Superhero fatigue? Try these alien-free summer movies.

Why We Wrote This

Blockbusters are a part of summer, like cut grass and the ice cream truck. Sometimes, though, people want to be transported by a story that doesn't depend on special effects.

Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures/AP
Himesh Patel (l.) and British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran star in ‘Yesterday,’ directed by Danny Boyle. The movie, which revolves around people not remembering The Beatles ever existed, is one of 2019’s summer releases.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Yes, they do exist: engaging movies that don’t involve costumed do-gooders saving the galaxy or actiony Everymen escaping from helicopters full of baddies.

This summer, Hollywood is offering lots of antidotes for action overload. Music is a common theme in these films, and it’s likely that fans of both Bruce Springsteen and Luciano Pavarotti won’t be disappointed. Perhaps the most anticipated in this category – one that likely makes record executives sweat – features a world where suddenly no one has ever heard of The Beatles. “Yesterday” explores what an aspiring songwriter, who does remember the Fab Four, does with that information. 

Family relationships are also part of this summer’s fare, as is a documentary about the extraordinary power and beauty of vast bodies of water. Not surprisingly, that well-timed aquatic extravaganza aims to make a splash in August. 

This summer at the movies, exploding cars will do triple somersaults through the air. Sharks the size of Greyhound buses will menace swimmers. Supervillains will level well-known landmarks (in the new Spider-Man movie, London Bridge really is falling down). And The Rock will drive off a cliff in a vehicle that’s chained to a helicopter.

Just like any other summer, really.

But if you prefer movies where the most special effect is an unexpected laugh or tear, here are a few counter-programming options for the blockbuster season.

In “Late Night,” Emma Thompson plays a talk-show host with David Letterman-like acerbic wit and a Conan O’Brien-like pompadour. But her schtick has grown stale. When the blame falls on her staff of all white male writers, a TV executive hires a minority woman named Molly (Mindy Kaling). But it turns out Molly lacks prior experience in comedy writing. Can she save her boss’s show? Kaling, who made her mark in “The Office” and “The Mindy Show,” also wrote the comedy, which received rave reviews at this year’s Sundance festival. (U.S. release date: June 7)

The scenario of “Yesterday” is so implausible that, by comparison, the upcoming blockbuster in which Godzilla battles a giant moth seems merely far-fetched. Danny Boyle’s comedy depicts a world in which The Beatles have been completely forgotten. (Help!) Only one person, aspiring songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), hasn’t been affected by the global amnesia. So he starts to pass the Fab Four’s songs off as his own compositions. In the process of becoming a huge pop star, he even fools his manager (played by Lily James) into believing that he’s a songwriting genius. (June 28)

Three years ago, Ron Howard directed a smash-hit documentary about John, Paul, George, and Ringo titled “Eight Days a Week.” His latest nonfiction music film is about a man who wore a tuxedo to work: “Pavarotti.” It chronicles the life of the late, great Italian opera singer, including his humanitarian efforts. This is a chance to hear “Nessun Dorma” in Dolby surround sound. (June 7)

Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
‘Blinded By the Light’ features the music of Bruce Springsteen. It is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who also helmed ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’

“Blinded by the Light,” this summer’s other notable music-themed movie, is about Bruce Springsteen’s biggest fan. Javed (Viveik Kalra) wasn’t born in the USA – he’s British and of Pakistani heritage – but he feels a spiritual connection to The Boss. Growing up in the London suburb of Luton in 1987, the budding writer draws inspiration from the songwriter’s anthems as he tries to fit in at school and meet his own family’s expectations. Plan on a feel-good drama by director Gurinder Chadha, who also helmed “Bend it Like Beckham.” (August 14)

Family secrets play a large part of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” Based on Maria Semple’s best-selling comedic novel, the Richard Linklater-directed adaptation is about a 14-year-old girl trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Spoiler alert! Mom (Cate Blanchett, in the titular role) absconded to Antarctica. And, no, it wasn’t because Bernadette really, really likes penguins. You’ll have to see the movie to find out what drove her to the far ends of the earth. (August 16)

Last summer, comedian and rapper Awkwafina stole so many scenes in “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s 8” that she’s on Hollywood’s most-wanted list. In “The Farewell,” she may have met her match: a grandmother played by Chinese television actress Shuzhen Zhao. Awkwafina plays her Chinese-American granddaughter, Billi, who ventures to China for a family reunion. But the family has a tragic secret they’ve agreed to withhold from the elderly matriarch. You may wish to stash a pack of Kleenex in your seat’s popcorn-holder for this one. (July 12)

There are plenty of icebergs, too, in “Aquarela.” You’d be forgiven if you said the title sounds as if it’s a superhero spinoff story about Aquaman’s sister. In fact, it’s a visually sumptuous documentary about the extraordinary power and beauty of vast bodies of water. It even features an ocean wave seemingly double the size of that in “The Perfect Storm” – except this one wasn’t computer generated. Not surprisingly, this well-timed aquatic extravaganza aims to make a splash in August. (August 16)

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.