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Cinematic summer competitors

The onslaught of summer blockbusters has nearly arrived with a lineup of sequels, superheroes and special effects – and a couple exceptions.

Though the summer lineup includes three Marvel comic-book films and countless sequels, it also features a few original properties and even a documentary.

The Oracle previews nine potential hits this summer.

“Thor” – May 6

Joining the slew of comic-book movies slated for release this year, Marvel Studios’ “Thor” stands out for a cast featuring Academy Award winners Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.

Chris Hemsworth plays the fallen god Thor, who is banished to Earth and must use his mighty hammer to protect humans from his home world’s most dangerous forces.

Early critical reception is mostly positive, with the Hollywood Reporter noting the film’s “suitably epic design, solid digital effects and … healthy respect for the comic-book lore.”

– Brendan Collett

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” – May 20

Many “Pirates of the Caribbean” lovers were upset when it was announced that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley would not return for the fourth installment of Disney’s cash cow franchise.

Yet Johnny Depp remains front and center as the fan-favorite, ragged Captain Jack Sparrow in “On Stranger Tides” – joined by newcomers Ian McShane as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz as the infamous pirate’s daughter.

In this installment, Sparrow and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) search for the Fountain of Youth, but learn Blackbeard and his daughter are on the hunt for the legendary elixir as well.

– Brendan Collett

“X-Men: First Class” – June 3

This summer, the “X-Men” franchise makes a comeback with “Kick-Ass” director Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class.”

Serving as a prequel to the original trilogy, the movie takes a look at the younger days of Professor X (James McAvoy) and his budding friendship with his future arch-nemesis Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

With its retro ’60s setting and a set of fresh faces for the mutant cast, “X-Men: First Class” hopes to breathe new life into the franchise and set it apart from the cascade of comic book properties being hammered out this summer.

– Damon Lord

“Super 8” – June 10

All of J.J. Abrams’ film and television projects are cloaked in secrecy up until their release dates, and this summer’s “Super 8” is no exception.

The film follows a group of young kids, who witness a catastrophic accident involving a

train carrying a creature from Area 51.

Government officials begin invading their Midwestern town – leading many to wonder what was aboard the wrecked train.

The film is clearly influenced by Steven Spielberg’s alien films, but “Super 8” looks to have action, suspense and a coming-of-age story that provides the film with its own heart.

– Benjamin Wright

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” – June 24

Not to be confused with the Aug. 19 “Conan the Barbarian” remake, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” follows a different Conan in a real rarity – a wide-release documentary.

The film follows the talk show host as he leaves “The Tonight Show” in 2010 and embarks on his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” variety show tour.

For Team Coco fans, the movie should offer an illuminating look into a tumultuous time in O’Brien’s life, with musical performances and guests including Jon Stewart and Jim Carrey.

– Jimmy Geurts

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – July 1

Michael Bay is hoping to make up for the decidedly lackluster and mind-numbing “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” in this sequel.

If the Super Bowl commercial is any indication, this third installment in the series will bring a new level of giant robot carnage to the screen as the first in the series filmed in Real-D 3-D.

Shia LaBeouf returns as the series’ human everyman hero Sam, but poster girl Megan Fox has been replaced by former Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

– Damon Lord

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” – July 15

A decade and seven films later, the “Harry Potter” series comes to its grand finale with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”

Continuing where Part 1 left off, the film will focus on the final battle between Harry and the evil Voldemort as his army of Death Eaters descends upon Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

This final installment has been hyped as the most action-packed, but should still pack an emotional wallop to the legion of Potterheads saying goodbye to their beloved characters.

– Damon Lord

“Captain America: The First Avenger” – July 22

Chris Evans has proven he’s more than a pretty face and six-pack abs with his comedic skills, but now looks to flex his dramatic muscle in the action-packed “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

Evans plays Steve Rogers, a wannabe military soldier who volunteers for a secret government research experiment that transforms him into the iconic Captain America.

The trailer suggests that “Captain America” may be inventive and fun enough to breathe life into the tired superhero genre.

– Benjamin Wright

“Cowboys & Aliens” – July 29

“Iron Man” director John Favreau was the target of much criticism for turning “Iron Man 2” into a convoluted, joyless comic book film, and has turned to the new property “Cowboys & Aliens.”

Following a posse of cowboys led by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, the film may signal Favreau’s return to the escapist entertainment that made the first “Iron Man” a success.

The film is a true Western, only this time scaly alien creatures have invaded. With a late July release date, the movie should be a welcome dose of adventure in a summer filled with sequels and remakes.

– Benjamin Wright