The Top 10 Summer Blockbusters

It’s summer and we all know what that means – long sunny days, plenty of fresh air and good clean outdoor pursuits.  Oh yes, and hours of fun inside an air-conditioned cinema with popcorn, hot dogs and a rattling good summer blockbuster.

There are two main seasons for film releases.  In order to qualify for Oscar consideration films must have a theatrical run in Los Angeles County between 1st January and 31st December.  This generally means that studios release their worthy, serious films in November and December to keep them fresh in the minds of the Academy voters.  If you take a look at the winter releases you can pretty much tell which movies will be the stars of the awards season in the spring but summer is the time for the big-budget, big-star name, big entertainment blockbusters to be released.  Also known as the films that we actually pay to go and see….

I have some rules for what can be regarded as a true summer blockbuster.  They’re pretty arbitrary, not everyone is going to agree….

  1. It has to be an action film, no romances in my lists
  2. It has to be a film I could watch over and over again – it can’t be a blockbuster if one viewing is enough
  3. It’s not an animation (no matter how good it is)
  4. The time of year matters – Die Hard is a brilliant, brilliant film but it’s set at Christmas, not summer
  5. There has to be personality in there, no pointless sequels churned out just for filthy lucre.

Sometimes the release dates on either side of the Atlantic are wildly different (often in the past when Hollywood thought we Brits were second class citizens)!  All of these films were summer releases in America, if I was to go by British release dates then Jaws would be a winter film and that’s just silly (as was releasing Die Hard in summer – do you think I have some deep-seated issue with this?).  Anyway, the American dates win out.

The films are listed by release date.

1.     Jaws (1975) 

Often regarded as the film that created the phenomenon of the summer event movie, this is a great creature feature about a shark terrorising a small holiday resort.  It’s a classic John Williams score, simple but adding to the tension and raising the fear factor.  Jaws has done a lot of damage to the reputation of the poor persecuted shark, especially as some idiots seem to think it’s a documentary rather than fiction, but it’s still a cracking film.

2.     Star Wars (1977)

My favourite film as a child and still one of my top watches today.  This is a simple story of good versus evil, set ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away’.  I’m always stunned when someone tells me that they haven’t seen Star Wars. It’s an iconic film and perfect summer entertainment.  A warning from personal experience – it’s impossible to count the laser blasts, don’t even try.  No, really, don’t!

3.     Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

Star Wars introduced big audiences to Harrison Ford but Raiders of the Lost Ark showed them he was a bona fide action hero.  Indiana Jones was a new kind of leading man – intelligent, sexy, a little world weary and ever so slightly scared of snakes.  He also fought off Nazis and got the girl – what’s not to love?

4.     Back to the Future (1985)

The heroes of summer blockbusters are usually adults (and male adults at that) which is a little surprising given the largest group of cinema goers are in the 12-24 age range.  Michael J Fox’s Marty McFly is the typical American teenager – he’s sent back to 1955 in a nuclear powered time machine.  Best line of the film? “You built a time machine? Out of a DeLorean?

5.     Top Gun (1986)

The 80s were such an innocent time.  All we had to worry about were the Russians, the Chinese and some other assorted Communists.  But we were ok, we had a pre-Scientology Tom Cruise to keep us safe.  A brilliant but maverick pilot (with the imaginative call-sign ‘Maverick’), Tom fights his inner demons to become a top naval aviator, get the girl, wear a sexy uniform and play the most homo-erotic game of volleyball ever committed to celluloid – just fantastic!

6.     Independence Day (1996)

I’m an absolute sucker for films where the world is threatened and Americans rush in to save the day (Team America sends this genre up beautifully, but my rule applies to puppet films as it does to animation).  Independence Day is a perfect example – evil aliens have started blowing the world to bits and all that stands between humanity and annihilation is Jeff Goldblum and his laptop, Will Smith and his cigar and Bill Pullman and his inspirational Presidential speech.  Hokey, corny and downright laughable at times (the Israeli and Palestine Air Forces standing together makes me cringe every time) this is a film I will always love.

7.     Men In Black (1997)

Will Smith became alien-slayer-in-chief in this comedy about a secret government agency which is the Earth’s last line of defence against the scum of the universe.  Smith and (Tommy Lee) Jones make an engaging duo and while this film isn’t brilliant, it’s really good fun.  Smith was the summer box office king in the late 90s – until 1999’s Wild, Wild West.

8.     Con Air (1997)

Another entry for 1997 – a great year for the summer blockbuster.  When I was coming up with this list it was a tough call between this and Air Force One (another heroic President and potentially a third listing for Harrison Ford).  Con Air squeaked in because of the humour and the brilliance of the final sequence, set in Las Vegas.  The film belongs to John Malkovich as Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, the leader of a group of escapees from a prison transport plane.

9.     Armageddon (1998)

This film, more than any other on my list, is a go-to movie for me.  Whenever I’m bored and want to watch a thoroughly enjoyable action film I always, always, ALWAYS pick Armageddon.  A global killer asteroid the size of Texas is heading for the Earth and only Bruce Willis and his ragbag gang of drillers can save us.  Unashamedly patriotic (try counting the number of times the American flag appears) but with a great sense of humour this is surely Michael Bay’s greatest achievement.

10.    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two (2011)

If one hallmark of the summer blockbuster is that it is an “event” then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two certainly meets that criteria.  A massive publicity campaign led to sold out midnight showings and tears from emotional fans who didn’t want to see their favourite movie franchise come to an end.  And boy, did it come to an end – the two hours and twenty minutes passed like seconds!


So – that’s the list of my top ten summer blockbusters.  It’s impossible to pick one as the ultimate summer event movie – a toss-up between Independence Day and Armageddon and I change my mind all the time about which one comes out on top.  Gut instinct says Independence Day – it’s set in July for goodness sake, how perfect could it be.

What do you think – do you agree with my rules? Have I missed anything obvious, or worse – included an unworthy film?  What’s in your DVD collection and what do you still need to add?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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  1. What a cracker that would be if it was in one year?? Wow!!

    Great list you have put together Louise. It is such a shame that this summers Blockbusters (apart from HP of course) are not up to scratch!!

    Thanks for writing this matey!!


  2. That would be an awesome year, but would probably bankrupt me as I’d need to go and see several films several times. Thank Gawd for the delights of DVD and Blu-Ray.

  3. I would probably put ID4 at number one in terms of summer movies. It really is one of the ones that instantly pops into the mind. Great list.

    • Thanks – and I’m pretty sure I agree with you about ID4. If only for Judd Hirsch’s performance.

  4. Does Jurassic Park fall into the criteria? I cannot remember if it was set during summer time. If so, than I would add that to the list.

    While I enjoy Con Air, Face Off would be up there for me.

    Also, hated Armageddon…I would probably replace that with Bad Boys or The Rock.

    All in all, I think this is a pretty good list.

    • Thanks for coming by – I would say Jurassic Park definitely falls into the criteria but for some reason it leaves me a bit cold.

      Armageddon does seem to divide people a bit, but I’m sticking by it. Bad Boys and The Rock are two great suggestions – and make me want to watch both again.

  5. I’m with you CS on The Rock. Great film. Air Force One and Apollo 13 are probably up there for me too. I’d swap those for Armageddon, Men in Black and Independence Day. The last two are a bit too corny for me, and Armageddon seems to go on forever.

  6. Neil Wheeler says:

    I love the summer movies

    Film.                   Budg.    Tot
    Ghostbusters  $30m  $291m
    Empire Strikes Back. $23m.  $534m
    Raiders of the Lost Ark $20m $386m
    Back to the Future  $19m $383m
    American Pie  $12m $234m
    Jaws  $12m $470m
    Star Wars $11m. $798m
    Alien $9m   $203m
    Fahrenheit 9/11 $6m  $222m
    The Blair Witch Project $600k $248m

  7. Some wonderful choices there Louise. I don’t think there’s anything that can rival Jaws for the summer blockbuster – it got the trend going and remains one of the best films ever. Of the newer films I’m particularly fond of Independence Day.

  8. Great list. Good to see Con Air get some much deserved mention. :-)

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