Popcorn movie season kicks into high gear with the release of Avengers: Endgame. But what are the other films to watch out for later in the near future? Read on for our recommendations of the buzziest monster movies, rom-coms, family films, horror flicks, superhero sagas and art house drama.

Long Shot
Starring: Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen
When: May 2 - NZ release date

Most movies implicitly ask for our willing suspension of disbelief. Long Shot explicitly demands it.

Embedded in the very title is an acknowledgement of the far-fetched nature of its premise: that Theron's beautiful, brainy US secretary of state, a high-achiever preparing for a presidential run, could fall in love with Rogen's chronically underemployed schlub, a wordsmith she hires to be her speechwriter, despite his gift for embarrassing himself - and her - in public.

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OK. So she was his babysitter 25 years ago. And the actors do have a kind of on-screen chemistry. But the film, which was a crowd favorite at the recent South by Southwest Festival, may be more out of reach for some reality-based viewers. "I just want you to (make love to) me from behind and slap my (derrière) really hard," Theron's character says. "Choke me a little."

The political satire is just as blunt - a virtually unrecognisable Andy Serkis plays a media mogul who runs a Fox News-like cable network - but it's the romance in this rom-com that will determine whether you subscribe to it or not.

The Hustle
Starring: Ann Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp
When: May 9 - NZ release date

Hathaway, who some called the highlight of the ensemble caper comedy Oceans Eight, partners with another reliable scene-stealer (Pitch Perfect's Wilson) in this gender-flipped remake of the 1988 comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (itself a remake of 1964's Bedtime Story). Here, Hathaway and Wilson play odd-couple scammers: the first a cultured con artist, the other a crass grifter, in a battle to swindle a young tech billionaire (Sharp).

Chris Addison, a twice Emmy-nominated director of "Veep," makes his feature directorial debut.

John Wick: Chapter 3 -Parabellum
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston, Asia Kate Dillon, Jason Mantzoukas
When: May 16 - NZ release date

"All of this for what? Because of a puppy?" That's the question Huston's mysterious character puts to the bloodied and beleaguered antihero of this hyper violent, heavily stylised action sequel about an elite assassin (Reeves) named John Wick. In the first film, John is set on a path of vengeance after his dog is killed, and his beloved '69 Mustang stolen. But those inciting incidents took place two movies ago, and we don't yet know who Huston plays here, in what has been described as an origin story.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. Photo / Niko Tavernise, Summit Entertainment
Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. Photo / Niko Tavernise, Summit Entertainment

Fans of the hit films (soon to get a TV spinoff series on Starz) will remember that the last chapter ended with a cliffhanger, with Wick on the run from every hit man in the world and with a $21 million bounty on his head. Expect a story line that leads him to confront not just his future, but his past.

Aladdin
Starring: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari
When: May 23 - NZ release date

There was a bit of backlash when the first trailer dropped for Disney's live-action remake of its 1992 animated hit. Some internet wags compared Smith's Genie - described as a hip-hop take on the motor-mouthed character originally voiced by the late Robin Williams - to Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development. But if the Mouse House's boldly revisionist Dumbo - the first of three live-action remakes of Disney classics this year - is any indication, such fresh thinking might not be a bad thing.

Mena Massoud and Will Smith in Aladdin. Photo / Walt Disney Pictures
Mena Massoud and Will Smith in Aladdin. Photo / Walt Disney Pictures

That's a sword that cuts both ways. This story of a ragamuffin (Massoud) in love with a sultan's daughter (Scott) is directed by Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker who has already proved, in adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes canon and Arthurian legend, that he has a sometimes unhealthy disregard for source material.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga
When: May 30 - NZ release date

Everything old is new again. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the studios behind Gareth Edwards's 2014 resuscitation of the seemingly undying Japanese creature feature, have teamed up for a sequel. In King of Monsters the titular kaiju (literally, strange creature) faces off against monsters Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed King Ghidorah. The big lizard, who first appeared on screen in 1954 - and whose movies have always had themes of man's meddling in the natural world - will next go toe to toe with a big ape born in 1933, and last seen in 2017's Kong: Skull Island.

Godzilla vs. Kong is due out next year.

Rocketman
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Richard Madden
When: May 30 - NZ release date

Bryan Singer received credit for directing Bohemian Rhapsody, even though he was fired for erratic behavior. But now Dexter Fletcher, the filmmaker who stepped in - anonymously - to finish the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic, will get his own name on a project about a different gay 1970s rock icon: Elton John. Produced by John and his partner David Furnish, the drama Rocketman has been described by Egerton as a fantasy musical - less episodic that impressionistic.

Rocketman won't be Egerton's first go at performing John's tunes: In the animated film Sing, the actor, voicing a gorilla named Johnny who dreams of becoming a pop star, delivered a nice rendition of I'm Still Standing.

Dark Phoenix
Starring: Sophie Turner, Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp
When: June 6 - NZ release date

Sophie Turner and Jessica Chastain in Dark Phoenix. Photo / Twentieth Century Fox
Sophie Turner and Jessica Chastain in Dark Phoenix. Photo / Twentieth Century Fox

The latest episode in the X-Men franchise - said to be the last entry in the long-running saga - takes place in 1992. Is that date important? Maybe, maybe not. The series never followed an easy chronology, in recent years jumping around from the Cuban missile crisis to World War II to the year 2029. Making matters more confusing, "Phoenix" focuses on Jean Grey (Turner), a character who died in the 2006 film The Last Stand.

Huh? It might help to imagine a giant reset button: The 2014 film Days of Future Past, which involved time travel, erased the events of the 2006 film.

Here, Jean returns from a space mission with strange and dangerous new abilities, courtesy of something called the Phoenix Force. This puts her at odds with her mutant pals - Lawrence as the shape shifting Mystique, Peters as the super-fast Quicksilver, etc. - as well introducing us to Chastain's new, otherworldly villain.

Men In Black: International
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson
When: June 13 - NZ release date

The fourth film in the franchise about alien-hunting secret agents will be lucky if it can replicate the witty repartee between Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith - the partnership that carried the first three films. Here, the jaded veteran is played by Hemsworth, and the fresh face is Thompson, a trainee with a hidden history with the Men in Black Agency.

International centers on an investigation into the assassination of an emissary from an alien government - a global hunt that is compromised by a mole in the agency. In a series that has always grappled with the themes of immigration and otherness, look for performances by Kumail Nanjiani, as an alien disguised as a chess pawn, and Rebecca Ferguson, as an extraterrestrial with three arms.

Toy Story 4
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Patricia Arquette, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele
When: June 27 - NZ release date

Cowboy Woody (voice of Hanks) and his toy-box pals take a road trip with Bonnie, the little girl who inherited a carton of secondhand playthings from the now-college-age Andy at the end of Pixar's Toy Story 3. But while traveling with her family, Bonnie's new favorite "toy" - a reluctant craft project named Forky (Hale), fashioned from a disposable plastic spork - runs away. This leads Woody, ever the champion of children and their tchotchkes, to go after him.

In the trailer, a surprisingly dark and ambiguous tease that features creepy ventriloquist dummies, Woody reunites with Bo Peep, a porcelain doll (and old flame) who disappeared between the second and third film. Bo's return raises issues that call into question our hero's values.

Yesterday
Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon
When: June 27 - NZ release date

The new rom-com from Danny Boyle (T2 Trainspotting) looks - and sounds - like nothing else you'll see this summer: A struggling singer-songwriter and Beatles fan named Jack (Patel) wakes up after a global blackout to discover that he's living in a world in which no one has ever heard of the Fab Four, except him. This puts Jack in demand as a creative genius, while driving a wedge between him and his childhood friend (James), the only person who has always believed in him.

With a screenplay by the writer-director of Love Actually, Yesterday could be the charmer that fans of old-fashioned love stories have been waiting for.

Spider-Man: Far From Home
Starring: Tom Holland, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, Samuel L. Jackson, Jake Gyllenhaal
When: July 4 - NZ release date

Wait - Spider-Man is back? He wasn't looking so hot at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, as you may recall. That's one mystery that is sure to be addressed by this week's Avengers: Endgame. But there are others, such as:

Is Gyllenhaal's Mysterio the bad guy or the good guy? A villain in the comics, the character - an expert in illusion and special effects - is said to join forces with Spidey in the fight against several "elemental" entities representing Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

The Lion King
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver
When: July 18 - NZ release date

There are no human beings in this remake of Disney's 1994 animated classic - just a bunch of CGI animals, including a talking, singing meerkat and warthog (voiced by Eichner and Rogen, respectively). So it's a bit strange that people, even Disney executives, are referring to the CGI film as "live action." (The Lion King was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, its live-action branch, not Walt Disney Animation.)

Call it what you like. It will almost certainly look as gorgeous as the studio's CGI "The Jungle Book." A better question is whether the story will live up to the charm of the first film, the highest-grossing hand-drawn animation film of all time, which spawned TV spinoffs, video games and a long-running Broadway show.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning
When: July 25 - NZ release date

Rumoured to be Quentin Tarantino's penultimate film, this story, set in 1969 LA, focuses on two characters inspired by the late Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham: a cowboy actor who aspires to move from TV to movies (DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Pitt). Like "Pulp Fiction," the film weaves together multiple threads, including the Tate-LaBianca murders by Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and subplots involving movie stars Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis).

Sounds like a simultaneous meditation on the film maker's long-standing obsessions: sex, violence, machismo and the mythology of movie making.

Late Night
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow
When: July 25 - NZ release date

Kaling, an Emmy-nominated TV producer and writer making her feature-film debut as a screenwriter, also happens to play a writer in this comedy, set in the backstage world of late-night talk TV. She's also plays foil to Thompson, who stars as a sharp-tongued chat host who, after 28 years in the biz, is about to get canned. (Kaling plays the new blood on the show's all-white, all-male writing staff.) Well reviewed at its Sundance premiere - where Indiewire called the film "funny as hell, and with something to say" - Late Night ought to be able to capitalize on such of-the-moment topics as inclusion and gender equality.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby
When: August 1 - NZ release date

The enduring Fast & Furious action franchise jumped - like a nitrous-oxide-burning car - from stories about illegal street racers to the tales of international espionage around the fifth film. This ninth installment is not a sequel per se, but a spinoff, built on the sturdy backs of two of the series' recurring characters: Johnson's lawman Luke Hobbs and Statham's outlaw Deckard Shaw. (If you're coming late to this party, the two antagonists have been bickering with - and battering - each other since movie No. 7.)

Here, Hobbs and Shaw are forced to become unlikely allies, partnering with an MI6 agent (Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw's sister, when a genetically enhanced anarchist (Elba) obtains a biological weapon that - wait for it - threatens the fate of the world. The globe-trotting action includes a sojourn in Hobbs's native Samoa.

On top of the familiar premise, fans of F&F can expect gleefully physics-defying mayhem and unabashedly clichéd dialogue: "Let's do this," Hobbs says in the trailer, as well as, even more predictably, "We're going to need cars - and guns."

Booksmart
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever
When: August 8 - NZ release date

Feldstein, whose breakout supporting performance in Lady Bird dazzled critics, joins Dever of Last Man Standing in a buddy comedy about a pair of overachieving high school seniors named Molly and Amy. Trying to make up for lost time, these studious nerds vow to cram as much partying as they can into the last few days of the year. The movie - which has been compared to a female version of Superbad - is the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, working from a screenplay that first garnered buzz on the 2009 Black List, an annual compendium of the best unproduced scripts.

Midsommar
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
When: August 8 - NZ release date

Filmmaker Ari Aster ("Hereditary") has been tight-lipped about his follow-up to his 2018 debut, a psychological horror film as deeply unsettling as it was artful. "Midsommar" is a "breakup movie," Aster told Vulture, "in the same way that 'Hereditary' is a family tragedy." (Thanks. He also called it, perhaps tongue in cheek, "a 'Wizard of Oz' for perverts.")

Set in a rural community outside Stockholm, Aster's sophomore effort centers on an American couple (Pugh and Reynor) who join in on a traditional Scandinavian folk festival whose cult like rituals gradually turn dark and menacing. As scary as it looks, perhaps it's a good thing that Aster says it will be his last horror film for a while.

Ma
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, Luke Evans, Missi Pyle
When: August 22 - NZ release date

"There's something off about Ma," says one of the teens who has been invited to party in the basement of this film's title character. Perhaps so, but there's something that feels perversely right about this unexpected change of direction for Spencer, who, in her first horror film, plays Sue Ann (aka Ma), a creepy loner who evolves from enabler to evildoer after a group of underage high-schoolers recruit her to buy booze for them. According to filmmaker Tate Taylor, who previously directed Spencer in The Help and other films, the Oscar-winner was ready for a change of pace after a career marked by sober-minded fare. As Tate told Total Film, "Octavia - who's just one of my best friends - had called me up and said, 'I am so sick of having to put on period wigs and costumes.' "

It: Chapter Two

(September 5 - NZ release date)

Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgard, Bill Hader, James Ransone, Jay Ryan, Andy Bean.

Stephen King's nearly 1,200-page novel It was the inspiration for the 2017 horror movie that followed a group of children - known as the Losers Club - as they were terrorised by an evil clown called Pennywise in 1989. Set 27 years later, Chapter 2 picks up the same seven characters, who as children had promised to reunite if their nemesis ever resurfaced. Well, guess who's back?

The first film deviated notably - and probably wisely - from the book, by leaving out a scene in which all the boys in the Losers Club have sex with the one girl (played by Sophia Lillis). But screenwriter Gary Dauberman told Cinema Blend that the sequel will not be able to so easily avoid some version of the bizarre tongue-biting ritual, known as Chüd, that is the climax of the novel.

Scared yet?

Artemis Fowl
Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell
When: September 19 - NZ release date

Fans of beloved books are the toughest audience when their sacred texts are made into movies - especially ones that deviate even slightly from the source material. (Remember "A Wrinkle in Time"?)

Does that bode ill for this Disney adaptation of Eoin Colfer's wildly popular Y.A. fantasy novel, the first of several books about a 12-year-old criminal genius (Shaw)? One male character, who in the book acts as a father figure to a supporting character, will be played by a woman (Dench). That may be well and good, but some fans on Twitter have expressed concern about the film maintaining the integrity of the book. There are rumours that the title character, who in the books is characterized as something of a psychopath, may have been cleaned up a bit too much, in an effort to make him - gasp - more likable.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Emma Nelson, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig
When: October 24 NZ release date

Former TV writer Maria Semple's 2012 bestseller is a comic pastiche of emails, letters, FBI files, medical bills and other ephemera that tell the story of an agoraphobic architect (Blanchett) who disappears on the eve of her family's trip to Antarctica. Richard Linklater Everybody Wants Some! has been kicking around the idea of a film adaptation since 2015. And now it's here.

The quirky premise, along with Linklater's reputation for intimate, closely observed drama, suggests this could be a nice counterpoint to the noisier films that normally crowd theaters.

Shaft
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse T. Usher, Richard Roundtree.
When: NZ release date TBA

Jesse Usher, Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree in Shaft. Photo / Warner Bros. Pictures
Jesse Usher, Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree in Shaft. Photo / Warner Bros. Pictures

The tagline for the new Shaft movie - More Shaft Than You Can Handle - is more than a naughty double-entendre. It's also a plot description of sorts.

Shaft is a sequel to the 2000 film of the same name, in which Jackson played detective John Shaft II, the nephew of Roundtree's John Shaft (a cool-cop character originated by the actor in the 1971 blaxploitation classic). In this new chapter, there aren't just two generations of Shaft, but three - with the addition of Shaft II's grown son, John Jr. (Usher), an MIT-educated FBI agent with a specialty in cybersecurity who recruits his father in the investigation into a friend's death.

The tagline also sends a message: Directed by Tim Story (Barbershop), this Shaft promises to take itself a lot less seriously than either of the earlier films.

The Dead Don't Die
Starring: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny
When: NZ release date TBA

A zombie flick may seem an odd choice to open the Cannes Film Festival, but this one has serious art house pedigree. Directed by the ever-unpredictable auteur Jim Jarmusch (Paterson), this horror-comedy about small-town cops battling the undead stars, in addition to the above A-list actors: Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane and Rosie Perez. Keep an eye out for musicians - and Jarmusch regulars - Tom Waits (Down by Law), Wu Tang Clan's RZA (Coffee and Cigarettes) and Iggy Pop (the subject of Jarmusch's 2016 documentary Gimme Danger) There's a fresh face (Selena Gomez, making her Cannes debut) as well as an old friend: Eszter Balint, whose breakout role came 35 years ago, in Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise.

The Nightingale
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr
When: NZ release date TBA

Set in 1825 Tasmania, Jennifer Kent's second film is a stark departure from her 2014 debut, The Babadook. Unlike that contemporary psychological thriller about a monster terrorising a disturbed child and his mother - or is it a disturbed mother and her child? - The Nightingale is a more clear-cut revenge drama, described by Variety as a "good-versus-evil Western."

There are three central characters: an Irish convict (Franciosi); the army officer who raped her and murdered her family (Claflin); and an Aboriginal tracker (Ganambarr). Kent's switch from supernatural horror to the real-world kind makes for what Variety calls "a pretty magnificent mass of movie."