Summer Movie Preview: Performances to Watch

The summer blockbuster season is not usually a bonanza of great acting, but there are star reputations that need to be proven, breakout supporting character actors to look out for, and maybe even potential Oscar candidates in the mix among all the special effects and wacky comedies.

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The summer blockbuster season is not usually a bonanza of great acting, but there's star reputations that need to be proven, breakout supporting character actors to look out for, and maybe even potential Oscar candidates in the mix among all the special effects and wacky comedies. Our summer movie preview continues today with some of the most interesting acting turns to look out for, be it from a business perspective or an awards perspective.

[Previously: Best Posters // Best Trailers]

Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jeremy Piven, Lara Pulver, Charlotte Riley         

Edge of Tomorrow is yet another Tom Cruise project with a solid enough concept that seems to lack soul (see also: Oblivion). It's Groundhog Day, but with a space war versus aliens! Humans weird metal exoskeletons, battling some unknown force, with Cruise playing a soldier who gets caught in a time loop on his last day alive. Still with us? Well, from the trailers, Emily Blunt seems like the most interesting aspect by far. After breaking out in The Devil Wears Prada, she's been handed a bunch of uninspired roles, and Edge of Tomorrow might be another throwaway supporting part that doesn't match up to her obvious talent. But as a bad-ass warrior who went through what Cruise's character experienced and helps train him into the ultimate weapon, Blunt might finally be able to have some fun.

Release Date: June 6

Jon Hamm, Million Dollar Arm

Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton (again!?), Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Aasif Mandvi, Tzi Ma

Let's be honest: Million Dollar Arm does not look like it's re-inventing the wheel. Despite its somewhat interesting director (Gillespie also made Lars and the Real Girl and the Fright Night remake), and writer (Thomas McCarthy of The Station Agent and others) this PG-rated, Disney-produced real-life story of a baseball agent who goes to India in search of hot pitchers is your classic softball culture-clash tale, likely to be loaded with jokes about cricket and spicy food. But it's important to know that this is the first time Jon Hamm is opening a movie by his lonesome. Yes, he received high billing in The Town, but this is Hamm as movie star. Will his natural charisma be on display, and will it make a difference? I can't imagine expectations for Million Dollar Arm are sky-high, box-office wise, but Disney will be hoping for a higher take than Draft Day could scrounge up this weekend.

Release Date: May 16

Ansel Elgort, The Fault in Our Stars

Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe, Cancer

Who is Ansel Elgort? Right now, he's just someone with the name of a Game of Thrones character. He was in the Carrie remake last year, but no one saw Carrie, so let's forget about that for now. He's sure handsome, I suppose, in a boyish sort of way. Most importantly, he's the star of this buzzy adaptation of a young adult novel that is sure to have teens weeping in the aisles this Sunday. It's about cancer and romance and it's based on a book that some of my friends talk about in hushed tones. So even if I'm a little skeptical, if the film really hits, Elgort could conceivably reach "next big thing" status. Maybe.

Release Date: June 6

Seth MacFarlane, A Million Ways to Die in the West

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, a bunch of people who should take a long look in the mirror

Seth MacFarlane's second live-action film after 2012's smash hit Ted sees MacFarlane himself taking the lead role, building on all that positive buzz he accrued hosting the Oscars and stuff. This Old West comedy is chock-a-block with non sequitur Family Guy-style jokes and general outrageousness. It also has musical numbers and in general feels like a passion project for MacFarlane. Will the gamble pay off? Or will MacFarlane end up retreating behind the camera after this brief foray into movie-stardom?

Release Date: May 30

Angelina Jolie, Maleficent

Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Peter Capaldi, Giant Plant Snakes

Angelina's been taking it easy recently—if directing films, doing humanitarian work and raising her brood is taking it easy. She hasn't headlined a major release since 2010's The Tourist and Salt, the latter of which was a moderate hit. Her last real blockbuster success was Wanted, a film whose overperformance at the box office was largely credited to Jolie's star power. Maleficent is a Disney property and is being sold that way, but it's mostly riding on Jolie's back. An eye-catching performance, and its box office numbers, will probably help decide Jolie's next career steps.

Release Date: May 30

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle

Director: Amma Asante
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Tom Felton

From the trailers, this thing doesn't look very good at all. A true story about a noble British family who raised their nephew's illegitimate daughter, who he had with an African slave. The story is fascinating but the film looks corny and a little by-the-numbers. Let's hope we're proven wrong, but either way, Mbatha-Raw is building a lot of buzz for her lead performance. She was the lead of J.J. Abrams' Undercovers, which vanished pretty quickly, and has popped up in supporting roles here and there, but Belle is the kind of lead role her obvious talent deserves. Hopefully the film avoids many of the clichés the trailer falls into.

Release Date: May 2

Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up

Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Jill Scott, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Keith Robinson, Lennie James, Dan Aykroyd, Josh Hopkins

No one had heard of Chadwick Boseman before 2013, but Get On Up is the second major biopic he's toplining in two years, this time playing James Brown after portraying Jackie Robinson in 42. This is Taylor's follow-up to The Help and seems to retain that film's straight down the middle style, but where Boseman was playing a rather stoic individual in 42, here he'll have to provide a whole lot of energy. If he comes anywhere close to nailing Brown's inimitable style, and the film hits, he'll be vaulting himself up the Hollywood ladder even faster.

Release Date: August 1

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.