Top 10 Summer Blockbusters of All Time
With CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR opening to massive box office last week, the 2016 summer movie season is officially underway. For the next three months, films will vie to break records of all sorts and enter the annals of Hollywood history. Looking back since the season became an event, we have cobbled a list of the ten best and definitive blockbusters the season has produced. This was a hard list to compile so you are likely to disagree with some of these choices. If so, feel free to let us know in the talk backs below.
Summer has become the go to season for Hollywood to unleash their biggest budget spectacles. Over the last four decades, we have seen Oscar nominees like BLADE RUNNER and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD to classics like DIE HARD, GHOSTBUSTERS, and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Iconic sequels have hit, like ALIENS and THE DARK KNIGHT while fan favorites like FACE/OFF, ARMAGEDDON, and ROBOCOP have delivered the goods. These films are all great and the fact they didn't make the top ten should tell you just how big summer movies have become.
The perfect blend of epic Hollywood and Disney originality, Gore Verbinski's franchise-starting chapter in the saga seemed like a terrible idea until everyone saw the movie. Johnny Depp's performance is stellar and unlike anything we had seen before while the special effects delivered a blend of swashbuckler and comedy that fans ate up. While none of the sequels were quite as good as the first, they all delivered a formula for the ideal summer movie.
Keanu Reeves on a bus that cannot slow down doesn't scream blockbuster but it was the event film of 1994. Jan De Bont caught lightning in a bottle thanks to the chemistry between Reeves and Sandra Bullock that made for an action thriller that delivered on every front. Dennis Hopper is great as the bad guy who delivers pop quizzes and explosive obstacles for our hero.
This film has the benefit of being for all ages. It wowed kids and adults alike when it debuted in 1982 and returned to theaters multiple times after that. Like any of the greatest films ever made, E.T. stands up to repeat viewings. Without any explosions or action sequences, this is a film that manages to still be an ideal summer film experience and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
As a kid, I remember waiting in line before the theater doors opened for the first showing of INDEPENDENCE DAY. This was before midnight screenings and before reserved seats. I was determined to see Roland Emmerich's epic the first moment I could and I was not disappointed. Like the best disaster films, INDEPENDENCE DAY has heroes, villains, monsters, and stunning visuals. There are few films that can manage to do all of those things well but ID4 does. Sure, it is a bit cheesy in hindsight but it was still the most amazing thing my 13-year-old self had seen since STAR WARS.
Adventure has a name and summer has a hero in Indiana Jones. Over the course of four films and an upcoming fifth, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg managed to take us all back in time to enjoy this series of homages to the pulp serials and adventure stories of a bygone era. Fighting Nazis and searching for mystical artifacts made Indiana Jones a household name and the closest thing to an American James Bond. These movies are rip-roaring good times that evoke the best days of the summer season.
JURASSIC PARK was another film from my childhood that I anticipated for months. From the mysterious teaser to the tie-in toys, everything about Steven Spielberg's film was designed for the summer movie season. A thrill ride that felt more 3D than any 3D movie, JURASSIC PARK was the template for last year's insanely successful JURASSIC WORLD. While the 1993 original still holds up as an example of how to do CGI right, it also serves as the point when special effects began to cross from practical to computer generated and films would never be the same.
Comic book films and superhero movies had been summer movie staples for twelve years before THE AVENGERS re-wrote the rules entirely. By taking a half dozen franchise leads and putting them into an ensemble, director Joss Whedon did what may thought would never be possible and made the biggest movie of all time in terms of sheer star power. Today, we get cross-over superhero films and connected universes like they are commonplace, but it was just four short years ago that the rules changed for good.
Despite three piss-poor sequels, TERMINATOR 2 still ranks as proof that sequels sometimes should happen. I cannot say that we will ever see another film in this series, but we will always have this 1991 classic. I was only ten years old when this movie came out, way too young to be seeing an R-rated film, but I was fully engrossed by the sheer spectacle that James Cameron pulled off with this film. R-rated movies like this aren't often made these days but this was certainly one example of how to do it right.
Each year until THE FORCE AWAKENS, a new STAR WARS film heralded the beginning of the summer movie season. Now, Marvel films tend to have that honor, but there are six years over the last four decades where kids know the first day that summer began and it was in a dark theater with a bucket of popcorn and the crawl ushering us into a galaxy far, far away. It felt weird seeing a new STAR WARS at Christmas time, but these will forever be summer movies to me.
Steven Spielberg makes his third appearance on this list and for good reason. In 1975, Spielberg essentially invented the summer blockbuster with a chilling drama about a town terrorized by a great white shark. It doesn't have non-stop action. In fact, it is mostly talking, but this Hitchcockian thriller is one of the best summer movies you will ever see. You may have been to scared to go back in the water, but I guarantee you were prepared to head right back into the theater.