Summer 2014 is off to a cinematically terrific start. This summer's movie releases are balanced between sequels to hits that fans loved in years past and a crop of imaginative films that truly deserve to be called "original." While big action movies typically dominate at the box office, every segment of moviegoers can find films to enjoy this summer. Here are the top six movies of the summer of 2014, as of July.
6. "Edge of Tomorrow"
Take the brilliance of "Groundhog Day" and mesh it with a futuristic "Starship Troopers"-like apocalyptic scenario, and the result is "Edge of Tomorrow." This fantastic action movie showcases Tom Cruise's acting chops plus gives sci-fi fans a true female hero in Emily Blunt's character. As in "Groundhog Day," the characters are living the same day over and over. In this case, however, it is the day that determines whether humanity will continue to exist. The filmmakers play this idea out for everything it is worth, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with meticulous pacing and plot twists. In a summer filled with sequels and remakes, "Edge of Tomorrow" is an original film that truly stands out.
5. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
Hard-edged and very smart, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" takes the long-lived franchise to a new level. Led by yet another astonishing performance from performance-capture maven Andy Serkis (who, fans will note, finally gets top billing in a movie), the apes are so real and compelling that it is impossible to believe that they are actually fully animated characters. The film is challenging and satisfying on every level. After all, this is a movie in which the apes may be intellectually complex, but they fulfill the action movie pre-requisite of being able to ride horses while carrying machine guns. What more can fans ask for in a summer movie?
4. "X-Men: Days of Future Past"
When a movie is the seventh in a series, it has to be good to get a jaded audience's attention. Fortunately for summer moviegoers, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" delivers. Sure, the action sequences are spectacular, as one might expect from the third of Bryan Singer's X-Men movies, but it is the relationships between the characters that ground this movie and provide emotional reality. Peter Dinklage steals the movie whenever he is on screen. And, most unexpectedly, "Days of Future Past" also gives viewers one of the funniest set pieces to-date in a superhero movie with Quicksilver's hilarious jailbreak.
3. "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
The danger of making sequels to hit movies is the tendency to copy the original movie too slavishly. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" avoids this pitfall, instead giving the audience some unexpected surprises. One such surprise is that this sequel packs a greater emotional punch than the original movie. With great visceral and visual sweep, "How to Train your Dragon 2" is surprisingly romantic, with a deep look at the relationship between people and animals. All in all, the film capably continues the story begun in the first film, without any of sense that it was only made to make more money.
Recent summers have been filled with post-apocalyptic action movies, but "Snowpiercer" takes the audience on a chillingly-realistic train journey unlike any experienced before. With its unforgettable and often unique filmmaking choices, "Snowpiercer" refuses to follow in the cookie-cutter mold of most end-of-the-world flicks. This metaphoric trip through hell manages to be much scarier than zombie attacks, global pandemics or nuclear wastelands, even as it leaves viewers with much to think about.
An unexpected summer entry, "Boyhood" is a most unusual film, hitting theaters this summer after 12 years of filming. In order to capture a young boy growing up in real time, filmmaker Richard Linklater gathered his entire cast once a year for a dozen years to pick up where they left off. Although this process may have resulted in a choppy, episodic movie, "Boyhood" instead stands out as visionary, memorable and unlike any other movie you have ever seen.
Summer has gotten a bad rap at the box office, thought to be nothing but a wasteland of unimaginative sequels. In 2014, that stereotype is proven definitely wrong. The sequels of summer 2014 are sharp, thoughtful and exciting, while the original movies take film fans into worlds they never seen before. With more than a month of summer remaining, several potential blockbusters are still awaiting their turn in the wings. Notably, the "Guardians of the Galaxy" and the latest "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie are yet to come. It's been a great summer for movie connoisseurs so far, with exciting titles still to come.