Hot Fun in the Summertime
Summer has been blockbuster time ever since the June 1975 premiere of “Jaws,” which went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time—until the original “Star Wars,” another summer release, broke that record two years later. Since then we’ve seen films like “Avatar”, “Avengers: End Game”, and “Titanic” eclipse those films, but they still stand as some of the best summer cinema of all time. Of course, Hollywood’s biggest pictures aren’t always its best. What follows are 25 summer hits that would stand up as classics in any season.
Hollywood’s seminal summer blockbuster is a maritime version of everyone’s “boogeyman under the bed” nightmare, forever ruining romps in the surf for beach lovers worldwide. Way to go, Steven Spielberg.
“Star Wars” (1977)
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, three relatively unknown actors—Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford—save the universe in the groundbreaking sensation that, many years later, still ranks as a must-see cinematic achievement. (Although we refuse to call it by its new name, “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope.”)
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
Steven Spielberg once again stakes his claim on summer, this time with the touching tale of an abandoned alien who just wants to phone home. E.T.’s huge, expressive eyes and glowing fingertip make him almost as irresistible as 7-year-old Drew Barrymore in her first major role. Not to mention Henry Thomas as the 10-year-old earthling who bonds with E.T. but has to let him go in the end. Ouch.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
One of the few sequels that out-wows the original, with the high-speed thrills and chills of a spectacular roller coaster. The coolest twist: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s android assassin is back, but this time he’s the good guy, pitted against a ruthless shape-shifting death machine. Hold on to your popcorn—it’s a wild ride into the future.
“National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978)
Future U.S. Senator John “Bluto” Blutarsky (John Belushi) co-hosts a toga party for the ages, and crusty Dean Wormer (John Vernon) offers indispensable words of advice moments before a chubby frat boy pukes all over him: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” Thank you, sir! May I have another?
Puking on the dean in “Animal House” is nothing compared to what pops out of John Hurt’s gut in this space monster thriller. Fortunately, Sigourney Weaver is on board to single-handedly fight off disaster in her underwear. Ripley rules!
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
Nothing says summer like a desert swashbuckler and a barroom drinking contest. An archeology professor with a bullwhip (Harrison Ford) overcomes his fear of snakes to crack down on the Nazis, with a little help from a sassy ex-girlfriend (Karen Allen) and the avenging angels sealed inside the long lost ark of the covenant. The melting faces of evil and horror prove to be a brilliant precursor to political discourse on cable news in the 21st century.
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
The hell unleashed during a crucial World War II battle on Normandy’s blood-soaked Omaha Beach is unlike anything ever seen before in a war movie. One soldier calmly retrieves his blown-off arm and trots for cover. Another screams for his mother as he tries to hold in his oozing intestines. And that’s just the set-up for Tom Hanks’ rescue mission to save a private from suffering the same fate as his three lost brothers. Eleven Academy Award nominations and five Oscar wins paid tribute to the power and the gory.
Surely, you can’t be serious: The ultimate spoof of corny disaster movies was named the No. 1 comedy of all time in a 2011 poll conducted by ABC and People magazine. And don’t call us Shirley.
“The Fugitive” (1993)
Harrison Ford takes on the role made famous by David Janssen in the hit ABC series that aired from 1963–67. This time, however, Dr. Richard Kimble’s quest for the one-armed man who killed his wife has something to do with an evil drug company. Audience reaction to the cascade of modern plot twists echoes Tommy Lee Jones’ famous response to Dr. Kimble’s latest assertion of innocence: “I don’t care.” “The Fugitive” nabbed seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and Jones copped the Best Supporting Actor award.
“Back to the Future” (1985)
With help from a nutty professor (Christopher Lloyd) and a time-traveling DeLorean, teenage Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) takes a road trip to 1955, the dawn of the “Happy Days” era. Sounds like fun. Then again, would you want to go back and meet your parents when they were high school kids with raging hormones?
“Bull Durham” (1988)
Director and ex-ballplayer Ron Shelton returns to his minor league roots and scores a major league hit. It was fun to learn that Kevin Costner’s washed-up catcher believes in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” But true fans of the national pastime were especially thrilled to discover what really goes on when players gather on the pitching mound. Candlesticks, apparently, make a lovely wedding present.
“The Unforgiven” (1992)
A classic summer excursion to the Old West, led by Clint Eastwood, who won the Academy Award for Best Director in his final western. “The Unforgiven” became just the third oater to lasso the Best Picture Oscar, after “Cimarron” (1931) and “Dances With Wolves” (1991). Gene Hackman picked up his second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance as a sadistic small-town sheriff.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988)
This ain’t the Looney Tunes of our youth. “I’m not bad,” coos the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit. “I’m just drawn that way.” And how. Even more impressive was the big, bad draw at the box office. Second only to “Rain Man” as the year’s top-grossing movie, the innovative mix of cartoon characters and live action won three Oscars for its technical achievements and sparked an animation revival that shows no sign of getting squashed by an anvil.
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
Nothing says summer fun—to Quentin Tarantino, anyway—like a Nazi hunt led by Brad Pitt. His team of basterds includes “The Bear Jew,” who likens himself to Ted Williams as he bashes skulls with a baseball bat. The war movie outperformed “Pulp Fiction” at the box office and scored eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay. However, the only Oscar went to Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor, as the Nazi colonel dubbed “The Jew Hunter.”
Leave it to a former child star, director Ron Howard (“The Andy Griffith Show,” “Happy Days”), to navigate the ups and downs of modern family life. The all-star ensemble headed by Steve Martin allows viewers to take a two-hour vacation from their own problems and head home laughing, reminded of the one true family mantra: We’re all in this together.
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Christian Bale is a seething Batman in this far from cartoonish superhero blockbuster. But Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker, especially in the scene when he’s dressed as a deranged nurse, casually detonating round after round of explosives while trudging away from a hospital. He was rewarded, posthumously, with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Getting slimed by frisky spirits was a supernatural thrill in the summer of ’84, when no one could escape Ray Parker Jr.’s shout-out theme song. So what if he got sued for plagiarizing Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug”? Lewis settled out of court, Parker got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and Bill Murray helped save New York City from the rampaging Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
“Blade Runner” (1982)
Three years after “Alien,” director Ridley Scott returns to Earth with this sci-fi classic based on Phillip K. Dick’s post-apocalyptic novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Harrison Ford plays the ex-cop whose job is to sort out bioengineered “replicants” from real human beings.
“Apollo 13” (1995)
Everybody now: “Houston, we have a problem.” But director Ron Howard had no problem whatsoever riveting moviegoers into their seats with the true story of a near-disastrous lunar mission in 1970. The space drama, starring Tom Hanks and Ed Harris, was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
Three years after “Stars Wars” conquered the world, “The Empire Strikes Back”—with a vengeance. The sequel became the year’s highest-grossing movie and is now widely regarded as the best adventure in the thriving, never-ending franchise.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Not only was this Marvel Universe film star-studded and action packed, but it’s quirky soundtrack perfectly illustrated the humorous tone of this beloved unlikely superhero tale. Who doesn’t love Chris Pratt in this role?
Directed by Sam Raimi and based on the graphic-novel by Stan Lee, this version of “Spider-Man” is still considered to be a favorite amongst American fans. Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin, this summer blockbuster was widely praised for its faithfullness to the beloved “Spider-Man” mythos.
“The Avengers” (2012)
Anther monster hit from the Marvel Universe, “The Avengers” became the third highest grossing film of all time after it’s massive opening weekend in 2012 when it grossed over $1 billion dollars in ticket sales. It was the first Marvel movie to do so.
Perhaps one of the most romantic movies of all time, “Titanic” was a ridiculously huge success, especially but not limited to, with teenage girls due to the steamy scenes between Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet).