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9 things to read, watch, and listen to before summer movie season starts

Get caught up on the best prerequisites for this summer’s movies.

Crazy Rich Asians, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Teen Titans GO! to the Movies, and Slender Man.
Warner Bros.; Focus Features; Screen Gems

With most good movies, you can walk into the theater without knowing anything about the subject and enjoy yourself just fine. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be even better if you know a little before you walk in the door. Here are nine movies coming out this summer, paired with something to read, watch, or listen to before you head for the theater.

Before Mary Shelley (May 25) ...

Read Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

Elle Fanning in Mary Shelley and the cover of Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws
Elle Fanning in Mary Shelley and the cover of Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws.
IFC Films; Random House

Mary Shelley is a lush and diverting biopic covering the author’s youthful whirlwind romance with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — events that eventually led her to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein — but the movie doesn’t fully capture how remarkable Shelley’s life and story was.

For that and more, you can turn to Charlotte Gordon’s dual biography Romantic Outlaws, which shows the remarkable parallels between Shelley’s life and her mother’s. Shelley’s mother, of course, was the remarkable Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist and author, who died 11 days after her equally extraordinary daughter was born. —Alissa Wilkinson

Before Won’t You Be My Neighbor (June 8) ...

Read Esquire’s definitive 1998 profile of Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor and the Esquire profile of Fred Rogers.
Focus Features; Esquire Magazine

Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred (a.k.a. Mister) Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, is already garnering raves from critics and reducing festival audiences to tears. But if you want to get choked up before you even get to the theater, read Esquire’s 1998 profile of the television personality, which shows just how much he has meant to generations of children. And as a bonus, check out Vox’s own Todd VanDerWerff (in his A.V. Club days) arguing that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the greatest television show of all time. —AW

Before Tag (June 15) ...

Read the Wall Street Journal article on which it’s based (paywalled)

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag, and the Wall Street Journal article on which it’s based
Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag, and the Wall Street Journal article on which it’s based.
New Line Cinema; The Wall Street Journal

Tag is a comedy about a group of friends who’ve been playing a month-long game of tag every year for decades — a game so elaborate that people fly across the country and spend lots of money just to tag someone. The twist is that it’s a true story, based on a Wall Street Journal story about the game. The paper also published a follow-up examining how the game’s newfound fame has affected its players. (You’ll need a WSJ subscription to read.) —AW

Before Sorry to Bother You (July 6) ...

Listen to the Coup on Spotify

Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson in Sorry to Bother You and Boots Riley with members of the Coup.
Annapurna Pictures; Todd Cooper

Sorry to Bother You is the directorial debut of Boots Riley, whose career as a rapper has been marked by the same activist impulses and radical political consciousness as the film he’s made. You can get a great sense of what you’re in for (and enjoy it immensely) by listening to the Coup, the group Riley has fronted since 1991. (And if you really want to prepare for the film’s intricate, kooky aesthetic sense, tack on a rewatch of Michel Gondry’s 2006 movie The Science of Sleep, from which Sorry to Bother You draws some inspiration.) —AW

Before Eighth Grade (July 13) ...

Watch Bo Burnham’s channel on YouTube

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade and director Bo Burnham performing on YouTube
Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade and director Bo Burnham performing on YouTube.
A24; YouTube/Bo Burnham

Eighth Grade mixes the agony of being in eighth grade with the ecstasy of great filmmaking for a story that feels a little too real at times. Writer-director Bo Burnham is a comedian who got his start on YouTube, writing and performing musical comedy. Catch his mega-popular YouTube videos to get a sense of his aesthetic before you head to the movie theater. —AW

Before Teen Titans Go! to the Movies (July 27) ...

Watch Teen Titans Go! on the Cartoon Network website

The posters for the film Teen Titans Go! to the Movies and the TV show Teen Titans Go!
Cartoon Network

Teen Titans Go! is technically a descendant of the much-loved early-2000s cartoon Teen Titans, and features the same superhero team (and voice cast) of that series: Cyborg, Beast Boy, Raven, Starfire, and leader Robin. But it was more directly inspired by the success of the New Teen Titans series of shorts that ran during Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block in 2011 and 2012, which gave the Teen Titans a more cartoon-y visual style and a much wackier sense of humor.

Teen Titans Go! maintains both of those, in particular the humor, which has evolved over five seasons into some of the most delightfully meta, referential, and fourth-wall-breaking comedy in the entire superhero realm. (Given the enduring love for the relatively serious original Teen Titans series, this shift has made Go! a target of loathing for some purists.) Teen Titans Go! is a great contrast to the extended DC entertainment universe, a markedly different and fun-loving cousin to its big-screen live-action counterparts. —Genevieve Koski

Before Crazy Rich Asians (August 17) ...

Read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Constance Wu and Henry Golding, stars of Crazy Rich Asians, and the cover of Kevin Kwan’s novel
Constance Wu and Henry Golding, stars of Crazy Rich Asians, and the cover of Kevin Kwan’s novel.
Entertainment Weekly; Random House

The best-selling 2013 novel is turning into a movie starring Constance Wu as an NYU professor who goes to visit her boyfriend’s family Singapore and discovers, to her shock, just how wealthy his family really is. The novel was so popular that it spawned two sequels (China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems) and is well worth a read before the movie hits theaters. —AW

Before Slender Man (August 24) ...

Watch Marble Hornets on YouTube

A scene from Slender Man and a scene from Marble Hornets
A scene from Slender Man and a scene from Marble Hornets.
Screen Gems; YouTube

Before getting scared out of your wits by Slender Man, get a primer on the mythological online character by watching the Marble Hornets on YouTube. The series follows a group of college students as they’re stalked by the (hopefully) fictional supernatural character. Acquainting yourself with Slender Man and the wide-ranging online following that’s cropped up around him is an internet rabbit hole worth falling into, and Marble Hornets is a great place to start. —AW

Before The Little Stranger (August 31) ...

Read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A scene from The Little Stranger and the cover of Sarah Waters’s novel
A scene from The Little Stranger and the cover of Sarah Waters’s novel.
Focus Features; Penguin

Sarah Waters’s historical fiction taps into genre elements to explore the social inequalities and hypocrisies of the past (and sometimes the present as well), all rendered in immersive, captivating prose that all but forces you to keep turning pages. Several of her novels have been made into British miniseries, and her book The Fingersmith was turned into the gorgeously rollicking 2016 film The Handmaiden.

Her gothic ghost story The Little Stranger, however, distinguishes itself in her bibliography on a couple fronts: It features a male protagonist and eschews the themes of lesbian romance that pervade many of her books. But that doesn’t mean it avoids Waters’s other literary preoccupations, in particular questions of class and financial insecurity, explored here through the story of a country doctor in postwar Britain who insinuates himself into a family of landed gentry struggling to maintain their way of life and ward off an increasingly unsettling (and heavily symbolic) supernatural presence in their dilapidated home. —GK