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The 15 Must-See Movies of Summer 2008

Let’s look back on one of the best movie summers ever with this classic preview of big releases of 2008.
movies of summer 2008 Dark Knight
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on April 28th, 2008

Every year we go through it: What are your most anticipated movies of summer? Which movies will make the most money? What will be the biggest flop? I can’t even begin to think of the infinite variations that we’ve seen of the pre-Summer movie lists. So this year, we are going to do something a little different, but not too far off the beaten path. We’ve set out to give you a guidebook to Summer Movie Season 2008: The 15 Movies that you should not miss, no matter what.

In order to accomplish this task, I have sifted through the entire slate of summer movies, separating the must-sees from the negotiables. And sure, I was careful not to miss the fedora-wearing geriatrics, the playboy billionaires moonlighting as caped crusaders and shell-headed superheroes, and the two federal agents who want, more than anything, to believe. But alongside the obvious choices, I’ve snuck in a few flicks that you might not have had on your list. But you should have them on your list, because whether they are a festival darling or just under the radar, they should absolutely be part of your summer moviegoing agenda. With that said, these are our 15 Must-See Movies of Summer 2008, in chronological order.

Iron Man (May 2)

Here comes obvious choice #1, the film that will get it all started. Last year Spider-Man 3 set box office records and disappointed crowds all at the same time. This year, I believe quite the opposite is in store for Iron Man — it may not break records (thanks to the most competitive month of May we have ever seen), but it certainly won’t be disappointing any crowds. Yes, ole shell-head is going to rock thanks to the directorial brilliance of Jon Favreau and the near perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Welcome to the big show, Mr. Downey Jr., you are the gatekeeper to one of the best summer movie seasons in recent history.

Speed Racer (May 9)

The Wachowskis’ trippy anime-infused children’s movie has probably been one of the most talked about flicks of summer, right up there with that Dark Knight fellow and the old man (see below), but it hasn’t necessarily all been good talk. It has taken serious flack based on its cartoonish nature and its lackluster leading man (lets face it, Emile Hirsch is not that exciting). But we must face facts, in the end — The Wachowskis know how to kick action into high gear. And whether we are ready to admit it yet or not, we are all secretly hoping that this movie kicks some serious ass.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are giving fans of the series what they have been yearning for for almost two full decades by bringing back an aging Harrison Ford and combining him with the new hotness, also known as Shia LaBeouf. The only thing that could go awry is if new audiences can’t get on board with the old school look and feel of Spielberg’s flick — but I seriously doubt that will happen. I mean, it’s Indiana Jones for cryin’ out loud.

The Foot Fist Way (May 30)

Here is your first head-turner of this list, a little comedy that seems to be making a lot of underground noise. While Adam McKay and Will Ferrell will come together again later in the summer to bring us Step Brothers, it appears that their endorsement of The Foot Fist Way may be a more significant move this summer. It stars Hot Rod and Drillbit Taylor‘s Danny McBride as a tae kwon do instructor who is more than losing his way, he is going off the deep end. This one looks hilarious, and mark my words, it could very well turn out to be the surprise of the summer — assuming it doesn’t get completely buried by Sex and the City.

Get Smart (June 20)

Here is another fact for you: Steve Carell seems to be having relatively good luck at the box office lately. Last summer he starred in Evan Almighty, which despite being a pile of bricks still grossed over $100 million. This year sees him team up with Anne Hathaway, a rockin’ supporting cast and the director of Tommy Boy to bring back a 60s cult classic in Get Smart. I don’t like to make wild and crazy predictions, but for this film I will make an exception: I say that it will be funny and it will make a lot of money at the box office. Is that wild enough for you?

Wall-E (June 27)

Oddly enough, Wall-E is probably the only film on this list that I would not only label as a “Must See”, but also as an Oscar contender. It might be a stretch, considering the fact that it is still April and we have all kinds of time between now and February 2009, but Wall-E is one of those special kinds of movies that could very easily capture the hearts and minds of children and adults alike — which is a more colorful way of saying that it is a film made by Pixar. Yes, there no denying the fact that the fine folks at Pixar can do no wrong — at least not yet — and despite early reservations, I don’t see them starting a trend of failure with this film.

The Wackness (July 3)

This choice should come as no surprise to anyone who is a consistent reader here at FSR, as The Wackness still sits atop my list of favorites of 2008 thus far. I first found it when it made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and have since been able to scratch and claw my way into seeing it 3 more times. And for someone with a short attention span and a lot of movies to see every year, that is saying a lot. Writer/Director Jon Levine has created a dark, rich comedy that is going to be tough to market, so I am going to put this as simply as I possibly can: go see The Wackness, you won’t be disappointed.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11)

After a trip to festival darling land, it is back to the big-budget superhero epics that may just define this summer. This film, however, is less of an epic and more of a unique artistic endeavor from one of the most brilliant directors on the face of the planet, Mr. Guillermo Del Toro. The first Hellboy found its audience mostly on DVD after a good but not great theatrical fun, but this second go-round is so highly anticipated, you can cut the tension with a hot butter knife. Bad analogy? Sure. Bad movie? Absolutely not. Del Toro is stepping things up a notch to bring us deeper into the world of Hellboy and show us more of the things that go bump in the night. Hopefully it will lead this film to go bump at the box office, as well.

The Dark Knight (July 18)

What would a summer movie list of any nature be without a mention of The Dark Knight? It would be sad, pathetic and wrong, that’s what it would be. Even if we take away all the brilliant viral marketing that has been unleashed for this film, we still have one of the most highly anticipated events of summer — and rightfully so. Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale brought the Batman franchise back to prominence in 2005 with Batman Begins, putting us all on a path to forgetting about nippled Batsuits and The Freezinator, and The Dark Knight should be the film that finally puts the nail in the coffin. The late Heath Ledger looks dazzling as The Joker, Aaron Eckhart is a great fit for Harvey Dent and Christian Bale… Well, he’s Christian Bale, what more can I say?

American Teen (July 25)

I knew going into this list that I must restrain my inner yearning to put 5 documentaries on this list, considering the fact that there have been so many great ones thus far between Sundance and SXSW, but I knew that no one would like it if I took it too far. Therefore, I have saved the lone doc spot on the must-see list for the absolute best documentary of 2008: Nanette Burstein’s American Teen. Like The Wackness, this is a movie that I have fought to see multiple times already this year. It is a very special cross-breed between social commentary and production value, enough to keep the MTV generation engaged and everyone else informed. Having grown up in the midwest, where the film is set, I found it highly relatable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it reaches a much wider audience in the end.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25)

The truth is out there, Mulder and Scully are back and they want us to believe it. In all reality, the truth is that this release has a previously dormant fanbase, thanks to a long hiatus, salivating at the very thought of another film. No one even realized that this one was going to be so big until WonderCon earlier this year in San Francisco, but when the X-Files panel filled up quicker than Lindsay Lohan’s bar tab, everyone just sort of knew that this was going to be something special. Now, for some reason we just can’t stop talking about it — and I have a feeling that it is only going to get worse (or better, depending on your angle) as the summer rolls on.

Pineapple Express (August 8)

I’ve seen some people who have said that stoner movies are making a comeback this year, but after the mediocre performance of the Harold and Kumar sequel, I’m not so sure. One stoner flick that will go over well is the David Gordon Green directed, Seth Rogen penned, Judd Apatow produced stoner action comedy Pineapple Express. We dropped the leaked redband trailer on you back in February and you ate it up. The film combines the indie feel of David Gordon Green with the ridiculously out-there, yet surprisingly intelligent comedy of Seth Rogen and his Superbad writing partner Evan Goldberg. Plus, you can’t deny that Gary Cole as the bad guy doesn’t make you want to see this film — there is no way around it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (August 15)

I must admit that I am still not 100% tuned into this animated incarnation of the Star Wars saga, but even that can’t cloud my judgment enough for me to leave it off this list. George Lucas and the team at LucasArts are claiming that even though they are re-telling the story of the Clone Wars, a story for which there was an entire live-action movie, we will still see something that is not only new and fresh, but will also cause our collective consciousness to explode. Now, I don’t know about any exploding consciousnesses, but I do know a few Star Wars junkies who are rabidly anticipating this flick and the television series that will follow it. That is enough evidence, for me at least, to put it on this list. It all goes back to a commonly held theory: If it’s Star Wars, you should see it. Even if it isn’t that good, you still don’t want to be that guy who missed it, do you?

Tropic Thunder (August 15)

It wasn’t enough for Robert Downey Jr. to star in the first big summer movie of the year, he must also star in one of the last. This time around though, he won’t be wearing any metal suits and duking it out with tanks — he will, however, be painting his skin black and singing the theme song from The Jeffersons. Confused? You shouldn’t be. With the directorial sure-handedness of Ben Stiller and a comedic all-star team cast, Tropic Thunder may not have even needed Downey Jr. to go “blackface” in order to be successful. Then again, the right amount of shock value is always needed if a comedy is really going to make a splash — and this one looks like it could be more along the lines of a tidal wave than a splash.

Hamlet 2 (August 22)

My magic summer movie 8-ball tells me that the summer of 2008 will end with rock, but not just any brand of rock: “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” type rock. For those who have not yet been properly introduced to the comedic brilliance that is Steve Coogan, just you wait. This guy is the real deal when it comes to delivering ridiculous laughs. In this one, Coogan plays a high school drama teacher who is forced to write a sequel to Hamlet in order to save his school’s drama program. The play includes a time machine, the President kissing Satan and a closing song called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”. Oh yeah, you just read that. It is going to happen. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.

So there you have it, the first big crazy Film School Rejects list of Summer. There will be more, there is no doubt about that. In fact, if there is any one thing that you will be guaranteed by reading this site, it is that you will be treated to some of the best lists of any movie site on the web. With that said, I am proud to be the one who has the honor of getting this year’s summer movie season started. We’ve got a great year ahead of us, including a jam-packed movie release schedule and big plans for this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. The cool part is that all of you get to come along with us, so please enjoy the ride.

Sound Off: What are your must-see movies of summer 2008?

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)