Friday list: The best summer movie seasons ever
With "Iron Man 2" banging and clanging into theaters today, the summer movie season of 2010 has officially begun. It's a season that happens to mark an important anniversary: the 35th birthday of the summer blockbuster, which was officially born when 1975's "Jaws" dominated the box office and the collective cultural conversation.
In the years that have followed, the months of May, June, July and August have gotten more and more crowded, as movies -- both of the massive, Spielbergian variety, as well as comedies, indies and even documentaries -- compete to capture our attention during the time of year when everyone is eager to enjoy blissful escapism beneath the chilly blast of cineplex air-conditioning vents.
But since "Jaws" ushered in the era of the summer movie, which hot-and-humid years have given us the very best flicks? After careful consideration, I came up with this list of the 10 strongest summer movie seasons -- the ones that delivered numerous, diverse films that entertained, broke cultural ground, set box office records and, in some cases, all of the above.
For the record, 1975 and 1977, the year that gave us "Star Wars," are not on this list simply because they were too dominated by one, single, monumental film. But feel free to disagree with that assessment -- and I know you will -- by discussing your favorite summer movies and summer movie seasons in the comments below.
This was one of the first years when Hollywood fully took advantage of the summer movie season opportunity and delivered a slate of movies that remain, to this day, undisputed, rewatchable classics. Just check out this list: "The Empire Strikes Back," the (arguably) finest installment in the "Star Wars" franchise; "The Shining," one of the most terrifying horror movies ever made; and a trio of beloved comedies that, astonishingly, landed in theaters within roughly the same month: "Airplane!," "The Blues Brothers" and "Caddyshack." Add a number of films that also struck a significant cultural chord -- "The Blue Lagoon," "Urban Cowboy," "My Bodyguard," "Fame" and (that's right, I'll say it) "Xanadu" -- and you've got a summer movie season that set a tone for years to come.
Movies based on comic books existed before this summer. But the modern comic book movie era, with its darker tones and conflicted heroes, officially arrived with the massive hit that was Tim Burton's "Batman." The summer of '89 also delivered a couple of solid and lucrative sequels ("Lethal Weapon 2," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"); Academy Award-winning drama ("Dead Poets Society"); a rom-com for the ages ("When Harry Met Sally..."); and a pair of groundbreaking works from then-fresh filmmaking faces, Spike Lee ("Do the Right Thing") and Steven Soderbergh ("sex, lies and videotape"). That's what I call a rich, rewarding and diverse cinematic slate.
An Entertainment Weekly cover story declared this "the year that changed movies." Whether or not you agree, it's tough to deny the impact of several of this summer's pics, films whose success Hollywood would attempt to replicate, ad nauseum, for years to come.
"The Blair Witch Project" turned low-budget, non-gory horror into a phenomenon. "American Pie" made raunchy, guy comedy bankable again. For every expected smash -- the big reboot of the "Star Wars" franchise, "The Phantom Menace"; your Julia Roberts rom-coms ("Notting Hill" and "Runaway Bride"); a Disney 'toon ("Tarzan") -- along came another daring surprise like "The Sixth Sense," "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," "Run Lola Run," the controversial "Eyes Wide Shut" or even "The Matrix," which, while released in the spring, managed to hang around in theaters well into July. It's rare that a summer movie season is worthy of the adjective "brave." But this one was.
Man, what an abundance of blockbusters this summer cranked out. Sure, it lacked a Pixar release. But look what it still offered: "Wedding Crashers," "Batman Begins," "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "War of the Worlds" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." And I haven't even mentioned the smaller gems from that same year: "Cinderella Man." "Hustle and Flow." "Murderball." "Me and You and Everyone We Know." "Junebug." Kind of makes you want to stage a summer of '05 movie marathon, doesn't it?
I'll admit that I have a bias toward '82 since this was the most formative summer movie season of my young life. But even objectively speaking, it was pretty phenomenal. The big blockbuster was, of course, the Steven Spielberg masterpiece "E.T." But it also gave us influential sci-fi ("Blade Runner," "Tron" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"), memorable horror ("Poltergeist"), romance ("An Officer and a Gentleman"), comedy ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Night Shift") and one freaky, significant music movie ("Pink Floyd's The Wall"). In the words of Jeff Spicoli: "Awesome! Totally awesome!"
How many summers can claim responsibility for one of the best comic book movies ever ("Spider-Man 2"), the most successful documentary of all time ("Fahrenheit 9/11") and the quirky indie movie that, eventually, made us really sick of seeing quirky indie movies ("Napoleon Dynamite")? Just this one, which also gave us the first really good Harry Potter movie (that's "Prisoner of Azkaban"), a classic weeper ("The Notebook"), a keenly observed indie sequel ("Before Sunset") and the comedy that introduced us to the power of Sex Panther, "Anchorman."
7. 1979 The wide-ranging slate of films released in the summer of '79 pretty much speak for themselves. "Alien." "Breaking Away." "Manhattan." "Apocalypse Now." "The Muppet Movie." "The Amityville Horror." Tough to beat, right?
Virtually every demographic was hit during this epic summer. Comic book fans got "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight." Chick flick lovers reveled in "Sex and the City." Families were treated to the subtle, futuristic brilliance of "Wall-E." Documentary fans had "Man on Wire" and "American Teen." Heck, even the stoner population was covered, courtesy of "The Pineapple Express."
Yes, this was the summer that can be blamed for both "Hot to Trot" and "Vibes." But it also can lay claim to "Big," the eye-popping "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," "Bull Durham," "Die Hard," "Midnight Run," "A Fish Called Wanda" and Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ."
This summer is notable because it marks the first obvious onset of sequel syndrome, in the form of "Jaws II" and "The Omen II." Fortunately, Hollywood made up for those transgressions with soon-to-become classics like "Animal House" and "Grease."
| May 7, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
Categories: Movies, Pop Culture | Tags: Iron Man, Movies, Summer Movies
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