Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the annual mid-year blockbuster season. Oscar hour will soon be upon us if not the usual proceedings of Halloween releases but I can’t help but look fondly upon summer this year. Not since 2015 have we had a such a truly epic summer. In April this year, the Mad Titan came smashing into our theatres with Infinity War, much to the hooting delight of Marvel fans everywhere. Deadpool 2 no doubt won the month of May with its cynical charm and madcap meta-humour. There was even something for the little ones this year with Bird’s Incredibles 2 giving us a healthy helping of heroic family fun. Then came July, bringing with it arguably one of the greatest action films of a decade. Mission: Impossible-Fallout is still the talk of the town, mind you. In light of the sensational summer we’ve had this year, it’s time to review back on some of the greatest blockbusters to have ever graced the season.
These are the films that will make any day of the year feel like summer. Films that everyone would be talking about after a long school break, recreational weekend and especially before the Monday blues. So put on your sunglasses because we’re turning up with the heat with our picks for the best summer blockbusters to watch.
Here are the top 10 greatest summer blockbusters of all time!
10. Speed (1994)
Let’s kick this list off with something fast and explosive. Before the age of Torettos and logic defying wheelies, there was a little number we called Speed. The follows the high octane adventures of Keanu Reeve’s Officer Jack Traven as he attempts to stop a rogue bomber, Howard Payber from blowing up a bus full of innocent civilians. Seeking vengeance after Traven foiled his previous ploy, Payne engineers a brilliant scheme to rig a bus with a bomb set to blow up if the bus hits under 50 mph. But Traven isn’t ready to give in yet so he hopes onto the moving bus, intent on diffusing it. Traven must attempt to stall Payne as long as he can while ensuring the safety of the passengers. The phrase “need for speed” gets thrown around a lot these days but here it’s a matter of life and death.
The premise is pure dynamite! Without wasting a second, the film doesn’t try to flesh the characters’ backstory, strictly keeping you focused on the intensity of a single situation. Contrary to convention, this actually allows the film to be layered and tense. From the authorities making way for the bus to Traven bobbing and weaving through traffic to keep alive to the cops trying to find Payne, all of it is connected to the situation of the bomb. It is this layering that keeps the drama active and the threat of danger ever present. Keanu Reeves as the spunky LAPD cop just doing his job, though wooden in delivery at times, does a great job at selling us the gravity of the situation. Sandra Bullock as the passenger turned partner/love interest I guess is there to serve as an added motivation for them not to get blown up? Look, the important thing is that Reeves kicked ass, took names and went into the danger zone. Speed will certainly you look at bus rides in a whole new light.
9. Aliens (1986)
The summer season lineup for the most part has consisted of your action-star male empowerment affair and recently superhero films. It is a rarity for horror films to ever break into the market during the time, probably banking on Halloween for a more effective release. James Cameron however in 1986 gave us one of the best sci-fi/action/horror film of all time with Aliens. After the events of Alien, xenomorph-attack survivor Lieutenant Ridley awakes 57 years after the end of the original film to find herself in a new world. The Weyland-Yutani corporation has expanded their reach beyond research and development, they’ve developed their own military force, the Colonial Marines. As she tries to adjust to normal life after her rescue, she constantly suffers from PTSD. She knows that her mission isn’t over, so she joins up with marines to uncover the Weyland-Yutani’s true intentions on the moon LV-426 and to kick alien ass at the same time. It’s time to come get some.
Until I watched Aliens, I didn’t know it was possible to both shit your pants and have an adrenaline rush at the same time. Aliens takes the best aspects of Ridley Scott’s classic and builds upon its foundation. It elaborates on the threat of the xenomorph without overexplanining its origins (take note Prometheus). The amount of detail and care placed into the visual effects is phenomenal. Everything from the weapons to the eerie corridors of Hadley’s Hope to the xenomorphs themselves feel lived in. The perfect ecosystem for Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley to shine as one of the most badass heroines of all time. Just like Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog in Fellowship of the Ring, it is near impossible not to think about Ridley in a power suit facing off against the alien queen. “Get away from her you, bitch”, shall forever be Ridley’s warcry and the film an icon of sci-fi cinema.
8. Ghostbusters (1984)
Before the gender-bender fiasco that was the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, we had the perfectly good, if not great, original from the 80’s. Directed by by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd, Ghostbusters sees scientist Peter Vankman, Raymond Stantz and Egon Spengler along with their employee Winston Zeddemore, start up their very own paranormal investigation and containment business New York. Business is booming for the gang but they have big problems on the way. It all starts when Vankman’s love interest Dana Barrett gets possessed by a demon named Zuul who uses her to try to unlock a portal for a dark god to enter into New York. It’s up to Vankman and his misfit crew to save his lady love and city from the destruction of an evil deity. It’s time to bust some ghosts.
The name of the game here is spelled F-U-N and it accomplishes and what it sets out to do. For all of its supernatural elements, Ghostbusters is ultimately a film about a bunch of blue-collar guys trying to make a living. Epitomized in Bill Murray as the snarky, glory-hungry leader of the group, Vankman. Aykroyd’s brainy and naive Stanz and Harold Ramis’ awkward Egon Spengler along with Vankman make for quite an entertaining trio. Constantly cracking wise on the job and off at city hall. And Zeddemore you ask? Well…he’s just glad to be there. That being said, the film certainly isn’t slacking in the action department. Seeing the crew use their proton packs to snare a ghost and capture in their containment unit never quite gets old. Especially when they have to contend with a giant anthropomorphic marshmallow man rampaging through the city. And believe or not, the film actually does have genuinely scary moments, particularly the spectres library. Even after 34 years, Ghostbusters still holds up as damn fine supernatural comedy, sure to give anyone silly, spooky good time.
7. Jurassic Park (1993)
Bringing a little wonder and terror to any summer vacation near you is Spielberg’s landmark motion picture Jurassic Park. It is the live action version of Land Before Time but with a lot more homicidal tendencies. When archaeologist discover an ancient mosquito perfectly preserved in amber, founder of bioengineering corporation InGen Richard Hammond takes advantage of this discover to harvest its DNA to create cloned dinosaurs. And what does any responsible capitalist do with such an amazing scientific breakthrough? If you guessed create a theme park attraction, then you’re 100% correct. Christening the project “Jurassic Park”, Hammond plans on unveiling it to the public soon. Investors however feel it would be best for a team of experts to come down and review the safety of the park and its ethical ramification. Mathematician Ian Malcolm, paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler along with her kids are the first outsiders to visit the park. The tour seems to be going well, safe for some moral reservations, when suddenly the park’s security measures are shut down and the prehistoric exhibits roam free…and some of them aren’t herbivores.
In spite of its supposed lack of accuracy, Jurassic Park is by far the closest thing we’ll ever get to witnessing living, breathing dinosaurs. I don’t know about you but the kid in me still giddily leaps for joy at the prospect. What truly gives these majestic monsters such presence is Spielberg’s heavy reliance on practical effects over CGI. From the faint inhales of a sick triceratops to the ungodly roar of a hungry T-Rex, every creature there has a distinct and unique personality. I’ve written an article that discusses the genius of the first film if you wish to understand the full picture of the effort placed into the film. It is worth saying again though that Jurassic Park is an awe-inspiring love letter to practical effects and worthy to land on anyone’s blockbuster list.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Who doesn’t love a good car chase? The rush we feel as our heroes do their level best to evade capture or pull a takedown on an opposing vehicle. The sick drifts and the long leaps are just some of the things come with the label. While there will most definitely be some people who will be wondering where any films from the Fast and the Furious franchise will be landing on this list, the sad truth is that it will not. George Miller’s Fury Road absolutely spoiled us on what vehicular warfare and car chases should look like. If you’ve been following us then you know that we’ve touched on this in our Netflix recommendations which we recommend checking out if you want the full details. If not, here’s the cliff note version of the story. In post apocalyptic Australia there is a man named Max. Max gets captured and used as a human hood ornament. Then there’s Furiosa who is steals the wives of the leader of a local wartribe named Immortan Joe. Furiosa runs, Max follows and Joe chases. Then she stops running and with Max’s help chases Joe. All this on the Fury Road. Max isn’t too happy about the situation and gets mad.
Fury Road is a visual feast from start to finish. One thing that nearly doesn’t get mentioned enough is the costume design in the film. The makeshift and crude fashion of the world is far from simple or lazy. Each and every terrible ornament that adorns the characters of this world says something about their personality, community and the state of the world they live in. The film makes no pretensions of trying to tell an intricate narrative. It gives us what we want and more in terms of gunfights, monster truck style battles and plenty of explosions. Dom and the crew have fought a submarine but they I don’t see no flaming guitar anywhere.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
In many ways, The Dark Knight was a film that changed how people viewed summer blockbusters. We’ve always had gritty action films that entail harrowing scenarios and complex characters but Nolan took it to a whole other level here. For the uninitiated (or folks living under a rock), the film is a sequel to 2005’s highly successful Batman Begins. Gotham City looks like it has finally accepted Batman as its official guardian, working with Commissioner Gordon and local authorities to bring order to the once lawless city. Batman has become more than just a vigilante or glorified one man unit. He is a symbol of order and justice. No matter who you are or how untouchable you think you are, the Bat will find you and take you down. Now watch the incorruptible fall, a hero question everything he believes in and city descend into chaos all because of one man. One agent of disorder, the Joker. Night will fall over Gotham and a battle for its very soul will begin.
Let’s just get this out of the way, Heath Ledger’s Joker shall forever go down in history as one of the greatest villains of cinema. Don’t let the title of the film fool you, the film is as much about the clown prince of crime as it is about the caped crusader. There’s something so magnetic and yet utterly repulsive about the character. The schemes this guy comes up with goes above the usual rob a bank or steal a pretty woman. He just wants to watch the world burn. The action here is some of the best I’ve seen in a comic book film since V for Vendetta. One only look at Dent’s transport scene to see the sheer scale and expertise that went into each and every sequence in the film. Eat your heart Marvel fans, The Dark Knight is the best comic book film made so far and the grimmest candidate on this list.
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Now what kind of self-respecting film journalists would we be if we didn’t have at least one 80’s action superstar on this list? The answer: a dead one cause either Norris or Willis would have kicked our doors and roundhoused us into oblivion. But when all is said and done, we have to give up for our boy Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lovably terrifying T-800 in Judgment Day. For eleven years, Sarah Connor has bore the child who would one day grow up to be humanity’s saviour and it has not been an easy life. At some point, she gets seperated from her son and is placed in a mental institute for her belief that she and her son, John are only thing keeping mankind from the machines and that they’re still out there trying to get them. Her suspicions are proven true when the Skynet sends back a newer and slicker Terminator unit from the future, T-1000 to end them both. To counter this measure, the resistance sends back a reprogrammed T-800 to be the family’s guardian angel. The future’s not set in stone and it is up to Sarah, John and their new friend to stop Skynet from taking over the world.
Judgment Day takes the elements that worked from the previous Terminator film and adds new and exciting twists to it. The concept of the very agent that was sent to destroy Sarah Connor now being the only thing keeping her alive is a deliciously ironic piece of drama. Furthermore, the subplot in which John finds a proxy father in the T-800 serves as an excellent way to provide some levity to the robot-on-robot carnage occurring in the film. Add that with the fact that Linda Hamilton gives us another badass female character on this list with the weapon-touting, no-nonsense maternally protective Sarah Connor and we have a recipe for a winner here! Strangely enough, Judgment Day is both a gritty soft sci-fi action film and family road trip one too. So if you see Judgment Day playing, have the kids sit in on it.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
A good summer blockbuster can do more than just offer a few hours of entertaining escapism. Oh yes, sometimes they can imbue our reality with a sense of magic and adventure. They open our mundane lives to a world imagination and excitement around us. One film that particularly captures the thrill of going on a dangerous and daring expedition is none other than Raiders of the Lost Ark starring the actor extraordinaire Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Globe-trotting archaeologist Indiana Jones will go on his greatest adventure when he must travel to Egypt to thwart an outlandish plan orchestrated by the Nazis to steal an ancient artifact that could give them an edge in World War 2. The artifact being the biblical Ark of the Covenant that wields the power to make any army that carries it invincible. Herr Hitler’s henchmen aren’t the only ones after the ark though, Jones’ rival Rene Belloq also has plans to make off with the ark to use it for his own purposes. Jones will brave the deserts of Cairo, bring a gun to a sword fight and battle Nazis all in the name of putting things in an exhibit!
Hailing from a simpler time, Raiders of the Lost Ark offers an older audience a chance to relive the days of The Goonies but in a much more perilous setting. I dare you not to hold your breath as Indie carefully attempts to replace the Golden Idol with an item of equal weight before setting off the booby traps. Or not chuckle at his good many one-liners right before he leaps to his not so certain death. In spite of Indie’s grumpy disposition and cool exterior there was always a sort of warmth about the character that made us care for him every time he was caught up in deadly situations. Maybe it’s Ford’s charm, Spielberg’s eye for action, a well-written adventure or all of the above that made a generation fall in love with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Either way, we sure as hell love us a good face melting and a whole lot of Indie.
2. Jaws (1975)
I know, I know. Another Steven Spielberg film? Really? What can I say? The man’s the father of the modern day blockbuster and we couldn’t possibly leave his most seminal contribution to the annual tradition, Jaws. It’s summer in Amity Island, the perfect time for bikini clad babes and chiseled surfers to hit the beaches. The waters run red however when a great white shark invades the shores of the island. After the death of a local woman, police chief Martin Brody plans on clearing the beaches to avoid any further shark attacks. Worried that this will affect the city revenue from tourists, the mayor shuts Brody’s plan down and instead suggest that he and a small crew go out into the waters to discreetly deal with the situation. This is no more animal though and soon the Brody and crew find themselves fighting for their very lives against the predator. The hunt is on but it’s hard distinguish between the hunter and hunted.
Mirroring the tale of Captain Ahab and the whale Moby Dick, Jaws tells a story of a group of men contending with a force of nature beyond them. With clever camerawork and a simple mechanical model, Spielberg created one of the greatest movie monsters of all. It even has a name: Bruce. Motivated by budgetary and creative reasons, it was wise to use Bruce sparingly in the film. We never quite get the full scope of the terror incognito. We feel his presence as he races through the water and thumps below the boat. We see his power from his ability to inspire fear in the eye of his victims. We see glimpses of him as William’s spine chilling score builds in the background. The tension mounts and before we know it Bruce emerges in all his glory. If you’re planning on hitting beach, you may want to skip this one. For everyone else, this is a thriller that demands your attention.
1. Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Every now and then, a film comes along and raises the bar for what summer blockbusters should strive to be. For the longest time, Empire Strikes Back has been that bar. Granted over the years, we’ve seen film franchises like Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and even the new Star Wars sequels outshine Empire in the effects department. Even so, Empire still holds up pretty well. The Battle of Hoth is just as memorable and engaging as it was 38 years ago. I dare you to deny the soaring battles between rebel aircrafts and a fleet of behemoth AT-AT walkers as Stormtroopers lay siege to the resistance base. Another memorable scene that comes to mind being when Solo, Leia and Chewie narrowly escape the maw of a space worm.
All that aside, the beauty of Empire is beyond skin deep. Star Wars has always been about its characters and their relationships among one another. The film wonderfully expands on the character of Luke Skywalker who must learn to harness the power inside him to become a true Jedi Knight. It also fleshes out the romance between Leia and Han. Empire can too accomodate for high drama and emotional stakes in its visual spectacle. Here we witness first hand how the sins of the father can infect the son. We see Luke struggle to become the man he needs to be only to realize that he is the seed of everything he hates. The chosen one is the heir to a dark empire, culminating in one of cinema’s most iconic reveals. The villainous Vader truly comes into his own here as we see him scheme, manipulate and kill his way to victory. That being said, his cold exterior is betrayed by his compassion for Luke and his need to reconcile his two worlds. It’s actually all quite poetic when come to think about it. Teeming with rich characters and complex themes, Empire Strikes Back is a summer blockbuster like no other. Leaving a legacy that continues to influence the industry forevermore.
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