Once upon a time, summers belonged to Steven Spielberg. Now they belong to franchise serials that unfold with all the earnest schmaltz of a soap opera. From the last round of Harry Potter to the return of Captain Jack Sparrow and the motivational expose of the X-Men, the summer of 2011 finds plenty of familiar faces urgently competing for your attention. And no wonder: Hollywood is still reeling from declining box-office and flatline attendance over the past year, and summer is still make-or-break time for the bottom line. The drama is palpable for every industry player, making this summer something of a sudsy season. That said, we take a look at what's headed to a theatre near you, with a nod to the soap-opera era â now riding into the Hollywood sunset, and perhaps setting the stage for the industry as a whole. Enjoy the big show while you can: The Tinseltown times are a changin'...
Priest (May 13): Paul Bettany has the right mix of light and dark to play a former mercenary turned do-gooder in this story of post-apocalyptic salvation, and vampires that also stars Maggie Q.
Super 8 (June 10): J.J. Abrams pays tribute to his early days as a filmmaker in this kids' reel about a junior shoot that stumbles into an alien.
Conan the Barbarian (Aug. 19): Grunt. Grunt. Kill. Jason Momoa stars in the rebirth of the muscle-popping franchise.
Fright Night (Aug. 19): What the heck is Colin Farrell doing here? Who knows? But he may be the best thing about this remake of the 1985 cult smash about a vampire making do in the anemic 21st century.
The Debt (Aug. 31): Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington are the heavyweights behind this marker, as they play Nazi hunters on a long mission.