These days, you can see a great big-budget movie just about any time of the year. But there is still something special about the summer movie season. Few things are as satisfying as escaping the hot weather inside an air-conditioned theater and relaxing with some big-screen entertaining. And the film studios still save their biggest movies for this time of year.
While not every summer movie is a smashing success, there have been plenty of classics over the years. Those so-called “popcorn movies” are designed to give audiences thrills, laughs and fun during the summer months. There are some movies that are great to enjoy in the summertime, but only those movies released between the beginning of May and end of August can be considered true summer movies. Have a look back on the best blockbusters that helped define the summer movie-going experience.
When looking for the best summer movie experience, some people go for thrills, some people go for scares and some people go for laughs. How about a movie that can deliver on all three?
Ghostbusters remains one of the best horror-comedies of all-time. Following a group of scientists who specialize in hunting down ghosts, the exciting premise is given an extra bit of fun with the laugh-out-loud humor and a winning cast. Starring Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray at his absolute best, Ghostbusters is one of the most unique summer movies. Though another reboot/sequel is one the way, it’s hard to imagine anything matching the original.
9 Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg seems to have a natural talent for creating the perfect summer movie, as you’ll see throughout this list. With Jurassic Park, he tapped into the wonder of seeing dinosaurs on screen in a way we’ve never seen before, and the horror of what happens when those dinos start misbehaving.
Watching the dinosaurs run amok in this theme park and terrorizing the poor guests makes for a wild ride. And in true Spielberg fashion, he managed to add compelling characters and rich relationships to all the mayhem. The practical effects used to bring the dinosaurs to life help add an extra awe-factor to the whole thing.
8 The Lion King
Animated movies have long been a staple of the summer movie season. These days, Pixar seems to have a lock on the season in terms of the kid-friendly entertaining, but nothing compares to the 90s golden age of Disney animated films and their crowning achievement, The Lion King.
Disney really upped their game in terms of production and storytelling with this one. Taking elements of Shakespeare, they created a fun, funny and heart-wrenching story of Simba and his journey to becoming king. Featuring amazing voice performances from the likes of James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons, it remains one of Disney’s best ever.
7 The Avengers
Nowadays, the superhero genre dominates the summer movie season – more specifically, the MCU dominates. And while The Avengers wasn’t their first summer movie, it was the best example of them planting their flag and showing the world how big this thing was going to get.
In a movie event that had not been attempted before, several movie crossed over, uniting heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk together on screen. Seeing these heroes together was an unforgettable moment, no matter your age. With Avengers: Endgame coming out this summer, it seems the domination will continue.
6 Back to the Future
With all the sequels and reboots that dominate the summer movie season, it’s hard not to long for the days when a good original idea could become a summer season hit.
Back to the Future takes the well-worn time travel story and has a whole lot of fun with it. The story is a clever and funny adventure featuring charming performances from Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. It’s light-hearted and thrilling fun for the whole family, making it one of the most rewatchable movies of all-time.
5 The Dark Knight
While The Avengers showed how big superhero movies to get, The Dark Knight showed it was a genre to take seriously. Christopher Nolan grounded and gritty take on the Caped Crusader continued by placing the character in an epic crime film.
While the action was thrilling and inventive, the story was much darker than other films in its genre. Of course, the movie was lifted up even more by a fascinating performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. The iconic villain, amazing set-pieces and a fresh take on the hero helped make this film an unforgettable experience and perhaps the best Batman film ever made.
4 Mad Max: Fury Road
If spectacle it what you seek in your summer movies, Mad Max: Fury Road delivers. This was a movie that should never have worked. Coming out 30 years after the last Mad Max movie, starring a new leading man and directed by a 70-year-old filmmaker, it could have been a disaster.
Instead, the film is one of the most non-stop, heart-pumping thrill rides ever put on screen. What is essentially a feature length car chase is made compelling thanks to interesting characters, amazing world-building and jaw-dropping stunts. An amazing feat in filmmaking.
3 Raiders of the Lost Ark
Though it is now a massive franchise in its own right, it’s easy to remember that Indiana Jones was just a crazy idea Steven Spielberg and George Lucas came up with.
Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to the charismatic archeologist/explorer. The movie was an amazing throwback to the pulp adventures and serials of yesteryear. And with a perfect bit of casting with Harrison Ford in the lead, the character became iconic. In terms of action, thrills and humor, Raiders of the Lost Ark was firing on all cylinders and created the perfect summer adventure.
2 Star Wars
Star Wars seems to omnipresent in the film world these days. Though the latest installment comes out this winter, the whole things started with a summer release and started in a very big way.
George Lucas took a big risk bringing his strange space opera to life, but it’s safe to say it’s paid off at this point. The movie was unlike anything audiences had seen before. The visuals of the space ships, alien characters and unique worlds were exhilarating. The heroes were easy to root for, the villains were unforgettable and the adventure was out of this world. Not hard to see how it became the phenomenon it is today.
It’s quite appropriate that the best summer movie of all-time is also the movie that started the whole summer blockbuster trend. This is another movie that was close to being a disaster but instead managed to change cinema forever.
The story of a killer shark terrorizing a beach community may be small in scope but it makes up for it in thrills. Again, Spielberg proves to be a master at infusing the spectacle with rich characters the audience cares about. This is the movie that inspired a whole generation of filmmakers and inspired several generations of swimmers to think twice about going in the water.