ALEX’S TOP FIVE
With respect to our host’s, and my Contrarian Compadre’s, lists, I went in a bit of a different direction. In preparing for this, I realized the truest way I could do it would be by providing the blockbusters that meant the most to me. The ones I lived through. So, my list will only consist of those I went to the theater during their initial release.
That said, this list will not necessarily be my “favorite” summer blockbusters (if it was, I would just list the 2010 A-Team five times), but those that left a lasting impact on me. If this were an all-time list, it’d be T2 or The Dark Knight. Those are the right answers.
Side note: The requirement for this list was that picks were released between June and August. Mission: Impossible 2 was released in May of 2000, but absolutely deserves a mention. That movie is all a 13-year-old could want from life. It was also the last *big* movie that featured an original soundtrack as part of its marketing campaign. “Take a Look Around” by Limp Bizkit STILL bangs.
5. The Sixth Sense (1999):
1998-99 is when my first vivid memories of going to the movie theater begin. I have flashes from before (Black Sheep, Beauty and the Beast, and Street Fighter, respectively, have their place in my heart), but the Adam Sandler trifecta of The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and Big Daddy along with The Phantom Menace and Toy Story 2 are where the first clear memories start. Then… there was The Sixth Sense.
It was the summer of sixth grade and was my friend’s birthday party. His dad took a group of us boys to the movies. I had limited context going in other than I knew Bruce Willis was the real deal. If he’s in a movie, it has to be important. I remember snickering at inappropriate times and tossing concessions back-and-forth with my friends. A little over 90 minutes flew by before I, dare I say we, would be changed forever.
Learning that Bruce Willis was dead at the end of The Sixth Sense is one of the defining pop culture moments I have lived through. The cockiness of my child-mind was SHATTERED. As the movie replayed previous events to show that I had been a FOOL and didn’t even see it comin’, I was left utterly crestfallen. It’s a feeling unlike any I had up until that point and likely unlike any I’ve had since. It made me understand the expression “You remember where you were.”
Time has been weird to The Sixth Sense, but it’s undeniable it changed the game forever. For me, it’s the first movie I told people “You HAVE to see this movie.”
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Alright, Marvel marks (Julio, specifically), listen up!
Disney took a massive gamble in the early 2000s with launching a franchise that had little (to say the least) subject material to go off. It was an amusement park ride. You got on a raft, floated, and watched some animatronics act out a rambunctious time. It is not something I looked at during my first trip to Disney and thought “Man, you know what would really spice this up? Two smokin’ hot English actors and Geoffrey Rush.”
Disney said “Hey. This is a cool property we have that we can take massive liberties with the story and keep it going as long as we want.” They grabbed some fresh faces, a seasoned vet, and a star with a yo-yo’d career that used the film to become an all-time megastar. Sound familiar?
I remember going to the theater with my family on a Saturday afternoon. They were handing out movie posters for ticker-holders. I was 15, so you’re damn right I got the Keira Knightley character poster and still have it to this day!
I remember being blown away by the visuals, but more overwhelmed with how the movie laid groundwork not only for one sequel, but multiple. I’m not saying this is a good thing (it’s not), but it was unlike anything I had experienced at that point and it made it special.
3. WALL-E (2008)
2008 was an embarrassment of riches for any film fan. The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, Man on Wire, Smart People, The Strangers, Step Brothers… Pretty much anything that wasn’t Wanted.
It’s not like Pixar went into the summer of 2008 unknown, but it’d be easy to see how their entry could have been lost in the shuffle. Instead, they brought forth, arguably, their deepest contribution to date. Different from other titles in their almost flawless lineup, I feel WALL-E has stayed with me most. With every passing year, it feels more foreboding.
The summer this was released, I was working at a movie theater. The girl I was dating worked there as well. We both went to a showing of WALL-E after our shift on a Saturday afternoon. I faintly remember her being almost weirded out by how much it moved me.
In truth, few movies have stuck with me like WALL-E.
2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Before this goes off the rails, I should make it clear that this pick comes from purely a sentimental standpoint. In recent years I have backed way, WAY off of my love for this picture. That said, in the moment, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited about a movie (There Will Be Blood being the only other that comes to mind).
When that hot, summer morning came to finally watch Nolan’s final entry in the Batman trilogy (I was still working in the theater industry and screened this the morning before its release), I was ready. All the promotional material, the trailers, the TV spots had all led to this… And it was great. I honestly feel like my brain didn’t allow itself to process the movie as anything but incredible. In that moment, it was all I wanted.
It’s been told on The Contrarians, but I intensely remember burst-weeping when I pieced together that Batman was going to die. I had been patient for the four years that followed The Dark Knight and I felt like I was rewarded.
I went to a midnight screening some 15 hours later. Watching it for the second time in the same day, I could start to see the cracks. However, my initial viewing of The Dark Knight Rises will always be a cherished memory.
1. X-Men (2000)
Yes. There was a time when we didn’t all know who Hugh Jackman was.
Since the age of three, the only time I have taken a break from being a pro wrestling fan was when I discovered the X-Men in 1994. The animated series was Saturday morning appointment television. The show, the comics, the toys were my life. An X-Men movie had been rumored since before my time on this planet, but I always figured my taped- from-TV VHS of The Phoenix Saga was going to be as good as I could do.
By 2000, my interest had turned back to pro wrestling. Though, you can absolutely bet that all went on hold when I found out there was going to be an actual, live-action X- Men movie! On a ride to or from school, I can remember my dad telling me “The captain from Star Trek is going to be Professor X!” and my mind being blown.
My dad and I went to see X-Men on its opening weekend. I was amazed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The Blackbird on the big screen! Storm’s eyes turning white! Wolverine’s claws! Rebecca Romijn-Stamos! Some extremely handsome guy as Cyclops! Sure, even at 13, I didn’t understand why the hell Rogue was getting Jubilee’s story, but I didn’t care!
Reflecting on my emotions about this movie makes it easy to see that many of us have become too jaded, but also that too many in Hollywood overthink this sh*t. This was as simple as its source, but with a fancy coat of paint.
It was fun and easy to process. It didn’t overstay its welcome or try to take you somewhere you didn’t want to go. It was exactly what a summer blockbuster should be. I consider this the last theater experience of my childhood and am extremely grateful for it.
JULIO’S TOP FIVE
What is a blockbuster, besides a video rental chain that doesn’t exist anymore? I am pretty terrible with numbers, so I let Wikipedia do the work for me. I looked at the Top Ten Grossers every year since 1975 (when, as Stew pointed out, JAWS created the phenomenon.) Then I took out the ones I didn’t care for. Then I took out the ones who weren’t released between June-August. Then I took out the ones that had already been placed on lists.
As I write this, Chad’s list hasn’t been published yet and there’s a chance we might have one or two overlaps – which would suck. There was a version of my list that was quirkier, overlap-proof, where I had stuff like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and My Best Friend’s Wedding and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I love those movies, but I love the ones I ended up with a little more. And if Chad and I end up with an overlap, well, at least that means he has good taste.
(Btw, the fact that they ended up arranged chronologically is purely coincidental)
5- STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN Released June 4, 1982
Unlike with Star Wars, I didn’t experience Star Trek in order. My first Trek experience was THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. I didn’t watch WRATH until much later, and by then I had already gone through most of the OST movies. So I knew how it was going to end, and I knew everything would be okay down the line (other than Kirk dying like a punk in GENERATIONS, but that’s a rant for another day.) And yet, watching Spock sacrifice himself for the Enterprise crew at the end of one of the coolest space battles still hit me hard. Of course, there’s more to the film than its climax: there is a running meditation on what it’s like to grow old and fear growing obsolete. As I’ve grown older myself, that, unsurprisingly, has become a more relatable aspect of it.
Also: Vulcan Kirstie Alley? Insert emoji with heart eyes.
4- COMING TO AMERICA: Released June 29, 1988
I had no idea who Eddie Murphy was when, as a kid, I watched COMING TO AMERICA whenever it was on TV. I didn’t know Arsenio Hall either, and it was all dubbed in Spanish so I couldn’t even recognize James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. I was just blown away by this black guy playing so many different characters and being so funny. It all works so well that I thought the whole McDowell’s thing was hilarious even though I didn’t know McDonald’s existed.
Out of the five in this list, this is the film I’ve revisited the least recently – though a rewatch is coming before I check out the upcoming sequel. I’m a little worried it might
tarnish the memory of the original if it blows. But Murphy was fantastic on the recent DOLEMITE IS MY NAME so the odds are in our favor.
3- THE ROCK
Released June 7, 1996
Alex will tell you PAIN AND GAIN is Michael Bay’s magnum opus and that may be correct for critical purposes. But when it comes to the dumb action stuff we sometimes just crave during the Summer? Baby, it’s this Nic Cage / Sean Connery vehicle. We get Earnest Cage, still recognizably Cagey but not going off the rails in a way that would turn the movie into an unintentional comedy. Connery actually seems truly engaged, like he’s having a good time even though he’s talking about fucking prom queens. And Ed Harris… Ed Harris makes the movie, because you feel like you got lucky by having him as a villain – like THE ROCK wasn’t supposed to have a nuanced, complex antagonist but Bay didn’t notice until it was too late.
I watched this in theaters, my second Nic Cage movie ever, purely on the strength of knowing he was an Oscar Winner. I walked away thinking that a guy who could do LEAVING LAS VEGAS and follow it up with this, well, he could do anything. And I don’t think I was entirely wrong.
2- SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Released July 24, 1998
I didn’t want to double up on either Spielberg or Hanks, which is why you don’t see MINORITY REPORT, BIG or FORREST GUMP in this list. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and pick their first collaboration, which also happens to be my favorite war movie ever. It wasn’t always like that – I remember resenting Spielberg’s trademark sentimentality and what could be seen as emotional manipulation toward the end. But that was just a young me trying to be cynical. Older me doesn’t care because it works. I mean, forget all the amazing technical stuff (and it IS amazing), all you need is that scene where Captain Miller finally reveals what he does for a living and you have my heart.
The scene I probably reference the most, however, is one that’s a little harder to explain when someone hasn’t seen the movie. It’s when, after coaxing a pleasant memory out of Matt Damon, Tom Hanks refuses to share one of his. And if you don’t understand why that’s special and pitch-perfect, I can’t explain it without The Ghosts probably editing it all out because this article would run too long.
1- SPIDER-MAN 2 Released June 30, 2004
I mean, duh. Spider-man is my favorite super-hero. I grew up reading Spider-man comics. Watching the cartoons. Playing with the action figures. When the first Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN came out, I watched it five times in theaters and then my girlfriend at the time had to say “Maybe we’ve watched it enough.”
And that first movie has nothing on the sequel. Doc Ock is my favorite Spidey villain, so I was already excited going in. But this kicked everything up several levels, from Harry’s hate toward Spider-man, to Peter and MJ’s troubled relationship, to Aunt May’s role as Peter’s conscience and even Jonah Jameson’s role as a media buffoon. It all builds perfectly to one of the most satisfying conclusions (when MJ finally sees Peter without his mask), one of the most surprising cameos (Willem Dafoe stopping by to haunt Harry) and one of the most complex final shots in a superhero movie (Kirsten Dunst’s facial expression as she watches Peter swing away WITH her blessing). And of course, that train sequence. And the line “Isn’t it time someone rescued you?” I could go on forever.
I love Tom Holland as Peter/Spider-man and I really like both Spider-movies he’s been in. But so far he still hasn’t been in a Spidey vehicle that has emotionally resonated with me the way Raimi’s first sequel still does.