Summer moviegoing is an American tradition, with vacationing children and families flocking to theaters just as they do to the beach or the ballpark. And film companies respond with the largest number of releases for any season.
Over the next two months, the Monitor will offer this guide to summer movies several times to help readers find the films they are likely to enjoy most, and particularly those the whole family can enjoy together.
This guide covers "family films" plus movies that could become blockbusters or may especially pique the interest of teenagers. Only films with G ratings are tagged as all-family fare by Hollywood itself. Most have stronger ratings of PG, PG-13, and R, calling for extra alertness from parents who oversee their youngsters' choices. In addition to a movie's plot and message, we offer specific information on the degree of violence, sexual situations, and use of drugs. This will help readers make up their own minds about what they wish to see.
Star ratings (see below) indicate quality of movies, not suitability for children.
Film Critic Monitor Panel Meaning
o o Forget it
* + Poor
** ++ Fair
*** +++ Good
**** ++++ Excellent
Monitor panel ratings (+ symbol) reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame [G]
**** Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline. Running time: 86 minutes. +++
Plot Victor Hugo's tragic hero becomes a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a beautiful gypsy from an evil judge.
MESSAGE Have confidence in yourself even when your good qualities aren't appreciated.
SEX, PROFANITY None.
VIOLENCE Four scenes involve attempted stabbings, and at one point, the hero appears to have been killed by an arrow. Villain finally falls into pool of molten iron.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two scenes with wine drinking.
Toy Story [G]
*** Directed by John Lasseter. With the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen. Running time: 77 minutes. +++
Plot Two action toys, a cowboy and an astronaut, have many adventures and a bit of a feud while trying to get back together with the little boy who's lost them.
Message Friendship is precious, and courage can overcome seemingly formidable obstacles.
SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.
VIOLENCE Contains cartoonish action, some of it a bit violent, such as a fighting scene between Woody, the toy policeman, and Buzz Lightyear. Also, the boy next door blows up a toy soldier.
Cold Comfort Farm [PG]
**** Directed by John Schlesinger. With Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellan, Rufus Sewell. Running time: 105 minutes. +++
Plot A young Londoner moves to her family's farm, inhabited by a conglomeration of oddballs and presided over by a cranky old matriarch who hasn't ventured from her bedroom in decades. The newcomer's high-spirited enthusiasm rejuvenates the farm and its residents.
MESSAGE A fresh outlook on life can clear away the cobwebs of outmoded thinking and behavior.
SEX Mild sexual innuendo, one roll in the hay (no nudity).
VIOLENCE, PROFANITY None.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two festive drinking scenes.
** Directed by Alan Shapiro. With Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan. Running time: 96 minutes. +++
Plot Adventures of a boy who wishes his life was happier, a dolphin who becomes his unusual new friend, and a crusty old uncle who loves them.
Message Family and friends are always valuable, and good things may swim unexpectedly into your life.
PROFANITY Three instances.
VIOLENCE Contains graphic fishing scenes that coud upset young children. Also, Paul Hogan punches out the bad guy.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL One bar scene, and one scene involving cigar smoking.
The Phantom [PG]
*** Directed by Simon Wincer. With Billy Zane, Kristy Swanson, Treat Williams, Casey Siemaszko, Samantha Eggar. Running time: 100 minutes. +++
PLOT Considered by many to be a ghost or spirit, an enigmatic jungle dweller battles a corrupt businessman trying to obtain three mysterious skulls with magic powers.
MESSAGE Good motives will eventually defeat evil ones, and things aren't always what they seem.
SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.
VIOLENCE More than a dozen very violent scenes including a person skewered by a spear, another shot by a canon at close range, and the disintegration of a person into a ball of fire by a supernatural force.
The Cable Guy [PG-13]
** Directed by Ben Stiller. With Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Janeane Garofalo. Running time: 95 minutes. +
PLOT A quiet businessman accepts a free hook-up from a cable-TV installer, then discovers the technician is a total weirdo who expects "preferred customers" to be his friends.
MESSAGE Choose your new friends carefully.
SEX Five scenes of innuendo and one scene with a prostitute, but no nudity.
VIOLENCE Four scenes of exaggerated and disconcerting violence, although one is a dream scene and another comedic.
PROFANITY Spoken throughout.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL Karaoke party scene.
** Directed by Rob Cohen. With Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Julie Christie, and the voice of Sean Connery. Running time: 103 minutes. +++
PLOT A dragonslayer and the last dragon on Earth join forces to defeat an evil tyrant whose life is magically linked to the dragon's.
MESSAGE Things that look scary might really be good on the inside, and friendship can blossom in the most unexpected circumstances. Also, that good and evil can be combined in one heart.
SEX, PROFANITY, DRUGS/ALCOHOL None.
VIOLENCE At least 17 instances of fantastical but explicit violence. They range from people getting impaled by sharp objects to having their eyes burned out. In one very graphic scene, a man's open chest wound is shown prior to receiving half the dragon's heart.
** Directed by Steve Rash. With Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Langella, Dennis Farina, Richard Jenkins. Running time: 100 minutes. +++
PLOT A basketball fan becomes coach of a major pro team, helping them escape both last place and the selfish plans of the franchise's greedy owner.
MESSAGE Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. Anyone with passion, humanity, and a little skill can make it big and make a difference - while staying humble.
SEX One vulgar locker-room conversation regarding male physique. One sex scene is alluded to. No nudity.
VIOLENCE Nothing more than the regular antics of a basketball game.
PROFANITY Nine instances.
Mission: Impossible [PG-13]
** Directed by Brian De Palma. With Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Bart, Henry Czerny, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave. Running time: 110 minutes. ++
PLOT An espionage expert cracks a case involving a computerized list with the names of undercover agants, hindered by the presence of a dangerous mole within his own organization.
MESSAGE Tenacity, cleverness, and a willingness to engage in violence can defeat threatening foes. Superior technology helps, but a "righteous" sense of revenge helps most of all.
VIOLENCE Contains much violent action. At least nine violent deaths are shown, including stabbings, explosions, and gunshots; several portray gory details.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drugs are administered in several instances as tools of espionage, either to feign death or induce illness.
Moll Flanders [PG-13]
** Directed by Pen Densham. With Robin Wright, Stockard Channing, Morgan Freeman. Running time: 123 minutes. ++
PLOT An 18th-century woman falls into prostitution, then finds a better life with an idealistic painter who falls in love with her but later dies.
MESSAGE Women may face special obstacles in society, but can overcome them with perseverance and determination.
SEX Not perceived as explicit, but nudity is shown during modeling for an artist. Generally sensual tone and adult themes.
VIOLENCE Some harrowing violence including a whipping in a convent.
PROFANITY Two instances.
** Directed by Rick Friedberg. With Leslie Nielson, Andy Griffith, Charles Durning, Nicollette Sheridan. Running time: 80 minutes. ++
PLOT A bumbling secret agent returns to active service when he finds that his archenemy, a madman bent on conquering the world, is still alive and dangerous.
MESSAGE You don't have to be capable or graceful or even very smart to beat a wicked villain.
SEX Sexually suggestive scenes are a dime a dozen in this farcical and vulgar dud. No nudity.
VIOLENCE More than two dozen violent scenes of a slapstick nature.
PROFANITY Only bathroom humor.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL Only slapstick such as when a parachutist drops bottle of Scotch on a jogger.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs [PG-13]
*** Directed by Michael Lehmann. With Janeane Garofalo, Uma Thurman. Running time: 97 minutes +++
PLOT A radio veterinarian and an air-headed model become friends, and a handsome photographer gets the mistaken idea that the radio star's voice and the model's face belong to a single extraordinary woman.
MESSAGE Even mild dishonesty can have unpleasant consequences, but friendship can overcome it in the end.
SEX Sexual situations insinuated, including the beginning of an explicit phone-sex conversation.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL One scene focused on becoming drunk.
** Directed by Jan de Bont. With Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt. Running time: 114 minutes. +++
PLOT A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his new girlfriend and his about-to-be-divorced wife.
Message Courage is an important value for people who want to help the world, married people should stick with their spouses, and it's all right to laugh at natural disasters like tornadoes from the safety of a movie theater. The film also intimates that reliance on down-home know-how is often better than modern technological prowess.
SEX Implied but not graphic.
VIOLENCE Lots of weather-related violence.
* Directed by Charles Russell. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Vanessa Redgrave, James Coburn. Running time: 115 minutes. +++
PLOT A witness-protection agent battles his treacherous boss over a weapons-smuggling operation, with help from a man whose life he saved at the beginning of the story.
MESSAGE Violence is necessary to beat a violent and dangerous enemy, and prior good deeds may pay dividends when most needed.
VIOLENCE Contains more than a dozen minutes-long scenes of extreme violence including man-eating alligators, a graphic suicide scene, gory flesh wounds, and multiple murders.
DRUGS/ALCOHOL One scene in drag-queen bar.
The Rock [R]
* Directed by Michael Bay. With Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris. Running time: 131 minutes. ++
PLOT A mild-mannered toxicologist and a one-time Alcatraz inmate break into the former prison to foil a loony general who's stashed away a pile of poison-gas missiles and threatens to destroy San Franciso if his demands aren't met.
MESSAGE Unlikely allies can work successfully together if they're single-minded and recognize one another's good qualities. Don't attempt to blackmail the US government.
SEX One mild sex scene. No nudity.
VIOLENCE The uncountable multitude of violent scenes include a man's face being melted by poison gas, a strangulation, and an impaling by fence post.
PROFANITY In almost every line.