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Summer Movies: Top Popcorn Flicks

By Jennifer Vineyard Special to CNN | 5/31/2013, noon
This year’s summer movie season is all about asking “What if?”
Man of Steel

(CNN) -- This year’s summer movie season is all about asking “What if?”

As in, what if you had super powers and came from another planet? (“Man of Steel”) What if the world came to an end and you were stuck at James Franco’s house? (“This Is the End”) Or what if you were pub-hopping during the end of days? (“The World’s End”)

How about if mankind was forced to leave Earth and the planet became inhospitable (“After Earth”), or if only the wealthy could afford to leave (“Elysium”)? What if it were zombies that were our greatest threat? (“World War Z”)

That’s a lot of speculation, not the least of which centers around which of these movies could become hits and which are worth your box office cash.

Here’s our guide to some top summer movies:

May 31: “Now You See Me,” “The East,” “After Earth”

Following Memorial Day weekend is the magic-heist film “Now You See Me,” which squares off against star/co-writer Brit Marling’s “The East.”

“Now You See Me” is a glossy tale about four magicians (played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) who execute a bank robbery as part of their act (part of the fun is learning how the tricks are done).

“The East,” meanwhile, is an indie thriller about a corporate spy infiltrating a freegan anarchist collective that executes “jams” on unsuspecting companies. Whether it’s done by magic or terrorism, both films are about free thinkers teaming up to hold corporate America financially and morally responsible for its wrongdoings; consider them companion pieces.

Despite taking place in the future, at its heart, “After Earth” is a father/son survival story in which Will Smith tries to build his son Jaden’s movie career -- er, tries to direct his son toward a rescue beacon. Smith’s original idea for the film had the father and son crash their car in the mountains, but screenwriter Gary Whitta jazzed up the piece with a primordial planet filled with defense mechanisms meant to kill humans. “Earth has evicted us because we were messing (it up),” Whitta said. “If you took ‘Jurassic Park’ and dumped ‘King Kong’ in the middle of it, that’s what you have in this environment.”

June 7: “The Purge”

In “The Purge,” a future version of America has decriminalized murder for a 12-hour period once a year. Those who can afford to do so either participate and kill off the have-nots or go on lockdown to protect their families. Ethan Hawke’s character, who became rich selling security systems, finds his family besieged after his son lets in a man on the run. It’s basically a home-invasion story with some sociopolitical underpinnings, but it’ll provide some summer chills as the purge begins.

June 14: “This Is the End,” “Man of Steel”

“This Is the End,” which opens ahead of the weekend on June 12, will also provide a high body count but for comedic effect. Various celebrities are at a party at James Franco’s house when the apocalypse occurs. “We thought it would be funny to see famous people die in graphic ways,” star, co-writer and director Seth Rogen said. “We killed most of our favorite stars. ... Michael Cera plays a lunatic cokehead version of himself. He makes the best corpse.”