After a long, dreary winter, the summer blockbuster movie season officially gets underway Friday with "Iron Man 3," the first of three superhero movies on the slate for this summer.
The film stars Robert Downey Jr. once again as Tony Stark/Iron Man, this time facing off against The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).
"Iron Man 3" offers Oscar-winner Kingsley a couple firsts: A superhero movie role and an action figure from Hasbro featuring his likeness as the Mandarin.
"I now know what Christmas presents to get for everybody," Kingsley told me, laughing. "It's amazing. It's a peak for me. It's a career high."
Director Baz Luhrmann reunites with his "Romeo + Juliet" star Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Great Gatsby" on May 10, also starring Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. Luhrmann is upping the ante with his high-profile remake of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic by releasing it in 3-D.
Flying high on the announcement that he will take the helm of the next movie in the "Star Wars" franchise, J.J. Abrams first returns May 17 with "Star Trek Into Darkness," the long-awaited sequel to his 2009 blockbuster reboot.
Unlike Leonard Nimoy did in the first film, original "Star Trek" star William Shatner will not be making a cameo in "Into the Darkness" as an alternate universe version of Capt. James T. Kirk.
"J.J. wanted me and I kept refusing. I said, 'The kid's doing well. You don't need me to take over for him," Shatner told me, jokingly, about the new Kirk, Chris Pine. "Since J.J. is doing 'Star Wars' as well, maybe I'll do the lead in 'Star Wars' -- I'll play Luke Skywalker."
Interview: Sir Ben Kingsley talks 'Iron Man 3'
On May 24, the members of the Wolf Pack -- Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms -- are hoping to get audiences howling again "The Hangover Part III," while a teen (voice of Amanda Seyfried) finds herself in the battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil in the deep forest in the animated adventure "Epic."
Indie film scribe and star Brit Marling ("Another Earth") moves closer to the mainstream on May 31 with "The East," playing an operative with a private security firm who infiltrates an anarchist group that's targeting major corporations. Directed and co-written by Marling's friend Zal Batmanglij, the film also stars Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page.
Marling told me she was thrilled to get the opportunity to do a film that could entertain and address contemporary issues in an informative sort of way in one fell swoop.
"The film is ultimately a thrill ride, like an espionage thriller, but its cutting that espionage thriller through a more prescient landscape about the now that raises a lot of questions about activism, authority and accountability," Marling said.
Also opening May 31 is director M. Night Shyamalan's "Another Earth," a sci-fi thriller starring Will Smith, his son, Jaden Smith; and "Now You See Me," a heist thriller about a group of illusionists being tracked by the FBI, starring Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine and Woody Harrelson.
"The Wedding Crashers" stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite on June 7 in the comedy "The Internship," playing a pair of out-of-work salesman who squeeze their way into Google to compete with much younger, tech-savvy geniuses for a coveted shot at working for the Internet giant.
Following the worldwide blockbuster success of "The Avengers" last summer, writer-director Joss Whedon is getting back to basics June 7 with an adaptation of the William Shakespeare classic "Much Ado About Nothing."
Clark Gregg, whose character Agent Phil Coulson was killed off by Whedon in "The Avengers," is among the stars of "Much Ado," which Whedon shot while his superhero extravaganza was still in production.
"It was really fun, but I thought he was out of his mind during his break before editing to shoot an indie Shakespeare movie in his back yard," Gregg told me with a laugh. "But Joss is an amazing guy and I love working with him. He's brilliant."
Filling the much-needed summer superhero gap after "Iron Man 3" is "Man of Steel" on June 14, directed by "300" and "Watchmen" helmer Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan.
Nolan co-wrote the story with his "Dark Knight" trilogy collaborator, which tracks Kal-El's birth on Krypton to his formative years as Clark Kent, on his way to becoming an adult and eventually, Superman.
Henry Cavill stars in the title role, along with Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) and Christopher Meloni (Col. Hardy). Michael Shannon also stars as Superman's chief nemesis, General Zod.
Facing off against Superman on June 14 are a bunch of stars who play themselves in the comedy "This is the End," in which James Franco hosts a party at his house as the world faces the apocalypse. Some of Franco's famous guests include Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Emma Watson.
Disney-Pixar is going back to the drawing board -- er, keyboard -- on June 21 for "Monsters University," a prequel to the 2001 computer-animated computer-animated classic "Monsters Inc." that tells the story of Mike (voice of Billy Crystal), Sulley (John Goodman), Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) and other monsters during their college years. Helen Mirren joins the "Monsters" voice cast as Dean Hardscrabble.
Brad Pitt runs headlong into the zombie genre in "World War Z" (June 21), an adaptation of Max Brooks' best-selling novel. Pitt stars as a United Nations employee who scrambles to head off a zombie pandemic before it takes over the world.
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy turn up "The Heat" June 28, starring respectively as an uptight FBI special agent and testy Boston cop who reluctantly pair up to bust a ruthless drug lord.
After "Olympus Has Fallen" earlier this year, the Nation's Capitol comes under siege again on June 28 in "White House Down," starring Channing Tatum as policeman who tries to protect the U.S. president (Jamie Foxx) from paramilitary invaders.
Still to come: Look for a preview in late June for a preview of July and August's movie offerings, including "The Lone Ranger," "Despicable Me 2," "Pacific Rim," "Red 2," "Turbo," "The Wolverine," "300: Rise of an Empire," "Planes" and "Elysium."