It’s June! The official start of summer!
Now, the movie industry will tell you that the summer starts in May, even possibly encroaching into the end of April, but I don’t buy it. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, summer starts June… June… June twenty-somehingth. I’m not sure exactly. It’s definitely a solstice. But that’s not the point. The point is… not May. They can release movies in May and call them a summer hit, but it simply isn’t so.
The “Summer Blockbuster” season unofficially started in 1975 with Jaws. I’m not sure why Jaws is considered the first such film, but it is. It came out in the summer. It’s even ABOUT the summer! It made a lot of money. Surely it wasn’t the first film to do that, though, right?
Regardless, with summer kicking off this month (NOT May! You know what it did where I lived in May? IT SNOWED. In Mid-May! That’s not summer weather!), we have decided our monthly list challenge would be the Top Ten Summer Blockbusters of all-time!
Our criteria is relatively simple, or at least so you would think. The best movies released in the months of June, July, or August; that part is easy, those are the Summer months.
The “blockbuster” part was a little more subjective. Is there a threshold for having grossed at least so much? Did they have to have a budget of at least $X? Do they have to be considered “big” or “dumb”?
“Blockbuster” to me is more of a feeling. It is a movie that just “feels” big; a movie that was considered a hit to one degree or another and has had cultural impact. It probably was incredibly hyped up prior to its release. So I could only let my feelings guide me here.
My rankings are a mixture on my feelings on the movie’s quality and how how quickly it comes to mind when I think of the phrase Summer Blockbuster. Some check both boxes easily; others lean heavily in one direction or the other.
Let’s see what we have:
#10 – Spider-Man: Far From Home
This is my oddest choice, and the one that will cost me some votes. After all, ENDGAME was the blockbuster! Far From Home was just the follow-up. What gives?
Well, Far From Home is the official ending of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 3, which was their best and most ambitious phase. There is arguably not a bad movie in Phase 3, with Ant-Man and the Wasp being the “worst” of the lot but still a highly enjoyable flick in its own right. This was the phase in which the MCU had worked out all the kinks. Also Endgame came out in April! That’s even less “summer” than May is.
Far From Home showed the after effects of The Avengers undoing “The Blip”, gave us a great villain in Jake Gyllenal’s Mysterio, and left us with one of the best cliffhanger endings in modern cinema. Say what you want about it, but when Far From Home ended, the ONLY movie I wanted to see was the follow up. It was THAT good. It took all the tension and high drama of Endgame, and gave us the light-hearted, low-stakes adventure befitting Marvel’s most relatable hero.
By Far From Home, Tom Holland had several outings as Spider-Man under his belt, but he just gets better and better. He is an absolute gem. I’ll sign up for a dozen more flicks with him as the Webhead. He’s becoming a star, and that’s what blockbusters are all about.
#9 – Back To The Future
I’m not old enough to know in what the hell month Back To The Future was released, but Wikipedia tells me it was the summer. So it counts!
When you think of movies from the 1980’s–an era that had more than a few classics–Back To The Future is extremely likely to be one of the first flicks you think of. It’s up there with Ghostbusters (foreshadowing) and The Princess Bride as far as movies that defined that era of cinema. With a summer 1985 release, this Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd gem hit right in the decade’s creamy center.
Back to the Future is an iconic film, and it inspired one of the best pure trilogies of all time, with two great sequels that felt necessary to the story. But it’s also a funny, gripping stand-alone film. Lloyd and Fox gave the performances of their storied careers, and everything came together to be a true cultural phenomenon.
#8 – Speed
Is Speed as big a part of the cultural zeitgeist as Back to the Future?
Is it as good as Back to the Future?
But this is more of a personal choice for this spot. Coming out in the summer in which I was 13, Speed is the first movie I actively remember being a SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER. I remember the buzz when it came out. I remember people talking about it, and aspects of it going on to become what we now call memes. I remember renting it on VHS with my friends and watching it over and over.
I’m sure it comes down to my age at the time, but this was one of the first movies that felt HUGE to me.
Compared to most of the rest of this list, it really isn’t, but nuts to that. I loved it. The crazy bus movie!
#7 – Independence Day
Independence Day is, like Speed, one of those films that felt like the biggest deal in the world when I was a kid. I recall the commercials promising us a gorgeous, high-budget flick featuring the mass destruction of so many of our national landmarks.
Independence Day walked so that Michael Bay could run. It was all massive explosions and hyper masculinity and quippy zingers and rednecks. There was a story, but it felt negligible. The movie was more about what it could do on screen than what the characters were saying (less one indelible moment that is the exception that proves its own rule).
ID4, released in the heart of summer, was BANG ZOOM BLAMMO: The Major Motion Picture. It was never meant to be a thought piece; it was an ungodly sum of money thrown at film to see how breathtaking something could be. THAT’S a blockbuster.
#6 – Men In Black
Will Smith starred in back-to-back 90’s summer blockbusters with this and Independence Day. ID4 may have had the bigger effects and buzz, but you will never convince me it is a better movie.
ID4 depended on spectacle to draw in the crowds. Men In Black just had a catchy-as-hell song and the chemistry of its leads in a fun-filled story. It’s a ton of fun. By the time Men In Black came out, Smith was a bankable star, with ID4 and Bad Boys under his belt.
You know what Will Smith needs to REALLY recapture the constant, one-after-another success of the 90’s? To start making songs for all his flicks. We all would have loved Bright if he created a rap about fairies and orcs and shit to go with it. You know it’s true.
#5 – Jurassic Park
Did I say SPEED was the first big blockbuster I remember?
Here’s what I recall about Jurassic Park: I never in my life prior to it had to wait in line at the cinemas just to get into the specific theater. But for this, I absolutely remember buying our tickets, getting our snacks, and then taking our place in a queue down the cinema hallway before the previous showing emptied out.
That left an impression on me because no movie in my life felt so big as Jurassic Park did when it had its own line at the Southland 9 theaters.
Jurassic Park was the pinnacle of practical effects. People will tell you everything in it holds up, and that’s not true. The Brachiosaurus scene isn’t that good in 2020. But just about everything else is beautiful. The Tyrannosaurus can go head-to-head with any other effect ever made since then. Watching Jurassic Park almost makes you wish CGI never caught on as well as it has.
Even with that in mind, JP is no Independence Day (Goldblum casting notwithstanding). The story stars almost equally with the effects, and it also holds up to this day (if not even moreso now).
#4 – Guardians of the Galaxy
Look, I make weird choices, and it’s why I’m going to lose this month.
I love Guardians of the Galaxy. Admittedly, I enjoy it more than anything else on this list (though #1 and #2 are close). Until Endgame, the first Guardians was my #1 MCU flick. But is it really a huge summer blockbuster? REALLY?
The thing is, great advertising aside (OOGA CHAKA OOGA CHAKA), never forget that Guardians of the Galaxy was the first real risk that the Marvel Cinematic Universe took since casting Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man. NO ONE knew who these characters were (and, again, the fantastic ads played up to that by showing Djimon Hounsou yelling “WHO?” at Peter Quill). Its two most recognizable actors were stuck doing voice work only. It cast a WWE star in a core role. Everything about this movie was set up for failure.
And then, it only became one of the MCU’s most beloved entries. It proved a worthy follow-up to the same year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it solidified the feet under the MCU after some early Phase 2 missteps (Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3).
#3 – Ghostbusters
Back to the 80’s again, with this star-studded sci-fi/humor ensemble. You can basically look at what I said about Back to the Future and movies that defined the 80’s. Ghostbusters is neck-and-neck with BttF. You can forget about biggest movies of a year; we’re looking at juggernauts of a decade.
Whereas Back to the Future spawned a marvelous trilogy, Ghostbusters only had one so-so sequel. But I would argue that Ghostbusters’ initial offering is the superior one.
Literally everything works in Ghostbusters. Murray is a star. The special effects are quite good. The jokes almost all hit. The dialogue is brilliant. It’s an honest-to-god near-perfect movie that became a benchmark of its age.
#2 – The Dark Knight
2008 was one of the earliest years for mass comic book movie production, with Dark Knight, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, and Hellboy 2 all coming out in fairly short order. And while Iron Man may have had the greatest legacy of all-time (the MCU), make no mistake: The Dark Knight was clearly the best of the year.
It has been argued by Chad on our very podcast that Dark Knight is an OKAY movie with one standout performance, but come on… even if that were true, WHAT a performance that is! Heath Ledger owned his interpretation of The Joker. Every little twitch and vocal inflection and tongue flick he added was unimpeachable and mesmerizing. There are moments he is on screen and has no (or virtually no) dialogue, but is still captivating.
The Dark Knight may have seen its public status increase to truly mythic proportions by Heath’s untimely and tragic passing before its release, but that just increased its blockbuster standing. This movie was a goliath before it even came out.
Dark Knight is an engrossing film with multiple fantastic performances. It’s not only a huge blockbuster, it’s a great film. When I saw Dark Knight in theater, I loved it so much that I kept checking the time to make sure it wasn’t going to end soon!
#1 – Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2 combines a little bit of everything from the list so far. It was a huge, big budget movie. It was highly anticipated. It has effects that still hold up in 2020. The story is as high of quality as its visuals. It’s an era-defining film. And it was even something of a risk considering how much it changed from its predecessor.
What came from all that was the single greatest action film eve made. The Matrix and John Wick are close, but… it’s hard to see anything ever really taking T2’s crown.
The T-100 is an imposing threat. Sarah Conner is an empowered, kick-ass character, The Terminator is powerful and fun. Everything comes together here.
It’s an odd list, to be sure, I guess. Speed? Far From Home? Guardians of the Galaxy? I don’t think a lot of those jump to mind when you think of summer blockbusters. But for me, they each had a very good reason for consideration other than “they were very expensive movies released in the summer”. Even if, in Speed’s case, that reasoning is 100% subjective.
Let me know what you think! What are YOUR top ten summer blockbusters of all time? And what do you consider a “blockbuster”?
Until next time… take care!