Summer’s here, and — well, OK, summer isn’t here. At all. Every year we start blockbuster season sooner, because the principal export of this country is trilogies based on children’s entertainment and there aren’t enough weekends in June, July, and August to hold it all anymore. “Summer” isn’t a season anymore. “Summer” is a genre. These are its totems.
Bay, Michael (n.) — Once scoffed, “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime.” If catering to that demo were actually illegal, would be a supervillain. Probably peaked cinematically with Bad Boys II. Minus the modest-by-Bay-standards heists-‘n’-‘roids comedy Pain & Gain, has spent going on seven years making Transformers movies, each one a more-successful attempt to re-create through cinema the experience of sticking your face in a Vitamix.
Bridesmaids (n.) — Paradigm-shiftingly raunchy 2011 female-ensemble comedy. Widely credited with convincing studios not to completely write off 50.8 percent of the population for an entire season each year. Arguably responsible for the deluge of female-led films hitting theaters this summer, provided your definition of “deluge” is “one or two.”
Bruckheimer, Jerry (n.) — More synonymous with the blockbuster aesthetic than anyone save possibly Michael Bay (whose five highest-grossing movies Bruckheimer coproduced). With partner Don Simpson, produced summer blockbusters such as Top Gun and Bad Boys. Without Simpson — who slipped into irretrievable drug addiction and perished sur la toilette in 1996 — still managed to produce the National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean, and CSI franchises, each lucrative enough to finance a moon colony on its own.
Cruise, Tom (n.) — Ageless, tireless blockbuster-season mainstay with three decades of warm-weather hits to his credit, from Top Gun to the first three Mission: Impossible installments. Plus Cocktail! Returns this summer in Doug Liman’s super-expensive-looking Edge of Tomorrow, in which he’ll live out the same mayhem-packed day over and over again while running around in a robot exoskeleton, and if this strikes you as a somewhat depressing metaphor for Tom Cruise’s life in movies, you are probably not Tom Cruise.
dinobots (n.) — Transformers that turn into robo-dinosaurs, as reportedly featured in Transformers: Age of Extinction. Because nothing makes more sense than “robots in disguise” attempting to conceal themselves on Earth by turning into ordinary, run-of-the-mill dinosaurs.
Emmerich, Roland (n.) — Stuttgart-born ’90s action auteur who blew up the White House in 1996’s Independence Day, a summer-movie image still unrivaled for sheer nihilistic audacity. Went on to destroy New York (in a 1998 reboot of Godzilla) and most of planet Earth, twice (in The Day After Tomorrow and 2012), before returning to his D.C. hardcore roots with last year’s White House Down. Designated whipping boy in most conversations about the Godzilla re-reboot due out this year, but also hard at work on the first of two Independence Day sequels, the catchily titled ID Forever Part I, due out in July 2016.
flux capacitor (n.) — In Back to the Future, the technological breakthrough that makes time travel — and therefore the movie — possible. Literal “plot devices” like this one are a variety of MacGuffin, a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock; other examples include the “Red Matter” in the first Star Trek, the AllSpark from Transformers, Tony Stark’s arc reactor, and the apparently innumerable Cosmic Cubes and magic gems kicking around the Marvel Movieverse. You could make a summer movie without one of these, but why work that hard?
Gemini (n.) — Nightmarish yet funky half-Batman, half-Joker character played by Prince in the video for “Batdance,” a hit single from the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. Verging on Dadaist in its cut-and-paste hijacking of the movie’s themes and dialogue, tonally at odds with Burton’s dark vision, yet entirely in keeping with the schizophrenia at the core of the Batman mythos, “Batdance” was a strange pop-cultural object even back then, but it’s an unthinkable one now; summer movies lost something crucial when they became too self-important to commission tie-in singles on which someone raps the plot.
Grammer, Kelsey (n.) — Unlikely summer-movie-season MVP no. 1: In May, Dr. Frasier Crane returns to the X-Men franchise in a cameo appearance as Beast in X-Men: Days of Future Past. In June, he plays a nefarious government agent in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and he’ll also be seen in August’s Expendables 3, in what we can assume, based on this instant-classic poster, is the role of an Expendable whose special skill is “explaining things using fly-fishing metaphors.”
Guardians of the Galaxy (n.) — Late-summer Marvel Movieverse entry featuring Chris Pratt and a bunch of sci-fi characters that no one except Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has ever actually liked.
Hall H (n.) — Cavernous exhibit space at Comic-Con International in San Diego, outside which tens of thousands wait, for hours if not days, in hopes of securing a spot in a room that seats only 6,000 and a chance to witness — well, something, whether it’s a clip from an as-yet-unreleased movie or the first public appearance of a just-announced cast or, in 2010, a dude in a Harry Potter shirt stabbing another dude in the eye over a seating dispute.
Jaws (n.) — Special-effects thriller based on a successful work from another medium. Bolstered by a massive marketing campaign. Opened on June 20, back when summer was the release window out of which studios threw their trash. Made a lot of money. Earth is round. For what it’s worth, also a superb movie in which the character beats are as memorable as the scares. But as the accepted beginning of the end of the sainted ’70s — Star Wars is the end of the end — it’ll never come off Steven Spielberg’s rap sheet for anyone who’s maintaining one.
Johansson, Scarlett (n.) — Unlikely summer-movie-season MVP no. 2. Will follow up her very different turns in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Under the Skin with Luc Besson’s Lucy, playing a Taiwan drug mule who develops superpowers — including invulnerability, telekinesis, and the ability to make Anthony Lane feel 17 again — after she’s accidentally exposed to a mysterious substance.
Kali (n.) — Hindu goddess of (among other things) destruction, making her technically the patron deity of summer-movie season. Featured in the theologically questionable but thrillingly lurid May ’84 hit Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a PG-rated movie whose abundant pulp violence and scariness helped prompt the MPAA to introduce a new rating, PG-13, which has since become the edge/marketability sweet spot most summer movies aim for.
Knowles, Harry (n.) — Falstaffian film critic and impresario who founded Ain’t It Cool News in the dial-up ’90s. Cultivated insurgent rep by outraging the occasional studio publicity person with impolitic reviews and anonymous scoops, but was generally in the tank (pro bono) for big-budget Hollywood product unless it was really, really awful, thereby establishing a template for publicity-cycle-driven fanboy-as-critic film coverage that persists to this day. Physically resembles the platonic ideal of an Internet film geek the way a slender-mustached gentleman with beret and baguette resembles that of a Frenchman.
Milius, John (n.) — Self-proclaimed “Zen fascist,” gun nut, film-school classmate of George Lucas, friend and colleague of Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola, and writer-director of summer hits Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. Wrote the original 10-page scene that became Quint’s speech about the sinking of the Indianapolis in Spielberg’s Jaws; said to have added both the “Do I feel lucky?” monologue and “Go ahead, make my day” to Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, respectively, thereby inspiring 40-plus years of action-movie one-liners.
Nolan, Christopher (n.) — Director of three summer-released, increasingly self-serious Dark Knight movies, among numerous other thought-provoking films that fall apart when you actually think about them; master craftsman of stylishly bleak pop entertainments who fanboys nonetheless insist is pretty much a modern-day Sophocles. Disagree publicly if you want, but only if you enjoy death threats. Produced Man of Steel, acting as ostensible adult supervisor to director Zack Snyder, but seems to have distanced himself from 2016’s Batman vs. Superman, so get ready for that one to be shot entirely in slow motion with an upskirt camera.
Orci, Roberto (n.) — With now-former partner Alex Kurtzman, wrote and/or rewrote summer movies that have generated billions, including two Transformers films for Michael Bay, the Star Trek reboot and its sequel for J.J. Abrams, and this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Avowed 9/11 truther who’s generally credited/blamed for the extent to which watching Star Trek: Into Darkness was like being elbowed in the ribs for 90 minutes by a self-taught controlled-demolition expert who uses the word “sheeple” unironically. Despised by fanboys for perceived crimes against Trek canon and basic story logic. Once waded into a comments section to answer detractors by saying, among other things, “[T]here is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t.”
Singer, Bryan (n.) — Legally embattled director of X-Men: Days of Future Past, as well as The Usual Suspects and two earlier X-Men films remembered as triumphs of comic-book moviemaking by people who haven’t actually gone back and watched them in a while.
Snowpiercer (n.) — English-language debut of genius South Korean thriller director Bong Joon-Ho, based on the French graphic novel, with Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans as passengers on a supertrain containing what’s left of humanity after a new ice age devastates the planet. Like Transformers 4, opens June 27; could be the surprise hit of that weekend if you go see it and bring 20 million friends.
Snyder, Zack (n.) — Visually gifted but borderline-sociopathically tone-deaf director of Man of Steel and the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman. Has managed to alienate a different world with each of his films, including graphic-novel snobs (Watchmen, 2009), women (Sucker Punch, 2011), Superman purists (Man of Steel, 2013), and people who despise owls (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, 2010).
Trank, Josh (n.) — Demonstrated, with 2012’s Chronicle, that superhero movies need not be about heroism and found-footage movies need not be terrible. Could pull off something similar with his 2015 reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, especially since the bar set by the mid-’00s Tim Story adaptations could literally not be any lower. Has already irritated fans by casting the African American Michael B. Jordan and the goofy American Miles Teller as the Human Torch and Mister Fantastic, respectively, which is probably a good sign.
Trask, Bolivar (n.) — In Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men, the inventor of giant mutant-hunting robots destined to bring about a dystopian future; in X-Men: Days of Future Past, an excuse to costume Peter Dinklage, delightfully, as someone who might have quaffed Scotch with Ron Burgundy. There’s no way the actual movie will be as good as this viral-campaign image of Trask at the Nixon White House and the hypothetical Nixon rants it inspired us to imagine: Mutants … Goddamn blue-skin-having, mind-reading, liberal bastards … I know John Mitchell will disagree with this, but we gotta build some big goddamn robots, root ’em out.
uncanny valley, the (n.) — Theory postulated circa 1970 by roboticist Masahiro Mori, who suggested that the more closely an artificial entity mimics the appearance and behavior of an actual human, the more its still-obvious nonhumanity causes our minds to recoil. Enjoy the all-new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in theaters August 8!
Ultron (n.) — Avengers: Age of Ultron villain; chromed-out sentient murderbot motivated, in the comics, by daddy issues with creator Hank Pym. Reportedly to be voiced by James Spader, for reasons as yet unexplained, except that you know Joss Whedon had a Pretty in Pink thing in high school.
Whedon, Joss (n.) — Ginger feminist Shakespeare-nerd creator of nobly canceled TV shows turned Marvel Movieverse auteur. In Avengers, directed action scenes that could have been made by literally anybody, but also reimagined the superhero team as a Helicarrier full of sarcastic misfit divas, making the film identifiably his own; no other director of a Marvel movie has pulled that trick off nearly as well.
wolf DNA (n.) — Channing Tatum’s character in Lana and Andy Wachowski’s Jupiter Rising has some, hence his pointy ears; he’s also part albino. Are we positive this is a real movie and not the most elaborate Rickroll ever conceived?
X-Men: Days of Future Past (n.) — Bryan Singer’s new movie. Rumored to contain more than 15 minutes of as-yet-unseen footage from X-Men: Days of Future Past.