I fully expect that when The Dark Knight tallies its opening weekend haul on Sunday, it will rank among the highest grossing summer blockbuster openings of all time. Sadly it will join the company of lots of blockbuster bilge—such $75M+ openers like The Da Vinci Code and Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. But there have been a number of certified summer blockbusters that have also been really, really good films. In honor of them, here is my top ten list of the best summer blockbusters of all time.
10) Braveheart (5/24/95): The grandaddy of three hour historical epics, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was the rare summer blockbuster that went on to win oodles of Academy Awards.
9) Superman Returns (6/28/06): Though Brian Singer’s superhero film underperformed at the box office, I think it hit all the right notes. There is a somber beauty to this film that is revealed upon each subsequent viewing.
8) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (5/24/89): This third installment in the Indy franchise may not have made as much money as this year’s Crystal Skull already has, but in terms of summer blockbuster qualifications, I think The Last Crusade fits the mold most.
7) Forrest Gump (7/6/94): Another rare example of a summer film that beat the odds and won awards six months later. Tom Hanks’ iconic role made for a perfect summer film: a chronicle of postwar Americana, complete with war, love, and comedy.
6) Back to the Future (7/3/85): The awesome first installment in the Back to the Future franchise was a stunning sci-fi adventure like no other. Crispin Glover steals the show.
5) The Sixth Sense (8/6/99): This late summer sleeper hit gave birth to the “shocking ending” trend in contemporary cinema, as well as introducing the world to M. Night Shyamalan. I still remember the thrill of seeing this movie for the first time in the theater, having no idea what was coming.
4) Jaws (6/20/75): Jaws invented the summer blockbuster. It was the first film to use a simultaneous nationwide release (in hundreds of theaters) and saturation marketing. It also caused millions of beachgoers everywhere to think twice about getting in the water.
3) Jurassic Park (6/11/93): This film ushered in the CGI/Digital era of blockbuster filmmaking with a thundering roar. I still remember seeing this epic adventure film twice in the movie theater that summer, and being utterly terrified as a 5th grader.
2) Independence Day (7/2/96): This is the ultimate summer movie: a combination of star power (Will Smith), aliens, doomsday destruction, and patriotism. And the special effects were pretty great for the time.
1) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (7/3/91): The ultimate white-knuckle summer thriller. Every minute of this action-packed film is adrenaline-fueled. It also introduced never-before-seen digital effects that made that liquid metal villain all the more menacing. Here’s hoping next summer’s Terminator: Salvation will take its place high on this list as well.