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Summer movie preview: the 40 biggest movies, from Aretha to 'Cruella'

A look at the films that will be hitting theaters (and streaming platforms) from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Fast cars, big stars, snack bars: the summer movie season is back, Jack.

After a severely depleted year at the movies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, blockbusters are finally returning to theaters, and they're bringing the familiar sights and sounds of summer with them. 

Vin Diesel and John Cena in "F9."

Things start to rev up Memorial Day Weekend, kicking off three months of sequels, superhero movies and slam dunks on the big screen — and, since we live in a changing moviegoing world, at home on streaming services, too. 

Here are summer's 40 biggest movies. And if the last year has taught us anything at all, it's that dates are always, unpredictably subject to change. 

1. "F9" — Vin Diesel and crew return for the ninth adventure in the "Fast and Furious" series which, 20 years on, still shows no signs of running out of gas. Vroom vroom forever. (June 25 in theaters) 

2. "Black Widow" — Scarlett Johansson takes center stage as the Marvel superhero in installment No. 24 of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Oscar nominee Florence Pugh co-stars. (July 9 in theaters and on Disney+ Premium Access) 

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in "Black Widow."

3. "Respect" — Jennifer Hudson takes on the role of a lifetime when she plays Aretha Franklin in this biopic about the Queen of Soul. With Forest Whitaker as her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin. (Aug. 13 in theaters)  

4. "Cruella" — Disney goes punk rock with this edgy origin story of "101 Dalmations" villain Cruella de Vil, with a fiery Emma Stone in the title role and Emma Thompson as her even evil-er tormentor. (May 28 in theaters and on Disney+ Premium Access) 

Paul Walter Hauser, Emma Stone and Joel Fry in "Cruella."

5. "Space Jam: A New Legacy" — To infinity and beyond. LeBron James laces up his Nikes in this follow-up to the live-action/ animated hybrid which Michael Jordan made famous 25 years ago. (July 16 in theaters and on HBO Max)

6. "A Quiet Place Part II" — Writer-director John Krasinski returns with the follow-up to his 2018 smash, about survivors of a post-apocalyptic world where if you make a sound, you're dead. (May 28 in theaters) 

Emily Blunt (center) in "A Quiet Place: Part II."

7. "In the Heights" — Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical about life in Washington Heights, New York, stars "A Star is Born's" Anthony Ramos and is directed by "Crazy Rich Asians'" Jon M. Chu. (June 11 in theaters and on HBO Max) 

8. "No Sudden Move" — Steven Soderbergh shot this Detroit-set 1950s heist movie last year in town under tight COVID precautions, and its all-star cast includes Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Hamm and Julia Fox. Can't wait. (July 1 on HBO Max) 

9. "Luca" — The latest from Pixar is about a pair of friends in the Italian Riviera who just so happen to be sea monsters from the great below. Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer voice the main characters. (June 18 on Disney+)

10. "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" — Here's a fun fact: the two highest grossing films in Adam Sandler's career are both entries in this animated franchise. Sandler exits this fourth go-round; Count Dracula will now be voiced by Brian Hull. Also with the voices of Selena Gomez, Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key. (July 23 in theaters) 

Brian Hull and Selena Gomez voice characters in "Hotel Transylvania: Transformia."

11. "Free Guy" — Ryan Reynolds jumps into the video game world, playing a non-playable character who takes his fate into his own hands in the latest from director Shawn Levy ("Real Steel," the "Night at the Museum" movies). (Aug. 13 in theaters)  

12. "The Suicide Squad" — Star Will Smith is out and director James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy") is in in this sequel to the 2016 film that first gave us Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. (Don't worry, she's back.) (Aug. 6 and on HBO Max) 

13. "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" — More demonic possession fun in the third "Conjuring" movie and the eighth entry overall in the "Conjuring" universe (which also includes the "Annabelle" films). (June 4 in theaters and on HBO Max) 

14. "Jungle Cruise" — Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt test the limits of premises in this movie based on the Disney theme park ride. Then again, "Pirates of the Caribbean" birthed five films, so anything is possible. (July 30 in theaters and on Disney+ Premium Access)

15. "Old" — M. Night Shyamalan's latest stars Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps as vacationers who find themselves suddenly aging rapidly, and since it's Shyamalan, we're gonna go out on a limb and guess there's a twist involved. (July 23 in theaters) 

16. "The Tomorrow War" — Chris Pratt stars in this future-set thriller about an alien invasion where humans from the past are drafted back into battle. "Lego Batman" helmer Chris McKay directs. (July 2 on Amazon Prime Video)

17. "The Forever Purge" — The fifth and said to be final film in the "Purge" franchise will only be the final "Purge" film if fans don't stand up and demand more "Purge" films. Call your local congressman and tell them the "Purge" mustn't end! (July 2 in theaters) 

18. "The Kissing Booth 3" — Friends, lovers, video game dance competitions: what a ride it's been, and the Netflix saga that began in 2018 wraps up with the third entry in the series. With Joey King, Joel Courtney and Jacob Elordi. (Aug. 11 on Netflix)

Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney and Meganne Young in "The Kissing Booth 3."

19. "Zola" — It all started with a tweet, and co-writer and director Janicza Bravo's film dramatizes a 2015 tweet thread about a Detroit waitress' wild trip to Florida complete with sex, drugs and prostitution. Buckle up. (June 30 in theaters)  

20. "Snake Eyes" — "Crazy Rich Asians'" Henry Golding stars as the stoic "G.I. Joe" character in this reboot of the "G.I. Joe" series, which has been dormant since 2013's "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." (July 23 in theaters) 

21. "The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" — Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek return in the sequel to the 2017 film that few remember but was apparently popular enough to warrant a follow-up. (June 16 in theaters) 

22. "CODA" — The sensation of this year's Sundance Film Festival is about the hearing daughter of two deaf parents who follows her dreams to become a singer. Emilia Jones is a standout as the lead character. (Aug. 13 in theaters and on Apple TV+) 

23. "Candyman" — Jordan Peele co-wrote this sequel to the 1992 horror film that made everyone afraid to say a certain character's name into the mirror three times. Nia DaCosta directs. (Aug. 27 in theaters) 

24. "Fatherhood" — Following the unexpected death of his wife, a father (Kevin Hart) struggles to raise his young daughter. With Alfre Woodard and Lil Rel Howery; Paul Weitz ("About a Boy") directs. (June 18 on Netflix) 

25. "Stillwater" — Nope, it's not a biopic of the band from "Almost Famous." This crime drama from Tom McCarthy (  "Spotlight") stars Matt Damon as an oil worker fighting to help his daughter (Abigail Breslin) out of her legal troubles. (July 30 in theaters) 

26. "Reminiscence" — From "Westworld" director Lisa Joy comes this story of a man (Hugh Jackman) who sells his clients the opportunity to relive their memories. Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton co-star. (Aug. 20 in theaters and on HBO Max)

27. "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" — Just in time for Easter — wait, scratch that. Just in time for Father's Day comes the sequel to the rambunctious 2018 hit, in which James Corden voices the precocious bunny. (June 18 in theaters) 

The gang's all back in "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway."

28. "The Ice Road" — It's "Ice Road Truckers," the movie! Well, sort of. Liam Neeson stars in this action thriller about an ice driver on a daring mission to rescue a group of trapped mine workers. (June 25 on Netflix)  

29. "The Green Knight" — Dev Patel, Joel Edgerton and Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander star in this medieval fantasy about an epic quest to confront a green-skinned knight. "A Ghost Story's" David Lowery directs. (July 30 in theaters)

30. "Don't Breathe 2" — The sequel to 2016's Detroit-set sleeper hit follows Stephen Lang's "Blind Man" character who must track down a group of criminals after they kidnap a young orphan he's raising in a remote cabin. (Aug. 13 in theaters) 

31. "He's All That" — "Mean Girls" Mark Waters directs this gender-flipped remake of 1999's teen hit "She's All That," starring Tik Tok's Addison Rae. Original "She's All That" star Rachael Leigh Cook also appears. (Aug. 27 on Netflix) 

Madison Pettis, Myra Molloy and Addison Rae in "He's All That."

32. "The Protégé" — James Bond vet Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye," "Casino Royale") directs this action thriller about a trained killer (Maggie Q) who must avenge the death of her mentor. With Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson. (Aug. 20 in theaters)

33. "Spirit Untamed" — This animated horse tale follows the franchise which kicked off with 2002's "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" and features a voice cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore and Walton Goggins. (June 4 in theaters) 

34. "Sweet Girl" — In this action thriller, Jason Momoa plays a man out for revenge after the death of his wife; Isabela Merced, Amy Brenneman and Justin Bartha co-star. (Aug. 20 on Netflix)  

Jason Mamoa in "Sweet Girl."

35. "The Beatles: Get Back" — Director Peter Jackson brings the Beatles back to life in this documentary about the making of "Let it Be," re-created from the treasure trove of audio and visual tapes from the original sessions' recordings. (Aug. 27 in theaters) 

36. "Good on Paper" — Stand-up comic Iliza Shlesinger writes and stars in this comedy about a comic who meets a guy ("Veronica Mars'" Ryan Hansen) who appears to be too good to be true. (June 23 on Netflix) 

37. "America: The Motion Picture" — This comic take on the American Revolution features Channing Tatum as the voice of George Washington and characters voiced by Simon Pegg, Bobby Moynihan and Killer Mike. (June 30 on Netflix) 

38. "The Sparks Brothers" — A wildly fun documentary about the Sparks Brothers, the musical duo who have managed to fly under the radar for 50 years but have influenced untold numbers of musicians. From director Edgar Wright. (June 18 in theaters)  

Ron and Russell Mael in "The Sparks Brothers."

39. "False Positive" — "Broad City's" Ilana Glazer co-writes and stars in this contemporary riff on "Rosemary's Baby" starring Justin Theroux, Pierce Brosnan and Gretchen Mol. (June 25 on Hulu)  

40. "Summer of Soul" — Roots drummer Questlove's documentary details a 1969 music festival in Harlem, with archival performances by Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and more. (July 2 in theaters and on Hulu)  

27 more: An influencer takes her friends on vacation in the comedy "Carnaval" (June 2 on Netflix); "Undine" is a suspenseful romance based on the ancient myth (June 4 in theaters and On Demand); Sylvester Stallone plays a superhero thought to have gone missing in "Samaritan" (June 4 in theaters); people can no longer sleep after a global catastrophe in "Awake" (June 9 on Netflix); fiction and reality blur in the acclaimed British horror tale "Censor" (June 11 in theaters); a teen meets a dragon who can grant wishes in, what else, "Wish Dragon" (June 11 on Netflix); Luke Wilson plays a Depression-era football coach who leads his team to greatness in "12 Mighty Orphans" (June 18 in theaters); "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It" is a documentary about the EGOT winner (June 18 in theaters); kings of weird Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe link up in "Siberia" (June 18 in theaters and On Demand); a Korean-American man fights to stay in his Louisiana hometown in "Blue Bayou" (June 25 in theaters); the documentary "Fathom" looks at communications between humpback whales (June 25 on Apple TV+); lovers are torn apart in the romantic drama "I Carry You With Me" (July 2 in theaters); "Ailey" looks at the life of dance pioneer Alvin Ailey (July 16 in theaters); the late Anthony Bourdain is celebrated in "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain" (July 16 in theaters); "Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans" is the latest in the popular children's series (July 21 on Netflix); Felicity Jones is a journalist who discovers a series of love letters from the 1960s and attempts to find out how the love story ended in "The Last Letter from Your Lover" (July 23 on Netflix); Christina Milian and Jay Pharoah star in the comic romance "Resort to Love" (July 29 on Netflix); Jean-Claude Van Damme returns to action in "The Last Mercenary" (July 30 on Netflix); a man interviews souls to determine which one deserves a shot at life in "Nine Days" (Aug. 6 in theaters); Karen Gillan leads a team of female assassins in "Gunpowder Milkshake" (Aug. 15 on Netflix); the visually ambitious animated drama "Cryptozoo" has nothing to do with cryptocurrency, sadly (Aug. 20 in theaters); Rebecca Hall is a widow haunted by her husband's past in "The Night House" (Aug. 20 in theaters); if you have young kids, chances are they're already excited for "Paw Patrol: The Movie" (Aug. 20 in theaters); Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star as a couple whose daughter has a unique gift in the musical "Annette" (Aug. in theaters); John David Washington stars as a man on the run in "Beckett," which also stars Alicia Vikander (Aug. on Netflix); paint a few happy trees with the master in "Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed" (TBA on Netflix); Lin-Manuel Miranda makes beautiful music in the animated musical comedy "Vivo" (TBA on Netflix).