Top 5 Summer Blockbusters of the Past

With the temperatures consistently going into the triple digits for about half the nation and the theatrical release of Cowboys & Aliens, Harry Potter and Captain America now behind us, it’s obvious we are in the middle of the summer movie season. So, what makes a great summer movie besides getting out of the heat and the usual soda and bag of gummies? To me, summer movies have been about having a good time through loud explosions, funny moments and too many special effects to count. Here are my Top 5 Summer Blockbusters of the Past:

1. The Granddaddy of them all. The film that taught us “Don’t go in the water,” Jaws (1975). This really is the one that started opening-weekend blockbusters. Hollywood changed their thinking – instead of releasing limited prints of the film and going from city to city, they flooded the country with the film, creating lines around the block, box-office records and the first-ever “summer blockbuster.” On top of that, it is a truly remarkable film. Maybe I am showing my age here, but I remember when and where I first saw Jaws at the theater. Unfortunately, I also remember the nightmares of white teeth and refusing to swim at the Motel 6 swimming pool while on a family vacation. Robert Shaw gives a terrific performance and should have received an Oscar nomination for his “Indianapolis” speech alone. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton – all spot on with their performances. Can’t recommend this film enough – it is as near perfect a movie as they come.

2. The runner up, from a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… Star Wars (1977). What person my age didn’t see Star Wars a dozen times every time it came to town? Watching it again brings back memories of camping out all day with my brother just to be the first to get tickets. Maybe the older generation had the same rush of excitement seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939) for the first time (who knows?), but to kids in grade school at the time, Star Wars was pure magic. From the thundering opening credits to the final credits, as the type disappears in space, Star Wars took us all over the galaxy in this classic good versus evil movie. With the current day use of Droid phones, it is hard to deny that Star Wars is a piece of Americana.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). I guess we should just refer to Mr Spielberg as Mr. Summer Blockbuster. There may not be any more recognizable character than Indiana Jones: Harrison Ford, sporting his fedora and leather jacket cracking his iconic whip. This film is pure entertainment – a great nonstop action movie with a fantastic story modeled after the cliffhanger serials.

4. An adventure 65 million years in the making: Jurassic Park (1993). I consider Jurassic Park one of the milestone movies for special effects. Just as Star Wars set the bar in the late 70s and Avatar a few years ago, Jurassic Park did the same for its time. Some really great work from Industrial Light and Magic integrating CG and live action. Great summer fun.

5. The Dark Knight (2008). After the success of Batman Begins (2005), director Christopher Nolan gets very dark and sinister with this sequel. This film was going to be a box office smash anyway, but the untimely death of Heath Ledger had the masses buying tickets in droves. What makes this one great is that between the car chases and crazy stunts, there is a well crafted story with all involved giving very good performances – and in Heath Ledger’s case, a truly great performance, earning him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

An honorable mention: Independence Day (1996) which had everything you would want for the summer – cities being reduced to a pile of rubble and plenty of entertaining visuals. Unfortunately, it also had every cliché character all packed in one film.

But hey, these are only my opinions. What are some of your favorite summer blockbusters of the past? Whatever you watch this summer, just remember, no talking or texting during the feature presentation.

— Jim

4 thoughts on “Top 5 Summer Blockbusters of the Past

  1. Counting only the summer blockbusters I've seen as new releases (i.e., no Jaws because it was released three years before I was born), I've come up with the preliminary list:1) Batman (1989) – I was ten. It was literally one of the most influential things of my formative years. I was already a comic book reader, but it wasn't until this movie that I began to explore superhero stories. Now, I spend just as much time perusing the comic books at Half Price Books as I spend going through movies or music!2) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) – I love the whole thing, but let's be honest: It's Alan Rickman that puts it over the top. Any Harry Potter fans who only recognize him as Professor Snape should go see him as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Also, I strongly recommend finding the extended cut on DVD (which is also the only cut currently available on Blu-ray). It adds about 20 minutes more Rickman!3) Jurassic Park (1993) – Can I nitpick the movie? Sure. Do I wish it had been more faithful to the novel? Yeah. Was it just about perfect fun? You betcha.4) The Rock (1996) – My first R-rated blockbuster. Sean Connery helping Nicolas Cage break into Alcatraz? Sheer fun. And because it was later selected for the Criterion Collection, it's not even on my "guilty pleasures" list!5) The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Say what you will about the sequels, but the first POTC movie was a breath of fresh air in 2003. Pure fun.

  2. I only clicked the link to this article to make sure Independence Day made the list. Good to see I wasn't disappointed! I think I saw that one in the theater 5 times in 2 different states (CA and MN), by far the most times I've watched any movie on the big screen. Yeah, it was stupid, but boy was it a lot of fun.

  3. Great job with this, Jim. I agree with all your picks. Spielberg is the king of the summer blockbuster, but he owes his throne to John Williams.I've never heard of HPB radio — how do I find it?

  4. Hey Travis, You put together a nice list yourself. Summer movies are the greatest. I thought long and hard on Batman, because there was a lot of anticipation that year especially with Nicholson playing the Joker. I am very curious though about your recommendation of the director's cut of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I actually prefer the original to the director's cut. It is a very interesting conversation though about all of the director's cuts now available. (Don't get me started on the original Star Wars trilogy and Lucas not releasing the original cuts of the films.) One of my other favorite movies is Last of the Mohicans and all you can find on Blu-ray and DVD are some form of director's cut, which when you think about it is very sad. Generations may never see Star Wars the way many of us did as kids. That might make a good topic coming up. Thanks for your insight Travis, and keep going to the movies.

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