For more than two years, it's felt like the movie business has all but dried up. New releases were (temporarily) shelved, big films were moved onto streaming services, and we all missed the smell of popcorn, and the feeling of strangers kicking our seats as the credits rolled.
But movies are back! Cinemas are open! And audiences have more than a few reasons to buy a ticket and turn their phones to silent.
Here are our top picks of the must-see film releases for the rest of the year.
Top Gun: Maverick – May 26
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire. It's been more than 30 years since Tom Cruise flew onto our screens as a top navy aviator. We all wanted to be – or be with – bad boy Maverick, and Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone became the unofficial soundtrack for pushing the boundaries. Three decades on, Cruise's cocky fly boy is back, training the new generation of courageous pilots for a special assignment, including the son of his late friend 'Goose'. Miles Teller (Whiplash), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men) co-star.
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Jurassic World: Dominion – June 9
Another gang of familiar faces is back together in the latest instalment of this monster franchise. Sam Niell, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum team up with Jurassic World 's Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt for a new adventure. This time, we find them four years on from the destruction of Isla Nublar – and dinosaurs have moved in next door. The balance of earth is hanging in the balance, with dinos living and hunting alongside us humans. But will it last?
Lightyear – June 16
If there is a trend to this year's blockbusters, it's revisiting old stories – or at least characters. Lightyear tells the origin story of the original (fictional) Buzz Lightyear, who inspired the action figure we all grew to love in Toy Story. A bad decision leaves Buzz (voiced by Captain America 's Chris Evans) and his crew stuck on a hostile planet, and when he tries to fix the mistake, our hero ends up travelling 62 years into the future and has to find his way home – again – and a way to triumph over the bad guys. Taika Waititi also pops up in this family friendly flick.
Nude Tuesday – June 16
This is a bit of a weird one, but stick with us. Nude Tuesday is an absurdist comedy (not something you often get to say about New Zealand cinema) about a couple as they spend a week at a new-age retreat to save their marriage. There is a lot of flesh, but even more bizarre is the film, which was written and stars The Breaker Upperers Jackie van Beek, is subtitled, improvised gibberish. Yip, actors (including Jermaine Clement) are speaking an entirely made up language. It's bonkers and weird but what else would you expect?
Whina – June 23
It's not surprising it takes three actors to play Dame Whina Cooper in this raw story of her life. Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors), Miriama McDowell (Coming Home in the Dark) and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Cousins) play the cherished Māori activist as Whina recounts the tireless efforts Dame Whina made to improve the rights of her people – especially women. A truly important story from Aotearoa, from directors James Napier Robertson and Paula Whetu Jones.
Elvis – June 23
June is a busy month for biopics, it seems. Baz Luhrmann, of Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet fame, is at the helm of this musical drama that dives into the life and career of The King, from his childhood through to becoming the world's biggest rock and roll star. Austin Butler stars as Elvis, with Tom Hanks playing Colonel Tom Parker, Presley's longtime manager. The Oscar hype is already swirling for this one.
The Lion King (Te Reo Māori version) – June 23
After a hunt for new cast members, Aotearoa audiences (and those around the world!) will soon get the chance to see classic Disney film The Lion King reimagined in te reo . It comes from local production company Matewa Media, who transformed Moana into te reo in 2020. For Simba, Pumba and Scar, the film will celebrate tribal dialects, with different iwi represented through the characters. A wonderful way to celebrate Matariki.
Minions: The Rise of Gru – June 30
This CG-animated favourite franchise is also diving into back stories – this time, the untold story of a 12-year-old's dream to become the world's greatest supervillain. The Office 's Steve Carrell returns as tyrannical leader Gru, this time in the 1970s as he tries to join a group of baddies called the Vicious 6. But the interview goes very badly, and Gru and his Minions have to go on the run. With Carrell joined by Julie Andrews, Russell Brand and Jean-Claude Van Damme (playing the brilliantly named Jean Clawed) it's a bucket full of fun. Plus, the soundtrack features the likes of Diana Ross, Phoebe Bridgers and H.E.R performing 70s dance floor faves.
Thor: Love and Thunder – July 7
Speaking of good soundtracks, when director Taika Waititi is in charge, the music is always going to be good. So we have high expectations of Thor's next wild ride. Described by Waititi as the hero's midlife crisis film, Love and Thunder sees Chris Hemsworth's title character joined by a female incarnation of the god of thunder – played by Natalie Portman. Fighting the Marvel villains has usually kept him busy, but now it's romance that might be shaking things up. Part superhero caper, part rom-com, all entertaining.
Bullet Train – July 28
Five assassins. One high-speed train. A collection of deadly missions that aren't completely unrelated. And it's an action-thriller that will have you laughing at times. It's been a while since we've seen Brad Pitt in a leading role, but this treacherous train journey is a welcome return, with the star stretching his comedy chops, which might be our favourite Pitt. He is joined by Sandra Bullock, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) in this wild caper.
Where the Crawdads Sing – August 11
Daisy Edgar-Jones (Normal People) leads this mysterious tale of murder and love. After a quiet life, raising herself in the marshes of America's deep south after being abandoned by her parents, she becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her ex-boyfriend. Anyone who has visited a bookseller in the past few years might be familiar with the title – the film, produced by Reese Witherspoon, is based on the hit novel from Delia Owens.
Nope – August 11
Does anyone do horror in 2022 better than Jordan Peele? Nope, didn't think so. The genius behind Get Out and Us is back with this weird new nightmare. Like any good thriller, it's hard to know the whole story, but the tall tale, set on a lonely ranch in dusty inland California, is home to a chilling discovery – something to do with people, horses and wind. And because he knows how to do things right, Peele has teamed up with Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya one more time to tell this creepy story.
Avatar: The Way of Water – December 15
Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe. Wellingtonians will be familiar with the cast and crew, which include director James Cameron and A-list actors Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jermaine Clement and Kate Winslet, after they set up shop in the Capital to film.
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