The Top 10 Summer Movies of All Time

August 28, 2008

Summer is a time to watch the movies with the most bloated budgets, the biggest stars, and the most expensive, state-of-the-art effects. Summer is, in short, a time for the blockbusters to be hauled out by each studio and put on display for the masses. It’s when you are able to get the biggest bang for your buck, at least in terms of the raw dollar amount that’s being projected on the screen. Seeing as this summer has been all about the mega-blockbuster, here are Spike’s picks for the top 10 summer movies of all time.

10. Jaws (1975)

Jaws, which put Steven Spielberg on the map, is the film that created the summer blockbuster as we know it. Though the term “blockbuster” existed before Jaws, it did not have the meaning it had before Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel. It created the “event film” that determined the formula for summer blockbusters: they must generate massive buzz, they must get audiences to pay for repeated viewings, and, for a time, a numerical value was placed on the ticket revenues they must accrue domestically: over $100,000,000. All of this nonsense aside, Jaws is a really good movie that, despite the less-than-fearsome mechanical shark (named Bruce by the crew), has aged quite well and still inspires fear in the hearts of beach bums. If you haven’t seen this movie already, see it now.

9. Batman (1989)


Believe it or not, Batman used to be a pretty big wuss as far as popular culture was concerned. He held his own in the comics but fared less well in television and movies. Adam West had all but made him the prototype of the better half of the Ambiguously Gay Duo. Then came Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. This movie was huge. I remember you couldn’t spit that summer without your expectoration lighting upon a teen wearing a Batman T-shirt or a little kid playing with a Batman action figure. As a matter of fact, I believe I was in possession of both before 1990 came along. Batman went from a bad camp act to a bad-ass vigilante not to be meddled with, thanks to the efforts of Burton and Michael Keaton.

I will even go so far as to suggest that Christian Bale would do well to study Keaton’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Bale’s Wayne is such a buttoned-down, dispassionate (the man doesn’t shed a tear when the love of his life is blown to pieces) suave man of mystery that he is at risk of becoming a two-dimensional replica of James Bond. Only when he dons the Bat-suit does a fully formed person emerge, and even then this person’s characterization is obscured by the cowl he wears and the gravelly growl of his voice. Keaton understood that there were two sides of the coin when it came to Batman, and that Bruce Wayne must suffer from some behavior problems. This made his Batman that much more interesting, and that much darker. In conclusion, Mr. Bale, the original Batman has much to teach you, young Jedi.

8. Independence Day (1996)


This movie was to the ‘90s what The War of the Worlds was to the ‘50s. It was the biggest, coolest, most expensive alien movie ever seen at that point in time, and still remains as an entertainingly hostile answer to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This movie was basically an adaptation of 1953’s War of the World’s, except that by 1996 director Roland Emmerich had the budget and effects at his disposal to create a truly impressive portrait of planetary annihilation and alien domination. It’s worth noting that this film was what really put Will Smith on the map as a movie star, and he’s been playing leading men in huge studio action films ever since. That he played opposite the hilarious and ever-dependable blockbuster odd-ball Jeff Goldblum only helped to establish this movie’s instant summer classic status.

7. Transformers (2007)


This movie has to be on the list. Some of you loved it, some of you hated it, some of you couldn’t give a sh*t. However you feel about it, this movie dominated the screens last summer, and even made some people respect Michael Bay a little bit. For a little while. Or hate him even more for totally botching Megatron and ensuring Shia LaBeouf’s  meteoric rise to stardom. But even those who hated Megatron and LaBeouf, and even those who by the end of this film were bored of watching huge robots do battle in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, even those people at least had Megan Fox to ogle at. And let’s face it: for every guy out there who loved Transformers as a kid, this movie was like a trip to the candy store. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was by any standard large and in charge. Michael Bay redeemed himself, though he’ll never be forgiven for poisoning us with the eye-poop that was Pearl Harbor.

6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


With Terminator 2 James Cameron took a good thing and made it much, much better. The first Terminator was, by all accounts, a really solid low-budget thriller/sci-fi. But Terminator 2 allowed Cameron to hold court with the budget and resources he needed to make a summer blockbuster. This film introduced computer-generated effects as something that could be used as more than simply an occasional visual complement to standard in-camera effects and stop-motion animation: it proved CG could now be the main attraction. Apart from this technological advance, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Linda Hamilton’s performances were excellent. Schwarzenegger managed both an indomitable toughness and an endearing sense of humor, while Hamilton’s wounded intensity served as a nuclear furnace to the fast-paced story. Edward Furlong was a screechy, obnoxious little turd, but those attributes at least fit the part he was playing. Alas, the same cannot be said for any other part he’s ever played since. And then we have, of course, Robert Patrick, whose icy portrayal of the T-1000 was as scary a villain as I’ve seen in the last 20 years. The great thing about this film is that it’s as awesome today as it was 17 years ago – and I have the feeling it will go down in history as the best Terminator film; it doesn’t need any salvation from Christian Bale.

5. Jurassic Park (1993)


Jurassic Park took the technology from Cameron’s Terminator 2 and built on it. A lot. Steven Spielberg’s film advanced special effects as much as Cameron’s, though it went much farther with its newfound computer-generated discoveries. This movie had huge, hulking dinosaurs lumbering across the screen, and for the first time in cinematic history they actually looked real. It definitely helped that Spielberg had the help of Stan Winston with huge animatronic dinosaurs, like the full-sized T-Rex he built, and the life-sized Velociraptors. This movie was a perfect harmony of animatronics and CG, and because of this you almost can’t tell where one begins and the other takes over. And, once again, Jeff Goldblum is hilarious as the mathematician Ian Malcolm, and Richard Attenborough is perfect as John Hammond. This movie continues to stand up against the test of time, and is the best of the Jurassic Park trilogy. It is the quintessential summer blockbuster, and makes me nostalgic for the time when Spielberg still really knew how to do a blockbuster.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)


Batman should be honored, as it’s the only franchise worthy of being on this list twice. The Dark Knight has been a very big deal this summer, and aside from being a really great film, it’s also supposedly the top-grossing film of all time behind Titanic (of course, after inflation is taken into account, it’s the 35fth top-grossing film, which is slightly less impressive). Dark Knight is everything we want in a summer blockbuster, and in many ways more. Its characters are much more complex than those in your average blockbuster, and it’s a good deal darker. I guess that’s why they don’t call him the Festively Colored Knight. Dark Knight is the rare mega-movie to have an extremely frightening, violent villain who is not a superhero or mechanical or in some way inhuman. The Joker is a terrorist, and he could easily exist in our world. In fact, he does, even if he’s not cavorting with the crime bosses of Gotham. This film was thoughtful, artfully directed and photographed, and (for the most part) well cast. Despite my complaints about Bale’s performance above, and the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal is as much fun to listen to and look at as an anal suppository (I hope they cast her as Raphael in the rumored live-action Ninja Turtles remake), Dark Knight is an impressive improvement over Batman Begins, which was in itself an incredible summer blockbuster. Dark Knight is everything Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were not: intelligent, well written, and interesting to people over the age of 16. Christopher Nolan once again proved that comic book movies (and summer blockbusters) don’t have to be sad studio panderings to the lowest common denominator.

3. Back to the Future (1985)


This movie is still as cool as it was twenty three years ago. Back to the Future is the perfect blend of comedy and sci-fi, and no film has ever rivaled it in this sub-genre. The chemistry between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd was like a modern-day Laurel and Hardy. On top of that, Biff Tannen (played by Thomas F. Wilson) has to go down as one of the best villains in history, or at least as one of the funniest. Crispin Glover as George McFly is also one of the funniest dorks in the history of cinema. Everything about this movie – the casting, the directing, the writing – coalesced into a sublime medley of all that was radical about the ‘80s. Few summer blockbusters from any decade stand up to this film.

2. Ghostbusters (1984)


It is hard to overstate how huge Ghostbusters was when it was released in the summer of 1984. Given, I was only on the cusp of becoming a sentient entity at the time, I still remember the reverberations of that summer throughout the next few years. There was the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters; there were the action figures; the toy proton-packs; the Slimer pencil toppers; let’s just say that Ghostbusters was a very, very big cultural phenomenon for a very long time. And rightly so. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’s script was hilarious and scary at the same time (especially – but not exclusively –  if you were a kid). The entire cast, particularly Bill Murray, was extremely funny, and it’s worth noting that this is the film that transformed Murray into a star – and a very improbable one at that. Ghostbusters’s popularity has not been isolated to the ‘80s. Rumors have been circulating since Ghostbusters 2 in 1989 that a third movie would eventually be made. At this point, almost twenty years later, the joke seems to be on all of us die-hard fans, as the closest thing to a third film that’s come out is the upcoming video game. Yet another (annoying) rumor began to circulate the web that a new Ghostbusters film was being discussed wherein Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and a couple other Apatow gang members were going to star in a third film with the original guys, who would retire and turn the business over to them. Rogen claims to know nothing about this, and I’m betting my bottom dollar that this rumor is just like all the others of the past two decades: totally devoid of truth. I’d just like to say, for the record, that if something could make a life long Ghostbusters fan sour on the franchise, that idea’s coming to fruition would be it.

1. Star Wars (1977)


It’s easy in 2008 not to remember why anybody ever liked anything about Star Wars or anything having to do with it. George Lucas has done everything he could to make children of the ’70s and ‘80s rue the day they became Star Wars dorks with his prequel abominations and most recent animated vomit. But let’s put all that behind us for the moment and reminisce about when Star Wars came out even if, like me, you were not alive at the time. Star Wars created the modern day sci-fi film. The Star Wars trilogy ushered in the next thirty years of summer blockbuster sci-fi movies and all the pale imitations that would follow in its wake. And the most incredible thing about this is that the first film was, relatively speaking, a low-budget affair. After Star Wars blockbusters would always be held to a new, unattainable standard. It became a creation myth of sorts for the sci-fi world; the bible to many a nerd; and the ultimate rival to Star Trek geeks everywhere. Few will dispute that Darth Vader is the coolest villain ever created, and every guy born in the last 35 years is lying if he doesn’t admit to having coveted a lightsaber at some point in his life. Almost every character that came out of the Star Wars films is a noun in the dork vernacular, and geek societies everywhere ridicule those who’ve not memorized every Yoda proverb and Jedi truism. Star Wars did not become a part of popular culture. It created its own popular culture. For that Lucas will be honored and revered for time immemorial.