Top ten summer blockbusters: sequels, superheroes, and animation

The summer's lineup of films looks like a traffic jam of sequels, prequels, remakes, and comic book heroes, as well as loads of comedies and animated kids' movies, with most of the fare in 3D and with a sci-fi theme.

Big offerings in May jumpstart the season with Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda II and The Hangover II indicating what's in store at the box office.

Among the bonanza of blockbusters, Harry Potter's finale is arriving, and the beginning of successful new franchises such as Green Lantern follow.

X-Men: First Class
Release dates: June 1-3 internationally, June 11 in Japan
The fifth installment in the superhero series, this X-Men prequel, the first of a trilogy, freshens the franchise with a younger cast to tell the origin story. Set during the 1960s' Cuban missile crisis, X-Men: First Class stars James McAvoy ( Atonement) as the young Charles Xavier/Professor X and Michael Fassbender ( Inglourious Basterds) as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. Directed by Matt Vaughn ( Kick-Ass), it also features January Jones ( Mad Men) as Emma Frost and Jennifer Lawrence ( Winter's Bone) as Raven Darkholme/Mystique.

Super 8
Release dates: June 9-10 in Australia and North America; July in Scandinavia; August in France, the UK, Brazil and other countries
From J.J. Abrams ( Star Trek) and produced by Steven Spielberg, this sci-fi thriller stars Kyle Chandler ( King Kong), Elle Fanning ( The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and newcomer Joel Courtney. Set in 1979, the story follows a group of kids in a small town who witness a train from Area 51 crash while making a home movie and soon discover that the supposed accident brings mysterious disappearances and a terrifying truth.

Green Lantern
Release dates: June 16-17 in North America and the UK; Japan, Asian and South American territories on July 22; European countries in August
This DC Comics superhero follows Hal Jordan, the first human Green Lantern played by Ryan Reynolds ( The Proposal). Directed by Martin Campbell ( Casino Royale) with lots of 3D special effects, the cast features Mark Strong ( Robin Hood) as Sinesto, Peter Sarsgaard ( An Education) as Hector Hammond, and Blake Lively ( The Town). The story follows a test pilot recruited by an intergalactic squadron keeping peace in the universe.

Cars 2
Release dates: June 24 in North America and Australia; July in the UK, France and Japan; other markets through August
Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson ( Midnight in Paris), revs up to race around the world with the fastest cars in the World Grand Prix in 3D. With Mater in tow, an international espionage theme is at play in this sequel, costarring Michael Caine's Finn McMissile as well as Cheech Marin, Eddie Izzard and Emily Mortimer ( Shutter Island).

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Release dates: June 29 - July 1 internationally; Japan on July 29
Michael Bay's epic robot extravaganza returns for a third go-round with Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. In 3D this time, the Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft on the moon and race against the Decepticons for the Transformers' final battle. Joining the cast are model Rosie Huntington-Whitely and the team of John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich for one of the year's biggest.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Release date: July 15 worldwide
The eighth film in the phenomenal franchise adapted from J.K. Rowling's best-selling book series about the boy wizard draws to a close after a decade. In this epic 3D finale, Harry, Hermione and Ron seek to destroy the last Horcruxes in order to stop Lord Voldemort, who possesses of one of the Deathly Hallows, and to save Harry's life. Directed by David Yates, who helmed the last three films, this ending stars Daniel Radcliff, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldham, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Release dates: July 22 in North America, July 29 in the UK and India, further roll-out in August
This Marvel story in 3D follows a World War II soldier who participates in a military experiment that turns him into a superhuman fighter. Stars Chris Evans ( Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Steve Rogers/Captain America, plus Hugo Weaving ( Transformers) and Tommy Lee Jones ( Men in Black). Directed by Joe Johnston ( The Wolfman), the film sets up 2012's The Avengers, which will gather superheroes from Iron Man to the Incredible Hulk.

Cowboys & Aliens
Release dates: July 29 in North America; August in the UK, India, Malaysia and more; September in Germany and Japan
This sci-fi Western hybrid stars Daniel Craig ( Quantum of Solace) as a mysterious loner and Harrison Ford ( Indiana Jones) as a colonel who battle an alien invasion in 1800s Arizona. Costars Olivia Wilde ( Tron:Legacy) and Sam Rockwell ( Moon). Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Jon Favreau ( Iron Man), it is based on a graphic novel.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Release dates: August 5 in North America, Russia and Scandinavia
This prequel to the Planet of the Apes series (1968-73) uses motion capture instead of costumes and is set in the present day. Experiments in genetic engineering create intelligence in apes, leading to a war against humans for supremacy of earth. Stars James Franco ( Milk), Frieda Pinto ( Slumdog Millionaire), Tom Felton ( Harry Potter), and Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings) as Ceasar, the chimp who leads the revolt.

Conan the Barbarian
Release dates: August 19 in North America and the UK; France on August 24; other markets through September
A 3D remake of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure sword and sorcery fantasy, the tale tells of Conan meeting with monsters and witches as he sets out on a rampage across the continent of Hyboria to avenge the murder of his father and slaughter of his village. Starring Jason Momoa ( Baywatch), Ron Perlman ( Hellboy), Stephen Lang ( Avatar) and Rose McGowan ( Grindhouse), it is directed by Marcus Nispel ( Friday the 13th).


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