summer preview 2023

11 Movie Stars Who Have the Most at Stake This Summer

Is this the summer that America goes nuts for Cillian Murphy or rediscovers its love for Michael Keaton’s Batman? Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It’s hard to imagine the last time a summer movie season didn’t have unusually high stakes. After two COVID-ravaged summers where American multiplexes were first closed and then struggling to draw audiences back to the theater, summer 2022 rebounded on the back of Pete Maverick’s screaming fighter jet. Now, with the writers’ strike in full swing, behind-the-screen anxieties are rearing once again, casting doubt on cinema’s long-term health. Should Hollywood producers fail to compromise with their screenwriters, the effects of a longer-than-anticipated strike wouldn’t be felt in film production land for months, if not longer. So for now, the summer season is packed with big movies — the kinds that could mean huge things for their stars. Veteran matinee idols like Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford are bringing their biggest franchises back for more, while the likes of Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and Jennifer Lawrence are taking creative chances that could pay off in cultural dividends or fail miserably trying. Is this the summer that America goes nuts for Cillian Murphy or rediscovers its love for Michael Keaton’s Batman?


Jason Momoa

Playing the antagonist in a Fast and Furious movie tends to be a pipeline to appearing in future Fast and Furious movies. Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, and John Cena have all proved the Olive Garden ethos of the franchise: Once you’re there, you’re family. Fast X was planned to be the finale to the Dominic Toretto saga, but already the planned two-part finale might now get stretched into a trilogy. As long as they’re making money, these movies won’t ever die, which is good news for Jason Momoa as he prepares to debut as drug lord Dante Reyes. Early reactions (always to be taken with a grain of salt) have called him a peacocking, gleeful psychopath and the best part of the movie. This all comes at fortunate time for Momoa, whose Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, due out later this year, has become the orphan child of the DC cinematic universe now that James Gunn has taken over that enterprise and seems to have no place for further aquatic adventures. DC’s plans for Momoa individually are a source of much speculation (they might just recast him as another DC superhero, perhaps Lobo), but while that’s all in a state of flux, Momoa’s future franchise opportunities might rest on the reception of his Fast X villainy.


Michael Keaton

The last time Michael Keaton donned a costume in a superhero movie, he was terrorizing Tom Holland’s Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The time before that, he got an Oscar nomination for playing the titular Birdman. Good things happen when Keaton plays characters that knowingly call back to his days playing Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 and 1992 films. So what does it mean when Keaton comes back as the actual caped crusader in Warner Bros.’ The Flash? Warner Bros.’ latest DC Comics films takes advantage of the multiverse possibilities of Barry Allen as the titular Flash entering the Speed Force, opening itself up to a story that features two Barry Allens and Keaton’s old and grizzled Batman co-existing with Ben Affleck’s … well, old and grizzled Batman. The storm of controversy surrounding Ezra Miller means that Warner Bros. is leaning heavy on Keaton’s presence to sell the movie, to the point that they’ve given away both “I’m Batman” and “let’s get nuts” in the trailers. If this cursed movie somehow ends up being a hit, it’ll be on Keaton’s molded rubber shoulders.


Jason Schwartzman

Standing out as a performer in a Wes Anderson movie has never been an easy task, and it’s only gotten harder as Anderson’s featured cast lists have ballooned into the two dozens or so. The poster alone for his latest film, Asteroid City, boasts 21 actors, including Anderson mainstays like Tilda Swinton and Willem Dafoe and newbies like Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks. But Schwartzman’s name is at the top of the list. The actor, who got his breakthrough role in Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore, will be performing in his seventh film with the director, though his first as a lead since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited. He’ll be playing a widower raising four children in the film, which takes place in an American desert town where a vast array of characters converge upon a junior-stargazers convention and possibly witness an alien arrival. The film opens at Cannes, a sign of good faith from Focus Features, and if it hits, Schwartzman could have the kind of standout performance he hasn’t enjoyed in quite a while.


Jennifer Lawrence

When was the last uncomplicated Jennifer Lawrence hit movie? Answer quickly. Both the Hunger Games and X-Men franchises ran out of gas before Lawrence was done with them. Passengers made money but was savaged by critics. mother! absolutely ruled but also bombed and was so alienating that it got the ultra-rare “F” grade from Cinemascore. Don’t Look Up was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but only after its filmmakers took to social media and called anyone who didn’t like it a climate-change denier. Last year’s Causeway, a tiny indie drama from director Lila Neugebauer that got an Oscar nomination for co-star Brian Tyree Henry, was a refreshing change of pace for Lawrence: a human-size character drama that reminded audiences that she got famous in the first place because she can really act. Her latest film, No Hard Feelings, is something altogether different for Lawrence, a bawdy broad comedy that could be a whole new avenue for the actress, who spent the better part of a decade bouncing between Oscar bait and the diminishing returns of two superhero franchises.


Harrison Ford

It’s been 15 years since the last time Harrison Ford starred in an Indiana Jones movie and people said he was too old for it then. So what’s going to happen to this octogenarian adventurer in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and will audiences and critics appreciate it more than the divisive (at best) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? And perhaps more pertinently, will Dial of Destiny do anything to counteract the sense that Ford has settled into the TV-star phase of his career, with 1923 and Shrinking turning him into the year’s most unlikely prolific small-screen stars? For the first time in the franchise, Steven Spielberg won’t be directing. James Mangold takes the reins this time around, and he’s got Ford on horseback outrunning a subway train, Mads Mikkelsen as the film’s Nazi antagonist, and some AI-assisted de-aged flashback scenes in store. Ford famously doesn’t give a fuck about much (ask him about Han Solo sometime, or don’t), but Indy appears to be a significant exception. You get the sense he’d really love to send the character off on a high note.


Phoebe Waller-Bridge

If Harrison Ford is hoping that Dial of Destiny’s audience will thrill to watch an 80-year-old adventurer trotting the globe, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is hoping those same audiences will be welcoming of the newer, younger energy she’ll be bringing. Waller Bridge is playing Helena, Indy’s goddaughter, who’s been described by Mangold as “slippery, charming, the girl next door, a grifter.” The potential upside for Waller-Bridge is major, though certainly not guaranteed. It wasn’t Ford, after all, who reaped the lion’s share of the blame for Crystal Skull disappointing — it was Shia LaBeouf (and also a fridge for some reason). Still, after contributing the best parts of the No Time to Die screenplay (the Ana de Armas sequence) and being the only good thing about Solo, Waller-Bridge has a knack for showing up well in venerable franchise projects. Though please, for James Mangold’s sake, stop saying she’s being set up to “take over” the franchise.


Tom Cruise

Earlier this year during the Oscar campaign, Steven Spielberg famously thanked Tom Cruise for saving the theatrical film industry with the billion-dollar success of Top Gun: Maverick. And that wasn’t even the movie set where Cruise had an infamous outburst about crew members not following COVID protocols that culminated with him hollering, “That’s what I sleep with every night — the future of this fucking industry!” That happened while filming Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, the two-part continuation of Ethan Hunt’s international adventures, the first part of which bows in July. The existential threats to this fucking industry this summer are different than they were last year, but who knows? Maybe Tom can exert some influence over the AMPTP and get the studios to quit trying to replace everybody with AI. He may need to settle for merely having another big summer hit. 2018’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout was the highest-grossing installment so far in a franchise that’s been trending steadily upward since Mission: Impossible III. Top Gun numbers are probably off the table, but it’d be nice for Cruise to retain his crown as King of Summer for another year.


Esai Morales

Back around the time that Tom Cruise was yelling at the Dead Reckoning crew for not wearing their masks, Nicholas Hoult had to drop out of the film so he could go back to filming his Hulu series The Great. Hoult was replaced in the role by veteran actor Esai Morales, whose significant roles go back as far as NYPD Blue and La Bamba. It’s a heck of an opportunity for the actor, though we don’t know much about the character Morales is playing. “I can tell you that he’s definitely the antagonist in our story, or rather he is one of the antagonists in our story,” director Christopher McQuarrie told EW. “There’s definitely more to him than meets the eye and he’s something of a ghost of the past.” Ghosts of the past have been a recurring theme in the most recent Mission: Impossible movies. Vanessa Kirby’s “White Widow” character, introduced in Fallout, turned out to be the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s character from the first film, and Henry Czerney’s former IMF director Eugene Kittridge returns in Dead Reckoning.


Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling

Can something as high-concept as Barbie be good and popular? What exactly is a Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig and co-written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach going to be like? Even after two trailers, questions abound as to what the hell this movie is up to. If the mere sight of one perma-arched foot is enough to freak people out, imagine the response if Robbie and Gosling nail whatever postmodern, candy-colored, archly comedic take on the material that Gerwig must certainly have in mind. Robbie’s already trying to bounce back from another archly comedic, tonally daring movie in Babylon that pissed off as many people as it fascinated. Meanwhile, Gosling has somehow only made one movie since his back-to-back incredible-yet-underperforming features Blade Runner: 2049 and First Man in 2017 and 2018. And fun fact: Since The Gray Man is that one movie, it’s actually zero movies, because The Gray Man is not actually a movie. Welcome back, Ryan Gosling! Very excited to see your Kenergy.


Cillian Murphy

Last summer’s biggest blockbuster was about Tom Cruise zoom-zooming around the sky in his superfast fighter jets. One of this summer’s biggest blockbusters, if all goes well for Universal, is a morally complicated biopic about a nuclear scientist and the ethical compromises he made that ultimately doomed the world to a state of perpetual brinksmanship, starring an actor who hasn’t headlined a major studio release since … Sunshine in 2007? Red Eye in 2005? Of course, one look at the Oppenheimer trailer is a reminder that Christopher Nolan is at the helm, and he knows how to make blockbuster cinema. And with star Cillian Murphy, he’s elevating a performer whom he’s worked with on the Dark Knight films (as recurring baddie Dr. Jonathan Crane) as well as Inception and Dunkirk. The Irish actor also spent six seasons as the star of Peaky Blinders, a show that quietly grew to be one of Netflix’s biggest worldwide hits. Murphy’s already receiving Oscar buzz for the performance, sight unseen, and if Oppenheimer is the kind of hit that Nolan is used to, that’s not out of the question.

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11 Movie Stars Who Have the Most at Stake This Summer