Summer Movie Guide: May

Who will triumph in the attack of the alien movies?

Earth is under attack at the multiplex in May. The month's three biggest movies involve pitched battles with creatures from other planets. Hollywood might consider that a formula for success, but there's plenty at risk -- especially for Universal's $200 million Battleship, a big-budget adaptation of the Hasbro game and the lone nonsequel among the big three. And the movie, starring Taylor Kitsch of the late John Carter, has precious little breathing room: It opens May 18, a week before Sony's Men in Black 3 debuts May 25, the start of the lucrative Memorial Day weekend. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are reteaming for MiB 3, returning the franchise to its roots. (Jones appeared only briefly in the first sequel.) But it has been a decade since Men in Black II was in theaters, and box-office observers will be watching to see if the lengthy hiatus hurts. It also has been nearly four years since Smith appeared onscreen, so MiB 3 will be a fresh test of his genuine star status.

The one May title with a wide berth, opening May 4, is Marvel Studios and Disney's The Avengers, the superhero extravaganza in which everyone from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man to Chris Hemsworth's Thor joins forces for the first time on the big screen to fight an interplanetary villain.

Meanwhile, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows and The Dictator, starring Sacha Baron Cohen, will face off mid-month. Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, is striking a more comedic tone than many expected, meaning two comedies will go up against each other. Another comedy, What to Expect When You're Expecting, aimed at female moviegoers and based on the best-selling guidebook about impending parenthood, opens a week later with an ensemble cast that's headed by Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock and Dennis Quaid.

MAY AT A GLANCE

May 4:

  • The Avengers (Disney/Marvel)

May 11:

  • Dark Shadows (Warner Bros.)
  • The Dictator (Paramount)

May 18:

  • Battleship (Universal)
  • What to Expect When You're Expecting (Lionsgate)

May 25:

  • Chernobyl Diaries (Warner Bros.)
  • Men in Black 3 (Sony)

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MAY 11: The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen, dressed as his title character in The Dictator, nearly hijacked the Oscars by showering Ryan Seacrest with "ashes" on the red carpet. But the danger is that the gonzo performer's trademark stunts will overshadow the movie. And Baron Cohen needs this one to work. Borat, his first foray into Candid Camera-style comedy, earned an eye-popping $261.6 million worldwide in 2006. But his follow-up, Bruno, released in 2009, was considered a disappointment when it grossed $138.8 million globally. Paramount, the home studio of Dictator, will sell the fact that the new movie is distinct from Baron Cohen's previous films in that it has a real narrative storyline -- however outrageous.

MAY 11: Dark Shadows

As a kid, Johnny Depp was such a fan of the TV soap opera Dark Shadows that he wished he was the vampire Barnabas Collins. All these years later, Warner Bros. and Tim Burton, his frequent collaborator (the two have made eight films together), have granted him his wish by bringing Dark Shadows to the big screen. The campy fan-tasy is a gamble because younger moviegoers won't remember the daytime soap -- the first to feature vamps, ghouls, ghosts and time travel -- which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1972. And those who do might not appreciate the liberties Burton and Depp have taken. On the other hand, their track record was strong enough to convince Warners to take the plunge -- Alice in Wonderland, their previous film together, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide -- and Dark Shadows surrounds Depp with an array of female stars including Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Chloe Moretz. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, certainly seems to have a thing for the undead.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's Box-office Hits:

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005): $152.5 million
  • Sweeney Todd (2007): $475 million
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010): $1 billion
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999): $206.1 million

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ALL MONTH LONG

Specialty Counterprogramming: Not only is Focus Features confident enough to open Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom over Memorial Day weekend in a limited run, hoping to dazzle adults bored by more popcorn fare, the film is opening the Cannes Film Festival on May 16. Moonrise, about a pair of young lovers who flee their New England island town, prompting a crazed search, sports an ensemble cast that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. Earlier in the month, Fox Searchlight and Participant Media will bank heavily on John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which launches in select theaters May 4. The film, which already has earned an impressive $43.8 million overseas, stars Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy.

Indies to Watch:

  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (May 4, Fox Searchlight)
  • Hysteria (May 18, Sony Pictures Classics)
  • The Intouchables (May 25, Weinstein Co.)
  • Moonrise Kingdom (May 25, Focus)
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