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Summer's sizzling hot movies
See which stars and blockbuster hits will make a splash on the big screen this summer

By Kat Murphy
Special to MSN Movies

'Tis the season for blockbusters and tentpole extravaganzas to raise the temperature in your local multiplex. Wildly diverse species of sexy superheroes are out and about, flexing monster muscles, saving the world and rescuing damsels in distress. Summer screens blaze with all manner of terrifying apocalypse, threatening to end the human race and the planet we call home. Anticipate close encounters with rib-cracking hilarity and hair-raising horror -- and the brand of dramas that make you reassess everything you ever knew about human nature. True to tradition, Dreamworks and Pixar provide family-friendly fare, animations that celebrate the magical and the monstrously silly.

So check out our preview of Summer Movies, May through July, and, as always, keep your Ray-Bans peeled for cinematic wild cards, any one of which might turn out to be the sleeper of the season.  

Hunks of Summer: Men of Steel and Iron, Golden Boy, Kemo Sabe and "Crow" ... and One Hairy Wolverine

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), that rare superhero blessed with brains and weisenheimer wit, shows his softer side in "Iron Man 3" when Ben Kingsley's bad-to-the-bone Mandarin menaces Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Will the Man of Iron match Christopher Reeve's lovesick "Man of Steel," who literally turned back time to save Lois Lane?

And more to the point, how will Zack Snyder's "clean reboot" (penned by "Batman Begins" scribe David S. Goyer) of Superman's origin story measure up to the 1978 version, such a deft mix of sweetness, humor and world-saving? Snyder's "Man of Steel" is Henry Cavill, a studly British stand-out in TV's "The Tudors." (Poor Brandon Routh, touted in 2006 as the "new" Superman, was rejected.) Headlining a stellar cast -- Russell Crowe, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Lawrence Fishburne -- can Cavill flex super thespian muscle?

Superman is as American as apple pie, and so is F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby, embodiment of the elusive sometimes destructive nature of the American Dream. A new "Great Gatsby" comes to the screen courtesy of Baz Luhrmann, whose previous extravaganzas of doomed desire include "Moulin Rouge!" and "Romeo + Juliet." Once Luhrmann's boyish Romeo, Leonardo DiCaprio seems perfectly cast as the ever-aspiring Gatsby, bewitched by golden girl Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) and her moneyed class. Trust Baz to deliver a jazzier vision of 1920s excess than the 1974 waxworks version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.  

Another American pop-culture icon gets the "reboot" treatment in Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger." (Are all our movies sequels and remakes? Gore "Pirates of the Caribbean" Verbinski should know.) Armie Hammer is the mysterious masked man, playing second fiddle to Johnny Depp as Tonto -- Jack Sparrow all gussied up as a Crow. (Tonto's bizarro winged headgear owes much to a painting, "I Am Crow," by a Native American artist.) Think frontier derring-do and wise-cracking camaraderie, just like on Verbinski's high seas.

While the Deppster heads out West, "The Wolverine" travels East, toward the rising sun and a coven of lethal samurai. Hugh Jackman buffs up for his sixth outing as hirsute hero brandishing scissorhands, half in love with death after the loss of Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Look forward to erasing the cloying taste of saintly Jean Valjean with Logan's magnificently conflicted machismo. It's almost certainly our loss that writer-director Darren Aronovsky got replaced by James Mangold ("Knight and Day"); reportedly the helmer of "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler" turned in a script that fronted overmuch sex and violence.

Camp Armageddon 

More hunks are in residence at Camp Armageddon, summertime resort for great big end-of-the-world flicks. "Star Trek into Darkness" features a mad master of terror (played by red-hot property Benedict Cumberbatch, of "Sherlock" fame) who plots apocalypse on a war-ravaged planet. Following the timeline established in the 2009 franchise reset, helmer J.J. Abrams sends young James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) "into the darkness" to cross swords (light sabers?) with their nihilist nemesis. Who wouldn't buy a ticket for that trip?

World-class hunk Brad Pitt has been jonesing for years to bring Max Brooks' best-seller "World War Z" to the screen. Directed by Marc Forster, this latest chronicle of zombie apocalypse features Pitt as a United Nations staffer who chases marauding waves of walking dead around the world, trying to find a cure for the pandemic. Mireille Enos (TV's "The Killing"), David Morse and Matthew Fox also hope to avoid being zombie chow.

If it's not zombies, it's Kaiju. That's the moniker of the monstrous aliens who rise out of the sea in Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim." Seems these world-beaters are such giants they can only be combated by Jaegers, equally gigantic, massively weaponized robots operated by neurally connected human pilots. Charlie Hunnam trades his "Sons of Anarchy" hog for an old-time Jaeger, mounting -- with co-pilot Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel") -- a last-ditch defense against the Kaiju. Question is, can del Toro turbo-charge this huge, action-packed spectacle? 

M. Night Shyamalan's sci-fi saga begins "After Earth," a thousand years since catastrophe ruined our home planet. Following a crash-landing, Gen. Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), find themselves marooned on an Earth that's devolved into lethal flora and fauna. The boy who dreams of a being a legendary hero like his badly injured dad must trek through this unforgiving terrain to find their ship's rescue beacon. Starring in "The Karate Kid" remake, Jaden showed he's got his father's talent and charisma plus physical grace all his own -- so he's primed to shine in this otherworldly adventure.

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Check out MSN Movies' Summer Movie Guide to plan your summer entertainment. Find release dates and watch trailers for all the hottest action, horror, drama, comedy, family and sci-fi films in the pipeline.