Although the history of film is more than a century long, the concept of a summer blockbuster is relatively young. Since 1975, when Spielberg’s Jaws sent moviegoers rushing to theaters everywhere, summer has been the time for movies. Almost every year since, a major, big budget movie has been released during those warm summer months. And like most things, some years are better than others. The list below factors in a few criterion when determining what year is the best, including anticipation, influence, and of course, if the movie was any good.
Notable films: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Brave, The Amazing Spider-Man, Moonrise Kingdom
Rationale: Perhaps I’m suffering from a bad case of “living in the now,” but this summer is pretty stellar for movies. We witnessed Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to the Alien universe, Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his iconic Batman series and new film from Wes Anderson. Only time and hindsight will be able to tell if this year deserves higher ranking or should be booted off the list entirely.
Notable films: Jaws, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Rocky Horror Picture Show
Rationale: The year that started it all. Stephen Speilberg (who’ll make several more appearances on this list) created the term blockbuster with his grisly, blood-thirsty tale, Jaws. The year is placed high on the list, because Hollywood was just discovering how to perfect the art of the summer blockbuster.
Notable films: District 9, Star Trek, Up, The Hangover, Inglourious Basterds, Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, 500 Days of Summer, Moon, Drag Me to Hell, Terminator: Salvation
Rationale: 2009 boasted a bevy of impressive films from J. J. Abrams lens-flare filled Star Trek to Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist action thriller, Inglourious Basterds. Add Harry Potter, Peter Jackson and crazy Sam Rockwell to the mix and you have a recipe for success.
Notable films: Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Karate Kid, The Neverending Story, Purple Rain, Red Dawn, Revenge of the Nerds, Top Secret, The Natural
Rationale: The ‘80s was the golden decade of the summer films with several influential directors at their height (e.g. George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick). 1984 was no different—and a great time to be a kid. Films like Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Karate Kid quickly became classics. Although the lesser of the original Indy trilogy released this summer, it also featured Prince’s film debut with Purple Rain. Set and match.
Notable films: Poltergeist, E.T., Blade Runner, The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Secret of Nimh, Conan the Barbarian
Rationale:Science fiction and fantasy thrived in 1982 with arguably Spielberg’s and Scott’s best films, E. T. and Blade Runner, releasing only two weeks apart. 1982 also Includes a successful Star Trek film and Arnold Schwarzeneegar’s first big role in Conan the Barbarian. This was the year of the geek.
Notable films: Alien, Apocalypse Now, The Muppet Movie, Manhattan, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Moonraker
Rationale: Facehuggers, James Bond in space, and Jim Henson’s lovable Muppets created a perfect storm at the box office in 1979, not to mention one of Francis Ford Copolla’s finest and Woody Allen’s masterpiece. Sometimes these lists speak for themselves.
Notable films: Top Gun, Aliens, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand by Me, The Fly, Labyrinth, Short Circuit, Transformers: The Movie
Rationale: Maverick, Ripley, Ferris, Bowie and the final role of Orson Welles as the voices a giant, planet-eating transformer. Only at the movies.
Notable films: The Blues Brothers, Superman 2, Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!, The Shining, Caddyshack, Friday the 13th
Rationale: 1980 was known for its diversity. Excellent comedies with Airplane! and ; Kurbick’s psychological horror, The Shining; the return of the Man of Steel and a quote that continues to echo through cinema history: “Luke, I am your father.” If you love every genre film has to offer, 1980 was for you.
Notable films: Goonies, Back to the Future, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Teen Wolf, Weird Science, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, The Black Cauldron, Cocoon, Fletch, Fright Night, St. Elmo’s Fire
Rationale: I have a distinct memory of when I saw most of these films for the first time. Really Back to the Future is the only evidence needed in support of 1985, but coupled with John Hughes’ incredibly delightful Weird Science, a thrilling dark adventure from Disney with The Black Cauldron, and the Goonies. C’mon, it’s the Goonies.
Notable films: The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, The Phantom Menace, American Beauty, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Run Lola Run, Deep Blue Sea, The Iron Giant, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut
Rationale:Although ‘80s is very easily the golden age for summer blockbusters, 1999 brought that golden age back. Now I could argue all day about the ineptitude of The Phantom Menace, but its anticipation was unprecedented in film history. The film actually busted blocks with Star Wars fans waiting more than a week in line to see the film. Factor in surprising blockbusters like The Matrix, The Six Sense and The Blair Witch Project and suddenly 1999 is the best summer for movies of all time.