Hollywood hopes the world wants to dive into summer movies not for the rush of the new but for the enjoyment of the familiar.
Movie history has moved on since Steven Spielberg invented the summer blockbuster with "Jaws." Sometimes it moves ahead, other times it moves in circles. This year it's a bit of both.
Summer has become a movie season with traditions as customary as Mardi Gras. Now is the time movie theaters dial up the air conditioning and dial down the originality. Sequels, remakes, reboots and adaptations are the norm for warm-weather viewing, and never more so than now. Several films opening in the next three months boast titles ending in 3 ("Madagascar 3"), III ("Men in Black III") or even 3DD (a nod to the abundantly voluptuous actresses in the latest installment of the "Piranha" franchise). If you count the previous Bourne movies, "The Bourne Legacy" is a 4. Add up the Marvel superheroes' earlier appearances and "The Avengers" is a 7.
Add in the other projects based on iconic films ("Total Recall," "Sparkle"), comics ("The Amazing Spider-Man"), TV shows ("Dark Shadows"), and even board games ("Battleship"), and you have 10 direct sequels and 10 more based on familiar material, such as "Snow White," "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and the "Alien" spinoff "Prometheus."
It's understandable to cling to proven successes of the past, but it's chancy. How often does lightning strike twice, let alone three times? The track record of brand-name entertainment is spotty. Whereas last summer's "Harry Potter" finale and "Kung Fu Panda 2" were popular and critical hits, "Green Lantern," "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon," "Hangover 2" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" were reviled. Studio back lots are honeycombed with the craters of misfired relaunches, from "Speed 2" to "Wild Wild West" to "Indiana Jones 4."
Despite the execs' appetite for cliché properties, creative types, those rule-breaking daredevils, have a stirring determination to produce new and distinctive works. While name-brand films may dominate the multiplex, innovative, independent visions and oddball themes still find their niche on Screens 17 through 20.
Two of the season's standouts are deliriously inventive and synopsis-resistant. You've never seen the likes of "Hysteria," a Maggie Gyllenhaal farce about the Victorian-era invention of the vibrator, or the larky Aubrey Plaza/Mark Duplass time-travel love story "Safety Not Guaranteed." That's part of what makes them so engaging. They were made as labors of love, not franchise cornerstones to be reduced to a dozen words of snappy DVD box copy.
Of course, the lines aren't always so clear. Christopher Nolan's Batman movies prove that well-worn characters can be the basis for intelligent, thoughtful and provocative blockbusters. Improbably, the screenplay to "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" was written by indie-movie darling Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale," "Greenberg"). And "Prometheus," helmed by visual master Ridley Scott and written by "Lost's" Damon Lindelof, promises to be a more cerebral, challenging story than the usual summer kaboom-fest.
Here's a rundown of 20 films -- 10 with original concepts, 10 based on established properties -- we expect to make a big impact over the next 16 weeks.