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The 18 Best Summer Blockbusters Ever

Polls don’t lie! Here are the 18 best summer blockbusters ever.
Best Summer Blockbusters Ever
By  · Published on April 27th, 2018

9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Summer Blockbusters Raiders

Steven Spielberg directed three of the films on this list (and produced another one), and while his other two ranked higher based on votes that’s no slight against Indiana Jones’ first adventure. (Hell, every film on this list is a guaranteed slice of cinematic brilliance.) This film remains a rousing experience from beginning to end with scenes that leave audiences laughing, cheering, and holding their collective breath. Nazis are always a good choice for antagonists, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better cinematic denouement for their dastardly deeds (outside of maybe Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) than they get here. – Rob Hunter

8. The Avengers (2012)

Summer Blockbusters Avengers

Your enthusiasm on the first five films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may vary. Iron Man revealed an emotionally fractured military arms dealer struggling to seek amends via vigilante justice and a boundless desire to tinker, The Incredible Hulk looked to replicate the appeal of the original television show while ignoring the embarrassment of that Ang Lee ordeal, Thor had to prove this universe could offer more than earthbound routine, and Captain America: The First Avenger made patriotism cool again just so it could shatter the American dream in the sequel. Then The Avengers brought the whole gang together and nothing would be the same again. You may prefer one hero to the other, but once you see these titans standing in a circle together, the appeal of the standalone franchise begins to dwindle. Ten years into this endeavor and my astonishment of watching Captain America order The Hulk to smash has not diminished. These are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assembled under one banner. While the MCU will probably continue well beyond our deaths, it will be hard to replicate the original sense of wonder at seeing these characters sharing shawarma together. – Brad Gullickson

7. Die Hard (1988)

Summer Blockbusters Diehard

John McTiernan’s career is an odd one, but sandwiched between the terrific fun of 1987’s Predator and the suspenseful tension of 1990’s The Hunt for Red October sits one of the greatest action movies ever made. Die Hard certainly wasn’t the first to pit an out-gunned underdog against trained and heavily-armed baddies, but sweet Jesus does it execute the premise with perfection. Bruce Willis proved himself capable of more than mere smirks and one-liners (although they’re present here too), and the film’s numerous beats of action, suspense, and humanity remain every bit as powerful today as they were thirty years ago. The film spawned four lesser sequels, the second of which saw McTiernan return with the goods, but the original remains a modern classic. – Rob Hunter

6. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Summer Blockbusters Pirates

Back in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was the definition of high-risk, high-reward filmmaking: a PG-13 live-action Disney film based on a theme park ride, and an adventure-comedy starring a mix of serious actors and relative unknowns. Somehow, it all worked. Besides reintroducing the word “swashbuckling” into our cultural vocabulary and generating one of the best soundtracks of the new millennium, the film brought us a set of singular characters, a ragtag bunch of poetic, bizarre, and begrudging heroes for the ages. Of course, none were more memorable than Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. The pirate’s self-made mythology and grungy charm inspired countless imitators (and faded with each sequel), but for one golden summer, he sauntered the fine line between a soaring children’s adventure saga and an endlessly dark folk tale to become a pop culture legend. – Valerie Ettenhofer

5. Back to the Future (1985)

Summer Blockbusters Bttf

To me, the best summer movies fall into the action-adventure or comedy genre, providing a thrilling ride and/or gut-busting jokes needed during those sweltering nights. Back to the Future fits both categories, expertly balancing excitement and danger with humor and gags. The skateboard chase alone is iconic because it employs both so well. When Marty McFly goes back in time thirty years, 1955 first serves solely as a set piece to mine fish-out-of-water jokes, but the stakes are quickly introduced and we fear for his safety while he tries to get back home. From the ultra-tense clocktower finale to the feel-good Johnny B. Goode number, Robert Zemeckis‘ mid-80s hit is the classic summer movie. – Alex Vitti

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Summer Blockbusters Darkknight

Christopher Nolan’s sequel to one of the best superhero movies ever made actually is the BEST superhero movie ever made. With The Dark Knight, the director transcended typical caped crusader fare to deliver a chaotic crime saga that’s reminiscent of Michael Mann’s finest works. Here, Gotham City feels like an integral character in its own right, and its soul is completely torn. The blockbuster spectacle is exquisite, but it’s an action film with real stakes and casualties. Additionally, the film does an excellent job of making you empathize with several perspectives, regardless of where they sit on the good/evil spectrum. Plus, who doesn’t love a villain who just wants to see the world burn? – Kieran Fisher

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Summer Blockbusters Furyroad

From its convulsive action sequences and war drum-laden soundtrack to its onslaught of themes (feminism, climate change, dystopia), the latest in George Miller’s apocalyptic sci-fi franchise is a roaring, screeching ride. Charlize Theron leads an empowered band of sex slaves to freedom in a totally unexpected spotlight shift from the movie’s predecessors, with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) relegated to a mere supporting role. This, plus its superlative, Pimp-My-Ride production design and sparse, guttural dialogue, mean Mad Max: Fury Road’s radicalness is so deep-rooted that watching it is always a visceral, rather than an intellectual, experience – just what a great summer blockbuster should be. – Farah Cheded

2. Jurassic Park (1993)

Summer Blockbusters Jurassicpark

We give Steven Spielberg a lot of credit as the Godfather of the Blockbuster. And rightly so. With Jaws, he kicked the whole thing into gear. From then on, our perception of watching movies during the summer months changed. But it wasn’t until Jurassic Park that he’d perfected the craft of the blockbuster. It’s a film full of heart, a genuine scientific curiosity, and of course, dinosaurs that look so real you’d believe it was all live-action. Jurassic Park isn’t just a great summer movie, it’s the largest dot on the roadmap of cinema. It’s the blending of the classic, the modern, and as time has shown, it was also very much a film of the future. We won’t see it’s kind again soon. – Neil Miller

1. Jaws (1975)

Summer Blockbusters Jaws

Were summer blockbusters even a thing before 1975’s Jaws? Not according to the numbers, since its release catapulted it to the position of the highest-grossing movie of all time. A beach movie that made its audience terrified of the beach, Jaws didn’t just dominate the summer — it epitomized it and ruined it. Premiering on June 20th, it doomed its viewers to an entire season of second-guessing their trips to the shore. Maybe that was the film’s secret agenda: audiences had to beat the heat by going to the movies because they sure as hell weren’t going in the water. Whatever it was, it worked, and Jaws earned its place as the quintessential summer blockbuster that still graces some big screens every year to terrify new generations of beachgoers. – Liz Baessler

Individual picks for five favorite summer blockbusters ever:

Liz Baessler — Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lion King (1994), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Madison Brek — The Fly (1986), The Fugitive (1993), The Truman Show (1998), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Christopher Campbell — Jaws (1975), Ghostbusters (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Die Hard (1988), The Rock (1996)

Farah Cheded — Jaws (1975), Chicken Run (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Ratatouille (2007), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

John DiLillo — Star Wars (1977), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Back to the Future (1985), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Up (2009)

Aline Dolinh — Aliens (1986), The Fly (1986), Jurassic Park (1993), Ratatouille (2007), Pacific Rim (2013)

Valerie Ettenhofer — Jurassic Park (1993), The Truman Show (1998), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), The Dark Knight (2008), Star Trek (2009)

Kieran Fisher — Predator (1987), Point Break (1991), Face/Off (1997), The Dark Knight (2008), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Sarah Foulkes — The Bourne Identity (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Toy Story 3 (2010), Bridesmaids (2011), Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Brad Gullickson – Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Aliens (1986), The Avengers (2012)

Rob Hunter — Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982), Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Neil Miller — Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), Independence Day (1996), The Rock (1996), The Dark Knight (2008)

Natalie Mokry — The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Spider-Man (2002), Shrek 2 (2004), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Meg Shields — Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Sophia Stewart — Minority Report (2002), X-Men 2 (2003), The Dark Knight (2008), District 9 (2009), Wonder Woman (2017)

Alex Vitti — Jaws (1975), Back to the Future (1985), Bridesmaids (2011), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), Spy (2015)

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.