It’s that time again: Summer blockbuster season, when every damned movie seems to be vying for your hard-earned dollars in an attempt to become the event movie of the year. The tradition dates back over 35 years now, when wide releases became the norm in the film industry, and opening weekends became an important factor in any film’s financial success. So now we have bigger and bigger movies each trying to convince you that you absolutely have to see them on opening weekend, or dude… you’re missing out.
For the next few weeks, Five Great Movies will be taking a closer look at some of the greatest Summer blockbusters ever produced, just in case this year’s offerings suck. (We’re off to a good start though.) As usual, they’re not in any particular order, they’re just the five films we felt like recommending to you this week. Enjoy.
Jaws (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975)
While we’re not going in any kind of order here, there’s no denying it: Jaws comes first. BecauseJaws came first, after all. Over 67 million Americans saw Spielberg’s killer shark movie the summer it came out, creating the very notion of the “summer blockbuster.” And with good cause: Jaws lacks the explosive rock ‘em sock ‘em nonsense of the typical summer blockbuster these days, but compensates for that with (get this) a perfectly told story. A mysterious death off the coast of Amity Island convinces local sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) that a deadly shark is in the water, but try as he might, he can’t convince the local government to shut them down during tourist season. Aided by an enthusiastic shark expert played by Richard Dreyfuss, and a dangerously obsessed fisherman played by Robert Shaw, Brody struggles against the bureaucracy to save innocent lives. Spielberg knows when to punctuate the film’s slow build up with spectacle, and perhaps most importantly knows how to pay off that set up with a dynamite finale that may be the most exciting depiction of man vs. nature ever filmed. As good today as it was over 35 years ago.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1982)
Whoever said that sequels suck must have missed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which is pretty impressive since it made a fortune in the summer of 1982, and is generally considered to be the best Star Trek movies ever made (we’re Undiscovered Country fans ourselves, but there’s room for all of us). After the simply boring first feature outing for Gene Roddenberry’s famous space explorers, it fell to Time After Time director Nicholas Meyer to try to jumpstart the franchise. His solution was to revive one of the original series’ few memorable villains, a megalomaniac named Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban. His episode, entitled “Space Seed,” ended fairly happily, with Khan and his followers allowed to settle on an uninhabited, safe planet, but in the ensuing years the environment turned so hostile that it became a living hell. With a valid grudge against Captain James T. Kirk, Khan finally escapes his prison and wreaks havoc on the Federation, stealing a weapon of mass destruction, killing Spock and winding up in a spectacular space battle the likes of which Trek fans had never seen. The spectacular melodrama and thrilling sci-fi succeeded in rekindling audiences’ love of the franchise, which is going strong to this day.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (dir. Joe Johnston, 1989)
On the family-friendly side of summer blockbusters, we have Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a memorably inventive film from future Captain America director Joe Johnston. Rick Moranis stars as an inventor whose shrink ray accidentally… um, shrinks the kids. (You gotta appreciate truth in advertizing.) Before long they’re taken out with the trash and have to travel all the way across the dangerous lawn back into the house, in the hopes of capturing their Dad’s attention so he can turn them back to normal. The science is… a little wonky… but the overall conceit, the daily lives we take for granted are truly scary from a different perspective, is neatly dramatized and full of memorable moments, like a fight with a deadly scorpion, finding a “giant” Oreo and almost getting swallowed in a spoonful of Cheerios. Fun Fact: The film was co-written by horror luminary Stuart Gordon, whose most famous film, Re-Animator, was unfortunately not a summer blockbuster.
The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)
With budgets skyrocketing all over the place these days, it’s easy to forget that summer blockbuster don’t have to be expensive, they just have to feel like an event. That’s something the low-budget, early “found footage” horror movie The Blair Witch Project excelled at. One of the first movies to heavily promote itself on the internet, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s micro-budgeted thriller claimed to be a real documentary about a group of amateur documentarians who fell prey to a supernatural presence in the woods of Maryland, and were never heard from again. Enough people believed the gimmick, or at least found it intriguing, that the film grossed over $248 million at the box office, on a budget of around $60,000. The hype worked against The Blair Witch Project in the long run, as many audiences turned on the film for not being the scariest thing they had ever seen. But time has been kind to the little frightfest, which still has the power to scare if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at the movies anyway?
Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)
After astounding critics and audiences alike with his phenomenal sequel The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan stuck with summer blockbusters for an exciting heist film set within the human mind. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a man hired to break into a tycoon’s dreams in order to plant the seed of an idea that would benefit his competitors, and assembles a team comprised of the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Ellen Page to accomplish the task. The imagery Nolan concocts is at turns innovative and hauntingly familiar, if you’ve ever dreamed before, and the last act – which intercuts between three dreams that are both simultaneous and taking place over varying lengths of time – is one of the most stunningly edited sequences in history. Blisteringly intelligent and genuinely exciting, Inception is one of the very best summer blockbusters of all time.
Come back next week for more Five Great Movies, when we’ll single out some more summer blockbuster favorites!