(Photo: Paramount Pictures/Columbia Pictures/20th Century Fox/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Last summer we saw some massive hits and more than a few high-profile bombs, resulting in a box office total that trailed behind the seasonal record set in 2011. This year we've got a new crop of superhero flicks, long-awaited sequels, and animated family films, with not one big-budget adaptation of a board game in the bunch (yes, we're still not over 'Battleship').
But with several giant movies coming each weekend from the start of May through the end of August, it's tough to know which ones are really worth your time. So we've ranked the 25 titles we are most excited to see this summer. See why we're looking forward to them, and watch the trailers to judge for yourself.
25) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (August 23)
There have been plenty of fantasy movies trying to fill the gap left by "Harry Potter" and "Twilight," but this adaptation of Cassandra Clare's bestselling series might have the best shot at taking over. Lily Collins plays a young woman who discovers she has the ability to see the demons that walk among us, and she joins a band of Shadowhunters to defend the human world. It's got action, romance, werewolves, and everything else fantasy fans are looking for.
24) World War Z (June 21)
A giant, globe-spanning epic about a zombie apocalypse that threatens to destroy humanity? Yeah, it sounds like something we'd be into. But delays in release dates, new writers brought in, and an entirely new ending filmed, we are a little wary of what the finished product will bring. It's always great to see Brad Pitt in his A-list movie star mode, but maybe there's a reason no one has ever spent $170 million on a zombie film before.
23) One Direction: This Is Us (August 30)
They're global pop sensations from across the pond. And as their decades-ago British-invading predecessors the Beatles did, so can they – star in a movie. Also following in Katy Perry and Justin Bieber's footsteps – their film is a full on 3D documentary. But be warned: You may want to get vaccinated before you catch the One Direction infection.
22) 2 Guns (August 2)
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg rob a bank, but it turns out they're both undercover agents for different agencies. And then their operation goes bad, and suddenly they're the targets of some genuine bad guys. Since Washington has had recent successes when paired with a younger guy ("Unstoppable," "Safe House"), and Wahlberg does his best work when there's a strong actor to play against, we're hopeful this August release will hit the target.
21) Kick-Ass 2 (August 16)
Sure Kick Ass, the nerdy every-guy turned super hero, is back, but we have to admit we're even more pumped for the return of an older, perhaps tougher, Hit Girl. This time Jim Carrey joins the crew as ex-mobster vigilante Colonel Stars and Stripes in what all but guarantees some unforgettable screen time. I challenge you to say anything bad about a film that dares to name its lead villain something completely unprintable. Oh yeah, we're definitely catching this one.
20) You're Next (August 23)
There are quite a few horror movies aiming to provide chills as an antidote to the summer heat. But the one that just might be the scariest is this low-budget thriller that was the hit of last fall's Toronto Film Festival. A family reunion gets overtaken by a group of masked, ax-wielding home invaders. But that's just the beginning of the terror. Look for this to be a breakout hit late in the season.
19) After Earth (May 31)
When humanity is wiped out by future catastrophe, the only people left will apparently be A-list movie stars. Tom Cruise was the last man left in "Oblivion," and this summer it's Will Smith's turn, along with his son Jaden (playing his on-screen son, naturally). Their spaceship crashes 1,000 years after the world is abandoned, and now it's filled with dangerous creatures with a hunger for people. We're happy to see Will Smith doing another summer sci-fi blockbuster, but director M. Night Shyamalan's recent track record does temper expectations a bit.
18) The Kings of Summer (May 31)
Who says summer movies have to be overstuffed, special effects-filled blockbusters? How about a genuinely funny coming of age tale in the mold of "Stand By Me" that reminds you of how summers used to be. The movie about three teenage guys who build a ramshackle house of their own in the woods earned glowing reviews when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The young trio of newcomers is joined by seasoned funny people Nick Offerman (from "Parks and Recreation"), Megan Mullally and Alison Brie.
17) This Is the End (June 12)
When the apocalypse comes, you want to be surrounded by the people closest to you. Unless your friends are all Hollywood stars, because then you're screwed. At least, that's the idea behind Seth Rogen's directorial debut, where he plays himself alongside real-life pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. They're all chilling at Franco's when catastrophe strikes, and they find they're hilariously ill equipped to deal with it. Then Emma Watson pops in to beat them up. Seriously, how could you go wrong?
16) White House Down (June 28)
No one destroys landmarks better than Roland Emmerich, and the one he loves to wreck the most sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He had aliens blast it in "Independence Day" and dropped an aircraft carrier on it in "2012." Now he's made a whole movie about smashing the place, with Jamie Foxx as the endangered president and Channing Tatum as the DC cop who is POTUS's only hope.
15) The Hangover Part III (May 24)
The first "Hangover" had such an original conceit -- a wild comedy structured more like a mystery movie -- that it was a big disappointment that "Part II" followed the exact same beats in just a new location. "Part III" switches it up by returning the Las Vegas setting of the first, but throwing out the "waking up after a bachelor party" set-up. All the members of the Wolf Pack are back, with John Goodman joining as a new villain. And the filmmakers promise this is the last installment, so we hope its one to remember.
14) The Great Gatsby (May 10)
Forget all that jazz of the roaring '20s, Baz Luhrmann likes his "Great Gatsby" with big dose of hip-hop and pop. Leonardo DiCaprio brings Gatsby to life in this film adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald book in a super-stylized take on the world of his charismatic and cryptic character. His real life best bud Tobey Maguire stars along with Carey Mulligan as the bewitching Daisy. And if you thought Luhrmann's direction in "Moulin Rouge" was in-your-face, just wait until you see what he can do with 3D.
13) Despicable Me 2 (July 3)
The bald, pointy-nosed, implacably accented super villain Gru is back, along with the three adorable girls he adopted (and all his babbling yellow Minions). But his new family has given Gru a new perspective on life, and he gets recruited by the Anti-Villain League to actually try to save the world for a change. Steve Carell returns, with new characters voiced by Kristen Wiig and Al Pacino (his first ever animated movie).
12) The Wolverine (July 26)
It's Hugh Jackman's fifth time playing the Marvel hero (six if you count his funny cameo in "X-Men: First Class"), and he still looks the same as he did the first time he played him 13 years ago. Makes you wonder if Jackman also has some anti-aging genetic mutation. In this new movie, Wolverine finds himself in Japan at odds with a Yakuza crime boss and his legion of ninjas. This chapter is based on one of the most respected comic-book series of all time, and it looks like its got the edge that "X-Men Origins" was lacking.
11) The Lone Ranger (July 3)
What happens when the writers, producer, director and star of the original "Pirates of the Caribbean" trade in their sailing ships for steam trains? You get this updated take on the masked Western hero and his faithful Native American companion. Armie Hammer plays the Ranger and Johnny Depp is Tonto, an unlikely team who join together to bring a notorious outlaw to justice. It's got the action, scale, and humor of the first, with another weirdly compelling Johnny Deep character.
10) Before Midnight (May 24)
Most romantic comedies assume that bringing the couple together at the end of the movie solves everything, but anyone in a real relationship knows that's not the case. And that's what's great about "Before Midnight," director Richard Linklater's third on-screen pairing of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (all three collaborated on the script). 18 years after they first met, and 9 years after they got together, Jesse and Celine are now parents to two little girls. But on the last day of their Greek vacation, the two have to take a fresh look at what "happily ever after" really means.
9) Fast & Furious 6 (May 24)
She's baaaack. Cars: check. Crime: check. The Rock: check. Letty, back from the dead: check? Yes, it looks like Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) has risen from the grave and has gone completely hatemonger on her former love, Dom (Vin Diesel). This is worth watching for at least two reasons (and likely many more): to find out how Letty lived and figure out why the heck she tracks down Dom only to start shooting at him. Can you say vroom?
8) The World's End (August 23)
Actor Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright have collaborated on two movies before -- "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" -- and they both made Yahoo! Movies' list of the 100 Funniest Movies to See Before You Die. So naturally we're beyond excited for their third movie about a gang of old friends trying to recreate an epic pub-crawl from their youth. And, of course, something apocalyptic happens. We can't wait.
'The World's End' (Photo: Focus Features)
7) The Heat (June 28)
The surprising success of "Identity Thief" this past Spring showed that "Bridesmaids" was no fluke and Melissa McCarthy is a true force to be reckoned with. So how perfect is it that she's teaming up with Sandra Bullock for the rare female-driven buddy cop comedy. Bullock is a by-the-book Fed who partners with McCarthy's unpredictable Boston detective to take down a drug kingpin. It's another R-rated romp from "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig, so we are ready to take this ride.
6) Elysium (August 9)
2009's "District 9" seemed to come out of nowhere (though, technically, it was from South Africa), but it floored audiences and critics alike with its sci-fi thrills and surprisingly deep social themes. Now writer/director Neill Blomkamp is working on a much bigger canvas to tell another high-tech story with modern-day implications. In the future, the rich live in a posh space station called Elysium while the poor suffer on the barren wasteland of Earth. Matt Damon plays an ex-con with only a few days to live whose only hope at survival is getting on board the highly guarded Elysium. Everything we've seen from this promises it can deliver big action without skimping on the big ideas.
5) Pacific Rim (July 12)
Giant robots fighting giant monsters. What more do you need to know?
Okay, if you insist. director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labrynith") tells this original story about giant creatures called "Kaiju" which rise out of a dimensional portal that cracks open in the ocean. To combat them, humanity builds "Jaegers," enormous robots that require two pilots to operate in perfect sync. The scale of this movie is almost indescribable (in one scene we got a look at, a robot picks up an oil tanker to use as a club to smack a robot in the face), and it just might be the best eye-candy of the summer.
4) Iron Man 3 (May 1)
Really, how could we not be excited about this? Summer kicks off with Robert Downey Jr. donning his mechanized armor for the fourth time to face one of the most enduring villains from the comic books, the Mandarin (played by Ben Kinsgley). After the spectacle of "The Avengers," this is a more stripped down and personal story, though it does have more new Iron Man armors than all the previous movies combined. Early reviews have been almost uniformly positive, and Marvel has shown they know how to start the movie season off with a bang.
3) Monsters University (June 21)
For their fourteenth feature film, the animation artists at Pixar are going back to school. In their first ever prequel, "Monsters University" shows Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman) as college freshman. And we see they weren't always the bestest of buddies. But what starts as a rivalry to see who will be top in their class turns to an uneasy partnership as their fraternity competes in the annual Scare Games. It looks like a fun (albeit G-rated) throwback to college comedies of the '80s, and kids and adults alike should have a great time reconnecting with Mike and Sulley.
2) Star Trek Into Darkness (May 15)
Ever since J.J. Abrams's 2009 "Star Trek" reboot more than proved his salt as an event film mastermind, his follow-up has been as highly anticipated as Ralphie's Red Ryder BB gun on Christmas morning. With the promise Benedict Cumberbatch's mysterious villain (is he or isn't he Khan?) and Abrams's own claims that he has upped the ante this time around, we're bracing for an astounding, thrill-packed, dark ride. And it should tide us over for outer-space thrills until the Abrams-directed "Star Wars Episode VIII" lands in 2015.
1) Man of Steel (June 14)
We'll admit we were trying to stay cautiously optimistic about this new big-screen take on Superman, but the last trailer sealed the deal. We are in. Director Zack Snyder ("300") and producer Christopher Nolan ("The Dark Knight") look like they have revitalized the blue-suited hero without throwing out the iconic elements we love. Which is especially impressive considering the character just celebrated his 75th anniversary. Henry Cavill dons the cape, and he's joined by an Oscar-caliber cast that includes Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Costner. In other words: we are so there.
Meriah Doty (@meriahonfiah) contributed to this article.