We are living in interesting times. I know most people are living in a post-lockdown world at this point (whether we should or shouldn’t be is up to folks smarter than me). Especially where I am, restraints are being lessened each passing week, and most folks seem onto other, bigger societal issues. The movie industry, however, seems far away from a proper recovery. Ironically, the perfect way to maintain a socially distanced theater experience—the drive-in theater—has all but disappeared from the American landscape in recent years. Other theater chains seem not ready to handle the social distance, and media companies are pushing back release dates or just releasing new materials straight to video-on-demand platforms. So does that mean we have to live in a summer without a big time summer blockbuster movie? Nah. We just have to watch them on our own screens for the time being. So to help out, I’ve devised what’s not necessarily a top ten list, per se, but a schedule of movies you can add to your calendar to get you through the summer. We can even talk about ‘em if you want. When I could, I tried to hew close to their original release dates. Also, I tried to pick as many Steven Spielberg movies as possible. Or Tom Hanks. Or both. Ultimately, though, I wanted to help recreate that summer blockbuster movie feel.
Here’s the plan: I’ve got one movie a week to recommend from now until the end of summer. Some of these movies are giant spectacles, some are lighthearted family fare, and there’s one or two straight-out comedies tossed in, too.
Also, I know a lot of folks already shell out for a bunch of streaming services and might balk at the idea of renting movies on top of that, so if something is not available through a major streaming service, I’ll toss in an alternate. Sit back in the air conditioning, make your own popcorn for 1/8th the cost of a traditional theater, and let’s start the show.
June 14: Big
For our first selection, we’ll go Big AND go home—by watching Big, starring Tom Hanks, at home. Originally released June 3rd 1988, this Penny Marshall directed comedy/drama/wish-fulfillment fantasy walks you through, or rather sometimes dances you along on an absurdly huge piano toy, the importance of youthful exuberance. I can think of no better way to start off the summer than this gentle reminder to have fun with the little things in life. Zoltan also reminds us to be careful what we wish for (cough, if only I had more time at home to get things done, four month ago me used to say, cough). Big is currently available to rent from all the big name streamers like Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes, starting at $3.99.
ALTERNATE: If you’re not feeling the rental costs for Big, you could always substitute Artemis Fowl from Disney+ that just released this past Friday. It was intended to be a summer blockbuster and launch a franchise, but due to a pandemic audible, it’s making its debut via streaming. Maybe it’ll be a blockbuster we remember years from now. It’s too soon to call. Maybe everybody’s be talking ‘bout this one. We’ll have to watch it to decide.
June 21: Jaws
The original summer blockbuster (and boat-buster and fun-loving time at the beach-buster), Jaws made its original debut way back on June 20th, 1975. Cringe as the Mayor sacrifices his citizens because it’s vacation season! Chuckle at the idea of bigger boats! Spend the rest of your summer going “Dun un…dun un…dun un..dunun dunuh, IEEEEEEE!” Jaws is a summer classic that still holds up today. Jaws is currently available to stream via Hulu and HBO Max, and rent via the usual big name streamers.
June 28: Apollo 13
The space race is back, baby! And while Space Force on Netflix is..ok, but considering the talent involved not overwhelming, this movie really makes you want to go back to SPAAAAAAACE! This is one of those Clint Howard vehicles that celebrate the triumphs of man, even when those triumphs are just not totally failing. I guess it’s worth mentioning Clint’s brother Ron the director and that Tom Hanks guy, too. Originally released on June 30, 1995 this is a compelling movie based on a real life story that holds up to repeated viewings. Apollo 13 is available to rent for a few bucks at the usual places.
ALTERNATE: This movie I relegated to the alternate category because it technically doesn’t meet the requirements of having been released in the summer months. It was released May 30th. It’s close enough to fudge it, though, and It does have a scary shark, though, aaaand we already talked about how those make for great summer movies. It’s Finding Nemo, available on Disney + and to rent most places. The whole family will dig that one. Just keep swimming, folks.
7/5: Independence Day
Originally released July 3 1996, this movie harkens back to when Will Smith owned the Fourth of July weekend. Bill Pullman’s president rallied the country in a speech that still resonates, and this movie embodies what I think of when I think of a classic summer blockbuster: the plot is light, the explosions are big, and the lines are memorable. It appears this one is another rental unless you have a FuboTV or Philo subscription. Maybe those are things? I’m unfamiliar if they are.
ALTERNATE: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which is available on Hulu and Showtime. Confession time: I’ve never seen this movie all the way through, despite loving Arnold quotes and really enjoying singing Guns ‘n’ Roses songs at the top of my lungs. It’s got endoskeletons and liquid metal robots, too! It was originally released on July 3, 1991, and if it wasn’t for Big Willy Style, it would have made the main list proper. I was too young to watch it on release, and for whatever reason, have never found my way back to this one. This is the summer I’ll cross it off the list.
Released on July 2nd 1980, this movie has more gags per minute than any movie before or since. Writers and Directors Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers set the comedic template for generations to come. Maybe you’ll catch the movie and pop cultural references and maybe you won’t; it doesn’t matter. Some jokes may be less culturally acceptable than they were—well, they were always inappropriate—but that doesn’t stop the whole thing from being balls-to-the-wall hilarious.
Airplane is available to rent from most big time streamers and available via subscription to Philo or Sling TV.
7/18: Saving Private Ryan
I hope you laughed last week, because this week is definitely not played for laughs. It’s another movie with that Tom Hanks fellow, this time, it’s Steven Spielberg’s war epic that’s often described as one of the most realistic depictions of war from those who know. I don’t really. I’ve never been able to force myself to watch this movie, so I decided it’s going on the list. I’ll have to see it, then. Plus, I think those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, so a realistic reminder of what war is like might actually give folks pause before getting us into any more wars. With the way this year’s news cycle has gone, we’ll probably be halfway towards WW3 by the time July rolls around. Maybe this can cut things off at the pass. Saving Private Ryan is available on FuboTV and Philo subscription services, plus as a rental via the big name streamers.
Back to the Future: Ok, we can’t all handle Saving Private Ryan, I get it. Sit back and enjoy the adventures of Rick and Morty instead. Originally released on July 3, 1985, some parts are problematic if you think about them too much (Marty and his mom, White people giving the world Chuck Berry, the consequences of disrupting the time-space continuum,etc.). Don’t think too much about this one. It’s real fun otherwise. It’s available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and SlingTV currently.
7/26: National Lampoon’s Vacation
Released on July 29, 1983, this movie is a practical Voltron of 80’s might at its apex with the combination of Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, John Hughes, Bev D’Angelo, and even Anthony Michael Hall. Imminently rewatchable, this movie is a good reminder for this summer when so much has been thrown off. At least we’re not the Griswalds. This one’s available for rent and via subscription to AMC, SlingTV, Fubo, and PhiloTV.
Babe: I wanted to put some of the George Miller Mad Max movies on this list, but they were all released outside of the summer months, so you’ll have to watch Babe the pig instead. You won’t be disappointed. It was originally released on August 4, 1995, and available on Hulu and HBO Max
8/2: Guardians of the Galaxy
Who doesn’t love a group of ragtag, rough-around-the-edges, rowdy losers coming together to save the day? The summer this movie came out (August 1, 2014 btw), I ended up seeing it at least 4 times. Once with the wife (pre-opening day), once with the boys (opening day), once with the fam on vacation (at a drive in with Cap: Winter Soldier as the second—-what a double bill!), and once with a work friend who hadn’t seen it yet. I was happy to see it again and again, and everybody who watched it with me enjoyed it, too. There’s something for everyone: the affable idiot Christ Pratt, an anthropromorphized raccoon, a talking tree, a bad ass green lady in Gamora, and Drax. Just Drax. Every time (including countless rewatches since it became available in home theaters), it’s still good. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. If you have, watch it again. Still good. I count it along with Cap 2 amongst MCU’s best. Catch it on Disney+ or give it the rental.
8/9: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Released on June 12, 1981, this one should have been first on the list, but I wanted to make a Big joke instead. This is the embodiment of spectacle and serialized excitement, all in one movie. Early August is the perfect time for you to get bitten by the adventure bug, too, as there’s still juuuuust enough summer left for a great one! The only bad part is after you watch one Indy movie, you’ll want to watch another, and eventually you get to the Crystal Skull. Yikes! It’s on Netflix streaming service and rental elsewhere.
Steven Speilberg’s family friendly film of childlike discovery, aliens, and Reese’s Pieces branding is a wonderful way to cap off the summer season. It’s the quintessential 80’s movie, released June 11, 1982, btw, and hits all the notes you’d want, and maybe teaches some empathy along the way. E.T. Is available for streaming on Netflix and for rent otherwise.
ALTERNATE: Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
What’s a summer without a Star Wars marathon? If you have to only pick one, though, go with Empire. Not only is Empire the best Star Wars movie, it’s the only one that fits our summer release criteria, what with it debuting on June 20, 1980. I’ve long held that George Lucas is an interesting idea man, but I prefer his ideas when he has the least to do with them. Here, he had Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Bracket as writers and Irv Kershner direct and the bad guys kick all the butts and it’s awesome. The thing that kept this off the main list: Star Wars and Disney kinda suck availability-wise. This movie is available on Disney+ and NOT for rent otherwise, but you can buy it for $19.99 to stream.
And for me, that’s when the summer ends. I report back to my real job that Wednesday, and my spirit begins the long trudge until next summer. Conveniently enough, that’s also 10 movie recommendations in order to fit into our format.
If you want to take things all the way until it’s not cool to wear white pants, check out some of the movies that I considered but didn’t make either list: For 8/23, The Truman Show (5 June 1998); 8/30 Edge of Tomorrow: Live/Die/Repeat (6 June 2014), and 9/6: The Fugitive (6 August 1993). Labor Day is the 7th, so you’re on your own after that.
To summarize, and to make this easier for when it comes time to post a poll, here’s the rundown.
1. 6/14: Big (rental)
2. 6/21: Jaws (Hulu and HBO Max)
3. 6/28: Apollo 13 (rental)
4. 7/5: Independence Day (rental)
5. 7/12: Airplane (rental, SlingTV)
6. 7/18: Saving Private Ryan (rental)
7. 7/26: National Lampoon’s Vacation (AMC, Sling, etc)
8. 8/2: Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney+)
9. 8/9: Raiders of the Lost Ark (Netflix)
10. 8/16: E.T. (Netflix)
Artemis Fowl (Disney+)
Finding Nemo (Disney+)
T2: Judgement Day (Hulu and Showtime)
Back to the Future (Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and SlingTV)
Babe (Hulu and HBO Max)
Empire Strikes Back (Disney+)
I’m going to stick to this schedule this summer. I know it’s a lot of Hanks, but he was one of the first celeb Covid survivors, so maybe he can lead the way through this summer, too.
Drop a line via twitter @chachachad1 or @gotstratosphere if you decide to check any of these out and want to chat about it. Maybe we can recapture some of the communal experience that this summer might miss without major theater happenings. I’ll also be updating my Letterboxd account each week, so I’ll post those as a reminder. And don’t forget the poll for the lists will be up soon! Have a blockbuster summer!
Until next time, I have some movies to watch!