The ones to watch: Our pick of the summer blockbusters

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The Independent Culture

Tomorrow, 'Iron Man' kicks off a blockbuster summer at the cinema. With such a vast array to choose from, Tim Walker picks the films to watch out for.

1. Iron Man (2 May)

The first feature to be produced solely by Marvel Comics' film studio arm, Iron Man opens a packed summer blockbuster season tomorrow.

And the producers have taken a few refreshing risks: writer-director Jon Favreau is best known for writing and starring in the distinctly low-budget indie hit Swingers, while stars Robert Downey Jr and Jeff Bridges are famous for their acting chops rather than their box office clout.

Early word suggests both acquit themselves admirably alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard, and even if the film isn't perfect, it nonetheless promises to generate a healthy franchise.

Watch the trailer for Iron Man

2. Speed Racer (9 May)

The Wachowski brothers' first film since the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy, this brash, colourful confection based on a popular Japanese cartoon series from the 1960s stars Emile Hirsch as a daredevil racing driver, who wants to win the race that killed his brother.

There's more acting muscle in the form of John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci. And with the Wachowskis at the helm, it ought to be a visual treat.

Watch the trailer for Speed Racer

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

Indiana Jones's legion of fans have waited 18 long years for the franchise to make a fourth outing, and just hearing that familiar orchestral theme is enough to get the blood pumping. Set during the Cold War, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sees Cate Blanchett and a phalanx of ferocious commies chasing Indy around the world on his latest quest.

Joining Harrison Ford on the adventure are Ray Winstone, as the archaeologist's British sidekick, and Shia LaBeouf, as Indy's young protégé. Meanwhile, Karen Allen returns to the role of Marion Ravenwood, Indy's love interest from the very first film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Guaranteed to be better than The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor (8 August).

Watch the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

4. Sex and the City: the Movie (28 May)

It might be a barren week for the boys, but this is the one the wives and girlfriends have been waiting for. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha return four years after the end of the final series, as they prepare for Carrie's imminent wedding to Mr Big (whose real name, by the way, turns out to be John James Preston).

The plot is shrouded in secrecy, but rest assured it will include fun, heartbreak, laughter and tears. In short, something for everyone – except, perhaps, your boyfriend.

Watch the trailer for Sex and the City: the Movie

5. The Incredible Hulk (13 June)

When Marvel announced its latest attempt to film The Incredible Hulk, the company promised a movie that would consign memories of Ang Lee's unpopular 2003 effort to the recycling bin of film history.

Yet rumours of rows between the studio and their star Edward Norton (who also writes the screenplay) persist. Director Louis Leterrier has an unremarkable pedigree – his greatest claim to fame is action pot-boiler The Transporter and its sequel. And the recent trailer seemed humourless, with CGI that marks only a slight improvement on Lee's.

The impressive cast – including William Hurt, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth – gives cause for hope, but perhaps the big green guy just isn't cut out for the big silver screen.

Watch the trailer for The Incredible Hulk

6. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (26 June)

His Dark Materials was meant to be the next Lord of the Rings, but The Golden Compass was such a spectacular failure that it helped to sink an entire studio.

So The Chronicles of Narnia steps into the breach instead with its second instalment, Prince Caspian. Some people will be put off by the Christian overtones of C S Lewis's creation, and Narnia is more resolutely a children's world than Tolkien's Middle Earth, but Caspian promises yet more action and spectacle than its predecessor.

The tone is darker, too, as the Narnians wait for the resourceful Pevensie children to help alleviate their suffering at the hands of their ruler, Caspian's evil uncle King Miraz.

Watch the trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

7. Wanted (27 June)

Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazakh director of spectacularly deranged Russian action fantasies Night Watch and Day Watch, makes his English language debut this summer with Wanted, for which he has enlisted the services of James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.

The plot centres around McAvoy's Wesley Gibson, an unassuming desk jockey who discovers that he's a natural born killer. With the help of Freeman and Jolie's band of acrobatic assassins, he decides to take revenge for his father's murder.

Watch the trailer for Wanted

8. Hancock (2 July)

Will Smith's contribution to the superhero genre is a little different. Hancock has the same spectacular powers as Superman, but he's a drunk and a misanthrope, prone to causing criminal damage even as he holds other felons to account.

When he is persuaded to take the advice of a public relations consultant (played by Jason Bateman), he decides to repent, makes himself a skintight costume and even endures a spell in jail. The latest trailer suggests there will be plenty of whupass to go with the wisecracks.

Watch the trailer for Hancock

9. Get Smart (11 July)

Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway star in this remake of the Sixties spoof spy series, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. Maxwell Smart (Carell), a nerdy backroom boy at the CONTROL spy organisation, finally gets some frontline action alongside the terrifyingly competent Agent 99 (Hathaway).

Action, comedy and romance all go into the pot, with a sprinkling of cameos from the likes of Bill Murray, James Caan and Terence Stamp.

Watch the trailer for Get Smart

10. Mamma Mia! (11 July)

Hollywood's biggest musical offering of the summer is Mamma Mia!, adapted from the stage production and based on the music of Abba's back catalogue.

The concept (girl tries to find her real father by inviting the three candidates to her Greek island wedding) is risible, yet the musical has been a success all over the world. And if Meryl Streep has deigned to star in it, then it can't be so bad. Can it?

Watch the trailer for Mamma Mia!

11. Wall E (18 July)

When a group of Pixar bigwigs sat down to brainstorm ideas after Toy Story wrapped in 1995, a single lunch meeting produced the seeds of such animated classics as Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and A Bug's Life.

The last thought they scribbled on a napkin was Wall E, about a janitor robot (think ET meets Johnny 5) left behind on Earth to clean up after the human race has moved to pastures new. Much of the film is dialogue-free, but the trailers are instantly endearing. The summer's other adult-friendly animation is Dreamworks' martial arts comedy, Kung Fu Panda (4 July), featuring voice work from Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman.

Watch the trailer for Wall E

12. The Dark Knight (25 July)

The release of Christopher Nolan's latest Batman film, the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins, is overshadowed by the death of Heath Ledger, whose incendiary performance as the Joker has already been praised unreservedly by his co-stars.

Christian Bale dons the bat-cape once more, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman return, and Maggie Gyllenhaal steps into the love interest shoes vacated by Katie Holmes.

In a crowded field, The Dark Knight is odds-on favourite for superhero film of the summer.

Watch the trailer for The Dark Knight

13. The Love Guru (1 August)

It's more than five years since the last Austin Powers film, so Mike Myers fans will await the debut of his latest character with baited breath.

Those who find the Canadian comic insufferable, meanwhile, are unlikely to change their minds. The Love Guru is the story of a young American raised in an Indian ashram. Pitka (Myers) returns home to the US to set up shop in the self-help market, and is enlisted by an ice hockey team to turn around the love life of their star player. Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake co-star.

Watch the trailer for The Love Guru

14. The X-Files: I Want to Believe (1 August)

This sequel to 1998's X-Files film has been so long in development that it's hard to describe it as eagerly awaited, but perhaps it will creep in under the radar like a UFO and take us all by surprise. After all, the truth is still out there, and so are Mulder and Scully.

Little has been revealed about the plot of the film, except that it will stand alone for viewers new to the premise, and is set in the present – the ninth and final season of the X-Files ended in 2002.

Billy Connolly and Amanda Peet join David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on the cast list.

15. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (22 August)

The last of the summer's superheroes is Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy. Although the character was his creation, comic book artist Mike Mignola has said this second film owes more to del Toro's unique vision, and contains a panoply of strange and wonderful beings to match those in the director's last film, the much-lauded Pan's Labyrinth.

Hellboy is a demonic agent with the Bureau of Paranormal Defence, who helps to safeguard the everyday world from a parallel, paranormal world of nasty creatures and, as the title suggests, a formidable "golden" army.

Watch the trailer for Hellboy II: The Golden Army