Grab your favourite drink, a tub of popcorn, sit back and get ready… it’s the summer movie season! From Avengers: Infinity War to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, there are plenty of popcorn blockbusters to check out in the cinemas. While we’re at it, let’s step back to the past and relive these 20 best summer movies of all time.
1) Jaws (1975)
The granddaddy of the summer movie. Back then, the now-familiar term of “summer blockbuster” didn’t even exist prior to the 1975 release of Jaws. But then-27 years old Steven Spielberg changed the Hollywood landscape once and for all. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, Spielberg successfully scared millions of moviegoers back then (in a good way, of course) with his methodical style of direction. Together with John Williams’ iconic der-dum der-dum score, he made a smart choice not to show the (mechanical) great white shark in full and only save the best for the last during the legendary climactic finale. The rest, as they say, is history.
2) Star Wars (1977)
If Jaws was renowned for inventing the summer blockbuster, then George Lucas’ Star Wars seals the deal as the iconic Hollywood pop culture that defined most of our childhood. Lucas shows a great labour of love that successfully integrated some of the best genre-defining movies of the past (Flash Gordon, John Ford’s The Searchers and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress) with modern sensibility. He also responsible for giving us some of the most beloved characters of all-time (Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2). Not to forget the lightsabers, Millennium Falcon and John Williams’ signature score. The “classic theme of good vs. evil” storyline may have been simple but you can’t deny the quality of storytelling that stood the test of time.
3) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Ask (any) fans who have watched the Star Wars movies. Most of them would tell you that The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie in the decades-long franchise. It’s one of the rare sequels that outdid the genre-defining Star Wars three years prior. The Empire Strikes Back is significantly dark and pessimistic than the more traditional space opera of the 1977 original. Here, evil triumphs over the good and we see heroes fall. And of course, who could have forgotten that legendary reveal of all-time?
4) Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Steven Spielberg’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a prime example of how to make a great action-adventure movie. He has successfully recreated the 1930s adventure serial into a modern pop-culture phenomenon. From the memorable protagonist in the form of Harrison Ford’s roguish archaeologist as Indiana Jones to the thrilling set-pieces one after another, Raiders Of The Lost Ark is no doubt one of the best summer movies of all time.
5) E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Who could forget the iconic scene where Elliot (Henry Thomas) and E.T. ride the bicycle over the moon? Or then-young Drew Barrymore, who made her first breakthrough appearance at the age of seven? Steven Spielberg proved that movies about aliens don’t have to be scary or violent. Instead, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a warm-hearted, family-friendly entertainment that is both entertaining and touching at the same time. The kind of childlike wonder and feel-good sentimentality that only Spielberg can execute them remarkably well.
6) Ghostbusters (1984)
The logo, the Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song and proton packs are some of the most enduring pop-culture that made Ghostbusters such a Hollywood phenomenon. This supernatural-comedy classic is even frequently referenced in countless other movies and TV series, including last year’s Netflix’s Stranger Things 2. Of course, part of this movie works so well is because of the hilarious script and a top-notch cast led by Bill Murray’s sarcastic performance as Peter Venkman.
7) Back To The Future (1985)
Robert Zemeckis made time travel cool and geek-worthy in Back To The Future. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd made a terrific pair as the teenage Marty McFly and the eccentric Albert Einstein-like professor Doc Brown. The iconic DeLorean and Alan Silvestri’s signature score seals the deal for this quintessential time-travel movie.
8) Aliens (1986)
Whereas Ridley Scott’s Alien is a sci-fi movie under the guise of a slow-burn horror, James Cameron’s sequel is a different beast altogether. He made a smart choice not to repeat the same tone. Instead, Aliens is restructured as a military actioner set in space. He even made Sigourney Weaver a tough kick-a** heroine in her most iconic role ever as Lt. Ellen Ripley.
9) Predator (1987)
There were numerous Predator movies that have been released over the years. Neither the sequel (Predator 2), the crossover (Alien vs. Predator) nor the reboot (Predators) could match the enduring success of the Schwarzenegger-led Predator. The first movie works because of John McTiernan directs it with sheer gusto, offering a pacy mix of well-staged military action with sci-fi undertones. The strong ensemble cast is another reason, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s no-nonsense performance helps elevate most of the movie.
10) Die Hard (1988)
The 80’s action formula is typically dominated by Schwarzenegger and Stallone-like one-man killing machine. Then came Die Hard in 1988, where a street-smart and everyman NYPD cop happens to be an unlikely action hero. What’s even more unlikely is Bruce Willis playing the role of John McClane. His most recognisable work before that? The Moonlighting TV series. But he has surprisingly made his role into a pop-culture icon. The term of Die Hard-like premise was subsequently initiated, where it usually involves a hero trapped in a confined setting filled with terrorist(s) or mad antagonist(s).
11) Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s Batman is no ordinary summer movie. Back in 1989, this is the summer event that’s hard to ignore. The iconic Batman logo along with the movie tie-in merchandise attracted a sizable public’s attention around the world. The movie itself is just as iconic: Jack Nicholson’s immortalised turn as the scene-stealing Joker and Michael Keaton surprised everyone with his perfectly moody role as the title character. And of course, Danny Elfman’s unforgettable signature theme that still resonates even until today.
12) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Topping the already-perfect 1984 predecessor seems like an impossible task. But James Cameron, who directed the first movie, returns with a surprisingly superior sequel. The premise is more or less the same, with the exception of turning Schwarzenegger’s cyborg antagonist into a saviour. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is also blessed with a bigger budget and Cameron utilise it well enough to give us one of the best special-effect wonders ever seen: the liquid metal of T-1000. Played to chilling perfection by the incomparable Robert Patrick, his character is a worthy adversary against Schwarzenegger’s cybernetic T-800. Even the action is bigger and better than the first time around.
13) Jurassic Park (1993)
Dinosaurs are back from extinction… at least, cinematically in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. This big-budget blockbuster successfully brought the dinosaurs to vivid life with the wonders of CGI and animatronic effects. It’s worth noting that CGI was still in its infancy back in the 90s. And yet, Spielberg and his ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) special-effect team manage to prove otherwise.
14) Speed (1994)
It’s Die Hard… on the bus! And who could have thought of that back in 1994? Even the premise itself is simple: A group of innocent citizens trapped inside a moving bus rigged with a bomb. If the bus goes under 50 mph, the bomb will blow off. Preposterous? Yes. But director Jan de Bont made it work surprisingly well. Speed is both taut and thrilling from start until the end, making this the ride of the summer in 1994.
15) Independence Day (1996)
This is the movie that started the modern trend of blowing up the iconic city landmark. In this case, we see the White House and the Empire State Building blown to smithereens in Independence Day. The movie itself is nothing more than a classic alien-invasion setup. But the huge special-effect showcase made this a must-see on the big screen. And there’s Will Smith, the king of Hollywood superstar who could do no wrong back then.
16) Gladiator (2000)
The sword-and-sandal historical epics were already long gone since the 60s. But Ridley Scott successfully revived the long-forgotten genre with Gladiator. A huge box-office hit and even won five Oscars including Best Picture, Gladiator is famously made Russell Crowe into a Hollywood superstar.
17) Spider-Man (2002)
The Spider-Man franchise may have undergone two screen reincarnations including the Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and the current Tom Holland’s MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) version. But let’s not forget it was Sam Raimi who helped launched the web-slinger franchise in the first place. Tobey Maguire is perfect in the title role while the movie itself boasts a nice balance of comic-book action, drama and humour.
18) The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight is widely considered as the holy grail of a dark and gritty superhero movie. Christopher Nolan, who helped revitalise the franchise in Batman Begins three years prior, structured his sequel like a modern-day crime drama. Michael Mann’s Heat is his biggest influence, as notably seen during the opening bank heist. It was a sequel that improved by leaps and bounds. Of course, The Dark Knight wouldn’t be a global phenomenon if not for the late Heath Ledger’s memorable turn as the Joker.
19) The Avengers (2012)
The joy of watching Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) together… is certainly a fanboy’s dream come true. Most of the success came from writer-director Joss Whedon, whose geeky direction can be evidently seen in this movie. Case in point: the tremendous 30-minute epic finale between the Avengers against Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army of Chitauri.
20) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
In a time where superhero movies typically dominated the summer-movie season, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is a one-in-a-million rarity. A big-budget, post-apocalyptic actioner where the premise is essentially a chase movie. But Miller somehow turned this into a work of art. The chase sequences are traditionally staged using old-school stunts, something you don’t really see these days. The Mad Max franchise is famously known as a testosterone-driven movie led by Mel Gibson. While Tom Hardy is a worthy replacement, it was Charlize Theron who brings a refreshingly edgy feminist angle as Furiosa.