Read more from Slate's Summer Movies.
Each year the summer movie season arrives with the promise of big-budget excitement of the kind only Hollywood can inspire. Spider-Man will save New York—and dance! Steve Carell will build an ark! Yet some summers deliver more than others, and this one's not shaping up to be a good one. There have been bright spots, but given that this season's last hope for delivering a summer-defining blockbuster involves a decades-old toy franchise, it might be time to start thinking about next year.
Luckily—because major motion pictures of the kind that yield action figures and Happy Meal tie-ins take years to plan, produce, and market—that's not hard to do. When it comes to what we'll be watching in theaters next summer, the future is already written. It looks like this:
It's a live-action take on anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida's series about a boy racer, his car, and his pet chimp.
Awesomeness probability: relatively high, if only because there may be no actors who could pass as living anime characters as easily as stars Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci.
Will fans line up in costume? There are fans who have waited four decades for this film. They're shaped more like Pops Racer than Speed Racer these days, but they'll be there.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The success of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ensured we'd be seeing more CGI-rich Christian parables. Here's the next one.
Awesomeness probability: moderate. The first Narnia film felt acceptable without being exceptional, but maybe the sequel will lose the fixation on Lord of the Rings-style battle sequences and dig deeper into the nuances of Lewis' world.
Will fans line up in costume? Oh yes.
Indiana Jones 4
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' original Indiana Jones films helped set the gold standard for blockbuster entertainment. The as-yet-untitled fourth film will no doubt contain many jokes about its protagonist's age. Beyond that, it's all hush-hush.
Awesomeness probability: moderate. Remember the last time Lucas decided to expand on a beloved trilogy?
Will fans line up in costume? Only question is whether theaters will let them bring in their bullwhips.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Knocked Up and 40-Year-Old Virgin mastermind Judd Apatow's grip on the summer comedy scene tightens with this tale of an unfamous guy (Jason Segel, an Apatow favorite since Freaks and Geeks) trying to forget his famous ex-girlfriend (Veronica Mars' Kristen Bell). Apatow only produces this one, but it's directed by acolyte Nicholas Stoller, written by Segel, and co-stars old-hand Paul Rudd.
Awesomeness probability: high. Apatow productions are everywhere these days, but as long as they stay funny and true, we should, to paraphrase The Simpsons, welcome our new comedy overlords.
Will fans line up in costume? Given the ease with which Apatow films reflect the ordinary guy-ness of the average moviegoer, chances are fans already are in costume.
Eddie Murphy stars as a spaceship who looks like a human being. He's populated by tiny creatures, one of whom looks like Eddie Murphy.
Awesomeness probability: um, low. Though Bill Corbett of the late, great Mystery Science Theater 3000 co-wrote the screenplay, Starship Dave re-teams Murphy with Norbit director Brian Robbins and returns him to space, a la The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Nothing here suggests awesomeness.
Will fans line up in costume? Fans?
M. Night Shyamalan returns, and, typically, the project is shrouded in secrecy. Here's the plot description on IMDb: "A paranoid thriller about a family on the run from a natural crisis that presents a large-scale threat to humanity." Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel star.
Awesomeness probability: moderate. Shyamalan's an undeniable talent, but the plot sounds like it was assembled while playing a Shyamalan-themed game of Mad Libs.
Will fans line up in costume? In a twist worthy of Shyamalan, it will look like fans have lined up wearing costumes, when in fact costumes have lined up wearing fans.
The Incredible Hulk
Remember Ang Lee's stylish, psychologically complex, kind of boring Hulk movie from a few years back? No? OK, good. Because Marvel is hoping you forget all about it and turn up for this entirely recast, reportedly more action-oriented sequel.
Awesomeness probability: moderate. Edward Norton takes over the Bruce Banner role. That's a good sign. But Luc Besson disciple Louis Leterrier of the Transporter series steps into the director's chair, suggesting that anyone who likes their superhero movies with a little bit of brains may have to look elsewhere.
Will fans line up in costume? Because of his size and muscle, the Hulk's kind of tough to imitate on a budget, but expect to see at least one pudgy torso covered in green paint on opening night.
The Love Guru
After a long break from live-action filmmaking, Mike Myers returns with a new larger-than-life character: Pitka, a South Asian self-help guru who dispenses romantic advice and, no doubt, at least three different endlessly repeated catchphrases.
Awesomeness probability: Let's call this a wait-and-see situation. Myers has been quietly testing Pitka in comedy clubs to great response. But after two Powers sequels and three Shrek films, the opportunity to see Myers doing a funny accent for two hours doesn't hold the appeal it once did.
Will fans line up in costume? Last chance to bust out the Dr. Evil costume without inviting public scorn.
A group of actors have to call on their boot-camp training in order to survive a threat of some kind.
Awesomeness probability: moderate to high. Ben Stiller, who's long overdue to release something truly funny, stars and directs alongside Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Nick Nolte, and the always delightfully serpentine Justin Theroux (who co-wrote the screenplay). This could be the moment when Stiller, Black, and Wilson shore up their reputations as their generation's most reliable funnymen or lose them forever.
Will fans line up in costume? Who doesn't have a pair of army fatigues laying around?
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star as men who become stepbrothers late in life and do not like it one bit. Adam McKay of Anchorman and Talladega Nights directs, and Judd Apatow produces. Seriously.
Awesomeness probability: high. With that team, does the plot even matter?
Will fans line up in costume? Probably not. By this point in the summer, even those most dedicated to parading around in costumes should be getting tired.
Seth Rogen co-stars with James Franco as two slackers on the run from criminals. With Freaks and Geeks veterans Rogen and Franco in the cast, do you need to be told who the producer is?
Awesomeness probability: high. The Apatow crew is on a roll, and the oddball recruitment of arthouse favorite David Gordon Green (George Washington) to direct makes it look even more promising.
Will fans line up in costume? No. They'll be sharpening their swords for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, coming to a theater near you in May 2009.