Since the 1975 release of Jaws, the Hollywood summer blockbuster has become an American tradition. Every year, people flock to theaters to beat the heat, watch a big budget extravaganza, and escape reality for a little while.
While a superhero or long-running franchise is a safe bet to make a few hundred million or billion, there have been a few surprise smash hits over the years. From horror movies to intergalactic epics, one thing is for certain: these summer blockbusters are well worth another watch. And when you want more movies to add to your must-watch list, check out these 20 Iconic Films You Should Have Watched By Now!
One year after Jaws spawned the summer blockbuster, a movie about Satan’s spawn carried the torch. The Omen was one of the top-grossing movies of 1976 and is now considered a horror classic. And for a different type of Hollywood classic, check out the 30 Most Iconic Celebrity Hair Styles of All Time.
In 1977, Star Wars cemented the summer blockbuster as a legitimate thing when it blew past the box office record set by Jaws and grossed an astonishing $775 million worldwide, kickstarting a legacy that has lasted over 40 years. And if you’re one of the millions of Star Wars fans out there, check out The Best New Star Wars Locations You Can Actually Visit.
Things took a turn away from the epic in 1978, when the biggest summer blockbuster was musical comedy Grease, starring Olivia Newton-John as Sandra Dee and John Travolta as super-suave Danny Zuko. And if you want a different kind of laugh from Travolta, check out the 30 Most Awkward Celebrity Awards Show Moments.
The Amityville Horror
In 1979, the movie of the summer was about a Long Island family who made a bad real estate decision and bought a haunted house. The Amityville Horror has remained one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time. And if haunted houses are up your alley, discover the 15 Most Haunted Places in America.
The Empire Strikes Back
George Lucas struck back in 1980 with yet another summer blockbuster, the second installment in the Star Wars series and the beginning of a franchise trend that continues in theaters every summer to date. And if you need to know all things Star Wars, see The Secret Fitness Tool the Star Wars Cast Swears By.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
George Lucas continued his streak of summer blockbusters with the 1981 hit Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was produced by his company Lucasfilm. The movie was the first appearance of Harrison Ford as movie hero Indiana Jones. And for the full scoop on Harrison Ford, Here Are 20 Celebrities Who Shunned Hollywood for Small Town Life.
E.T. the Extraterrestrial
One year after his film Raiders of the Lost Ark was the smash hit of the summer, Steven Spielberg took the title again when E.T. became the summer blockbuster of 1982. You might remember it as a touching family film, but for a quick refresher on some of the movie’s finer points, check out 20 Kids Films That Will Definitely Traumatize Your Children.
Return of the Jedi
George Lucas was back at it again in 1983, when the Star Wars saga provided yet another summer blockbuster for American audiences. And if you think Star Wars fans are all a bunch of nerds, check out the 11 Biggest Celebrity Star Wars Geeks.
After four years dominated by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, somebody finally else got a turn at making a summer blockbuster. The 1984 comedy classic Ghostbusters, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman, was a box office smash. And if Ghostbusters is your kind of movie, you’ll love The 30 Funniest Movies of All Time.
Back to the Future
In 1985, Michael J. Fox was the star of the summer when Back to the Future took American audiences by storm and became the highest-grossing film of the year. And if Marty McFly’s got you feeling a little nostalgic, check out 20 Slang Words From the 1980s No One Uses Anymore.
The 1986 summer smash hit Top Gun grossed $356 million and cemented Tom Cruise’s place as a Hollywood superstar.
Beverly Hills Cop II
Beverly Hills Cop II saw the return of Eddie Murphy as detective Alex Foley and, in addition to being a box office hit, was nominated for a 1987 Academy Award for Best Original Song—”Shakedown,” by Bob Seger.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Back to the Future director Robert Zemekis came back in 1988 with yet another summer blockbuster. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was nominated for six Academy Awards and took home thee: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, made by the classic blockbuster collaborators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, was the smash hit of the summer in 1989, thanks in part to a less gory approach than its predecessor in the series, Temple of Doom.
After years of major spectacles running the game, the 1990 summer blockbuster, Ghost, broke formation. The supernatural romance/thriller was the highest-grossing film of the year and earned Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Whoopi Goldberg) and Best Original Screenplay.
In 1991, action film auteur James Cameron released the hit film of the summer with the long-awaited second film in the Terminator franchise. The movie featured groundbreaking visual effects and was the highest grossing film of the year.
The summer smash hit of 1992 is something of an outlier. The Tim Burton film Batman Returns is the only Christmas movie to ever be a summer blockbuster.
Steven Spielberg bounced back in 1993 with another summer blockbuster. Jurassic Park grossed $914 million worldwide in its initial release and took home three Academy awards.
Say what you will about Robert Zemeckis, but you can’t deny he can turn all kinds of movies in to summer blockbusters. After Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump is his third hit on this list.
Nine years after starring in blockbuster hit Top Gun, Val Kilmer returned in another huge summer hit, this time as the leading man in the third installment of the Batman film franchise, the 1995 action flick Batman Forever.
The 1996 summer blockbuster Independence Day launched Will Smith’s career as a Hollywood leading man and was the top-grossing movie of the year.
Men in Black
Will Smith cemented his superstar status with back-to-back summer blockbusters when the 1997 action buddy comedy Men in Black became a box office smash hit.
The 1998 science-fiction disaster film Armageddon was director Michael Bay’s first massive summer blockbuster and was the highest-grossing film of the year worldwide.
Star Wars: Phantom Menace
After a 16-year break, the Star Wars franchise returned with a prequel. Despite mixed reviews and the presence of Jar Jar Binks, the movie grossed more than $923 million worldwide and was the summer blockbuster of 1999.
Mission: Impossible 2
The second installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise was the top-grossing movie of 2000. The film was praised for its action sequences, but critics found the plot and dialogue lacking, which makes sense considering the action sequences were planned out before the movie was even written.
Steven Spielberg’s production company, DreamWorks, released Shrek, the summer blockbuster of 2001. The movie won the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature and established DreamWorks as worthy competitor to Pixar.
Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002, with Tobey Maguire in the title role. It was the first film to make $100 million in a single weekend.
In 2003, Pixar summer blockbuster Finding Nemo won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and remains the highest-selling DVD of all time.
The following year, DreamWorks came out with yet another summer blockbuster hit, the second film in the Shrek franchise, which held the record as the highest-grossing animated film of all time for six years.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
In addition to being the biggest hit of the summer, the sixth installment in the Star Wars franchise was also the highest-grossing film in the US for 2005.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
The second installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was the top summer hit of 2006 and grossed over $1 billion worldwide.
In 2007, Spider-Man returned to take the spot as the top summer film of the year. Although critics had mixed feelings about the movie, it was the most financially successful film of the original Spider-Man trilogy.
The Dark Knight
In the summer of 2008, the Christopher Nolan film The Dark Knight took theaters by storm, grossing over $1 billion worldwide and being widely regarded as the best film of the year. Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Joker.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The sequel to the 2007 hit Transformers was the top film of summer 2009 and wound up grossing $836.3 million worldwide.
Toy Story 3
In 2010, Toy Story 3 became the highest-grossing animated film of all time and won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
In its first weekend, the final installment in the Harry Potter series earned $483.2 million, smashing the previous world record. It went on to gross over $1 billion.
The Joss Whedon-helmed Avengers became the first Marvel movie to make more than a billion dollars in ticket sales. It was the top-grossing film of 2012.
Iron Man 3
Marvel had another summer smash the next year with Iron Man 3, which grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel continued their streak of summer blockbusters in 2014 with Guardians of the Galaxy. It received Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
In 2015, 22 years after the original, Jurassic World was the number one hit of the summer. The film raked in $1.6 billion in box office sales.
The long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo became the top summer flick of 2016, with box office sales that made it the highest-grossing animated film in U.S. history.
The trend of female leads in summer blockbusters carried over into 2017, with Wonder Woman being the hit of the season. It won a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Action Movie. And for more on how summers past have been celebrated, Here Is Every Song of the Summer for the Past 50 Years.
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