Summer Movie Preview: ‘Prometheus,’ ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ ‘The Avengers,’ and More (PHOTOS)

While last year was one of the worst on record for summer movies, 2012 is poised to be the biggest—and best—summer at the cinema in years. Kicking off May 4 with the all-star team of Marvel superheroes, The Avengers, this year offers something for everyone. There are other superhero blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man; Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi in Prometheus; comedies from Woody Allen (To Rome With Love) and Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane (Ted), eye-catching indies like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Sundance hit Beasts of the Southern Wild, and much more. Here are The Daily Beast’s most anticipated summer movies.

While last year was one of the worst on record for summer movies, 2012 is poised to be the biggest—and best—summer at the cinema in years. Kicking off May 4 with the all-star team of Marvel superheroes, The Avengers, this year offers something for everyone. There are other superhero blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man; Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi in Prometheus; comedies from Woody Allen (To Rome With Love) and Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane (Ted), eye-catching indies like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Sundance hit Beasts of the Southern Wild, and much more. Here are The Daily Beast’s most anticipated summer movies.

By Marlow Stern

Zade Rosenthal

'The Avengers' (May 4)

Kicking off the summer movie season is the likely mega-blockbuster The Avengers. Directed by TV geek-god Joss Whedon, the man behind cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, the $220 million-budgeted behemoth features an all-star cast of Marvel superheroes who are banded together by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop Thor’s nemesis, the Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), from opening up a gateway to another dimension and enslaving the human race. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and bow-and-arrow master Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all join forces to save the people of earth.

Peter Mountain

'Dark Shadows' (May 11)

Adapted from the cult soap opera of the same name, this vampire fantasy-comedy marks the eighth collaboration between the master of the macabre, filmmaker Tim Burton, and his pal, Johnny Depp. In Dark Shadows 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) is buried alive by his vengeful ex, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). When he awakens, the year is 1972 and his estate is in shambles. Furthermore, his once-thriving mansion is being occupied by a host of bizarre, troublesome descendants, including the matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer); Roger, her brother (Jonny Lee Miller); Carolyn, Elizabeth’s rebellious teenage daughter (Chloe Moretz); and David, her precocious young son (Gulliver McGrath). Rounding out the cast is Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter, as the family’s live-in psychiatrist.

'The Dictator' (May 16)

Although it looks like a carbon copy of the Adam Sandler–Judd Apatow comedy You Don’t Mess With the Zohan—and his ashes-dropping stunt on Ryan Seacrest was just plain mean—the latest comedy from outrageous funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen marks a departure from his previous mockumentary films, Borat and Bruno, in that it’s a narrative feature boasting Hollywood actors. Cohen stars as General Aladeen, an oppressive dictator from the fictional Middle Eastern country the Republic of Wadiya. As the trailer indicates, when Aladeen is captured and his beard is shaved, he’s forced to assimilate to working-class life in New York City. Ben Kingsley, John C. Reilly, Anna Faris, and Megan Fox—as herself—round out the cast.

Frank Masi / Universal Studios

'Battleship' (May 18)

Sure, it’s based on a Hasbro board game thereby representing a troubling trend in Hollywood, but this sci-fi war film, directed by Peter Berg (Hancock), should still be a hell of a good time at the cinema. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is a lieutenant aboard the destroyer USS Paul Jones, while his elder brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgard), is commander of the USS Sampson. When five alien ships respond to a powerful NASA signal transmitted from Hawaii, the brothers are forced to square off against the otherworldly threat. It’s like Transformers in water, albeit with a more talented cast, including Liam Neeson as a grizzly admiral and pop star Rihanna making her acting debut as an ass-kicking weapons specialist with what appears to be a Bahamian accent—which alone is worth the price of admission.

Focus Features

'Moonrise Kingdom' (May 25)

After Wes Anderson’s fantastic, stop-motion animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009, Moonrise Kingdom marks the quirky auteur’s first live-action flick since 2007’s underwhelming The Darjeeling Limited. Set in the 1960s, the film centers on a pair of young children in love—Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). When they flee their New England town, a frantic search for the missing kids is arranged by the local sheriff, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and the girl’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Other people on the hunt for the kids include a social worker (Tilda Swinton) and Sam’s Boy Scout leader, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton).

Thierry Valletoux

'The Intouchables' (May 25)

This film has become a phenomenon in its native France, where it was seen by more than 19 million people, making it the second-most-seen French film of all time, and the third-most-seen if you include films made outside France. The race-relations drama, directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, tells the story of the unlikely friendship that builds between a wealthy French tetraplegic, who is white, and a young man of Senegalese descent who serves as his live-in caretaker. While some U.S. critics, including Variety, have branded the film “offensive” for its treatment of race relations, so far it’s made more than $330 million at the box office worldwide against a budget of €9.5 million. It finally will be released stateside on May 25, where it will be distributed by the media-savvy Weinstein Co.

Universal Pictures

'Snow White and the Huntsman' (June 1)

Forget Mirror, Mirror, the atrocious, tone-deaf reimagining of the Snow White tale starring Julia Roberts. Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth (a.k.a. Thor) as the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the vainglorious Queen Ravenna, is action-fantasy along the lines of The Lord of the Rings films. When the evil queen is told by her magic mirror that Snow White will one day not only eclipse her beauty but also rule the kingdom, she enlists the Huntsman to kill her, so she can consume her heart and achieve immortality. However, the Huntsman ends up siding with Snow White, transforming her into a young warrior who will lead a rebellion against Queen Ravenna. Oh, and the dwarves are played by brilliant character actors, including Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and Ray Winstone.

The Weinstein Company

'Piranha 3DD' (June 1)

OK, bear with me here. Piranha 3D, released in 2010 and directed by Alexandre Aja, was a gleefully over-the-top horror comedy featuring killer piranhas unleashing havoc on a group of teens on spring break. It received very positive critical reviews, and when my friends and I went—filled up with beers, of course—we laughed our asses off. Hell, in one scene, a Joe Francis–type creep, played by Jerry O’Connell, gets his penis bitten off. The sequel, Piranha 3DD, promises to be even more outrageous, and boasts a cast that includes Gary Busey, Christopher Lloyd, and … David Hasselhoff.

Kerry Brown / Twentieth Century Fox

'Prometheus' (June 8)

Marking Oscar-winning filmmaker Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to sci-fi—he was responsible for Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982)—Prometheus, according to Scott, shares “strands of Alien's DNA, so to speak,” and follows the 21st-century crew of the spaceship Prometheus who are exploring an alien civilization in order to trace the origins of the human race. The film stars Noomi Rapace, otherwise known as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, as archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw; Michael Fassbender as David, an android; Charlize Theron as a villainous Weyland Corp. employee sent to monitor the mission; and Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, the megalomaniacal founder of Weyland Corp.

'Safety Not Guaranteed' (June 8)

Based on a quirky Internet meme that came from a newspaper classified ad where a man wanted someone to accompany him in time travel, this hilarious indie received critical raves at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it took home the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Three magazine employees, led by reporter Darius Britt (Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza), head off on an assignment to profile the bizarre man who created the classified ad, played by Your Sister’s Sister scene-stealer Mark Duplass, leading them on a long, strange adventure of their own.

David James

'Rock of Ages' (June 15)

Directed by Adam Shankman, who helmed the impressive Hairspray remake, and adapted from the jukebox Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is a comedy-musical centering on a waitress/aspiring actress, played by Footloose’s Julianne Hough, and a busboy/aspiring rocker, played by newcomer Diego Boneta, who fall in love and hope their dreams become reality amid the 1980s hair-metal music scene. Featuring the music of everyone from Bon Jovi to Journey, the film also stars Tom Cruise as hair-metal singer Stacee Jax, who was described by Shankman as a cross between “Axl Rose, Keith Richards, and Jim Morrison”; Russell Brand as the narrator and manager of the Bourbon Room, where the protagonists work; Alec Baldwin as its owner; and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the conservative activist who wants to shut the place down.

Benjamin Kasuike

'Your Sister’s Sister' (June 15)

This little indie shot in just over 10 days emerged as the funniest film of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Your Sister’s Sister comes courtesy of “mumblecore” filmmaker Lynn Shelton, whose last film, Humpday, received critical raves. There is Iris (Emily Blunt), a flighty professional whose best friend, Jack (Mark Duplass), is still grieving the loss of his brother one year prior. Iris, who used to date Jack’s brother, invites Jack to her family’s remote cabin in the woods to find himself. Unbeknownst to Iris, her older sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), a lesbian fresh out of a seven-year relationship, is laying low at the cabin, and a rowdy night of tequila drinking between Jack and Hannah kicks off a bizarre stretch of days—made even more hilariously awkward when Iris pops in for an unexpected visit.

The Walt Disney Co.

<em>Brave</em> (June 22)

This 3-D, computer-animated family film is notable for not only being Pixar’s first fairy tale, but also its first movie boasting a female protagonist. Somewhat darker in tone than previous Pixar efforts, Brave is set during the 10th century in the highlands of Scotland and follows Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald), an archer-princess who is cursed by a witch, and must undo the spell and save her kingdom before it’s too late. With the departure of two of their finest directors to the live-action realm, Andrew Stanton (Finding NemoJohn Carter) and Brad Bird (RatatouilleMission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol), coupled with Cars 2’s disappointing box office/critical reception last summer, Pixar has a lot riding on this.

Sony Pictures Classics

'To Rome With Love' (June 22)

Initially conceived as a modern-day take on The Decameron, legendary writer-director Woody Allen’s follow-up to his highest-grossing film in theaters, Midnight in Paris, is a romantic comedy comprised of four vignettes set in Rome. The love letter to Rome stars Allen, marking his first acting role since 2006’s Scoop, along with a talented ensemble cast, including Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Judy Davis, and Life Is Beautiful’s Roberto Benigni, in a comeback role. The film was released on April 20 in Italy, where it’s grossed a robust $6 million to date.

Darren Michaels / Dodge Productions

'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World' (June 22)

Marking the directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), this sci-fi comedy centers on Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell)—a sad-sack guy whose wife leaves him. With the end of the world near thanks to an unavoidable asteroid headed for earth, Dodge teams up with his longtime British neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), to go on a search for his childhood sweetheart. The film is the typically brooding Knightley’s first mainstream Hollywood comedy, which is intriguing, and also boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry, and CSI’s William Petersen.

Sundance Film Festival

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' (June 27)

Hands-down the best film that screened at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival—and rightful winner of the Grand Jury Prize—Beasts of the Southern Wild marks the arrival of a brilliant new voice in cinema: Benh Zeitlin. The 29-year-old director shot Beasts of the Southern Wild on location in Terrebonne Parish, La., and the film centers on Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a 6-year-old girl who, along with her tough-love father, Wink (Dwight Henry), lives in “the Bathtub”—the southernmost community in Louisiana. When Wink falls ill, nature loses its balance and the polar ice caps melt, leading to flooding, as well as an army of prehistoric beasts headed straight for the Bathtub. With nowhere left to turn, Hushpuppy goes off on a frantic search for her mother, who left the family when the girl was an infant. The film is a wondrous fairy tale for post–Katrina America and boasts one of the greatest child performances of all-time from newcomer Wallis.

'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' (June 29)

The first film, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra was, with the exception of a fun action sequence in Paris, a bit of a disaster. This sequel, however, features a new director, Jon Chu, was written by the screenwriting team behind Zombieland, and boasts a (mostly) new cast, including Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, and Friday Night Lights’s Adrianne Palicki, as the Joes do battle with the newly released Cobra Commander. After his hilariously macho performance in Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson has elevated himself to the status of America’s best action-film star, and this movie promises the same entertaining, over-the-top hijinks, as evidenced by this declaration of his in the movie’s trailer: “In the immortal words of Jay-Z, ‘Whatever deity may guide my life, dear Lord, don’t let me die tonight.’”

Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.

'Magic Mike' (June 29)

Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), this ensemble comedy is in part based on star Channing Tatum’s real-life past as a stripper. In the film, he stars as Mike Martingano, a.k.a. “Magic Mike”—a stripping veteran who teaches a young apprentice (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes while also trying to assimilate to a normal life with the help of his protégé’s sister, played by relative newcomer Cody Horn. But more noteworthy, perhaps, is Matthew McConaughey, who stars as a former stripper named Dallas who owns Xquisite, the club where “Magic Mike” gets down. And the film also features True Blood hunk Joe Manganiello as a stripper named “Big Dick Richie.”

'The Amazing Spider-Man' (July 3)

Five years after the awful Spider-Man 3, Sony has decided to reboot the franchise with a prequel, dubbed The Amazing Spider-Man, with an all-new cast, and a new director—Marc Webb, of 500 Days of Summer fame—at the helm. The film stars Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker, a geeky teenage outcast, who is smitten with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). After discovering a mysterious briefcase belonging to his father, Parker finds himself on the path to becoming the web-slinging superhero, Spider-Man, and facing off against Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who transforms into the Lizard. Sally Field and Martin Sheen play Parker’s aunt and uncle. When The Daily Beast caught some preview footage of the film back in February, it was dubbed “quirky cool” and “adorkable.”

Francois Duhamel / Universal Studios

'Savages' (July 6)

Although Oliver Stone hasn’t made a truly exceptional film since 1995’s Nixon, his upcoming film, Savages, looks like a return to the anarchic mayhem portrayed in U-Turn and Natural Born Killers. When a Mexican drug-cartel leader, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), kidnaps their “shared” hippie girlfriend, O (Blake Lively), two marijuana growers—former Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and college boy Ben (Aaron Johnson)—go on the warpath to get her back. The film also stars Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch, Oscar nominee Demian Bichir, and John Travolta as a DEA agent hot on the boys’ tails.

Tippett Studio / Universal Pictures

'Ted' (July 13)

Written, produced, and directed by Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane in his feature-film directorial debut, Ted stars Mark Wahlberg as John, a Bostonian whose childhood wish is granted: his beloved teddy bear, Ted (voiced by Seth Macfarlane), comes to life. The two enjoy a happy, slacker existence—smoking weed and lounging around all day. However, when John grows up and decides to pursue a serious relationship with the love of his life, Lori (Mila Kunis), Ted begins seeing red. A foil of sorts to Pixar’s Brave, the movie—whose CGI-animated teddy bear, Ted, takes bong rips and curses like a trucker—looks hilarious, and the supporting cast also includes The Soup’s Joel McHale, Patrick Warburton, who voices the wheelchair-bound cop Joe on Family Guy, and Giovanni Ribisi.

Ron Phillips / Warner Bros.

'The Dark Knight Rises' (July 20)

The third and final installment in filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and sees Gotham experiencing a rare moment of peace. Batman (Christian Bale), a fugitive from justice after assuming responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crime spree—is drawn back to the city following a warning from Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) that has Occupy Wall Street undertones: “There’s a storm coming,” she says. “You’re all gonna wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” That storm comes in the form of the muscle-bound menace, Bane (Tom Hardy), who leads a Gotham rebellion. The film, which stands to potentially gross Avatar money, also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, as well as Batman regulars Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.

Melinda Sue Gordon / Twentieth Century Fox

'Neighborhood Watch' (July 27)

Although it’s received loads of bad press thanks to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman controversy, leading to distributor Fox pulling all ads for the movie, this sci-fi comedy still seems promising on paper. Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the screenwriting team behind Superbad, the film stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade as the members of a neighborhood-watch group who are forced into action when they stumble upon an alien plot to destroy the world. “We are very sensitive to the Trayvon Martin case, but our film is a broad alien-invasion comedy and bears absolutely no relation to the tragic events in Florida,” distributor Fox said in a statement.

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures

'The Bourne Legacy' (Aug. 3)

Can Jeremy Renner carry a Hollywood blockbuster? After his supporting roles in Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol and The Avengers, Universal Pictures is hoping the answer is yes. They’ve tapped Renner to star in The Bourne Legacy, the fourth film in the Bourne franchise. Directed by Tony Gilroy, the film takes place after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, and centers on a new super-agent, Aaron Cross (Renner), who is forced to deal with the outcome of Jason Bourne’s actions in the first three films. Joining Cross is Stephanie Snyder (Rachel Weisz), who helps him face off against Byer, the film’s villain, played by Edward Norton. Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, and Scott Glenn reprise their roles from the earlier Bourne films.

'Total Recall' (Aug. 3)

This remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring sci-fi classic doesn’t include Mars and is, apparently, more overtly political. Directed by Len Wiseman (Live Free or Die Hard), the film is set in 2084 as Euroamerica (formerly North America and Europe) and New Shanghai (formerly Asia) fight for political power. Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker, begins suffering from violent dreams and suspects he is a spy who was brainwashed. He teams up with Melina (Jessica Biel), a prostitute-cum-freedom fighter, to rebel against their country’s ruthless leader—Euroamerican President Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). The $200 million-budgeted film also stars Kate Beckinsale as Lori, Quaid’s wife; Bill Nighy as Kuato, a Euroamerican rebel leader; and Ethan Hawke as a Euroamerican scientist.

Patti Perret

'The Campaign' (Aug. 10)

Combining the “fish-out-of-water” premise of his film Meet the Parents with the political setting of his impressive HBO films Recount and Game Change, director Jay Roach’s upcoming comedy The Campaign centers on Cam Brady (Will Ferrell)—a swaggering North Carolina congressman who’s been elected to several consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, uncontested. When newcomer Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) comes to town to challenge Brady, things get ugly. The film basically features Ferrell as Ricky Bobby: the politician, pitted against Galifianakis as his effete, country-bumpkin character Seth, that Galifianakis made popular in The Hangover star’s stand-up routine.

Alicia Gbur / Stage 6 Films

'Sparkle' (Aug. 17)

Inspired by The Supremes, this musical remake of the 1976 film of the same name is most notable for being Whitney Houston’s final film performance. Set in Detroit in the 1960s Motown era, the movie centers on Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), a musical prodigy who, along with her two sisters, struggles to become a star while romancing her manager, played by Derek Luke. Houston plays Emma, Sparkle’s single mother who raised her. On paper, the film looks like a cross between Dreamgirls and Precious, and even features Cee Lo Green as the girls’ opening act.

Universal Pictures

'The Expendables 2' (Aug. 17)

Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, which followed a group of elite mercenaries played by old and new action stars—Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and Mickey Rourke—went on to gross $274 million worldwide. The sequel, also directed by and starring Stallone, sees the elite team of mercenaries doing battle with Mr. Church, played by Bruce Willis, as well as his evil henchman, Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). All the members of the mercenary squad from the first film are back except for Rourke, and they’re joined by The Hunger Games star Liam Hemsworth, who plays a sniper named Billy the Kid. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a more substantial role in this film, expanding on his cameo in the first.

'Premium Rush' (Aug. 24)

Writer-director David Koepp has followed up his underrated romantic comedy Ghost Town, which starred Ricky Gervais, with the action film Premium Rush. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a New York City bicycle messenger who picks up a mysterious envelope from Columbia University. But Bobby (Michael Shannon), a dirty cop, is desperate to get his hands on whatever is inside the envelope, and frantically chases Wilee all over the Big Apple. Michael Shannon as a bizarre, unhinged cop sounds amazing enough, but apparently, the dedicated Gordon-Levitt got so into his role that he accidentally crashed into a taxi while filming. The talented young actor was flung through the rear windshield of the taxi, and required 31 stitches on his bloodied arm.

The Weinstein Company

'Lawless' (Aug. 31)

The first collaboration between screenwriter Nick Cave (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame) and director John Hillcoat, 2005’s The Proposition, resulted in a brilliant, bloody Western set in the Australian outback. Their follow-up effort, Lawless, centers on three brothers—Jack (Shia LeBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke)—who see their bootlegging business come under fire in Prohibition-era Virginia. The film’s outstanding cast includes Guy Pearce as a deputy on the boys’ tails, Gary Oldman as a vicious gangster, Mia Wasikowska as a preacher’s daughter in love with Jack, and Jessica Chastain, who plays Forrest’s flame.