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A preview of some of the hot movies that lie ahead this summer

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This weekend is the start of the summer movie season, with Disney's "Little Mermaid" leading the charge. Studios raced to finish summer attractions before the writers' strike so that hot-weather fare could open through Labor Day. That means a whole lot of films, so we asked critic Bob Mondello for a selective preview.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The world is in such peril these days - from war, climate change, superhero mistakes...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FLASH")

EZRA MILLER: (As Barry Allen) I completely broke the universe.

MONDELLO: ...That it's reassuring to know Hollywood has us covered. The Flash may have messed up time in a way that promises the total destruction of humanity. But to put things right, he has allies, starting with his own double...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FLASH")

MILLER: (As Barry Allen) You stole my face.

MONDELLO: ...A dark knight played by Ben Affleck...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FLASH")

BEN AFFLECK: (As Batman) Any scars we have make us who we are.

MONDELLO: ...A less-dark knight played by Michael Keaton...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FLASH")

MICHAEL KEATON: (As Batman) Want some help?

MONDELLO: ...And a super somebody by the name of Kent.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FLASH")

MILLER: (As Barry Allen) It's not Clark.

SASHA CALLE: (As Supergirl) My name is Cara.

MONDELLO: Once you've fractured the universe, everything's up for grabs, evidently. That's something that going "Into The Spider-Verse" taught an animated super kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE")

SHAMEIK MOORE: (As Miles Morales) My name is Miles Morales. I'm Brooklyn's one and only Spider-Man.

MONDELLO: This time, he's headed "Across The Spider-Verse"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

MOORE: (As Miles Morales) So wait a minute - there's an elite crew with all the best spider-people in it?

MONDELLO: ...In six different styles of animation, but his problem's the same as the Flash's.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE")

OSCAR ISAAC: (As Miguel O'Hara) You have a choice between saving one person and saving every world.

MONDELLO: Actually, things don't get much simpler, even if there's just one world, as in "Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRAMSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Unicron is coming.

ANTHONY RAMOS: (As Noah Diaz) How big can this guy be?

PETE DAVIDSON: (As Mirage) He eats planets, so, like, way bigger than a planet.

MONDELLO: A world where the planet barely survives is depicted in the odd-couple dramedy "Biosphere," in which a nameless catastrophe has left Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass living in a geodesic dome, the last two men on Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIOSPHERE")

MARK DUPLASS: (As Billy) Ray, get out here, please. I've been doing some research.

STERLING K BROWN: (As Ray) Oh, wow. This really is the end of the world.

MONDELLO: Jokes aside, the idea that humans might destroy humanity is hardly new, either in movies or real life. Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" chronicles the development of the atom bomb by scientists who weren't entirely sure in the 1940s what would happen when they exploded the first one. Might it start a chain reaction, set the atmosphere on fire?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "OPPENHEIMER")

MATT DAMON: (As Leslie Groves) Are we saying there's a chance that, when we push that button, we destroy the world?

CILLIAN MURPHY: (As J. Robert Oppenheimer) Chances are near zero.

DAMON: (As Leslie Groves) Near zero?

MURPHY: (As J. Robert Oppenheimer) What do you want from theory alone?

DAMON: (As Leslie Groves) Zero would be nice.

MONDELLO: Other biopics this summer deal with earth-shattering questions, often with well-matched pairs of actors, including Liev Schreiber and Helen Mirren as Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir in "Golda"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOLDA")

LIEV SCHREIBER: (As Henry Kissinger) We cannot allow 30,000 men to die of thirst.

HELEN MIRREN: (As Golda Meir) We'll send them water when we've got our prisoners back.

MONDELLO: ...And Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) Hi, Barbie.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Ken.

MONDELLO: ...In "Barbie," the comic collectibles biopic that will have the world seeing hot pink.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

GOSLING: (As Ken) I thought I might stay over tonight.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Why?

GOSLING: (As Ken) 'Cause we're girlfriend, boyfriend.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) To do what?

GOSLING: (As Ken) I'm actually not sure.

MONDELLO: In that respect, he's a lot like the introverted 19-year-old in another comedy called "No Hard Feelings," whose parents hire Jennifer Lawrence to date him to bring him out of his shell.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NO HARD FEELINGS")

JENNIFER LAWRENCE: (As Maddie) So when you say date him, do you mean date him or date him?

LAURA BENANTI: (As Allison) Yes.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Laird) Date him. Date him hard.

LAWRENCE: (As Maddie) OK. I'll date his brains out.

MONDELLO: "No Hard Feelings" is raunchy, and so is "Strays," a gagfest in which Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx play talking - or rather, swearing - dogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STRAYS")

WILL FERRELL: (As Reggie) I'm going to bite his [expletive] off.

JAMIE FOXX: (As Bug) Oh, we going to [expletive] up.

MONDELLO: Far more innocent are the middle-schoolers in the mockumentary, "Theater Camp." These are kids who were always picked last in gym. They know their way around musical comedy, but will that be enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THEATER CAMP")

BEN PLATT: (As Amos Klobuchar) Welcome auditioners.

MOLLY GORDON: (As Rebecca-Diane) You guys are so talented, so unbelievable. This will break you. This will fully destroy you.

PLATT: (As Amos Klobuchar) Congratulations on being the most talented kids at camp.

MONDELLO: A camp for junior astronomers is the jumping-off point for Wes Anderson's latest weirdness, "Asteroid City." The star-studded film pictures a 1955 convention of stargazers who suspect they have aliens in their midst.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ASTEROID CITY")

GRACE EDWARDS: (As character) Sometimes I think I feel more at home outside the Earth's atmosphere.

JAKE RYAN: (As Woodrow Steenbeck) Oh, wow. Me too.

MONDELLO: Looking every bit as eccentric as "Asteroid City," an immigration comedy from "Los Espookys'" Julio Torres called "Problemista."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PROBLEMISTA")

LAITH NAKLI: (As Khalil) You have a month to find someone to co-sign your visa. And if you don't, you have to leave the U.S.

MONDELLO: Enter Tilda Swinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PROBLEMISTA")

TILDA SWINTON: (As Elizabeth) I'm late. I know I'm late. I'm so late. I didn't - oh, this menu. What is it with walnuts? Walnuts, Walnuts. Walnuts. It's like a cafe for squirrels.

NAKLI: (As Khalil) You think this lady can sponsor you?

JULIO TORRES: (As Alejandro) I mean, we'll see.

NAKLI: (As Khalil) We'll see.

MONDELLO: There's also "Final Cut," about a French film crew that's making a zombie movie when they're attacked by actual zombies; "Joyride," about four Asian American women's misadventures in China; and "The Blackening," about college pals whose cabin-in-the-woods, fun-and-games reunion turns out to be the setup for a real-life horror movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BLACKENING")

ANTOINETTTE ROBERTSON: (As Lisa) In your predicament, the Black character is always the first to die. I will spare your lives if you sacrifice the person you deem the Blackest.

GRACE BYERS: (As Allison) The Blackest?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You have two minutes to decide.

BYERS: (As Allison) Clifton.

ROBERTSON: (As Lisa) Yeah.

JERMAINE FOWLER: (As Clifton) I can prove I'm not the Blackest.

X MAYO: (As Shanika) Prove it.

FOWLER: (As Clifton) I voted for Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) What?

FOWLER: (As Clifton) Twice.

MONDELLO: More conventional horror films include "The Boogeyman," based on a story by Stephen King, a return of a huge prehistoric shark in the "Meg 2," Disney's latest theme-park-ride-turned-movie, "Haunted Mansion," and the unexpected passenger drama "The Last Voyage of the Demeter."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER")

STEFAN KAPICIC: (As Olgaren) Evil is on board, powerful evil.

AISLING FRANCIOSI: (As Anna) We call him Dracula.

MONDELLO: Horror, not your thing? Well, how about the relationship dramas that wowed film fest audiences this year, the "Prisoner's Daughter," about a woman who's wary of reconnecting with her dying, just-out-of-jail father?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PRISONER'S DAUGHTER")

KATE BECKINSALE: (As Maxine) I'll do it on one condition - you pay me rent.

BRIAN COX: (As Max) My God, you're still so beautiful.

BECKINSALE: (As Maxine) You're a tenant. That's it.

MONDELLO: Also, "Earth Mama" about a pregnant, single mom determined to keep her kids, "Passages" about a gay couple whose marriage is tested when one of them has an affair with a woman, "Blue Jean" about a closeted gym instructor in Maggie Thatcher's England and "Past Lives" about consequences when a Korean immigrant reconnects with her first crush 20 years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAST LIVES")

JOHN MAGARO: (As Arthur) In the story, I would be the evil, white American husband standing in the way of destiny.

GRETA LEE: (As Nora) Shut up. He was just this kid in my head for such a long time. I think I just missed him.

MAGARO: (As Arthur) Did he miss you?

MONDELLO: That is the big question. What about for kids? Well, remember how Pixar brought emotions to life in "Inside Out"? Now it's doing the same thing for air, earth, fire and water in "Elemental," when a go-with-the-flow guy named Wade falls for an incendiary gal named Ember.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ELEMENTAL")

MAMOUDOU ATHIE: (As Wade Ripple) So you've never left fire town?

LEAH LEWIS: (As Ember Lumen) Sorry, buddy. Elements don't mix.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Hey.

LEWIS: (As Ember Lumen) Plus, my dad would boil you alive.

MONDELLO: Also for kids, "Mutant Mayhem" from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, "Gran Turismo," where a teen gamer gets behind the wheel of a real race car and "Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken," a cartoon about a sea monster in high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN")

LANA CONDOR: (As Ruby Gillman) I have laser eyes?

JANE FONDA: (As The Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas) Yes. They do pack a wallop.

MONDELLO: Hopefully packing a wallop for parents and grandparents, familiar faces that have been around for a while - a devout Maggie Smith in "The Miracle Club"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MIRACLE CLUB")

MARK O'HALLORAN: (As Father Dermot Byrne) Welcome to Lourdes.

MAGGIE SMITH: (As Lily Fox) Holy Mary, mother of God.

MONDELLO: ...Denzel Washington encountering the mafia in "Equalizer 3"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EQUALIZER 3")

DENZEL WASHINGTON: (As Robert McCall) Whatever it is you and your friends do, do it somewhere else.

MONDELLO: ...Tom Cruise doing his own stunts in "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE")

TOM CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) If anything happens to them, there's no place that I won't go to kill you.

MONDELLO: ...And bullwhip-snapping archaeologist Harrison Ford, who's searching for the title gizmo in "Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY")

HARRISON FORD: (As Indiana Jones) I've been looking for this all my life. You stole it.

MADS MIKKELSEN: (As Jurgen Voller) Then you stole it.

PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE: (As Helena Shaw) And then I stole it. It's called capitalism.

MONDELLO: Ah, yes, capitalism - the thing Hollywood builds its summers around before getting all serious in the fall with awards contenders. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "THE RAIDER'S MARCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.