The 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters of All Time (40-31)

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.

40. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

The X-Men franchise has always been, at one point or another, in shambles. The original trilogy ended with a whimper. The first, and only, Origins film was riddled with terrible CGI and a mute Deadpool. For a brief moment, it looked like the X-Men franchise was in need of a serious reboot… which is exactly what happened… sort of. 20th Century Fox decided to reboot the franchise with the ’60s-set film, First Class. Featuring a whole new cast (save for some OG cameos), First Class felt like a refreshing new direction for the titular mutants.

Then came The Wolverine, which picked up after the events of the original trilogy. With 20th Century now releasing X-Men movies on two timelines, the only natural thing to do was smush them together and that’s what the studio did, using one of the most popular X-Men stories as a template: Days of Future Past. Released at the perfect time — right during the height of the superhero/shared universe craze — the 2014 superhero film united the casts of First Class and the original trilogy for an action-packed, thrill ride that remains chock-full of memorable moments (that Quicksilver scene, anyone?). While the franchise would immediately go back to ignoring continuity and releasing subpar installments, for one summer season, the X-Men got their shit together and gave us one of the best superhero films.

Marmaduke Karlston

39. Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

While some have taken umbrage with the direction the series went after the first (least of all Kirk Douglas who refused to do First Blood because he disagreed with Stallone’s decision to keep Rambo alive), there’s no denying the raw badassitude displayed in First Blood Part II. After this film came out, boys no longer wanted to be astronauts when they grew up and they stopped playing Cowboys ‘n Indians and started wearing bandannas and playing war. This fundamentally changed an entire generation of kids who went to the church of Stallone, were baptized in the waters of ass-kicking action, and came out the other side believers. Their new religion was one of testosterone and blood and their new god was Rambo. This isn’t the melodrama of the first and it isn’t trying to be. It’s an over-the-top action film aimed at young boys (the ’80s was a different time) and every single one of them loved it.

Sailor Monsoon

38. Batman Returns (1992)

Let us return to an age still with some sense of mystery. Let us return to the 1990s.

You’re a wee lad walking around a Sears department store, oblivious to where your family is and not particularly concerned. What holds your attention? A tube TV dangling from the store ceiling showcasing, on repeat, the trailer for the sequel to Tim Burton’s Batman! What do you do? You continue standing right there in the middle of the store’s glossy floor, mouth agape as at Catwoman and Batman take turns throwing each other off a building until you black out whole chunks of time and find yourself in the theater watching the spectacle as it was meant to be seen, of course!

When 1989’s Batman burst onto the scene, having been a cultural phenomenon even before release, none could doubt in the follow-up’s ability to deliver. While the sequel failed to outperform the original at the box office, it is undeniable the Caped Crusader had cemented himself as a viable cinematic money-maker. With a darker tone than the first—if you can picture it—a bigger budget on display, a bigger cast of A-listers in iconic roles, and Batman Returns did all the right things to elevate the titular character and his movies into a bona fide film franchise. And as the franchise has morphed and evolved with the ages, there remains something magical about the Christmas-themed sequel to the film that launched it all.


37. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The first sequel to The Bourne Identity did more than just replace its original director, it shifted gears and went from a taut espionage thriller to a dark revenge drama but with the added bonus of more action and higher stakes. The third sequel (which should’ve been the last), somehow upped the ante even further. Paul Greengrass, a director known for his documentary work, creates a ticking clock of suspense that gives every second weight. You feel the walls closing in on every character that isn’t Bourne. Because, unlike most thrillers, the suspense doesn’t come from the audience fearing for the safety of the main character but from how fucked everyone else is going to be once he finds them. Bourne is no longer an amnesiac trying to untangle his past while avoiding death at every corner, he’s a pissed-off shark that remembers everything and is hungry for revenge. Before John Wick killed an entire state’s worth of people over a puppy, Jason Bourne beat assassins to death with magazines and took on the entire CIA — and won.

Sailor Monsoon

36. Inception (2010)

At this point in his career, Christopher Nolan’s name was all you needed to sell a film. The man had already released two franchise-defining Batman films, as well as several crowd-pleasing films like Memento and The Prestige. Inception, however, provided that Nolan could make a successful blockbuster without the Caped Crusader at the forefront. Inception is a riveting heist film with an A-list ensemble cast headlined by Leonardo DiCaprio. It has some of the best practical set pieces I have ever seen in a blockbuster film and enough intrigue to keep the audience paying close attention to even the most minute details. Am I dreaming or is this film just damn good?

Marmaduke Karlston

35. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Much like the X-Men franchise, the Mission: Impossible series has seen its fair share of highs and lows. The first film remains in a league of its own; the second, I’m told, has some fans; and the third is possibly the only franchise film J.J. Abrams didn’t fumble. While all of these films were successful, M:i:III saw diminishing returns at the box office, putting the future of the franchise into doubt. Hollywood also believed that Tom Cruise’s star power was beginning to fade, leading to the fourth installment — Ghost Protocol — initially being developed as a “passing of the torch” between Cruise and Jeremy Renner. Well, those plans were immediately scrapped when Ghost Protocol became a critical and commercial success.

With Mission: Impossible red-hot again, Paramount quickly moved on a sequel, Rogue Nation, which was fine at best. However, it was with the sixth film, Fallout, where all the pieces came together, and Mission: Impossible truly cemented itself as one of the great action franchises of our generation. Fallout has the insane stunts performed by Cruise that we have all grown to love, an amazing supporting cast (including a scene-stealing performance by Henry Cavill and his reloadable fists), and an easy-to-follow plot. The best thing to happen to this franchise was the addition of director Christopher McQuarrie, whose partnership with Cruise is unmatched. With two more films developed by this duo hitting theaters soon, Mission: Impossible fans will be eating good for at least the next couple of years.

Marmaduke Karlston

34. The Fugitive (1993)

It’s kind of weird to think of The Fugitive as a summer blockbuster now. If you look at what’s currently at the movies, it’s all superheroes and kid’s bullshit. There’s almost nothing for grown-ups. Almost nothing without loads of computer-generated effects. It’s even weirder when you consider that the movie (Jurassic Park) that kicked off the modern computer effects-driven blockbuster came out that same year. Despite all that, The Fugitive was insanely successful. It did 370 million in box office receipts against a budget of 44 million. And it’s no surprise why. The Fugitive works off of a smart script starring one of the most bankable stars of the time and is paced so well with beautifully staged action sequences that leave you breathless. Yeah, man, I’d put The Fugitive up against any of the bullshit that’s in theaters right now.

–Billy Dhalgren

33. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Nobody really knew who these guys were when this film was announced and don’t say you did, because you didn’t and we know it. Hell, even Marvel pokes fun at that fact IN the film. So, yeah. Marvel risked a ton on this film after establishing some more of the classic-level superheroes. But damn did it pay off for them. This film did gangbusters at the box office. This movie, dare I say trilogy, is one of the best in the MCU and all superhero films at that. It’s everything you want from a blockbuster film, jokes action, character development, etc.

The one thing it is lacking (par for the course MCU) is a really good villain. Ronan the Accuser is kinda just there, he poses no real major threat if you ask me. But what can ya do, right? It’s not like Sony trying to make us all sympathetic to the villains by making them anti-heroes just to keep the IP. That’s a million times worse if you ask me and they should be ashamed of themselves. Which I know they are not. Anyway, back to the movie at hand. It’s a damn fun film and a great chuck of the MCU.

K. Alvarez

32. The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy is Brendan Fraser at the peak of his powers. His on-screen charisma is at an all-time high. Not to mention, he’s hot as heck. Objectifying Brendan Fraser aside, this movie also completely reinvented what a blockbuster movie can be. The blending of the horror and action genres opened the film industry up to a whole new set of possibilities. The use of CGI here represented a giant step forward in how the technology could help filmmakers craft their stories. 1999 was a seminal year in movie history. The Mummy sits right at the center of it, right in the middle of all the great films also released that year, as a firm example of what makes that year so unique. Also, shout out to librarians everywhere.

Raf Stitt

31. True Lies (1994)

A remake of the 1991 French film La Totale!, True Lies is James Cameron’s homage to James Bond. Like all of his other homages (which is basically everything he’s ever done), it’s better than the sum of its parts. The film is a perfect blend of action and comedy that makes for a thrilling ride. The direction and the performances combine to create a fast-paced film that never lets up with brilliantly choreographed action sequences that keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Cameron knows how to make an entertaining popcorn flick but unlike most of his other films, the story is actually the highlight here. In addition to its core concept (a secret agent has his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife might be having an affair with a used-car salesman while terrorists smuggle nuclear war heads into the United States), True Lies also provides a sharp commentary on the role of the traditional family unit in American society. Whether it’s Tasker’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) struggles to balance his work and home life or Helen’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) realization that she’s been living a lie the film subtly examines the idea of the nuclear family as a societal construct that can be both limiting and empowering.

Overall, True Lies is a winning combination of action humor, and heart that showcases Cameron’s talents as a director and the charismatic performances of its ensemble cast. He needs to return to making movies like these instead of giant blue cat alien movies.

Sailor Monsoon

50-41 | 30-21

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