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Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in "Brave."

Related list: Summer 2012 movie preview

This week’s release of Marvel’s superhero mash-up “The Avengers” officially kicks off the summer movie season — a period defined by cutting-edge special effects, superheroes and supervillains, alien invasions and shameless efforts at four-quadrant hits.

With so many potential blockbusters on the horizon, though, it can be difficult to gauge what movies are appropriate for families. With that in mind, here is a guide to some of the biggest movie releases this summer (PG-13 and under) and what concerned parents can expect from them.


“The Avengers” (PG-13) — As one might expect from any summer action flick, especially one whose roster of heroes includes a “green rage monster,” “The Avengers” is a pretty violent movie with enough explosions and buildings getting destroyed to make even Michael Bay smile. But as long as parents don’t mind their kids “hulking out” every now and then, this is the kind of PG-13 movie that might be OK to let slightly older children see, too.

Related list: An introduction to the heroes, allies and villains of 'The Avengers'

“Dark Shadows” (PG-13) — Continuing the lengthy and lucrative partnership of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Alice in Wonderland”), “Dark Shadows” updates the 1960s Gothic soap opera of the same name, this time as a horror-comedy about an 18th-century vampire coming to grips with 1970s America.

Best guess: Audiences, especially parents, may want to exercise caution with this one as it does contain some sexual content (partially evident in the trailers) in addition to recreational drug use.

“Battleship” (PG-13) — “Battleship” is being marketed as the next “Transformers” (both are based on Hasbro products), and if trailers/early reviews are any indication, it seems to follow basically the same formula of flat characters, unrealistically attractive love interests and massive CGI effects sequences.

The extreme level of violence may be an issue for some moviegoers. Once again, “Transformers” is probably a decent example of what to anticipate content-wise.

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (PG-13) — Even “how-to” books are fair game in Hollywood, as this ensemble comedy about the wonderful misadventures of pregnancy demonstrates. “What to Expect” seeks to duplicate the success of movies like “New Year’s Eve” and “Valentine’s Day” and provide an alternative for women not willing to sit through “The Avengers” one more time with their husbands.

The MPAA’s parental advisory warns of “crude and sexual content.” Kids probably aren’t going to be begging to see this one, though.

“Men In Black III” (PG-13) — After a 10-year absence, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their iconic roles as agents J and K with Barry Sonnenfeld once again in the director’s chair.

If the previous two films are any indication, “MIB-III” will probably play to a slightly younger audience than something like “Battleship,” using violence and exploding aliens more for laughs than dramatic effect — which might actually be of greater concern to some parents.

“Moonrise Kingdom” (PG-13) — In spite of its setting at a Scout camp, a whimsical style and two 12-year-olds as lead characters, Wes Anderson’s latest film — following up on the critical and commercial success of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” — is not a kids’ movie.

For adventurous moviegoers 13 and up, this could serve as an intro to the offbeat humor of indie comedies without the problematic content usually associated with them.


“Snow White and the Huntsman” (PG-13) — With the popularity of star Kristin Stewart and “Lord of the Rings”-inspired battle sequences, Universal seems confident of its dark, gritty take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. In fact, a sequel is already in the works.

The mostly bloodless action glimpsed in the trailers helps tone down the violence, keeping it appropriate for young adult audiences. Smaller children, however, should stick with the Disney version for now.

“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (PG) — “Madagascar 3” will probably draw pretty big numbers for DreamWorks just by virtue of the fact that it is the first real kids’ movie of the summer and a recognizable franchise.

Other than some mild violence and “rude humor,” “Madagascar 3” should be fine for all ages.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (not yet rated) — Considering director Timur Bekmambetov’s penchant for stylized action and the fact that Lincoln’s weapon of choice in his battle with the undead is an ax, this could turn out to be a pretty violent movie.

It is not yet clear what rating this will receive. If PG-13, expect it to push the rating pretty far with its combination of action and horror. Audiences should look into content before rushing to theaters.

“Brave” (not yet rated) — Between Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” Hawekeye in “The Avengers” and Merida in this film, bow and arrow sales will probably experience a major spike sometime this summer. Pixar’s newest animated feature is also its first to focus on a female protagonist. Early buzz suggests this is going to be another winner for the acclaimed studio.

“Brave” will very likely be the family film of the year.

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (not yet rated) — Under the direction of Jon M. Chu (“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”), this sequel to the 2009 “G.I. Joe” movie looks like more of the same but with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking center stage.

“G.I. Joe” is all but guaranteed a PG-13, most likely for violence and profanity, and should play to a similar audience as “Battleship.”


“The Amazing Spider-Man” (not yet rated) — A reboot of the hugely successful Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” movies, director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) re-examines the character’s origin story in a way that could prove extremely controversial among fans of the web-slinging superhero.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man has always been a role model for teenagers. This film, which looks to take a more mature approach to the character’s themes, should be good for teenagers and adults alike.

“Ice Age: Continental Drift” (not yet rated) — Even though critical response has grown more and more negative with each installment of Fox’s animated franchise series, audience turnout has only increased over the years.

The fourth film in the series should provide some much-needed relief for parents desperate to keep their kids occupied during the long summer days.

“The Dark Knight Rises” (PG-13) — Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited final entry in his “Dark Knight” series could be the most highly anticipated film of the year. The only real question remaining is how many new records it will set before it ends its theatrical run.

Everyone who has seen 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” however, should realize that this is not a series meant for younger audiences. If anything, “The Dark Knight Rises” seems to have taken the nihilistic quality of the previous film a step further. Parents should exercise caution before letting their children see this, even though it is allegedly a superhero movie.

“Neighborhood Watch” (not yet rated) — Due to some unfortunate similarities with the tragic Trayvon Martin case, timing could not be worse for Ben Stiller’s new sci-fi comedy about a group of suburban dad’s fighting off an alien invasion.

Although it will probably receive a PG-13, it is still too early to guess at the film’s tone and content.


“The Bourne Legacy” (not yet rated) — Jeremy Renner (“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “The Avengers”) stars in a spinoff of the Matt Damon “Bourne” movies as Aaron Cross, another agent from Operation Treadstone. Audiences should expect the same hyperkinetic style that defined the previous exploits of Damon’s Jason Bourne (as well as an entire generation of action movies that followed).

This means plenty of fistfights, car chases, explosions and other forms of semi-realistic violence that may not be suitable for younger audience members.

“Total Recall” (not yet rated) — A remake of a 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie set on Mars, this time starring Colin Farrell (“Fright Night”) and set on the far less exotic planet of Earth.

Its $200 million price tag all but demands a PG-13 rating in order for “Total Recall” to make a profit, but like many of the August releases, specifics are still unavailable.

“ParaNorman” (not yet rated) — From Henry Selick, the director of “Nightmare Before Christmas” and the underrated “Coraline,” “Paranorman” might be the only film this year that could give “Brave” a run for its money as great family entertainment.

Due to its subject matter (a boy who can communicate with the dead), “ParaNorman” might be too frightening for small children. Otherwise, this should make for great family viewing, especially in the build-up to Halloween.

“Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed” (PG-13) — A sequel to 2003’s award-winning World War II film, “Airborne Creed” focuses on a group of paratroopers in the south of France.

Coming at the tail end of summer, “Airborne Creed” may provide a sobering alternative to the mindless violence perpetrated by so many Hollywood blockbusters. It is rated PG-13 for “wartime violence.”

Related list: Summer 2012 movie preview

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.