The 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters of All Time (50-41)

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.

50. Bridesmaids (2011)

Back in 2011, Bridesmaids broke the mold of female-driven films and helped breathe some fresh air into the oft-predictable wedding comedy to the tune of nearly 300 million dollars at the box office. With a rich ensemble of talent, the Kristen Wiig-led film gave audiences so many memorable moments (the drunken speech, everyone getting kicked off the airplane, the diarrhea bit) and a strong supporting performance by Melissa McCarthy, that even its detractors are forced to admit its high points. Recently it’s been deemed overrated by some, which is understandable to a certain extent, but one can’t help but wonder if those same people wouldn’t call it a classic if the film wasn’t comprised almost entirely of women. It’s no better or worse than most Apatow comedies and is equally as good as The Hangover and that got two sequels. In an age where studio comedies are all but extinct, it is time to stop hating on this because it was popular because God knows cinema needs more films like it.

Sailor Monsoon

49. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

It’s kind of sad that what Edge of Tomorrow is best known for is the ridiculous shit show that became of attempts to title it. Based on a Japanese novel titled All You Need is Kill, initially the movie was set to be named after its source material. Director Doug Liman didn’t think the title fit the tone of the movie he made, and I probably agree with him, but where All You Need is Kill grabs your attention, Edge of Tomorrow sounds like a generic sci-fi movie.

But that’s not where it ends.

I guess the marketing department at Warner Bros agreed that Edge of Tomorrow wasn’t very sexy and decided to downplay the title in favor of the film’s tagline “Live. Die. Repeat.” when it hit home video. To this day, I’m not sure if anyone really knows whether the movie is called Edge of Tomorrow, Live. Die. Repeat, or Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. What I do know is that Edge of Tomorrow was a helluva a fun summer blockbuster to see in theaters. It was funny, entertaining, had great action sequences, good chemistry between the leads, paced very well, and it held my attention the entire run time. I mean, what more can you ask for from a summer popcorn flick? But that title…

Billy Dhalgren

48. Men in Black (1997)

Who says alien movies can’t be fun? Before Men in Black, most flicks about aliens were horrifying, deeply illuminating allegories about the state of humanity, or some combination of both. This movie realized that these tales of extraterrestrial visitors can also be an avenue for a quality buddy cop film. Pairing Will Smith’s incredible comedic timing and knack for charm with Tommy Lee Jones’ perfectly played crotchety straight man persona is a match made in heaven. The two play off of each other wonderfully. Sprinkle in Vincent D’Onofrio delivering one of the best and most outrageous performances of any blockbuster villain, and you’ve got yourself a golden film. To sweeten the deal even more, you’ve got Will Smith’s “Men in Black” song as the perfect cherry on top.

Raf Stitt

47. Minority Report (2002)

It’s 2054. Scientists have reduced the murder rate to zero in Washington, DC, with ‘Pre-crime’ – a police unit that taps into a trio of ‘precogs’ (psychics who get glimpses of the future) to predict murders and arrest the perpetrators before they do anything wrong. Fingered as a future murderer, Police Chief John Anderson (Tom Cruise) must run for his life if he is to piece together the mystery of who the man he’s supposed to kill is and more importantly, why he’s going to kill him. An action thriller that raises moral and ethical dilemmas about free will, as well as an excellent predictor of future events (Spielberg consulted leading scientists to furnish a plausible future world, and two decades later – from retina scanners to personalized advertising – he was spot on), Minority Report remains one of the best genre films the director ever made.

Sailor Monsoon

46. Face/Off (1997)

The easy selling point for this movie is the fact that you get to see John Travolta do a Nicolas Cage impression. It’s as great as it sounds. However, the rest of the movie surrounding said impression is pretty spectacular as well. John Woo’s signature action style is at an all-time high here. Gun fights dazzle. Kinetic editing keeps everything flying. Nic Cage reloads pistols in slow motion. Doves fly in the background. A plane drives through a hangar. Stuntmen hang off the side of motorboat. The list goes on. The premise is wild. The execution is absolutely stellar.

Raf Stitt

45. Star Trek (2009)

I’m not a huge fan of remakes in general, so I was hugely skeptical when I found out that Star Trek was getting a reboot. I’m a 3rd generation Trekkie. I can remember watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series with my dad as a kid and practicing my “live long and prosper” hand sign while Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest of the crew boldly went where no one had gone before. One of my earliest movie theater memories is being fascinated by the floating purple Klingon blood during the assassination scene in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Imagining other actors stepping into the roles of these beloved characters with any kind of success seemed even more ridiculous than Tribbles.

I didn’t see the 2009 Star Trek on the big screen, a fact that I much regret now.
The opening scene never fails to leave me sniffling and looking for a tissue. When the first notes of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage hit, I was starting to feel it. Watching Chris Pine’s Kirk get his ass kicked in a bar fight was entertaining. But Karl Urban’s introductory monologue outlining the many ways to die in space completely sucked me in. Bones was always my favorite. It was awesome to watch these actors invoke the feeling of the original characters while still making them fresh and new. The relationships between the characters, especially Kirk, Spock, and Bones, develop quickly but authentically. The action is superb and the many moments of humor are well-placed (I could watch on repeat Kirk’s hilarious reactions to the vaccine Bones gives him while running around the ship trying to warn the captain about the coming danger.) It may be relatively low on the list of the greatest summer blockbusters, but it’s still a fun movie and one I’m always up for watching.

R.J. Mathews

44. Gladiator (2000)

A historical epic? Check.

An Oscar contender in damn near all categories? Check.

A crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster? Wait a minute—that shouldn’t align.

With the glut of superhero movies now dominating the box office for well over a decade (though this stranglehold seems diminished of late), it could come as a wonder to some that a movie that, while it does contain capes, grounded in ancient history should find so much success. But when 2000’s Gladiator hit theaters, few likely predicted just how massive an achievement Ridley Scott’s Roman opus was to be, either at the box office or culturally now decades removed from its release. But here we are, still quoting Maximus and measuring damn near every other historically-set extravaganza against the hit film. Whether it’s the epic scope aided masterfully by groundbreaking technologies or the star-making performances of Russell Crowe as the indelible Maximus Decimus Meridius or Joaquin Phoenix as top-tier cinematic villain Emperor Commodus, it’s actually a lot easier to see just why the film found the success it did in the heat of a pretty big film summer—and even more success long down the road.


43. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

It’s hard to believe there was a time when you couldn’t just google up anything you wanted to know. In the early days of the internet, information wasn’t nearly as readily available as it is now. Even if you kind of had an idea of what you were looking for, there was no guarantee the right set of keywords or phrases would conjure up the information you sought.

But I didn’t let that deter me from spoiling myself for The Blair Witch Project. The marketing in the lead-up to the film was insane. The trailers would have had the public believe the movie was made from real found footage and that the events depicted in the movie were real. Legit. But my curious nature wouldn’t let me just accept how it was being sold to me. I searched and searched the web until I found out it was all a marketing gimmick.

So that’s how, on the eve of seeing one of the most popular horror movies of my generation, I spoiled the entire thing for myself. And it truly did ruin the experience for me. Knowing it was all bullshit let the tension and mystery right out of it. Let that be a lesson to you kiddies: Don’t let your curiosity get the best of you!

Billy Dhalgren

42. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I remember where I saw Saving Private Ryan (the theater is no longer there) and I remember who I saw it with. And I remember walking out into the bright summer sunshine afterward, wiping tears from my eyes and looking over at my best friend and roommate who was also wiping tears from his eyes. And I remember the look we shared: It’s ok, it said. It’s ok to cry on this one. I don’t think any less of you for it. 

We never spoke of that time again, though. It was sort of an unspoken agreement to just let it be what it was and not to go prying at it too much. We were both 22, and we knew that we weren’t supposed to cry at movies, but what we had just seen was different. And I think it still has that power all these years later. It still chokes me up when I watch it.

Billy Dhalgren

41. The Karate Kid (1984)

Ever since I saw my first Bruce Lee film, I wanted to be a karate man. Karate men didn’t take any shit from anyone. Karate men were men of action. Karate men were men of few words. Karate men could take care of themselves and others. Karate men got the girls.

But Karate men were larger than life. Karate men seemed out of reach to scrawny 8-year-old me. But Daniel LaRusso? He didn’t seem so tough. In fact, he was kind of a wimp when he got to Reseda and met Mr. Miyagi. But after all that wax on wax off shit? Man, wimpy-ass Daniel LaRusso became a bonafide ass-kicking Karate man. And for scrawny-ass 8-year-old me? Man, that was something to shoot for. I could be a Karate man.

Billy Dhalgren


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