Ian McKellan, left, stars as Magneto and Patrick Stewart as Xavier, in "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
Judging by the box office numbers being generated by "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," it almost seems like the summer movie season is already underway.
Of course, it isn't - and, according to the Gregorian calendar, the first day of summer falls on June 21. But Hollywood doesn't pay much attention to such pesky details. As far as the film studios are concerned, the drive to fill theaters by hyping an endless parade of potential blockbusters marks the start of summer. That procession generally commences in early May ... although it seems to be arriving earlier and earlier each year.
Last summer's blockbuster lineup kicked off with "Iron Man 3," which followed the previous summer's box office champion, "Marvel's The Avengers." "Iron Man 3" grossed $1.2 billion worldwide last year. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is Marvel Studios' first big hit of the year, bringing in plenty of revenue since its release earlier this month. As of this past weekend, the film had grossed about $477 million worldwide.
The summer movie lineup features many more superheroes hoping to cash in on the comic-book-to-big-screen bandwagon. It's likely one or more will be this year's top-earning blockbuster.
But what is a blockbuster?
Webster's defines the term as something "notably expensive, effective, successful, large or extravagant."
The 1975 film "Jaws" ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster. Movie studios adopted a marketing strategy focusing on the release of at least one super-grossing flick no later than July 4. Early examples of summer blockbusters include "Star Wars," released May 25, 1977; "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," released June 4, 1982; "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," released May 23, 1984; and "Batman," released June 23, 1989. Each of these films had exceptional opening weekend revenues.
Following is a list of this year's 10 most anticipated summer blockbusters. Only time will tell which ones will go on to become spectacular Hollywood cash cows - and which ones will turn out to be box office bombs.
No. 1 - X-Men: Days of Future Past Release date: May 23
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halley Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Boo Boo Stewart, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till and Evan Jonigkeit
Those lovable mutants are back in this adaptation of the Uncanny X-Men storyline "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. An ensemble of X-Men members work to prevent a war that will lead to a dystopian future ... and possibly the extinction of their kind. The film is unique in that it is a sequel to both "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "X-Men: First Class" and features cast members from both incarnations of the franchise.
No. 2 - 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Release date: May 2
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field and B.J. Novak
The web-slinger is back with more Peter Parker angst. Just as Parker is getting comfortable playing the hero, he is forced to face formidable villains in this electrifying sequel. That's right: Electro is in town - and Spider-Man is about to realize that all his enemies seem to have one thing in common: Oscorp.
No. 3 - Godzilla Release date: May 16
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Bryan Cranston
In the immortal words of Blue Oyster Cult: "Oh, no, there goes Tokyo - go, go Godzilla."
It's not even worth guessing how many Godzilla movies have been made since the original 1954 classic. The most recent American adaptation hit the screen in 1998 and starred Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno. Although it earned a significant amount of derision, it still did well at the box office.
Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures are ready to resurrect the monster for another generation - and in the insanely popular and nearly Oscar-worthy trailers, actor Bryan Cranston - best known for portraying Walter White in "Breaking Bad" - vehemently sounds the alarm. This one could be epic.
No. 4 - Maleficent Release date: May 30
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Disney has taken the iconic villainess from its classic 1959 animated film "Sleeping Beauty" and crafted her story into a dark fantasy. Audiences will learn how betrayal led to Maleficent's malevolent mischief.
No. 5 - Transformers 4: Age of Extinction Release date: June 27
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, T.J. Miller, Han Geng and Titus Welliver
Michael Bay apparently doesn't have anything else to work on, so, why not crank out another Transformers film.
This will be the fourth installment in the franchise - and someone must have realized it was time to shake things up a bit. This one features a new cast - Shia LaBeouf is out, Mark Wahlberg is in - and, for the first time in Bay's ongoing series, the Autobots and Decepticons are joined by Dinobots. This obviously begs the question: How long before Hollywood decides to pit kaiju against Dinobots?
No. 6 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Release date: July 11
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Enrique Murciano, Kirk Acevedo and Judy Greer
The sequel to 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is set about a decade after the events of the first film - and after an epidemic has decimated humankind.
The survivors find themselves facing a growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar. In this sci-fi survival-of-the-fittest scenario, war between ape and man seems unavoidable.
No. 7 - Jupiter Ascending Release date: July 18
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton, Doona Bae, James D'Arcy and Tim Pigott-Smith
In this sci-fi action adventure film, Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a housecleaner plagued by a lifetime of bad breaks. Then one day Caine - played by Channing Tatum - shows up and Jupiter discovers that her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
No. 8 - Guardians of the Galaxy Release date: Aug. 1
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro
With Fantastic Four and The X-Men tied up at Twentieth Century Fox, Marvel Studios has decided its next big push in the unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe will be a lesser-known property: Guardians of the Galaxy.
While one doesn't need to be a comic book aficionado to name at least a few members of The Avengers, it is unlikely that the average person could cough up the names of this ragtag bunch: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Raccoon. There are a few others, but so far, these folks seem to be the only ones who will make it to the big screen for this installment - unless Adam Warlock shows up in a cameo.
To become a blockbuster, this film has to appeal to more than Marvel's core fan base. Early trailers have emphasized both the science fiction and humor components of the story. It wouldn't be a surprise if Marvel Studios tossed in a few surprise appearances by one or two of their hottest properties. Robert Downey Jr. isn't that busy, after all.
No. 9 - Lucy Release date: Aug. 8
Cast: Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman
From "La Femme Nikita" and "The Professional" to "The Fifth Element," writer/director Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history.
Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in "Lucy," an action-thriller that tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.
The trailers for this film look spectacular, although the story premise seems awfully similar to 2011's thriller "Limitless."
No. 10 - Into the Storm Release date: Aug. 8
Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Arlen Escarpeta, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Jeremy Sumpter, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep and Scott Lawrence
Disaster movie genre, meet found footage genre.
In "Into the Storm," professional storm chasers and not-so-smart thrill-seekers eager to get the perfect picture of a tornado capture the destruction of the town of Silverton during a really bad weather day. Those who adored "Twister" will likely find this glimpse at Mother Nature's dark side appealing.
But wait - there's more ...
Every summer, there are a few surprise hits - films that might not quite reach blockbuster status, but that outperform expectations and earn far more than they cost to produce. These sleeper hits are often first screened in limited release, distributed to select art house theaters and shown at festivals.
Sometimes, due simply to word-of-mouth - not to mention social media - these films end up expanding into mainstream movie theaters. They offer a welcome alternative to Hollywood's cookie-cutter formula blockbusters. Here are a handful of films that might qualify as this year's sleeper hits.
No. 5 - Blood Glacier Limited release: May 2
Cast: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Brigitte Kren, Hiller Beseler and Peter Knaack
This one promises to evoke classic creature features. An ecological horror film, the story follows Janek, a technician on a climate observation station high up in the German Alps. He discovers a strange red liquid pouring from a nearby glacier. When substance comes in contact with the local wildlife, it causes changes that are at first curious, then horrifying.
No. 4 - The Signal Limited release: June 13
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp and Laurence Fishburne
Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour - and that kind of thing rarely leads to anything good, does it?
Nick and Jonah are MIT freshmen with a passion for hacking. While driving cross-country through Nevada with Nick's girlfriend, Hailey, they follow clues left by a rival hacker named Nomad, which leads them to an eerily isolated area. After a terrifying confrontation with Nomad, the group regains consciousness in captivity ... and Nick finds he is in a waking nightmare.
No. 3 - I Origins Limited release: July 18
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun and Archie Panjabi
"I Origins" follows a molecular biologist whose study of the human eye points to evidence with far reaching implications about our scientific and spiritual beliefs.
No. 2 - A Most Wanted Man Limited release: July 25
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe and Daniel Brühl
"A Most Wanted Man" is based on master story-teller John le Carré's worldwide bestselling book.
In Hamburg, Germany, a mysterious, tortured and near-dead half-Chechen, half-Russian man on the run (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives in the city's Islamic community desperate for help and looking to recover his late Russian father's ill-gotten fortune. Nothing about this young man seems to add up; is he a victim or a thief or, worse still, an extremist intent on destruction?
Drawn into this web of intrigue are a banker (Willem Dafoe) and a young female lawyer (Rachel McAdams) who is determined to defend the defenseless. All the while, they are being watched by the brilliant, roguish chief of a covert German spy unit (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who fights to put the pieces together as the clock ticks.
"A Most Wanted Man" promises a cerebral tale of intrigue in the vein of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."
At the very end of summer comes Eli Roth's "The Green Inferno," a cannibal horror thriller.
In Roth's terrifying new film "The Green Inferno," a group of college students take their humanitarian protest from New York to the Amazon jungle only to get kidnapped by the native tribe they came to save. Problem: It happens to be a tribe that still practices the ancient tribal rite of cannibalism - and they have a healthy appetite for intruders.
Maybe it won't be a blockbuster - but it's sure to become a cult classic.