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Summer Movie Preview 2014: Which Movies Should You Watch, Stream, or Skip?

If you paid full-price to see each of the films included in Vulture’s mammoth 2014 Summer Movie Preview, you’d be out nearly a grand — and we’re not even including 3-D surcharges! How can you determine which of these many, many movies are worth seeing in theaters, and which are better left for Netflix (or skipped entirely)? Let us help you figure it out, using a variation on that old standby Boff, Marry, or Kill: We’re calling it “Watch, Stream or Skip,” and we’re applying it to a trio of movies in every one of this summer’s micro-genres. Which large-scale destruction movie is right for you? Which lady-targeting comedy is better off streamed? And which action sequel isn’t even worth your ammo? Read on and let us know if you agree with our picks.

Just as every other studio attempts to ape Marvel’s smashing success, Marvel itself throws us a curveball with Guardians of the Galaxy, a space-set comedy adventure that could break the comic-book mold as we know it (in addition to making lead Chris Pratt a bona fide movie star). X-Men: Days of Future Past isn’t quite as unusual, but with all those X-Men actors reunited in a massive cast and Jennifer Lawrence in blue latex again, we’re at least curious enough to stream it. That leaves the muddled The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the odd man out: It’s too busy laying track for sequels and spinoffs to tell a coherent story on its own.
The ads for Maleficent are really working that Snow White and the Huntsman vibe hard, but even if first-time director Robert Stromberg isn’t offering much that’s new, we can’t say no to Angelina Jolie as Disney’s baddest villainess. Our stream vote goes to Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s Lucy, a gender-flipped, ass-kicking take on Limitless that we’ll simply pretend is her long-overdue Black Widow spinoff. Why does that leave Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy bringing up the rear? Because we still don’t have a good grasp on what that road-trip movie’s going to be — the teaser trailer served up only one scene, an out-of-context fast food robbery that wasn’t nearly as funny as marketing must have thought.
The notion of a Godzilla reboot had us wary at first, but holy moly, do those trailers deliver on mood and spectacle, in addition to giving us some primo, shouting Bryan Cranston. We’ll see that one in theaters, while we’ll save the found-footage tornado movie Into the Storm for home, where its over-the-top action sequences can be enjoyed with no judgment. And then there’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which is threatening to set up a brand-new robot-battling trilogy. Don’t tease us with extinction unless you really mean it, guys.
We may live to regret this, but we’re giving our Watch vote to Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, simply because it’s so freaking weird: a big-budget comedy western with an anachronistic sense of humor and MacFarlane starring in a live-action role. The zombie comedy Life After Beth is a little more familiar, but with Aubrey Plaza as the undead girlfriend and Dane DeHaan as the guy trying to preserve their relationship, we’ll definitely stream it. That leaves the Cameron Diaz/Jason Segel comedy Sex Tape as our Skip choice; from the trailer, it feels like a watered-down take on their outrageous antics in Bad Teacher.
Which of these mismatched bros do we most want to fist-bump with? That would be returning favorites Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill of 22 Jump Street, followed by amiable rivals Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in the frat vs. family comedy Neighbors. As for the skippable Let’s Be Cops, don’t get us wrong: We fully support the stardom of small-screen talents Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson, but there’s not a laugh to be found in this film’s dire trailer.
In this battle of the dads-hanging-out-with-their-kids comedies, we’re giving the win to Jon Favreau’s Chef, which should at least offer a lot of tasty food porn as Favreau takes his young son on a road trip to reconnect. And though we weren’t fans of Zach Braff’s mawkish dad-on-a-quest dramedy Wish I Was Here at Sundance, we at least realize that it’ll have its fans — and that it aspires to more than Adam Sandler’s dreadful-looking families-in-Africa comedy Blended.
Bong Joon-ho’s imaginative Snowpiercer puts Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans on a post-apocalyptic bullet train and has them battle it out, leading opposite teams of haves and have-not. It’s a terrific must-see, especially since producer Harvey Weinstein is allowing the director’s cut to hit theaters, not the bowdlerized version he’d attempted to release with twenty snipped minutes. The Wachowskis’ sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending could be the next The Matrix, or it could be silly as hell — or it could be both! With Channing Tatum as a half-wolf bounty hunter, we’re bound to see it no matter what. As for the Tom Cruise-starring Edge of Tomorrow, is it just us, or is this Halo-ized take on Groundhog Day curiously buzz-less?
The Fault In Our Stars isn’t supernatural, nor post-apocalytpic, but it’s still the buzziest YA adaptation in some time, with well-cast leads Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort starring in this tale of a teenage cancer patient’s romance. After we cry our eyes out at that one, perhaps we’ll be ready for the more comic What If (formerly titled The F Word), starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan as potential lovebirds and featuring a scene-stealing Adam Driver. But honestly, we’re not sure what to make of If I Stay, where Chloe Moretz gets in a life-threatening car accident and her spirit must decide whether to stay alive or give up the ghost. The trailer promises a hunky, devoted love interest, so is there any question she’ll stick around for him?
The tender Love is Strange casts John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as two men who finally get married after decades together … but that’s only the beginning of an unexpected third act in their lives. See that, and stream the formulaic-looking Words and Pictures, with Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen as sparring teachers who inevitably fall for each other. We haven’t yet seen the trailer for Rob Reiner’s And So It Goes, which sets up Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton for the first time, but Reiner’s recent output inspires our skip vote.
We’re curious about the James Brown biopic Get On Up, directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor; Taylor promises that the movie plays around with chronology and form, and up-and-comer Chadwick Boseman has a meaty role as the Godfather of Soul. Perhaps we’ll save Jersey Boys for streaming, then — director Clint Eastwood has been hankering to helm a musical for quite some time (he almost directed a Star is Born remake with Beyonce) but the trailer looked stiff and antique. As for One Chance, a biopic of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts, the Weinsteins keep pushing back its release, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Saturday Night Live alumna Jenny Slate is a revelation in the unlikely abortion romcom Obvious Child, and the movie had Sundance audiences in hysterics. Gather your girlfriends and see that one in theaters, because the Jennifer Aniston-fronted kidnapping comedy Life of Crime is more suited for streaming, and Walk of Shame, featuring Elizabeth Banks, is this category’s also-ran.
We’re definitely going to see We Are the Best!, a delightful-sounding movie about teenage girls who star a punk band that’s directed by Lukas Moodysson (Together, Show Me Love), and Begin Again is worth a stream just so you can hear some of the great songs concocted by director John Carney (Once) and sung by Keira Knightley as an unlikely songbird dumped by her cad rock star boyfriend Adam Levine. It pains us, then, to suggest a Skip for our guilty pleasure franchise Step Up, but maybe the latest installment, Step Up All In, is best enjoyed in discrete YouTube chunks anyway.
It’s not exactly a great summer for animated movies, so How to Train Your Dragon 2, which sequelizes a surprisingly good franchise-starter, is heads and shoulders above the pack. We’ve got no real interest in Legends of Oz or Planes: Fire and Rescue, so that choice is going to come down to whichever niece or nephew is most demanding.
Honestly, we’d see all three of these documentaries over most of the films that Hollywood is offering this summer, but it’s time for some tough choices! Paramount among them is Life Itself, an incredibly affecting look at Roger Ebert that more than gives the legendary film critic his cinematic due. You’ll be hearing lots about Fed Up, an indictment of the food industry’s links to obesity that has high-powered figures like Harvey Weinstein, Katie Couric, and Bill Clinton in its corner. And though Supermensch brings up the rear in this tough crowd, Mike Myers’ directorial debut about the legendary music manager Shep Gordon is still (psst) totally worth seeing.
Which movie can be this year’s version of The Conjuring? On its face, that would be Jessabelle, with Aussie up-and-comer Sarah Snook as a young woman haunted in her father’s Louisiana mansion. Let’s hope the sequel to The Purge actually makes better use of its plot than the original did — if so, we’ll catch that over Deliver Us From Evil, a paranormal cop drama that could manage no better than the backsliding Eric Bana as its lead.
No matter where you fall on the Woody Allen issue, Magic in the Moonlight at least offers Emma Stone her meatiest role outside the Spider-Man franchise in several years, and that’s worth the price of a ticket (make more movies, Emma Stone!). We’d be more excited about the Michel Gondry-directed fable Mood Indigo, with French superstars Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris, if the film (about a woman with the unlikely ailment of a water lily growing in her lung) hadn’t gotten mixed reviews abroad. Still, we’re willing to stream it, which is more than we can say for the underwhelming Joe Swanberg comedy Happy Christmas, toplined by a mostly improvising Anna Kendrick as an erratic woman who upsets the life of her brother and his wife. Check out Swanberg and Kendrick’s far superior Drinking Buddies instead.
You’re all seeing Boyhood, right? This Richard Linklater-directed coming-of-age drama has been shooting for the last twelve years, which means you get to see protagonist Ellar Coltrane age from seven to eighteen on-screen — and that’s worth buying your ticket for. Meanwhile, we’re wary about The Giver, which looks to be liberally adapted from the classic novel (Taylor Swift and Katie Holmes, really?) but still encouraged enough by cast members like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, so it gets the edge over the promising-but-familiar Palo Alto, adapted from coming-of-age stories scribbled by James Franco.
Frankly, the Sin City sequel seems like it’s coming a few years past the point where people actually wanted it, but we are duty-bound to see anything where Eva Green plays a femme fatale, especially in a role intended for Angelina Jolie. So we’ll stream Think Like a Man Too, the sequel to 2012’s sleeper hit, and skip The Expendables 3, which adds stars like Harrison Ford and, uh, Kellan Lutz. One step forward, two steps back.
The One I Love casts Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as troubled marrieds who retreat to their therapist’s vacation home … where they meet their exact doubles, who provide perspective, unusual erotic opportunities, and a compelling reason to see this film in theaters. The Congress, on the other hand, won’t be for everyone, but this balls-out bizarre satire, which stars Robin Wright as herself and has her signing the rights away to her animated image, should certainly be caught in some form. We’re not totally down on The Double, which casts two Jesse Eisenbergs in a mind-bending drama, but it hasn’t gotten much buzz over its film festival tour of duty, so it’s earned our skip vote.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes rather thrillingly reinvented the entire Apes franchise, and its sequel — which leaps into the future and stars an entirely different cast of humans — is one of this summer’s most promising question marks. If you ever dreamed of a Michael Bay-produced take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this is your moment, but for the rest of us who can’t quite buy Megan Fox as intrepid reporter April O’Neil, we can hold out til Netflix. And then there’s the Brett Ratner-directed Hercules, which hopes to give The Rock his own action franchise, but instills no confidence with that cheesy, slow-mo-laden trailer.
Brendon Gleeson is said to deliver career-best work in Calvary, where he plays a priest moved to dig deeper into his flock after one parishioner makes a shocking threat against his life, and Marion Cotillard may be his match in the long-delayed The Immigrant, where she plays the titular figure who finds that turn-of-the-century America isn’t exactly the promised land. See those instead of the middling spy drama A Most Wanted Man, which offers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams but was paced far too languorously for unimpressed audiences at Sundance.
Fingers crossed for I Origins, which casts Michael Pitt and Brit Marling as eye-obsessed scientists on the verge of a major revelation (we’d watch this simply to debate which of the two lab-coated beauties is prettiest). Both The Signal and Earth to Echo follow young friends who stumble upon a mysterious sci-fi plot, but the former at least is smartly directed and has a delicious supporting role from Laurence Fishburne — the latter, shot in the found-footage style, comes off like Chronicle, Jr.
We’re psyched for The Rover, which was helmed by Animal Kingdom director David Michod and casts Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson into the Australian outback for them to play out a crime thriller. Perhaps while they’re there, they might run into Mia Wasikowska, who spends Tracks wandering the Outback for months on her own (and offers a lot of gorgeous, formidable scenery). Stream that one, and skip God’s Pocket — this story of a small town full of dangerous, scummy lowlifes has a lot of great talent attached (like star Philip Seymour Hoffman and director John Slattery) but amounts to very little.
Disney is supremely confident in the inspirational baseball tale Million Dollar Arm, which may at last give star Jon Hamm a big-screen hit of his own — that’s worth supporting with a ticket purchase. See that, stream Helen Mirren’s culinary comedy The Hundred Foot Journey (where her snooty Michelin chef has her heart unfrozen by the humble Indian cook just across the road), and skip the formulaic-looking high school football movie When the Game Stands Tall, starring Jim Caviezel.
Would you believe baby-faced performers like Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning as environmental terrorists willing to blow up a dam for their cause? Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) cast the actors intriguingly in Night Moves, and we’re definitely curious. Running a smidge behind is Cold in July, which stars Michael C. Hall as a man whose life is complicated after shooting a home intruder; the film had mild buzz at Sundance but was surprisingly included in the upcoming Cannes lineup. Watch either of those before you see Third Person, Paul Haggis’s rather awful, overlong ensemble drama about desperate people (including Adrien Brody, Liam Neeson, and Mila Kunis) making bad decisions. It makes Haggis’s similarly plotted Crash look good.
Which Summer Movies Should You Watch and Skip?