Hey gang! It’s Andy Larson! Once again into the breach my dear friends as we get ready for another of our monthly top 10 list contests here at Ghosts of the Stratosphere. After winning by a hair over Pint O’ Comics host and frequent guest writer, Johnny Ganache, in last month’s top 10 greatest pop culture moms list, I’m itching to go two in a row here in 2020.
Luckily for me, we picked a topic that I can definitely speak to this month with the greatest summer blockbuster movies of all time. Unforuately, it’s also a topic I think I could have easily wrote a top 25 list about as there have been so many great movies released over the years during these summer months. So I gotta be up front when I say that this list had to be edited and redone several times, and even still I’m not exactly sure I got the exact order right. The one listed at number 7 could have started in my mind at number 3, before being reordered to number 5 briefly, then 9, then 2, and you get the point.
I can honestly say biggest godsend of this list was the fact that we agreed as a group not to include any movies that were released in the month of May or earlier, which luckily for me cut out any of the Star Wars movies and most of the big MCU hits like Avengers: End Game. I mean the list would have just made up of those movies otherwise, which would have been pretty boring.
As such with just the months of June, July, and August to work with, I think I was able to cobble together a pretty decent list even though there was only like one movie on this list that was released in the past 20 years. I don’t know if that is more of an indication that I’m living in the past or that the days of the real summer blockbuster are pretty much over.
Regardless, that’s an article for a different time. Break out the popcorn and Junior Mints Kids! Let’s get to the business of winning another one of these contests!
10.) The Dark Knight
Okay, so I host a comic book podcast, so of course there are going to be some comic book movies on this list. In fact, given my choice, most of the time a good summer time comic book is always going to edge out the competition for my movie going dollar. Such was the case when I felt it was necessary to include a Christopher Nolan movie on this list, and the second of his Batman Trilogy beat out his mind warping, top spinning reality clusterflock known as Inception.
Sure, Inception is really good, but I didn’t see it 3 times in the theather like I did with The Dark Knight. I didn’t get goosebumps every time Heath Leager delivered another iconic scene with his definitive performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. Whether it was the interrogation scene, the pencil scene, or burning the pile of money, his screen presence was so mesmerizing that it deserved to win the Oscar. I mean why so serious?!? Is it because great villains make the movie as we’ll see with so many other entries on this list? You are damn right! Villains make or break a movie and for a good summer popcorn muncher, you need a perfect one.
But it’s not just the Joker, but Christian Bale’s Batman, Michael Caine reminding us that some just want to see the world burn, and a truly tragic Two Face. I will though say that it’s the reason it’s not higher on this list as I feel they should have saved Two Face for the third movie as he could have been a strong enough villain after his Shakespearean fall from grace to carry the final act instead of Bane. Plus it would have given us more of a chance for more delicious Joker madness.
Who You Gonna Call?!?
If you haven’t watched the Netflix series “The Movies that Made Us”, and in particular the episode about the roller coaster of a production which was this proton pack of a summer blockbuster, then you should stop reading this article and take a gander as I’ll never be able to do a better explanation as to why this movie should be on this list than that show.
But by Gozer, this unique mix of charismatic comedy and genuinely thrilling horror was just such a perfect storm of conflicting elements that try as they might, they will never be able to recreate this exact magic.
The only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is more for personal reasons. Unlike the rest of these, I never saw Ghostbusters on the big screen. I was too little at the time and given some of the “horror” elements, my parents thought better of it. So even though I was belting out that insanely great theme song, I had no idea what the Ghostbusters movie was about until like at least 2 or 3 years after it was out of theaters. In fact, I think I was knee deep in the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters long before I knew that the real Ego Spangler did not have a blonde pompedor hair do.
8.) E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Probably one the first movies I ever saw in the theaters I can remember being a little kid and begging my mom and dad to take me to see “The E” as I would call him. Of course, I have brief memories of being so excited when Elliot was putting out the Reese’s Pieces for his newest intergalactic BFF. However, that excitement soon turned to horror as I hid on the movie theater floor after actually seeing the wrinkled bulbous headed ET for the first time.
I mean, he’s hideous right folks? Like that’s not a big shaggy dog like Wookie or a cute cuddly teddy bear looking Ewok. ET was flat out ugly looking. And of course, that’s somewhat of the point given that you are supposed to look beyond his initial appearance and become entranced by his childlike wonder and genuinely touching friendship with Elliot.
Still though, it took more than just that scene where Elliot shows ET all of his Star Wars action figures to make little Andy come out from the safety of his sticky gum covered theater floor. And I think that’s why this movie is so low on my list despite the fact that I have such immense respect for it. I mean it was truly the best chance of a sci-fi movie winning the Oscar for Best Picture. It had heart, it had magic, it had so many intangibles that make for the best pictures of all time, including Spielberg behind the camera which as we’ll see, is actually a “must have” for a decent summer blockbuster.
But I still struggle watching it sometimes. The scenes were ET is dying all pale and corpse like, remind me of the fact that this movie originally started life as a horror movie called “Night Terrors”. The scenes are just unsettling and difficult to watch even though you know that he’ll eventually make a miraculous comeback. And sure, that’s the point as it eventually fills you in life affirming joy when he rises from the dead, but it still doesn’t make it any easier.
In the end, I have somewhat of a “love/hate” relationship with this movie. It should be like Star Wars in terms of pure entertainment value, but it has more in common with Temple of Doom in that it makes me uncomfortable more often than not.
7.) Back to the Future
88 miles per hour in a DeLorean. Other than a British Police Box, is there any more perfect way to time travel?
If it seems like I’m favoring the movies from the 80s for this list, it’s because truly I feel like these were the last really great summer blockbusters. The years in which Hollywood wasn’t afraid to take risks with new ideas instead of just dry humping nostalgia. Seriously, how many of the films on this list have been either remade or pitched to be remade? Why? Because they evoke such great memories with their originality and style. I mean, “teaching Chuck Berry how to play a mean ass guitar lick by playing his own song before he wrote it at a random high school dance” originality. By the way, in time travel terms that’s called a bootstrap paradox, but I digress.
Anyways, Back to the Future, like Ghostbusters, has enormous appeal because it merges aspects of science fiction and comedy together in such a way that it presents pretty heavy concepts in a very digestible way. For example, the whole notion that Marty might fade out of existence if he doesn’t successfully get his mom and dad together is a classic butterfly paradox, in that the time traveler changes an event which will impact the future.
However, the movie doesn’t get so caught up with this concept that it sacrifices the fun like say the movie Looper. If it had, Marty should have disappeared the moment he stopped his dad getting hit by his own grandfather’s car, the impetus for his parent’s courtship. But instead the movie barrels along with the notion that it’s more of the first kiss that has to happen, which will ensure their love, and Marty’s creation. Again, it’s more of bootstrap paradox in which Marty is creating his own future self by his actions in the past, but again I digress. Time Travel is super interesting stuff for me and I could spend the rest of the article just talking about that.
But in the end, I do love the soundtrack and I really think Doc Brown is on a short list of great movie characters that I would love to hang out with in real life. Therefore it’s gotta make the list.
6.) Batman ’89
Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?
Some might give me grief for ranking this Batman movie several spots above the infinitely superior Dark Knight film. However, this list needs to be more than just how good the movie is from a production standpoint, but how big was it in terms of its impact.
You know what types of movies have been keeping the industry afloat in the last decade? Superhero movies. You know what is the most important super hero movie ever is? Batman ’89. Why? Because more than Superman which was a tremendous blip on the radars of the movie going audiences, it was Tim Burton’s Batman with the iconic Jack Nicholson Joker that really proved that comic book related movies would put fannies in the seats and started a march down that road that would eventually lead to Avengers: End Game being the all time biggest grossing movie.
So yeah, maybe the plot isn’t the greatest compared to the more recent super hero movies. Maybe there’s a little bit of camp that still shines through despite efforts to inject some gritty realism. I mean, the Joker does attack Gotham with killer balloons for God’s Sake.
But it’s what this movie really represents that’s important. This has to be on the list of all time great summer blockbusters because it added comic books to that conversation. And that really did change everything!
5.) Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Hasta la vista, baby
Other than Empire Strikes Back, T2 was one of the few sequels that far surpassed its predecessor in terms of overall impact as it not only became the highest grossing movie of 1991, but it held the record of highest grossing Rated “R” movie for over a decade until it was beat out by The Matrix Reloaded in 2003. If Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t already one of the biggest box office draws at this point, this movie cemented his status as the “king”, opening the door for a slew of Summer blockbusters to follow including True Lies, Eraser, Batman & Robin, and Last Action Hero (well…at least it tried to be…).
Plus it really put director James Cameron into a completely different ballpark when it came to street cred. He was now in Spielberg territory now, and that extra cache among the movers and shakers in Hollywood would allow him the freedom to move on to projects like Titanic and Avatar, both of which would make boat loads of cash as well.
I think the only thing you could argue when it comes to this entries inclusion on this list, is whether or not you think the Terminator makes a better hero or villain. Personally, I’ve always the “good guy” version we get here in T2 is the definitive portrayal of the character, with his strong stoic tough guy approach working well within the context of the movie. This is especially true when he has to go up against the obviously more powerful T-1000, as the classic action hero grit and fortitude of having to stand up against superior opponent gets to shine through.
What can I say? I love the underdogs, even if they are synthetic organisms composed of living tissue over a titanium “hyperalloy” endoskeleton.
4.) Independence Day
Okay, so compared to some of the other movies on this list, I wouldn’t in a million years rank this one as high on this list as I did if it was just based on quality. I honestly think this movie is awful for the most part.
Despite him having nothing to do with it, the movie is so Michael Bay in it’s Michael Bayness of over the top effects, cheesy dialogue, and horrible pseudo science that it makes Transformers look like 2001. I mean, a computer virus bringing down the alien fleet that could wipe out entire cities? I get the War of the Worlds reference, but that’s more than just a little difficult to swallow.
But boy, did it turn heads in the summer of 1996! A massive summer blockbuster that pretty much changed the entire trajectory of summer movies for nearly a decade after that, this sci-fi based disaster flick ushered in a wave of similar movies in subsequent years that all made box office bucks. Armageddon, Deep Impact, Men in Black, and The Day After Tomorrow, The Avengers, and the aforementioned War of the Worlds and Transformers all can thank ID4 for paving the way with it’s scenes of Will Smith punching a space alien in the noggin’.
Plus it did give us Bill Pullman as one of the best on screen Presidents I can remember in recent years. I think only Harrison Ford’s turn as the commander in chief in Air Force One was better, and that’s just because he got to yell “Get Off My PLANE!”
Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I wanna go to bed.
Is there a more wonderful scene of pure camaraderie than that sea shanty sing along that precedes the final attack by our man eating monster? Those are the kind of friends I want.
I again will probably lose the online voting because I didn’t rank this movie higher, but it’s pretty much a ranking of personal preference here at the top. Yes, Jaws is an incredible movie. Yes, Jaws is the prototypical summer blockbuster. It’s the granddaddy. The ID4 long before that film was a gleam in some movie executives eye. With Star Wars, it helped mold the entire notion of this sub genre of action/adventure films revolving around a pretty simple premise that would be pumped into thousands of theaters with air conditioning during those hot summer months when nobody really wanted to be outside.
Plus, it was directed by the “King of the Summer Blockbuster”, Steven Spielberg, long before he could actually claim that title given this was really the movie that put him on the map. Him and John Williams, whose universally acclaimed Jaws theme was just the first of so many insanely perfect musical scores that one wonders what modern movies would be like without him.
So for all of this, it deserves to be mentioned in the top 3.
But for me personally, it’s not as good as the next two entries. Mainly because it’s got sucktacular sequels that diluted its brand a lot, which you can’t say the same about when it comes to its competition here at the top. Yep, for my number 2 and number 1, they benefit from being larger than just their individual movies.
In other words, for the next two, you are definitely going to need a bigger boat.
2.) Jurassic Park
What’s bigger than sharks? Dinosaurs obviously.
I mean, we have all seen sharks. You can go to any self respecting major aquarium in the US and see a shark. But Dinosaurs? Ones with actually all their flesh still clinging to their bones? The ones we dreamed about seeing for real every time we would visit a museum and see those massive fossilized skeletons that spurred the imagination with their immense size? Yeah, that just wasn’t possible prior to Jurassic Park and the painstaking attention to detail that Spielberg poured into the visual effects of this adaptation of the best selling Michael Crichton book.
Honestly, I didn’t even care about the other characters in this movie. Alan Grant? Blue Shirt guy, right? Ellie Sattler? The woman, right? Dr. Ian Malcolm? Oh that’s easy, it’s Jeff Goldblum. His character is actually the most important as he appears in the sequel “The Lost World” which was a great movie too.
But yeah, the real memorable characters were the T Rex and the vicious Velociraptors. They made you jump out of your seats and send your popcorn flying. They were the reason you bought the ticket. And honestly they are still the reason that the Jurassic Park franchise continues to make big bucks at the box office. Whether it’s the original trilogy or the Jurassic World themed ones, we as a species have always been deeply fascinated with Dinos and so any time we have an opporunity to see them in a meaningful way, we’re gonna jump at it.
Yep, even if it’s just to see some poor accountant get munched on the jon.
1.) Raiders of the Lost Ark
Yeah…no surprise here. This is probably among my top 5 movies of all time, so it’s going to be the ultimate winner in any contest about summer blockbusters. In fact, I can easily say that Indiana Jones is on the Mt. Rushmore in my head of “Greatest Childhood Heroes” for me, up there in the lofty company of He-man, Luke Skywalker, and Mr. Rogers. I honestly agree with Harrison Ford in that Indy is a much better character than even the iconic Han Solo, and his portrayal of this daredevil archeologist/quasi mercenary is much more textured and nuanced than everyone’s favorite scoundrel.
There’s so much that’s pitch perfect for me about this movie that it’s really hard to know where to begin. From the boulder chase, the saloon shoot out, the snake pit, the truck battle, to the ultimate ending where Indy warns us all not to look at the opened Ark and thus proves his moral superiority and innate goodness in resisting this final temptation. I think I could write an entire article just on how much I love Raiders, but in the end it would just be a bunch of fan wank and quoting all of those classic lines like “Snakes. Why Did it Have to be Snakes?” or “It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.”
So I’ll just point out the main reason I love this movie so much is because of Marion. Well specifically the relationship Marion and Indy have. It’s one of the greatest onscreen pairings for me in all of cinema, and every single other Indy movie is worse off because that dynamic is missing.
Let’s be clear: Indiana Jones is not James Bond. He doesn’t bed tons of different girls. His heart belongs to this one of a kind spitfire of a kindred spirit who shares in his adventures as a true partner.
Played perfectly by Karen Allen, Marion is so wonderful that their reunion in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the only reason I’ve watched that movie as many times as I have. While everyone else thinks it’s an abominable mess that “nuked the fridge”, I can at least say they had the good sense to bring Marion and Indy back together. Took them long enough! The original script for Temple of Doom had her in it, they should have changed it! Probably would have saved that movie too!