2016 Summer Movie Guide: The Books That Made the Screen

Edgar Ramirez in ‘Hands of Stone’ © Weinstein; Michael Keaton in ‘The Founder’ © Weinstein Co.; Emilia Clarke in ‘Me Before You’ © Warner Bros.; Kate Beckinsale in ‘Love & Friendship’ © Roadside Attractions; Mahershala Ali in ‘Free State of Jones’ © STX Entertainment

It seems only yesterday that we were enjoying the blooms and blessings of Spring. Wait. Actually, it still is Spring. But Hollywood works and plays by its own timetable, and that means the Summer Movie Season officially kicks off Friday, May 6, with Marvel’s slam-dunk superhero blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War” leading the charge, school schedule be damned. Inevitably defined by big-budget, youth-targeted spectacles, summer always includes a complementary raft of less bombastic entertainments for those of us who like to keep our eyeballs un-singed. Fortunately, adaptations fall into both categories, and there is no shortage of either this summer. So Signature has collated its comprehensive list of all the films opening between May and August that have a literary basis or some real-life biographical/historical source. You can sort through the various goodies below, and plan accordingly.


“Genius” (July 29)
The 1978 National Book Award-winning biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg (Pulitzer Prize winner for Lindbergh) serves as the source material for this drama about the vaunted Scribner editor responsible for nurturing the early work of Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ernest Hemingway, and James Jones. With Colin Firth playing Perkins, Jude Law as Wolfe, Guy Pearce as Fitzgerald, and Dominic West as Hemingway (plus Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney in the cast), and a screenplay by multiple Oscar nominee John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Aviator”), this biopic is the must-see movie for literary-minded cineastes this summer. Award-winning British theater director Michael Grandage, who directed Logan’s Tony Award-winning 2010 play Red, is behind the camera.

“The Founder” (August 5)
“Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Blind Side” director John Lee Hancock and “The Wrestler” writer Robert D. Siegel have crafted this biopic about Illinois-born salesman and businessman Ray Kroc, who in his fifties became instrumental in the launch and growth of the billion-dollar McDonald’s fast-food chain. “Birdman” Oscar nominee Michael Keaton stars as Kroc, with “Wild” Oscar nominee Laura Dern playing his first wife, Ethel.

“Hands of Stone” (August 26)
This biopic about world champion Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, nicknamed “Hands of Stone,” stars Edgar Ramirez as the legendary pugilist, Robert De Niro as his trainer Ray Arcel, and Usher as one of his greatest opponents, Sugar Ray Leonard. Venezuela-born filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz, whose 2005 thriller “Secuestro Express” became the highest-grossing film in his home country, wrote and directed.

Honorable Mentions: “Pele: Birth of a Legend” (May 6); “Last Days in the Desert” (May 13).


“Captain America: Civil War” (May 6)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand and cross-pollinate with this action team-up that sees Captain America and Iron Man turning on each other in a disagreement over global security policy, with everyone from Black Panther, Vision, and Ant-Man to Black Widow, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, and War Machine forced to take sides. The entire writing-directing crew of Cap’s blockbuster 2014 outing, “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” has returned for this epic, inspired by Mark Millar’s 2006-07 comic.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” (May 27)
The mutant squad is back for this sequel to the 2014 smash “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” once again written by Simon Kinberg and directed by X-Men maestro Bryan Singer. This time, Professor X, Mystique, Beast, Cyclops, and the others face a new enemy in the resurrected form of history’s first mutant, Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac (“Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens”), in another adaptation of Marvel Comics characters.

“Suicide Squad,” (August 5)
In the wake of the big-budget team-up “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Marvel rival DC Comics has this villain-centric action extravaganza boiling for late summer. It involves a bunch of imprisoned bad guys — played by Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, and others — who are blackmailed into doing the bidding of a secret government agency. The film, which crosses over with the newest Batman franchise, was written and directed by David Ayer (“Fury”), who based it on several Suicide Squad comics runs.


“Love & Friendship” (May 13)
Oscar-nominated “Metropolitan” writer-director Whit Stillman here adapts Jane Austen’s short novel Lady Susan, an early work that wasn’t published until long after the author’s death. Kate Beckinsale plays the Lady in question, a flirtatious, scheming widow who travels to her in-laws’ estate in search of husbands for herself and her daughter, in this romantic drama.

“Sunset Song” (May 13)
Terence Davies (“The House of Mirth”) wrote and directed this period drama based on the classic 1932 coming-of-age novel by Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon (a pseudonym of James Leslie Mitchell). The first in a trilogy, the book describes how young Chris Guthrie endures misfortune and tragedy while she works the land, until the First World War finally reaches her family’s farm.

“Me Before You” (June 3)
Jojo Moyes’s 2012 tearjerker about a shiftless young woman whose life changes when she takes a job caring for a quadriplegic man who’s lost his will to live is the basis for this serious-minded drama featuring “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke and “The Hunger Games” actor Sam Claflin. Moyes wrote the screenplay adaptation herself for first-time director Thea Sharrock.

“Diary of a Chambermaid” (June 10)
The “naughty” 1900 novel by French author-playwright-critic Octave Mirbeau (The Torture Garden) that inspired this film concerns a female servant who exposes all the grotesqueries and sexual fetishes of her wealthy bourgeois employers. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” actress Léa Seydoux stars in the adaptation, which was directed and co-written by Benoît Jacquot. Mirbeau’s scandalous work previously attracted the attention of iconic Oscar-nominated filmmakers Jean Renoir and Luis Buñuel, who directed big-screen versions in 1946 and 1964, respectively.

“Indignation” (July 29)
Oscar-nominated writer-producer James Schamus (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Ice Storm”) makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel about a Jewish kid from New Jersey who runs into romantic and religious conflict while at college in the Midwest during the Korean War. “Percy Jackson” star Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon (“11.22.63”), and Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County” playwright Tracy Letts star.

Honorable Mentions: “Our Little Sister” (July 8).


“High-Rise” (May 13)
Writing-directing team Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley (“Kill List,” “Sightseers”) here take on a brutally pointed 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard (Crash, The Drowned World) about a futuristic, high-tech, self-contained apartment complex and the violent class war that breaks out among its wealthy residents. Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, and Elisabeth Moss star.

“The Legend of Tarzan” (July 1)
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s much-adapted and most famous creation gets a brand-new, big-budget, CGI-enhanced feature, this time with “Harry Potter” wizard David Yates behind the camera and a script by Adam Cozad (“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) and Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”) that’s inspired by Burroughs’s many Tarzan stories. “True Blood” heartthrob Alexander Skarsgård and “The Wolf of Wall Street” breakout Margot Robbie star as Tarzan and Jane in a scenario that sees the civilized ape-man leaving London to confront a corrupt mining operation back in the jungles of his African home.

“Jason Bourne” (July 29)
Matt Damon steps back into his popular superspy role for Oscar-nominated filmmaker Paul Greengrass, who directed him in two previous installments of the blockbuster franchise based on the characters created by bestselling novelist Robert Ludlum. Like Bourne himself, not much is known about the story, but Damon, Greengrass, and Christopher Rouse, Greengrass’s Oscar-winning editor on “The Bourne Ultimatum,” concocted the screenplay.

Honorable Mentions: “The Bye Bye Man” (June 3).


“Alice Through the Looking Glass” (May 27)
Most of the cast — Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Sheen — returns for this sequel to the billion-dollar-grossing 2010 film based on Lewis Carroll’s surreal classics. Once again, Linda Woolverton (”Maleficent”) is behind the script, though “Muppets Most Wanted” and “Flight of the Conchords” writer-director James Bobin has replaced Tim Burton behind the camera for a story about Alice’s efforts to save the Mad Hatter.

“The BFG” (July 1)
Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s classic about a young girl who befriends the rare nice giant who doesn’t want to eat her has drawn the perfect creative team for a delightful film version: director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who wrote Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (released the same year as Dahl’s book).

“Pete’s Dragon” (August 12)
Disney’s cute 1977 family film about an orphan boy and his dragon best friend Elliott gets a major twenty-first-century, CGI-boosted revamp from co-writer and director David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”). Both versions were inspired by an unpublished short story written by screenwriters S.S. Field and Seton I. Miller (“The Dawn Patrol,” “My Gal Sal”).


“Free State of Jones” (June 24)
This other Civil War flick, from Oscar-nominated “Seabiscuit” writer-director Gary Ross, dives into the historical record for an action drama about a former soldier, based on real-life farmer Newton Knight, who recruits other farmers and slaves to fight back against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Keri Russell, and “Concussion” actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

“Ben-Hur” (August 12)
Lew Wallace’s classic 1880 historical novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, famously became a 1959 Charlton Heston epic that won eleven Oscars, including best picture. This time, Kazakh filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) has directed a screenplay by Keith R. Clarke (“The Way Back”) and Oscar winner John Ridley (“12 Years a Slave”) that tells the story of a Jewish nobleman-turned-slave who seeks revenge on the adopted brother who betrayed him. Jack Huston (“Not Fade Away”) stars, and Rodrigo Santoro (“Che”) plays Jesus.

“War Dogs” (August 19)
Guy Lawson’s 2011 Rolling Stone article “The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders” and subsequent 2015 book provided the source material for this strange comedy thriller co-written and directed by “The Hangover” helmer Todd Phillips. Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as a pair of Miami Beach dudes who really did land a $300 million contract with the Department of Defense to arm allies in the Afghan military.

Honorable Mentions: “Southside With You” (August 19).