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What’s on the Line for Hollywood’s Biggest Stars & Players in Summer Movies

Summer Blockbuster Maker or Break for
Courtesy of Warner Bros./STX/Disney/Universal

Hollywood’s biggest stars and newest players alike enter the crowded summer blockbuster season with a lot to prove. Some are hoping to brush off the debris from past failures; others are aiming to chart fresh directions in their careers. Here’s a look at five contenders who are hoping to be crowned winners over the next four months:

WILL SMITH (“SUICIDE SQUAD”)

What’s on the line: After “Focus” and “Concussion” underwhelmed, Smith needs to prove he’s still the biggest movie star in the world. “Suicide Squad” reps his first big fanboy play.

Warning signs: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was supposed to kick of the interconnected DC Universe, but despite a gaudy box office total, nobody seemed to like it very much. How big will crowds be for “Suicide Squad” on Aug. 5?

The good news: Trailers for the movie about a team of super villains have gone viral. Plus, Smith is an indefatigable pitchman for his films.

Popular on Variety

CHRIS MELEDANDRI (“THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS”) 

What’s on the line: The Illumination Entertainment chief needs to prove that it’s not all about “Despicable Me.” “The Secret Life of Pets” (July 8) is one of two original movies he’ll launch this year; the other is “Sing,” about an “American Idol”-style singing competition.

Warning signs: It’s hard for non-Pixars or Disneys to launch animated franchises, and there’s another “Ice Age” movie coming two weeks later.

The good news: The premise, a look at what pets do when their humans aren’t home, is too cute to fail. Plus: merchandising opportunities galore.

JOHNNY DEPP (“ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS”) 

What’s on the line: This man needs a hit. Stat.

Warning signs: Depp’s magical touch seems to have vanished, with “Black Mass,” “Mortdecai” and “Transcendence” all flopping. Plus, the “Alice in Wonderland” sequel goes head to head with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which looks like a juggernaut.

The good news: The first film did top $1 billion. And younger kids will need an alternative to the “X-Men” on the May 27 weekend and throughout the summer.

STX ENTERTAINMENT (“FREE STATE OF JONES,” “BAD MOMS”) 

What’s on the line: Robert Simonds launched the company with ambitions of becoming the next major studio. Strong summer B.O. would prove he’s making good on his ambitions.

Warning signs: Mid-budget movies can sometimes be overlooked in blockbuster season. So far, “The Boy” and “The Gift” scored, but “Secret in Their Eyes” and “Hardcore Henry” missed.

The good news: STX brass impressed exhibs at Cinemacon — “Free State of Jones” (pictured, June 24) looked moving, while “Bad Moms” (July 29) could be a “Bridesmaids”-style word-of-mouth hit.

DAVID YATES (“THE LEGEND OF TARZAN”)

What’s on the line: After four Harry Potter films, Yates needs to show he can thrive outside of Hogwarts.

Warning signs: A distinct lack of online buzz, and a July 1 opening date that coincides with the debuts of Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” and the latest “Purge” film.

The good news: Yates, who got his start directing TV, is one of the best directors of grand spectacle working today. Plus, he’s got a great fallback in the spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” opening in the traditional Potter pre-Thanksgiving spot on Nov. 18.