Summer isn't almost here... but summer movies are! Ah, the annual tradition of summertime beginning in the first weekend of May at the multiplex. Like every year, movie theaters will be stuffed with big-budget explosions and comic book-inspired superheroes, and some of these flicks look awesome ("The Dark Knight Rises"!) while most of them look like they might be one rung above "The Green Lantern" (um, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," anyone?). Meanwhile, the less expensive, possibly cooler indie films will quietly shuffle in and out of most theaters, earning one-tenth of the money of a movie about the Battleship board game.
How do you decide when to slap down your hard-earned cash on a tentpole action flick that's actually well-done, and when to catch a smaller, quieter film that's not a snore? You don't have to, because we decided for you! Check out our breakdown of the summer blockbusters that are must-sees, and the smaller summer films that everyone will be talking about. If you stick to these 13 movies, you'll get action, animation, comedy and dance battles without breaking the bank. ~Jason Lipshutz
Starring: Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis
Release Date: May 25
What's It About: A pair of preteens in love run away from their sleepy New England town, resulting in a search party comprised of their parents and a local scoutmaster.
Why We're Excited: Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Fantastic Mr. Fox") directed "Moonrise Kingdom," so it will definitely scratch our itch for whimsy, dry humor and fantastically organized set pieces. And Bill Murray is once again serving as Anderson's muse by playing the father of one of the young runaways, just as our Bill Murray craving had been flaring up.
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Release Date: May 25
What's It About: Those extraterrestrial crime fighters J and K are at it again, this time with Smith's character forced to travel back in time and connect with a young K (played by Brolin) in order to stop an alien assassination.
Why We're Excited: Honestly, out of all of these summer movies, "Men in Black 3" has the highest chance of being really mediocre; after all, "MiB 2" was fairly unwatchable, and signaled the end of a once-fertile idea. Still, the onscreen reunion of Smith and Jones -- hell, the onscreen ANYTHING of the recently M.I.A. Smith -- is too enticing to skip, especially when they're reprising such signature characters. "Men in Black 3" took 10 years to make, so we'll spend two hours letting it infect us.
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg
Release Date: June 22
What's It About: As far as we can tell, a bunch of star actors traipsing around Italy and doing wacky things. Written and directed by Woody Allen!
Why We're Excited: The Woodman scored his biggest hit ever last year with another Europe-set comedic romp, "Midnight in Paris," and he's actually ACTING in this one, for the first time since 2006. What better way to spend a summer afternoon than watching Penelope Cruz and Jesse Eisenberg make sexual blunders in beautiful Rome?
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters
Release Date: June 22
What's It About: Princess Merida is trying to be married off to three suitors, but the Scottish teen would rather master archery and become an independent hero, which she'll need to do after endangering her kingdom with a curse.
Why We're Excited: Did you know that Pixar hasn't released a feature film with all new characters since "Up" in 2009? Or that the company has never offered its fans a female heroine? Or that its last movie, "Cars 2," was its first real dud ever? It's time for Pixar to get back to what it does best -- spinning delightful yarns that keep the whole family smiling.
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field
Release Date: July 3
What's It About: It's like Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" franchise... but a little different. In this reboot, we have Andrew Garfield as the brooding superhero, Emma Stone as his love interest Gwen Stacy (not Mary Jane Watson), and Rhys Ifans as The Lizard, a villain that's missing an arm.
Why We're Excited: Sure, it's only been five years since Tobey Maguire was slinging webs in the terrible "Spider-Man 3," but this quickly created new start (directed by music video whiz Marc Webb) wisely changes the details of the character's origin story for a (hopefully) fresh angle. Plus, the Lizard is way more badass than the Green Goblin.
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively
Release Date: July 6
What's It About: Chon and Ben are muscular dudes who grow a lot of weed and share a beautiful girlfriend. The Mexican drug cartel takes that girlfriend hostage. Stylish mayhem ensues.
Why We're Excited: This is the bloodthirsty Oliver Stone movie we've been waiting for since "Natural Born Killers." Like that gonzo flick, "Savages" features a wrecking crew of a supporting cast, including Salma Hayek as the cartel leader and John Travolta as a wily federal agent.
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
Release Date: July 20
What's It About: Eight years after defeating the Joker and effectively becoming a villain, Batman must once again heed the call of his city when hulking madman Bane puts his brutal plan in motion.
Why We're Excited: Because it's "The Dark Knight Rises." Because it's Chris Nolan's follow-up to the most successful Batman film ever and the last piece in his acclaimed trilogy. Because Anne Hathaway is Catwoman! Seriously, who doesn't want to see this movie? Your elderly aunt wants to see this movie. The 8-year-old down the street can't wait to see this movie. We want to see this movie, and so do you.
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Annette Bening
Release Date: July 25
What's It About: A struggling young writer starts scribbling about the girl of his dream -- and then she magically becomes a real person! If only non-movie romance was that easy.
Why We're Excited: Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' last movie was another offbeat summer film that became a heartwarming Oscar darling: "Little Miss Sunshine." Sure, "Ruby Sparks'" concept is otherworldly, but we can't to see how the "Sunshine" team once again utilized Dano, an undervalued actor.
Starring: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman, Adam G. Sevani
Release Date: July 27
What's It About: In Miami, a female dancer dreams of turning professional, and she... oh, who cares, it's STEP UP 4! There's gonna be backflips off cars and improbable splits and choreographed flash mobs!
Why We're Excited: The "Step Up" franchise has been kept us popping and locking in our seats since the dawn of time (or 2006). Prepare for a killer soundtrack, bad acting and at least three dance moves that make you lose your mind.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill
Release Date: July 27
What's It About: A bunch of bros become volunteer crime stoppers out of boredom. Shenanigans soon follow.
Why We're Excited: It's not the tightest concept -- and a later unsettling in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin case -- but Stiller and Vaughn produced sweet summer comedy gold before with "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Comedy," and Jonah Hill's presence only ups the ante. With nary an Apatow movie set for wide release this summer, "Neighborhood Watch" could be the one to watch.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman (voices)
Release Date: Aug. 17
What's It About: A young outside navigates a creepy, kooky world in which he can talk to ghosts -- a handy trick for when he's trying to save his town from a zombie attack.
Why We're Excited: It's from Laika Entertainment, the stop-motion animation team behind "Coraline" and "Corpse Bride," and appears to hit that same sweet spot of capturing the trials of troubled youths through the cracked lens of a supernatural universe. In other words, forget "Madagascar 3" and see the thinking person's animated opus.
Starring: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Carmen Ejogo
Release Date: Aug. 17
What's It About: The remake of the 1976 film focuses on three sisters who undergo the trials and tribulations of forming a Supremes-esque Motown group in the 60s. Whitney Houston stars as the mother of the three girls, who are led by Jordin Sparks as the title character.
Why We're Excited: Whitney Houston! In her last role! Even if we have to bring eight boxes of tissues to "Sparkle," we're watching the recently deceased legend light up the silver screen one last time.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez
Release Date: Aug. 24
What's It About: A Manhattan bike messenger picks up an envelope for delivery. A crooked cop is very interested in obtaining that envelope. Nifty plot twists and bike stunts ensue, in real time.
Why We're Excited: JGL had been making great choices on dramatic fare long before "Inception," and "Premium Rush's" engaging plot and pulse-pounding pace is reminiscent of his past work in "Brick" and "The Lookout." Director David Koepp, who helped write "Spider-Man," "Jurassic Park" and the original "Mission: Impossible," has been killing it on the screenplay side for years, and this might be the tightly wound drama that breaks him as a director.