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11 summer movies not to miss -- 'Iron Man,' 'Gatsby,' and more

Once you're an adult, summer doesn't quite mean what it used to. Most of us don't get June, July and August off any more, and end up whiling away the majority of the season staring wistfully out the office window at that so-fleeting sunshine.

\"Man of Steel,\" \"The Great Gatsby,\" \"World War Z\" and \"Monsters University\" are among our picks for summer must-see movies.
\"Man of Steel,\" \"The Great Gatsby,\" \"World War Z\" and \"Monsters University\" are among our picks for summer must-see movies.

But one of the perks of summer that Americans of all ages and job descriptions get is the summer movie season. Don't expect to see gritty, intense Oscar contenders on these long, hot days -- this is the time for pure popcorn, light and fluffy films with explosions and animation, superheroes and zombies.

More than 60 movies will open over the course of the summer. Here are 11 you'll want to consider putting on your must-see list.

If you can only see ONE summer blockbuster, see 'Iron Man 3'

It's tough to imagine the "Iron Man" series without cocky, wisecracking Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. Who else could make Tony Stark/Iron Man the most fascinating superhero onscreen? Stark is super, sure, but he also has battled alcoholism and anxiety attacks, and his super-flubs are as intriguing as his big battles. Downey makes you buy into it for two-plus hours in "Iron Man 3," backed by a superb supporting cast, including Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Guy Pearce and Gwyneth Paltrow. Other films have their fans (we hear you, Trekkies!), but "Iron Man 3" might be the biggest summer blockbuster in a summer filled with them. (Opens May 3.)

If you're an English major, see 'The Great Gatsby'

If we made a list of the movies least likely to benefit from 3-D, "The Great Gatsby" would top that list. Hey! Guess what? Hollywood put it in 3-D anyway! It's supposed to give a more immersive experience, but really, can't F. Scott Fitzgerald's legendary characters and story do that on their own? But this latest rendition of "Gatsby" is going all out, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. Aussie director Baz Luhrmann made "Moulin Rouge!" and "Romeo + Juliet," and both those films made waves for their style and panache. Traditionalists who want to see a straightforward march straight to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock may be clutching their knotted pearls when they see this one. (Opens May 10.)

If you're missing your friends from Starfleet Academy, see 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

Give the folks behind "Star Trek: Into Darkness" (and its 2009 predecessor, "Star Trek") huge props. Rebooting a series that was so beloved for so long without alienating devoted fans has to rank right up there with solving the Kobayashi Maru training exercise. And like a young James T. Kirk back in his school days, they somehow pulled it off. The rebooted movie series is a solid new take on Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest -- we especially love Simon "Shaun of the Dead" Pegg as Scotty. And as much as Trekkies love to dig for info, this film has managed to maintain a certain secrecy about the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and named John Harrison. Is Harrison a version of the legendary baddie Khan? Or Gary Mitchell from the original series? Does it matter? We'll be there faster than a red-shirted ensign can say, "Look out, Capt--" (Opens May 17.)

If you like quirky growing-up tales, see 'The Kings of Summer'

It looks a little like "Stand By Me" with a more modern, sarcastic sensibility. "The Kings of Summer" was a Sundance hit. Three boys whose parents are driving them crazy build a house in the woods -- and a pretty decent one, too -- and leave civilzation behind. Or kind of. They may make occasional forays to a nearby Boston Market. In previews, the boys are charming and likable, and the parents include the fabulous Nick Offerman who reportedly all but steals the movie. We're guessing this will become a cult fave a la "Donnie Darko." (Opens May 31.)

If you want to see Hollywood stars die horribly yet humorously, see 'This Is the End'

It's maybe the weirdest concept film of the summer. Hollywood stars play themselves having a big party at James Franco's house jut as the apocalypse -- complete with hellfire, crumbling earth, monsters and Rapture-style abductions -- comes to Los Angeles. Stars like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Craig Robinson react pretty much as any character they've ever played would react -- by running around like loons, fighting over the lone remaining Milky Way candy bar and getting robbed by Emma Watson. "Hermione stole all our (expletive)," announces Danny McBride. It could be awful, but based on the rapport of the leads, we're declaring it so silly it's might just be great. (Opens June 12.)

If you like your superheroes polite and clean-cut, see 'Man of Steel'

Iron Man's charming, but his personal problems could fill a therapist's file cabinet. Not so Superman. Sure, he and Lois Lane have issues, but Clark Kent/Superman is still the superhero you could safely bring home to Mom. That can mean he's ... kinda boring, and the trailers don't do much to dispel that, showing a young Clark saving a busload of schoolkids and angstily fretting about his place in the world. One early review of the new "Man of Steel," however, claims that the trailer misrepresents things and Supes really kicks some butt in the movie. Some fans will always mourn Christopher Reeve, but new star Henry Cavil sure has the look down. We'll soon see if he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. (Opens June 14)

If you can't get enough zombies, see 'World War Z'

"The Walking Dead" is on break, but zombies will be chewing brains all over the big screen in "World War Z." Here's our concern: The film's based on Max Brooks' excellent book, which is told by a UN employee who traveled the world interviewing people of all nationalities about how the zombie uprising affected them. (If you know Studs Terkel's "The Good War," it's that but with the undead.) But the movie's trailer takes Brooks' title and turns it into a we've-seen-this-before action flick as Brad Pitt works to save his children and wife from the zombies. Yes, you can't judge a film by a 2-minute preview, but between the excellence we've become accustomed to on "Walking Dead" and Brooks' fine book, we have high expectations. Someone on this set better have kept their braaaaaaaaaains. (Opens June 21)

If you have a kid, or are a kid at heart, see 'Monsters University'

Not every sequel works, but "Monsters University," Pixar's prequel to its 2001 delight "Monsters Inc.," is positively inspired. Monsters Mike (voice of Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voice of John Goodman) were pals as co-workers in the original film, but when they met back in monster college, that wasn't the case. Bad for them, good for us, as we watch the dormmates fight it out (turns out Sulley sheds in his sleep) amid all the craziness of majoring in scaring. If this one doesn't entertain you, reassess your entertainment genes. (Opens June 21)

If you loved 'Bridesmaids,' see 'The Heat'

"The Heat" is a buddy-cop comedy with a twist -- the cops are women. And not just any women, but Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Director Paul Feig not only directed "Bridesmaids," he created the legendary "Freaks and Geeks," which always makes our list of "shows that should never have been canceled." Bullock's best when she's funny (sorry, "Blind Side" fans) and McCarthy is on a roll, so this should be fun. (June 28)

If you loved the Minions, see 'Despicable Me 2"

It's a great summer for kid movies. In 2010's "Despicable Me," Steve Carell introduced us to Gru, a supervillain with a passel of little yellow pill-shaped Minions who gabble to each other in gibberish and engage in Three Stooges-style slapstick that's somehow cuter than normal coming from them. Gru seemed tough at first, but his heart quickly melted when he took in three orphan girls. He's back in the sequel, and the Anti-Villain League (with an agent voiced by Kristen Wiig) needs his help to take down another baddie. Thankfully, the Minions and the girls are along for the ride. If you can't get enough of the little yellow guys, another spinoff film, "Minions," is coming in 2014. (Opens July 3.)

If you loved 'Cars,' see 'Planes'

Get ready for "Planes" bedsheets, stuffed toys, video games, phone apps and lunchboxes, because if you thought "Cars" saturated the world of kids, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Disney's "Planes" takes the action to the air with comic Dane Cook voicing Dusty Crophopper, the little cropduster with big dreams. He's no Lightning McQueen, but with a little help from his friends -- and a few zillion kid viewers -- he might just soar high. (Opens Aug. 9.)

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