The 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters of All Time (20-11)

While the term “blockbuster” has been around since the early 1940s, it didn’t come to mean what it does today until 1975 when Steven Spielberg unleashed Jaws unto the world. Suddenly, audiences were part of a new era for Hollywood, one that was filled with films that left you on the edge of your seat. As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, blockbusters grew in budget. The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future; if it had thrilling set pieces, fast-paced dialogue, and the so-called “buzz,” you can be assured that audiences would be flocking to the theatre not once, but multiple times to view the latest in blockbuster entertainment.

Although Blockbusters may not hold quite the same power now that they did in previous decades, when something special comes along audiences have shown time-and-time-again that they will turn out in droves to view it. Movies, especially blockbusters, are made to be seen on the big screen. Here are 50 films that best exemplify what it means to be a blockbuster.

These are the 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters of All Time.

20. Independence Day (1996)

I saw this in the theater on the 4th of July with one of my best friends. We were broke and couldn’t really afford to do much of anything else. We grew up with Will Smith and seeing him in a hero role was novel at the time. Plus spaceships and jet fighters and explosions and shit? How can you go wrong in general—much less on the 4th of July?

Merica, man.

Billy Dhalgren

19. Aliens (1986)

I will never understand James Cameron’s obsession with Avatar, man. But way back before those blue aliens took his imagination hostage, another sort of alien held it—at least long enough for him to make one of the best sequels to an already great film ever. And you have to wonder why he bothered. After proving the suits at Orion wrong with his smash hit The Terminator, Cameron should have been looking to do anything but try to make a sequel to an already legendary film. I mean, when you think about it, it’s a ridiculous gamble with not a high chance for reward. But i think that is what makes Cameron so singular as a director/creator: the guy had enormous balls and was willing to take huge risks—not just with other people’s money, but with his own fledgling reputation. But Cameron’s strategy was smart. Instead of trying to recreate what Ridley Scott had done with Alien, Cameron would switch genres from horror to action (a strategy he would repeat to even greater success with Terminator 2: Judgment Day). It was a master stroke, a genius idea. And the rest is blockbuster history.

Billy Dhalgren

18. The Dark Knight (2008)

2008 should be considered a seminal year for comic book movies, with the official birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. However, one movie reigned supreme at the box office; the sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight. What is wildly considered to be the pinnacle of The Dark Knight Trilogy can be summed up in three words: Heath Ledger’s Joker. Of course, there were other great performances by Gary Oldman and Michael Caine. Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, and Christian Bale turned in passible performances. I’m not really a huge Bat-Bale fan and Eckhart’s Two-Face was underutilized. But Ledger’s Joker was the greatest Batman villain performance and possibly the greatest villain performance in modern movies. Whereas Jack Nicholsons Joker was more of a silly turn, Ledger’s Joker was unhinged and terrifying.

Ralph Hosch

17. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

More than twenty years after we were first introduced to a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas took us back to Tatooine for a new era of Star Wars fun. Until the end of time, there will be prequel trilogy haters and naysayers. While I understand the criticisms, I still think there’s plenty to celebrate here. The podracing sequence is hands down one of the most thrilling set pieces in any Star Wars movie. Jar Jar Binks’ antics are mostly forgivable. The duel of the fates lightsaber battle is immensely rewatchable (plus that music is so freaking good). Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, and Liam Neeson are always a pleasure to have on screen. And the child actor playing Anakin isn’t THAT bad. There’s more to like here than dislike. Just focus on the good stuff.

Raf Stitt

16. Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future is the movie that birthed my love for Hollywood. It also introduced me to Michael J. Fox, a fellow Canadian whose performance as Marty McFly is one of the many great things about Back to the Future. The rest of the cast — Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Tom Wilson, and Crispin Glover — are also pitch-perfect as their respective characters, embodying them in ways that make them feel lived-in and real. The Bobs (Gale and Zemeckis) crafted a time travel story that is full of humor and heart, action and adventure, and enough memorable scenes and quotes to keep one entertained for infinite rewatches (it’s a least an annual rewatch for me). Back to the Future is a film all audiences could enjoy, and despite releasing in 1985, it still hasn’t aged. It’s a timeless, quintessential ’80s classic and the reason I so desperately want to own a DeLorean one day.

Marmaduke Karlston

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

A finale that was eight films and 10 years in the making. I honestly don’t think we’ll ever get something quite as generation-defining as Harry Potter again. For fans who had been following along with this series (in both print and film), this was very much the end of our childhoods. We had grown up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and now we waited with bated breath to see if The Boy Who Lived would triumph over He Who Shall Not Be Named. I saw this film in theaters opening weekend with one of my best friends (who I’m pretty sure had never seen a Harry Potter film before). The theater was packed. You could feel the excitement. While Warner Bros. has every right to remake the films as a seven-season TV series, nothing will ever beat the original eight films. Families aren’t going to throw on a 10-episode season of Harry Potter during Christmas, but they will gather around and watch the first Harry Potter movie. Decades from now, the Harry Potter TV series will be a distant memory, but those eight films will stand the test of time. I just know they will.

Marmaduke Karlston

14. Spider-Man (2002)

After the success of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film in 2000, Sony kicked it up with the release of the first Spider-Man film. Spider-Man ruled the box office in 2002 (beating some film called Star Wars: Attack of the Clones). I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I am a huge comic book nerd. I grew up with Spider-Man toys, Spider-Man cartoons, Spider-Man underoos… too much info? I can remember sitting on my computer for hours trying to download the trailer for Spider-Man on my good ol’ dial-up AOL. Oh, the memories!

With that being said, I was in the theatre opening night and to see the spider-webs shooting across the screen to Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme was a lifelong dream. I honestly got a little choked up. I’ll say that Spider-Man wasn’t a perfect film. It had a decent story, typical Sam Raimi camera shots, Bruce Campbell, and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Dafoe doesn’t steal the movie like Heath Ledger’s Joker, but it’s a solid performance. I think the film worked so well because it hit an emotional cord with me and my fellow Marvel nerd fans; it hits all of the correct sweet spots to be a classic.

Ralph Hosch

13. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 is arguably the end of the Golden Age of Pixar — a damn near perfect 15-year streak of animated films. Unlike other Pixar sequels like Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory which came out years after the original but didn’t age up their characters, Toy Story 3 went for maximum tears by deciding to pick up with Andy in real time. He’s now 18 and heading off to college. The toys? Well, they haven’t been played with in a long time. Even attempts to get Andy to play with them have failed. It’s a bold move on Pixar’s part, showing us that these toys are no longer needed. Andy, much like most of the original Toy Story‘s core audience, has grown up. He’s older now whether the toys (and his mother) like it or not. Seriously, Toy Story 3 broke I think every mother’s heart. Mothers were leaving this film in tears at the thought that one day, their sweet little children would be all grown up and no longer need them. Toy Story 3 was an absolutely massive box office success in 2010, with families of all ages coming out in droves to see Woody and Buzz one final time (at least that’s what we thought). “So long, partner,” indeed.

Marmaduke Karlston

12. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Infinity War should have been the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s downfall. There is no way that this film should have worked. Not only are you mixing the Guardians of the Galaxy with the Avengers, but you have to juggle about 100 characters while also giving ample screentime to Thanos (Josh Brolin), who before this film had maybe 2 minutes of screen time (and that’s being generous). Yet, somehow it all came together with Marvel giving us one of its best films yet.

I remember waiting in line for this film on Thursday night. An earlier showing had just been let out of the theater. I was hoping no one was about to shout out spoilers. I remember my skin pricking up as someone began to speak from the crowd exiting. Thankfully, instead of spoiling the film’s massive cliffhanger ending, the moviegoer simply said, “You guys are going to love it!” And boy, did we love it. While Avengers: Endgame has more crowd-pleasing moments, Infinity War is overall a better film. Marvel has its work cut out if it wants to end The Multiverse Saga on a similarly successful note.

Marmaduke Karlston

11. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. is yet another movie I remember seeing in the theater. And I remember where I saw it and who I saw it with. I can’t quite remember what the marketing tie-in was that planted this thought in my head (I’m sure I could find it with a google search, but who has time for that?), but somehow, some way my 6-year-old brain decided that Michael Jackson was playing E.T. As in, he was in the suit. I know. Weird. And I spent the whole movie thinking he was in there. I think I even imagined he might perform a song and dance routine at some point. Can you imagine? Shoehorned into the trick-or-treating scene, E.T. sings (an original song written for the movie, of course) and does the moonwalk? And now that I’ve written all of this down, it really doesn’t sound all that implausible considering many of the equally insane ideas that came out of the cocaine-fueled ’80s.

But the version we got is pretty cool, too, I guess.

Billy Dhalgren

30-21 | 10-1

What are some of your favorite blockbusters? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!