Pitt, Henry, Taylor-Johnson, King and Koji — board a Japanese high-speed train en route from Tokyo to Morioka, only to find that their missions are intertwined. The high-octane, action-packed thriller is based on Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel “Maria Beetle” (retitled “Bullet Train” for the English translation). NPR called the book “fast, deadly and loads of fun.”
What’s the special sauce? Stuntman and stunt coordinator turned filmmaker David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Deadpool 2”) knows his way around a fight scene but also knows not to get in the way of a flinging zinger.
“DC League of Super-Pets” (not yet rated)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Krasinski, Kevin Hart, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Keanu Reeves, Kate McKinnon, Marc Maron.
In this animated comedy, Johnson provides the voice of Krypto, a super-dog belonging to Superman (Krasinski). When his master is kidnapped by Lex Luthor (Maron), along with Batman (Reeves) and other members of the Justice League, Krypto must rally his animal friends — who have newly discovered powers of their own — to rescue them.
What’s the special sauce? After contributing to a string of very funny screenplays for “The Lego Batman Movie” and other comedies — live action and animated — Jared Stern (“Happy Anniversary”) makes his animated directorial debut.
“Beast” (not yet rated)
Starring: Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Jeffries, Sharlto Copley.
Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”) directs Elba in an action-adventure tale about a widower whose visit to a South African game reserve with his daughters (Halley and Jeffries) — meant as an opportunity for emotional healing — turns into a nightmare when they are stalked by a rogue lion.
What’s the special sauce? It’s August, and Kormakur — while no auteur — brings a workmanlike approach to thrillers. This writer described his 2012 film “Contraband,” with Mark Wahlberg, as “an ‘Oceans Eleven’ movie, minus the glamour.”
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Javon “Wanna” Walton, Martin Starr, Moises Arias, Pilou Asbaek.
Based on a series of comic books published by the micro-indie label Mythos, “Samaritan” tells the story of a trash collector (Stallone) who turns out to be a retired superhero once known as Samaritan. Walton plays a boy who coaxes his hero to again take up the mantle and save their city from a new villain (Asbaek). Reaction to the dark and violent trailer, which CinemaCon attendees were given a sneak preview of, was glowing.
What’s the special sauce? At 75 years old, Stallone has the rare distinction of having had at least one No. 1 film at the box office in each of six successive decades, from 1976’s “Rocky” to last year’s “The Suicide Squad.”