It all started with a shark. The whole summer blockbuster phenomenon officially kicked off in 1975 with Steven Spielberg's classic thriller Jaws. Here, starting off with a shark that's still "working," we take a year-by-year look back at the top box office blockbusters that made our summers...
1976 - The Omen
One year after Jaws ignited the whole summer movie phenomenon, a little kid named Damien terrified almost as many moviegoers as that big, burly great white. That's what happens when you're the spawn of Satan. In 1976, the year of America's Bicentennial, the nation was also celebrating the visceral kick of having the willies scared out of them.
1977 - Star Wars
The phrase "In a galaxy far, far away" was immortalized forever with George Lucas' first Star
Wars entry, or techincally, "Chapter 4." Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Darth, C3PO, R2D2 and 'ol Ben Kenobi would soon all become part of the pop culture lexicon, and spawn their own sci-fi empire.
1978 - Grease
Greaser Danny Zuko and his good girl Sandy were already big hits on Broadway, but it took
Saturday Night Fever star John Travolta, Aussie hottie Olivia Newton-John, and a superb
soundstrack of sing-alongs to make this summer blockbuster the highest-grossing movie musical of
all time ($400 million and counting). "Grease" is indeed still the word.
1979 - Rocky II
Put on the Rocky theme music, down some raw egg whites, and remember a time when a simple
jog was enough to motivate visions of Sly Stallone grandeur - the underdog's triumph, that second chance at victory, and a loving mate to wipe the sweat off your brow...or is that blood? Here, Rocky has the chance to not only go the distance, but put Apollo Creed on the mat for a ten-count.
1980 - The Empire Strikes Back
Widely considered the best of the Star Wars films, or at least the consensus fan favorite,
the second produced SW flick found audiences enraptured in the aisles at the revelations
that - noooo! - Darth Vader is Luke's father, and there is "another" who can save the universe. Also notable were the introductions of eternally cool characters like Master Yoda and cooler-than-cool bounty hunter Bobba Fett.
1981 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
During the prime-time of the popcorn movie heyday (heretofore known as the years 1977 - 1984, or the era when Harrison Ford created his legend), there came along the perfect movie adventure about a pistol-packing, whip-snapping archaeologist named Indiana Jones, who knew his books, and could most likely kick your butt with them.
1982 - E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg's two punch in his 1-2, back-to-back summer combo was one of his strongest hits ever. "Phone home." Reese's Pieces. "I'll be right here." "El-li-ot." Who doesn't know the story and the emotional power of the greatest, most friendliest alien in the known universe?
1983 - Return of the Jedi
While it's often seen as the lesser film of the first Star Wars trilogy, it was still a
mammoth hit in the summer of '83 and did feature extremely cool speeder races through the
Endor forest, another fun light saber duel between Skywalkers Luke and Anakin/Darth, and one last chance to see rebel
pilot Wedge make it to the end of the film alive.
1984 - Ghostbusters
The most successful comedy of the 1980s, the summer behemoth Ghostbusters is a perfect mix
of funny and thrilling. The film combines the talents of comics Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd,
Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson running around in ghostbusting outfits, and first-rate (well, for the
time) special effects, hitting on all cylinders as entertainment guaranteed to put a smile on the
face of every conceivable demographic.
1985 - Back to the Future
Robert Zemeckis added his own spin on the Spielbergian genre with his infinitely
amusing tale of '80s teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who speeds his way back to the 1950s in a
time-travelling DeLorean. The action keeps this sucker moving, but what's memorable is the friendship between Marty and his buddy, the eccentric, loveable Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).
1986 - Top Gun
And then there was...Tom Cruise. Sure, he'd been playing around in the Hollywood sandbox for a few years and made a splash with
Risky Business, but this tale of Navy figher pilots, a Star Wars for the Cold War
era, was the perfect heat to stoke the Cruise fire engine into full gear.
1987 - Beverly Hills Cop II
The top summer flick of '87 was another tailor-made star machine from the Jerry Bruckheimer/Don
Simpson production factory - this time featuring Eddie Murphy's irrepressible, everyday cop Axel Foley. In a summer that also featured other great '80s fare like The Lost
Boys, Spaceballs, Roxanne and Summer School, Eddie at his peak, and
up to all sorts of tomfoolery in the California sun, reigned supreme.
1988 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
One of the more imaginative summer blockbusters to come down the '80s pike was Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the combo animation and live-action, gumshoe detective yarn that featured a great pairing in bull-nosed private dick Bob Hoskins and wily cartoon Roger, sexy Kathleen Turner as the animated Jessica Rabbit, and the novelty of seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse onscreen at the same time.
1989 - Batman
We're all awed by Christopher Nolan's re-imagining of the Batman, but in 1989, there was much heated anticipation for Tim Burton's first take on the comic book hero, and his movie delivered. Michael Keaton cut a suave figure as the new Batman, and Jack Nicholson cemented his legacy playing the over-the-top, gleefully maniacal Joker. Plus, the Prince title tune's not too shabby.
1990 - Ghost
Summer popcorn flicks are amazing in their ability to take you back to certain memories, and to also define pop culture at that particular time. Summer '90 was all about a sleeper hit starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, about a couple separated by death who communicate through Goldberg's funny and empathetic medium.
1991 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Where were you in the summer of T2? Before he was the governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed up for an ambitious second outing as The Terminator. The installment set new standards for action, computer effects (witness the liquidized T-1000) and maximum pumpitude for female heroines - all we can say about Linda Hamilton's buff physique is, 'woah.'
1992 - Batman Returns
Tim Burton's second Batman flick was another diverting summer exercise that added Michelle
Pfeiffer's purrrfectly sexy Catwoman to the mix, along with Danny DeVito as a highly repugnant
looking Penguin. While Michael Keaton ably assumes the controls once more as the Caped Crusader,
this would unfortunately be his and Burton's last outing as a dynamic duo.
1993 - Jurassic Park
The summers of CGI took a bold leap forward in '93 with the arrival of Steven Spielberg's ILM-enhanced cadre of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Moviegoers had never seen the like of
such realistic prehistoric creatures, and their presence alone was justification for the price of
admission - several times over.
1994 - Forrest Gump
The tag line read "The world will never be the same once you've seen it through the eyes of Forrest
Gump." And so it was...say what one wants about the melodrama of Gump, or its title
character's simple-minded outlook, there's no denying its emotional and epic journey, the A-list perfomances on hand, and the director's technical mastery at capturing the sights and sounds of America's recent history.
1995 - Batman Forever
Although he's become a smaller character actor now (look for him as the villain in
MacGruber), Val Kilmer was once a movie star character actor who was adept at assaying larger-than-life icons like Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Madmartigan in
Willow, Iceman in Top Gun, Jim Morrison in The Doors and Batman in Joel Schumacher's only half-campy (thankfully, given Schumacher's next Batman) Batman Forever.
1996 - Independence Day
Much like Tom Cruise a decade earlier, Will Smith said "hello" to his many, not-so-little friends as a fighter jock in the alien invasion popcorn hit, Independence Day,
or ID4 in short. Unlike Cruise, a big part of Smith's appeal was his self-deprecating
sense of humor, adding a bit of wit to his brawn...as he said, he was just waiting to get up in the air "to
kick E.T.'s ass." Audiences were waiting for it, too.
1997 - Men in Black
New megastar Will Smith returned to take his Independence Day holiday once more in '97 with the
first Men in Black, recruited to regulate alien activity as an MIB alongside veteran
partner -- and wry straight man to Smith's antics -- Tommy Lee Jones. Directed for maximum effect by former Coen brothers cinematographer Barry Sonnenefeld.
1998 - Saving Private Ryan
Unique amongst the top summer movies is Steven Spielberg's harrowing World War II tale Saving
Private Ryan. It is by no means meant to be fun popcorn fare. It was still a huge hit, though, drawing viewers into an involving story about an Army squad led by Tom Hanks' weary Captain on a mission to save the last surviving of four military brothers, Private James Ryan.
1999 - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
George Lucas returned to the sci-fi franchise that made his name 20+ years earlier with Episode
I, detailing the origins of Darth Vader back when he was a cherubic, innocent tyke named
Anakin Skywalker. While the film doesn't live up to its lofty predecessors, it does feature a memorably cool villain in the
devil-like Darth Maul, and Ewan McGregor gives it his best shot as a young Ben Kenobi.
2000 - Mission: Impossible II
Before his Scientology beliefs and some strange antics on Oprah's couch took
center stage, Tom Cruise was riding high during the summer of 2000. His M:I-II,
directed by action auteur John Woo, satisifed the hot weather movie crowd just fine. The film has all of Cruise and Woo's trademarks - slo-mo battles, Cruise in cool action gear, and a
steamy love interest in Thandie Newton's double - or triple - agent.
2001 - Shrek
Everyone's favorite green ogre made his fun and funny debut in 2001 alongside his enthusiastic
buddy, Donkey. What made this such an uber hit? Try Mike Myers with that Scottish brogue (first on
funny display in the underrated So I Married An Axe Murderer), Eddie Murphy shifting into
energy overdrive, and an ever-clever and warmly animated story that constantly tweaked the mores of
traditional fairy tales.
2002 - Spider-Man
Here's where the return to the superhero genre truly kicked in. X-Men had found success a
couple of summers earlier, but with the arrival of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, all future
seasons were put on notice. Superheroes were here to stay. This first Spidey features a buff
Tobey Maguire stepping into the costume with equal measures Peter Parker normalcy and Spidey super
2003 - Finding Nemo
Pixar climbed to the top of the summer charts with this sweet, character-and-story-based (as with
all Pixar films) movie about a father fish Marlin on a world-wide trek to find his son Nemo. With
the help of a sometimes-clueless reef fish named Dory, Marlin and the audience are treated to a
journey that's adventure-filled and genuinely touching.
2004 - Shrek 2
The second Shrek proved just as clever and amusing as the first, and besides finding Mike
Myers and Eddie Murphy in top form as Shrek and Donkey, the sequel introuduces an equal
match in Antonio Banderas's comic foil Puss-in-Boots. A master with a mini-sword and the cute-
as-buttons cat stare, Puss was the missing third musketeer for our animated heroes.
2005 - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The final Star Wars was the best of the uneven second trilogy, and since it was the capper
to the whole saga, it made sense that it brought in boffo box office. We'll have to see how it
stands up in our memories a decade down the road, but the last forty minutes, featuring Anakin's complete transformation into Darth Vader, are top notch.
2006 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
By the time of the second Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain
Jack Sparrow had become so synonomous with the character that it's hard to imagine what Sparrow,
even in ride form, had been like before Depp. Fittingly, the rides have been retrofitted for the actor's likeness. The story's just "eh," but we'd watch Depp's Sparrow read the phone book.
2007 - Spider-Man 3
While Spider-Man 2 (2004) is arguably the best in the series, the summer
crown went to the third installment, which couldn't have been more anticipated in 2007. Overstuffed with one too many villains, and some odd pacing, the movie still brought in droves. Note to Sony for the new franchise - when Spidey's ready, the audience will be willing.
2008 - The Dark Knight
The superhero genre hit big time in the summer of '08, as Iron Man opened the
season with a bang, and The Dark Knight set all kinds of box office records while
redefining what the genre could offer. Built more like a crime epic a la Heat and The
Departed, the film was a final, fitting showcase for the talent of late actor Heath Ledger,
unforgettable as the definitive Joker.
2009 - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Audiences ultimately split in their reaction to the second Transformers, but that did
nothing to stop this behemoth from bulldoozing over the summer competition in '09. Love it or hate
it, it's hard not to see this as anything other than the ultimate Michael Bay experiment, with all
of his excesses firmly on display.
2010 - Iron Man 2
This summer has yet to be decided, but we've got our eye on two big popcorn projects coming your
way. Blasting off with the first summer salvo is the red-hot Iron Man 2, which counts in its favor one of
the most watchable movie stars in the universe in Robert Downey Jr., and a director named Jon
Favreau who's concerned just as much about character moments as he is about special effects
2010 - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Iron Man's competition to be the 36th top summer hit since Jaws is Eclipse. The third
Twilight movie is bound to have teen, tween and older fangirls setting dead aim at the
fanboy fans of Iron Man. Can IM2 live up to its predecessor? Can 30 Days
of Night horror director David Slade craft a Twilight film that appeals to new fans? Summer's about to get interesting...
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