The 100 Greatest Summer Blockbuster Movies of All Time

on July 19, 2020, 12:00am
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10. Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future

Back to the Future (Universal)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985

Worldwide Box Office: 389.1 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Nothing about Back to the Future shouts blockbuster. Yes, it’s a science-fiction adventure, but one only interested in a single family tree and a small town of no consequence to anyone else; the stakes are huge but on about as small a scale imaginable for a would-be blockbuster. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age tale (though one that needs to travel back to press forward), a father-son story flipped on its head, maybe the most problematic ’80s love story this side of Big, and a buddy comedy between a slacker teen and a geriatric mad scientist. Ya know, that old, tried-and-true formula. And yet, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’ time-traveling adventure about a teen who accidentally goes back in time and rewrites his family’s history for the better feels like a classic story as old as time itself. The best ones always do. –Matt Melis

Planet Hollywood Quote: “History is gonna change.”

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09. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount)

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Paramount)

Release Date: June 12th, 1981

Worldwide Box Office: 389.9 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of cinema’s best crafted blockbusters. Today, blockbusters are either too serious or overtly ironic. Few demonstrate the easeful comedy of Raiders. John Williams’ malleable score — swinging between swooning romance to lighthearted fare and soaring heroism — solidifies scenes that could suffer from the shake of their tonal shifts. Raiders also features one of the best opening scenes ever, a bid for patient myth building through the rush of a boulder, and one of Harrison Ford’s most memorable performances. –Robert Daniels

Planet Hollywood Quote: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

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08. The Shining (1980)

The Shining, Warner Bros. Pictures

The Shining (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980

Worldwide Box Office: $46.2 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Clearly, The Shining isn’t your average blockbuster. It’s an isolated chamber piece set in the high mountains of Colorado with three disparate souls surrounded by stoic ghouls. Behind the camera? The merciless Stanley Kubrick, who had zero interest in playing to the crowd. None of that screams popcorn, candy, and soda. Yet in May of 1980, Warner Bros.’ cold, labyrinthine Stephen King adaptation axed its way through the competition — ahem, The Empire Strikes Back — to secure the third highest-grossing opening weekend for a film released on less than 50 screens. (The film got 10!) Needless to say, this was a word-of-mouth phenomenon — like all iconic horror should be — but also a brilliant case of counterprogramming. –Michael Roffman

Planet Hollywood Quote: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

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07. Inception (2010)

Inception (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Inception (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Release Date: July 16, 2010

Worldwide Box Office: $829.9 million

Where’s the Popcorn? It’s 2002, you just finished working with both Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and you’re at the apex of your career. So, what’s next? You keep on dreaming. That’s more or less what Christopher Nolan did after he delivered an 80-page treatment to Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures about “dream stealers.” And so, after an extended detour into Gotham City and a brief stint as a magician, Nolan delivered his quintessential, game-changing masterpiece: Inception. Even at the time it felt like a declaration of his MO, and everyone was listening, which is why it became an Oscar all-star the following year. Today, exactly a decade later, we can literally chart its contagious influence across dozens upon dozens of blockbusters in its wake. None of which is surprising; after all, as the film posits, a great idea is like a virus… –Phillip Roffman

Planet Hollywood Quote: “An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.”

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06. Star Wars (1977)

Peter Mayhew, Harrison Ford, Star Wars

Star Wars (Lucasfilm)

Release Date: May 25, 1977

Worldwide Box Office: $775 million

Where’s the Popcorn? If you went back in time and told someone who worked on Star Wars that the little space movie they’re working on would launch one of the most successful, influential, and groundbreaking feats in storytelling and film history, they would have believed the time travel part but not the latter. With a small budget and no name actors, the weirdo western in space — whose first act focuses on two droids (an exasperating gold butler, and one who does not even talk) — wasn’t supposed to be a blockbuster, and no one expected it to be. But Star Wars proved that complex characters, tight storytelling, iconic imagery, a sprawling universe, and Harrison Ford can really strike an (emotional, nerdy) nerve with a lot of people. –Carrie Wittmer

Planet Hollywood Quote: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

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05. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

terminator 2 The 100 Greatest Summer Blockbuster Movies of All Time

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Carolco)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1991

Worldwide Box Office:520.8 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a cultural phenomenon. The eagerly anticipated sequel to the 1984 original saw Arnold Schwarzenegger and a buff Linda Hamilton reprise their roles, expanding the world to include the nefarious Cyberdyne Systems and a young John Conner (Edward Furlong). Nearly 30 years later, it’s easy to forget that Arnie’s turn as the hero was a shocking twist at the time, but T2 masterfully honored the original while simultaneously turning it on its head. With groundbreaking special effects and one of the best chase sequences ever committed to film, T2 solidified the iconic image of an action hero in Arnold and gave us one liners that would sift through pop culture for years. –Jenn Adams

Planet Hollywood Quote: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

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04. Jaws (1975)

jaws 1975 The 100 Greatest Summer Blockbuster Movies of All Time

Jaws (Universal)

Release Date: June 20, 1975

Worldwide Box Office: $470.7 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Basically, there are two categories of blockbusters: Everything Before Jaws and Everything After Jaws. The prototype for modern blockbusters, Spielberg’s colossal hit about a colossal shark terrorizing the beaches of a New England resort town changed Hollywood completely in the summer of 1975, ushering in the wide release and making a household name of the young director. While the film is first and foremost a creature feature in the grand tradition of 1950s B-movies, it’s also become a sharp commentary on political corruption (opening beaches too soon sound familiar?) and various forms of masculinity. Come for the iconic two-note theme by national treasure John Williams and stay for the 1-2-3 punch of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw getting friendly with a great white shark. Hey, Amity, as you know, means friendship! —Emmy Potter

Planet Hollywood Quote: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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03. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

mad max theron The 100 Greatest Summer Blockbuster Movies of All Time

Release Date: May 15, 2015

Worldwide Box Office: $375 million

Where’s the Popcorn? Mad Max: Fury Road was an impossible accomplishment. The 70-year-old director of Happy Feet revitalizing his gonzo post-apocalyptic action franchise with Tom Hardy decades later is one thing; that it’d become one of the most visceral, innovative, playful, influential action films of the 21st century is quite another. Paved along the long, film-length car chase that comprises Miller’s dystopic vision are a host of beautifully balletic bouts of violence anchored by Charlize Theron’s resolute Imperator Furiosa, to be sure. But among the burnt-orange sands and economical storytelling thrums the V8 engine of a bona fide cinema classic, one that thumbs its nose at the safe, CG-addled playgrounds of its contemporaries. That it’s a powerful call to action against patriarchy and fascism is just the shiny, chrome icing on the nutrient cake. –Clint Worthington

Planet Hollywood Quote: “What a lovely day!”

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02. Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver, Alien

Alien (20th Century Fox)

Release Date: May 25th, 1979

Worldwide Box Office: $203.6 million

Where’s the Popcorn? The cast of Ridley Scott’s Alien is incredible. Even if you’ve never watched Scott’s masterpiece, certain scenes are stapled into pop culture (see: the chest bursting sequence). Only 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, and Star Wars feature ships as memorable as the Nostromo. The creature’s design, that chrome head, the exposed vertebrae monster with its tiny million teeth, dripping with human-chewing acid, remains etched in nightmares. If Scott’s Alien were merely a good movie, it would still stand as an epic blockbuster, but with the casting of Weaver, as the ultimate action-movie heroine Ripley, it remains iconic. –Robert Daniels

Planet Hollywood Quote: “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”

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01 . Jurassic Park (1993)

jurassic park 3d t rex The 100 Greatest Summer Blockbuster Movies of All Time

Jurassic Park (Universal)

Release Date: June 11, 1993

Worldwide Box Office: $1.02 billion dollars

Where’s the Popcorn? If you couldn’t tell by now, Steven Spielberg knows a thing or two about the blockbuster. After changing the game with 1975’s Jaws, the filmmaker relentlessly set the bar even higher for himself in the years following. He signaled aliens, he made archaeology sexy, he proved kids can carry a movie by themselves. By the mid-’80s, Spielberg presided over a resume that could have easily withstood the test of time, even for sheer box office receipts alone. So, it’s downright staggering to consider that arguably his greatest triumph came so late in his career, and that’s 1993’s Jurassic Park.

When you consider the elements, there is no greater blockbuster, and certainly few (if any) this universal. Bottom line: We all love dinosaurs. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or when you’re from — we all have a dinosaur stage. Mostly because we all come to the same confounding realization: How the fuck did these things actually exist? And to quote Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcom: He did it. The son of a bitch did it. For 126 minutes during that summer (and every summer thereafter), Spielberg, leaning on every magic trick he had learned up until that point, managed to make us actually believe dinosaurs existed.

But, as we’ve seen with the film’s piss-poor followups, Spielberg did far more than that: He remastered the blockbuster blueprint, and Michael Crichton’s novel gave him all the goods. It’s as if the late author always had Spielberg in mind. The archaeologist and those bratty neighborhood kids? Pair ’em together. The monster in the water? How about a dozen on land? The armchair intellectualism that never went — to borrow from Laura Dern’s Elle Sattler — over our heads? All in tact — and some. This novel was a total gift for Spielberg, and he treated it like the Star Wars he had always wanted, even despite his successes.

And it’s a total upgrade on the Spielberg formula: Whereas Bruce the Shark huffed and puffed to the finish line in Jaws, Stan Winston and ILM gracefully soared to a harrowing finale on full display. John Williams, by then standing similarly tall, delivered what might be his most cohesive score to date (at least with regards to singularity). And the cast? So unorthodox and yet so ingrained into the characters that it’s near impossible to see any one of them without a faint memory of their lines. Much like John Hammond, Spielberg spared no expense through it all, and the film’s timeless nature speaks for itself.

It’s patient, it’s quotable, it’s smart, it’s thrilling: Jurassic Park readjusted the bar that Jaws set for the summer blockbuster, and it has not been lifted since. Studios went bigger and failed. Studios went longer and failed. Studios went for more of the same and failed. Maybe not at the box office, sure, but in spirit, in tone, and in legacy? Absolutely. Decades later, and hyperbole be damned, Jurassic Park remains the standard for comparison. It’s in the DNA. This is a blockbuster about creating a blockbuster — a commentary on the Universal model … distributed by Universal — and it’s never cynical about that fact.

Instead, like all of us, the film’s in awe of its own imagination. –Michael Roffman

Planet Hollywood Quote: “Life finds a way”

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