The Biggest Summer Blockbusters since 1980, From Worst to Best

That’s right, it’s Indiana Jones vs. Star Wars vs. Batman vs. Forrest Gump!

By Ted Pillow

With the summer blockbuster season in full swing, already yielding giants such as Iron Man III and Despicable Me 2, and with the potential smash hit Elysium mere days away, it’s a great time to look at some of the most popular movies of summers past. This list includes the highest grossing film of each summer (in the film industry, that means early May all the way through the end of August) since 1980. So all these movies made a ton of money, but which are the absolute best? That’s right, it’s Indiana Jones vs. Star Wars vs. Batman vs. Forrest Gump!

32. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
I think we all saw that coming, right? This Transformers sequel is particularly idiotic, boring, and lifeless. It’s part music video and part video game, with very unfortunate comedic aspirations, and results on par with your average commercial. I remember falling asleep in the theater and waking up to find that the Transformers had ascended to some sort of Transformer Heaven, which is ironic, because I was in Transformer Hell.

31. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
I can’t stand the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I don’t like their weird PG-13/Disneyified take on pirates, I don’t like Orlando Bloom, I don’t like the absurdly cartoonish action scenes, and I don’t like that they’re all longer than most cruise vacations. 

30. Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (1999)
Criticizing the wooden performances, outrageously bad dialogue, or presence of Jar Jar fucking Binks feels like kicking a long-dead horse at this point.

29. Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Mission: Impossible II was where we collectively realized that this whole John Woo Comes to America thing officially wasn’t going to work (we chalked Broken Arrow up to jet lag, I think). When he bungled this layup—a mindless action sequel starring Tom Cruise and toting a budget large enough to end world hunger—we knew it was over.

28. Top Gun (1986)
As far as summer blockbusters go, Top Gun feels quaint by today’s standards: the travails of a Navy pilot flying simulated missions in training school? But Top Gun was a sure fire 80s hit because it appealed to both male and female audiences: it’s a boy-meets-girl romance crossed with an action movie about aerial dog fighting that’s ostensibly really just about a bunch of hot dudes falling in love with each other. There’s something for everyone! The script is reminiscent of the theory that a monkey hitting random keys on a typewriter would eventually produce the works of Shakespeare unfortunately, they’d come up with Top Gun on their second or third try.

27. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)It’s hard to work up much of a reaction to this benign, by-the-numbers sequel in which Eddie Murphy does slightly post-vintage Eddie stuff and the action and laughs are parceled out consistently enough to stave off boredom. 

26. Batman Forever (1995)
The best thing about Batman Forever is Batman & Robin—without that abomination, this would easily be the worst Batman movie (note that Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are both directed by Joel Schumacher, perhaps Batman’s most sadistic villain). But whatever justifiable criticisms you have, it receives massive bonus points for having Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” on the soundtrack.

25. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 3 took on too many villains and subplots and, as a result, each feels underdeveloped. But I think the part people disliked most was how awkwardly and unconvincingly Peter’s brief transformation into an evil womanizer with a Hot Topic haircut was handled. I found that part so bizarrely goofy that I couldn’t look away; by default it was probably the most fascinating part of the movie.

24. Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day is silly, corny, and stupid, but it’s also harmless and enjoyable in a very cheesy way. More importantly, it has Jeff Goldblum and gigantic alien spaceships that hover ominously over major landmarks. Perhaps the biggest reason why Independence Day remains oddly entertaining is that it’s one of the last films where blowing up the White House was outlandish spectacle rather than a cheap means for exploiting our collective post-9/11 terror.

23. Ghost (1990)
Viewing Ghost for the first time, I was shocked to find that although the film’s most effective scenes are the romantic ones, the majority of the running time consists of a tepid thriller about bank fraud. I was never very interested in whether or not Patrick Swayze (who, may he rest in peace, is very, very not good in this) would uncover his backstabbing friend’s embezzlement scheme, but there is an undeniable spark to the romance scenes.

22. Forrest Gump (1994)
Look, I don’t like Forrest Gump. If you’re a Gump fan, you’re gonna have to get passed that, okay? My apathy towards this film and Gump himself was only further intensified by the fact that everyone else loved it so damn much and that it beat out Pulp Fiction for Best Picture. I mean, the movie was pleasant enough I guess, if you can get past the fact that it feels like a two-hour-long Hallmark card, but the freaking best movie of the year? To me, its modest charms are mostly smothered by the transparent manipulation on display.

21. Shrek (2001)/Shrek 2 (2004)
I lumped these two together because they’re pretty much interchangeable to me. There’s a lot of creativity in the way Shrek playfully recombines various fairy tales. Most of the humor is relatively clever. Unfortunately, the rest of the jokes are dedicated to bodily functions, DreamWorks animation is sort of crude, and Smash Mouth is prominently involved. 


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