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This summer’s hottest movies

By Barry Koltnow, The Orange County Register –

Summer officially begins at 4:09 p.m. on June 21.

Summer movie season begins at midnight on May 4.

My summer began at 4 p.m. on April 10.

At that moment, the lights went down in a screening room on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, and the words ““Marvel Studios” appeared on the screen.

It felt like summer to me.

Marvel doesn’t make small independent films that come out in February and open in your local art house theater. They don’t make movies about Margaret Thatcher. They don’t make silent movies with a French cast and a cute dog.

They make big summer blockbusters, baby, and “The Avengers” kicks off the summer movie season with a bang, not a whimper.

“The Avengers,” which opens the summer movie season on May 4, gathers a galaxy of Marvel comic book heroes into one dream team to battle an alien mastermind with dastardly designs on Earth. Based on a comic book series that was first published in 1963, and created by the legendary dream team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “The Avengers” brings together a slew of Marvel characters that usually front their own summer movies, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

“The Avengers” is only one of many highly anticipated movies this summer, and we have compiled a list of the ones you’re looking forward to the most.

1. “The Avengers” (May 4) — Fan boys will be excited by the new look of The Hulk.

2. “Dark Shadows” (May 11) — Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton say they were big fans of the gothic soap opera from back in the day. Now they get a chance to prove it.

3. “The Dictator” (May 16) — Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles of “Borat” fame are back with a vengeance, and the trailers are getting big laughs in theaters.

4. “Battleship” (May 18) — Yes, that Battleship. The board game you played as a kid is now a big-budget movie in which the U.S. Navy does battle with aliens. And Rihanna is in this one, in case you care.

5. “Men in Black III” (May 25) — Having conquered the Fourth of July Weekend, Will Smith is taking aim at Memorial Day, and he’s bringing 3D glasses and time travel with him.

6. “Snow White and the Huntsman” (June 1) – The morose Kristin Stewart is just about done with “Twilight” vampires, and now she’s fighting with Team Evil Queen (Charlize Theron).

7. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June 8) — Our lovable animated lost boys are still trying to get home, and Europe is in the way.

8. “Prometheus” (June 8) — One can almost hear the collective panting of middle-aged sci-fi geeks over this one. Who among us has not waited for Ridley Scott to direct another alien movie? The wait has been almost unbearable.

9. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (June 22) — I have seen this trailer at least three times in theaters, and each time, it has received a chorus of derisive laughter. That should signal bad tidings, but it normally means a huge curiosity factor. And yes, it’s about THAT Abraham Lincoln.

10. “Brave” (June 22) — An animated film with a one-two punch — a princess and archery. If you don’t understand, ask your daughter.

11. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (June 29) — Dwayne Johnson is back with his younger self (Channing Tatum), and mayhem ensues.

12. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (July 3) — A new Spidey (Andrew Garfield) and a new love interest (Emma Stone) won’t make much difference. If you spin it, they will come.

13. “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (July 13) — A license to print money. People can’t get enough of extinct animals in animation.

14. “The Dark Knight Rises” (July 20) — OK, there are many contenders for the box-office crown this summer, but most industry insiders are conceding to director Christopher Nolan’s final leg of his Batman trilogy. Christian Bale returns as the Dark Knight. As if you didn’t know.

15. “The Bourne Legacy” (Aug. 3) — If it was still Matt Damon, I’d say that this was a sure winner, but the Mattster is gone as our intrepid amnesiac. Jeremy Renner is awesome in everything he does, so there is hope in his casting, but only time will tell if the public will accept the substitute teacher.

16. “Total Recall” (Aug. 3) — Colin Ferrell is the guy this time who doesn’t know whether he’s dreaming in the latest translation of the Philip K. Dick story.

17. “The Expendables 2” (Aug. 17) — Sylvester Stallone and his band of AARP commandos are back, which is no surprise given the first movie’s box-office take. This time, they bring along one of their grandchildren (Liam Hemsworth of “The Hunger Games”) to try to draw someone under 50 into the theaters.

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