Like a blast of chlorine water on the first day the pool’s open, the joys of summer come fast and sudden. For every person, that joy can be different too. For some it might mean the smell of barbecue and a cold beverage; for others it could be an escape into the wilds of a sun-kissed coast or a rolling hiking trail. For almost everyone, however, summer has also long meant a chance to disappear into the fantasies of their local cinema for a few hours, preferably with ice-cold air conditioning cranked all the way up.
While being able to define what a “summer movie” is can be difficult, much like the Supreme Court’s ability to sniff out obscenity, we know it when we see it. It needs to be a film the audience responds to passionately, and it needs to be a shared experience that got folks to vanish into another world—or at least a gripping story set in our own—for a precious few hours. So in honor of the arrival of beach season, our staff and readers have put their heads together and voted on what are the best summer movie events, be they spectacle thrills or terrifying chills, that kept us entertained at the multiplex over the last 15 years. Enjoy.
*Editor’s Note: We’ve decided to count only films released between the months of May and August as summer movies. We know Hollywood has increasingly pushed their “summer tentpoles” to April in the last few years, but those of us who live in the midwest and northeast can attest that April is NOT summer.
Release Date: July 29, 2007
We begin this list with one of the more underrated films to hit theaters during the dog days of summer. Underappreciated in its original theatrical run, director Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust has developed a strong cult following because of its blissful and pure-hearted sense of storybook fantasy. To be sure, the screenplay by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman has the same subversive playfulness that marks all of their genre efforts, from Kick-Ass to Kingsman. But like those movies, this is also a love letter to a classical kind of all-ages adventure that rarely gets made anymore.
As soft of a 21st century version of The Princess Bride, Stardust is a sweet but rousing yarn about Tristan (Charlie Cox), an errand boy in provincial early 20th century England, and Yvaine (Claire Danes), an honest to goodness star who’s fallen from the celestial heavens and arrived in human form. On earth she is hunted by a witch (a scenery chewing Michelle Pfeiffer) and aided by pirates with a flying ship (including a jovial Robert De Niro as their captain), but at the end of the day this is a bucolic romance between two loners who learn to let people in while their storytellers indulges in some old-fashioned swashbuckling fun. Neil Gaiman who wrote the source material must be proud. – David Crow
24. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Release Date: May 28, 2014
A case can be made that Edge of Tomorrow is the greatest use of the time loop premise in pop culture history. A similar case can be argued that it’s the best video game movie ever made, despite the fact that it isn’t actually based on a video game. Feel free to argue either of those points at your leisure.
But you know what’s inarguable? Edge of Tomorrow is an absolute blast. How a movie this original and far out is somehow considered a lesser entry in Tom Cruise’s endless blockbuster filmography is beyond us. Every time Cruise’s hapless everyman William Cage dies and regenerates, Edge of Tomorrow turns up its craziness, and Emily Blunt earns a spot in the action movie hall of fame for her intense performance. Somehow Edge of Tomorrow didn’t make an impact at the box office, but if you haven’t seen it, watch it on the best screen you can, and at the loudest volume your neighbors will tolerate. – Mike Cecchini
23. District 9
Release Date: August 14, 2009
t’s hard to beat the sensation of watching a first feature film effort from a really creative director that comes out of nowhere and ends up going toe-to-toe with the big boys, but 2009’s District 9 became that and more. As is often the case with genre breakouts, some things had to go very wrong for director Neill Blomkamp so that District 9 could go very right, and in this case it was the collapse of a planned Halo movie in the works with Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson attached as a producer. When things fell apart on Halo, Jackson decided to produce Blomkamp’s adaptation of his short film Alive in Joburg instead, and with his old high school pal Sharlto Copley ready to star, the rest was history. The film rang up over $210 million off a $30 million budget at the global box office.
A film that partially uses found footage techniques, District 9 wasn’t just a summer crowd-pleaser in the year of its release, but a scathing film about xenophobia and social segregation set in an alternate timeline where aliens have fallen to Earth and been rounded up in an area of Johannesburg that has since become a slum. Copley’s bootlicking Wikus van de Merwe, tasked with moving the alien horde to a new camp where they can be more easily forgotten about and left to suffer, winds up mutating into one of the aliens and joining their cause. District 9 is a rare kinetic action movie that truly has something to say. – Kirsten Howard
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Midsommar was initially supposed to be a by-the-numbers slasher movie set in Sweden, but if you’ve seen the disturbing folk horror that was released in the summer of 2019, then you know that it didn’t turn out the way producers B-Reel Films envisioned. It’s a movie that bucks the horror genre in a number of ways, not least by being set in broad, blinding daylight in the most picturesque of locations, but also by refusing to paint its final girl with broad strokes.
A massively unsettling breakup movie, Ari Aster’s Midsommar is bolstered by lead actress Florence Pugh, who saw her star rise considerably after its release. The actress turns in a tour de force performance as traumatized psychology student Dani Ardor, who leans on her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) in the midst of her grief, only to be met with a weak-ass level of emotional labor as he lazily goes about dumping her. After he reluctantly invites her on a summer trip to Sweden, she gets to choose whether he’ll live or die. And thanks to members of the ancestral commune the couple stay with, the relationship has a happy ending …for Dani. – KH
21. Tropic Thunder
Release Date: August 13, 2008
Prior to the streaming age, the big budget summer comedy was a staple of the summer movie lineup. Moviegoers would escape the sweltering heat in a dark theater with ice-cold A/C to laugh together with strangers. The communal nature often made the laughter and experience even better. Some years, we’d even be blessed with multiple high-profile comedy offerings. Looking back, the summer of 2008 feels like the high watermark for the Summer Comedy and the last year of its kind, featuring nine comedies that all grossed over $100 million at the box office. And perhaps the biggest, most star-studded and spectacle-driven of them all was Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s Hollywood satire/war movie spoof.
Filled with A-list talent like Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, and Matthew McConaughey, and featuring big explosions and action set pieces, Tropic Thunder is the sort of expensive comedy that we rarely see anymore. The film follows a Hollywood production that goes off the rails when real danger infiltrates an on-location shoot, and the clueless actors are left to determine what is real and what’s just movie magic. The film begins with fake previews for the film-within-a-film’s fictional stars, and I can still hear the hooting and hollering of the audience once they realized what was happening. Tropic Thunder has the scope of the current-day blockbusters while offering twice the amount of laughs of the latest MCU quip-fest or straight-to-Netflix action-comedy. It’s a beloved relic of a sadly bygone era. – Nick Harley
20. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Release Date: May 31, 2019
We hope history will be kinder to Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Yes, its critical reception was lukewarm. And yes, its box office was far from kaiju-sized. To which we say… what the hell is wrong with you folks? Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the kind of bonkers cinematic genre blockbuster that we’re lucky if we get once a year!
The third entry in Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “MonsterVerse,” and the direct sequel to the far more muted 2014 Godzilla film, King of the Monsters is literally everything you could ask for in one of these movies: ridiculous technology, some obligatory humans that you’re not even really supposed to care about (how could you when Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan have joined the party), the best special effects the genre has ever seen, and kaiju-on-kaiju action the likes of which had never even been properly attempted in an American movie up until this point. Glorious, colorful, wild fun. -MC
19. Wonder Woman
Release Date: June 2, 2017
A key component of any great summer movie is how it makes you feel. Does it give you something indescribable that you’re nonetheless going to remember for years to come? With some (like Jaws), it’s the kind of thrilling dread you only thought you could feel as a kid when camping out in the backyard and telling scary stories for the first time. With others (like Wonder Woman), it’s the unabashed joy you get from seeing someone do the impossible on the big screen.
For me, the battlefield scene in Wonder Woman accomplished the latter in ways that few other recent movies have. Perhaps the purest modern distillation of what you expect when you hear the words “superhero movie,” it’s one of those moments that you can imagine having the kind of mythic impact on kids that our formative genre flicks had on us. Even if the rest of the film wasn’t delightful (which it is), there’s nothing quite like the thrill of Gal Gadot’s Diana kicking the living crap out of an entire World War I frontline in thoroughly convincing and triumphant fashion to remind you why you like movies like this in the first place. – MC
18. The Nice Guys
Release Date: May 20, 2016
It’s a minor tragedy we don’t live in the timeline where Shane Black, Ryan Gosling, and Russell Crowe are currently on their third or fourth Nice Guys movie by now. Instead we’ll have to settle for the world where we only got one swaggering, arrogant, and nicotine-stained gem from this crew. Because rest assured, The Nice Guys is that good; it’s an experience so hilariously mean-spirited that it had audience members literally falling out of their chairs in 2016. I know because I was one of them!
In setup, The Nice Guys is a lot like Black’s other buddy cop screenplays—Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang—in which two oil and water gumshoes reluctantly join forces. But the pair of private dicks here, played by a middle-aged Crowe and a rambling Gosling at his most buffoonish, are an especially sad coupling who bumble through a 1970s Los Angeles that’s never looked more seedy or downbeat in a Black story. This honestly should be a tragedy, and maybe it would be if not for the kinetic chemistry between the two lead’s banter. Gosling in particular reveals that behind his leading man good looks is a Lou Costello-shaped comedian waiting to burst out. Throw in the movie’s secret weapon, a tween Angourie Rice as Gosling’s already exasperated daughter, and you have a devastatingly charismatic ensemble working from one of the best action-comedy screenplays of the last decade. This is anarchic bravado that can back its bluster. – DC
17. Star Trek
Release Date: May 8, 2009
A big budget Star Trek reboot with a different cast from the director of Mission: Impossible III? Before the summer of 2009, fans of the franchise were pretty wary of the idea, and they were especially wary of seeing a fresh Enterprise gang led by a new version of Captain Kirk, but thanks to a big red MacGuffin and an alternate timeline, J.J. Abrams didn’t stray too far from the nuts and bolts of Trek. He did put his own stamp on it, however. Sometimes that worked out, like the movie’s pitch-perfect recasting of its Original Series characters. Other times, it was pretty irritating, and Abrams’ name is still associated with “excessive lens flare” to this day.
Luckily, despite various criticisms leveled against it, Star Trek was just really good fun for the most part, and “good fun” will go a long way at the summer box office. Two sequels would follow, and Star Trek would go on to once again find a new life on TV where it continues to evolve under the watchful eye of the film’s co-writer, Alex Kurtzman—for better or worse. A member of the cast with a brief role in the movie would also go on to help dominate future summers at the multiplex in a different franchise: one Christopher Hemsworth. – KH
16. Iron Man
Release Date: May 2, 2008
The first Iron Man came along at just the right time. Kicking off the summer movie season with an early May release date, it was fast-paced, breezy, exciting, and had just the perfect tone for a seasonal blockbuster. Little did any of us know that it would set the template for the pop culture behemoth to come in the form of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The other advantage that Iron Man had was that it seemed fresh. Here was a superhero movie that wasn’t about Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, or the X-Men—the four properties that basically dominated the genre up to that point. It also starred Robert Downey Jr., not only doing his best to recover his life and career, but the kind of quirky, irreverent actor that we were not used to seeing in spectacles like this. There’s a go-for-broke, guileless sense of fun to his performance, and the movie that holds up to this day. – Don Kaye
Release Date: August 17, 2007
There’s a lot of chatter out there about the state of the American comedy film, but back in the 2000s we were getting one brilliant new comedy after another. The teen coming-of-age movie is an especially tough genre too. A film can go too far in one direction and end up just being gross, or swing the other way and turn into something maudlin and bland. Superbad did neither, finding the perfect balance and providing some uproarious laughs during the hot summer months.
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (and based on their own high school experiences), Superbad was a winning combination of intelligence, jokes, raunch, and genuine emotion. With early, career-launching performances from Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Michael Cera, and of course Christopher Mintz-Plasse in his signature role of McLovin, this tale of two best friends desperate to party with the cool kids—and perhaps lose their virginity in the process—was authentic, nuanced, and sidesplitting. We hope we might see its kind again. – DK
14. Pacific Rim
Release Date: July 12, 2013
A silly summer monster movie that wears its kaiju, mecha, and anime influences proudly on its sleeve, Pacific Rim is chock-full of cringeworthy dialogue, questionable acting, and one-dimensional characters with names like Raleigh Becket, Newton Geiszler, Hercules Hansen, and Hannibal Chau. But honestly, who cares? Sometimes that’s exactly what you want from a sci-fi blockbuster!
Directed by the peerless Guillermo del Toro, the movie is set in a future where we’re at war with a race of enormous sea monsters, and naturally our response is to build gigantic mechas that could have a shot at taking them down before they destroy us. That’s it, really. Perfect. Though it wasn’t exactly a smash hit at the summer box office in 2013, Pacific Rim ended up spawning a sequel, a video game, an anime series, and a theme park ride. Not bad for a movie with the barest of plots, but the most joyful of executions from a director who knew precisely what he would want to go and see at the theater, and made that happen for the rest of us. – KH
13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Release Date: August 13, 2010
That nebulous transition period between teenager and true adulthood is tough. Often it can feel like the world is out to get you. But most likely, the cosmos didn’t really send seven deadly assassins to turn you into bitcoins. Yet that’s how things roll for Michael Cera’s poster-child of hipster malaise in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. By working from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, Edgar Wright and co-screenwriter Michael Bacall did a remarkable job of channeling the ennui of young adulthood, and the defensive pretensions of twentysomething anxiety into a remarkably giddy spectacle that walks the line between action, comedy, fantasy, and even being a musical.
The premise of the movie is fairly simple: twenty-three-year-old Scott (Cera) is in a rut—as indicated by the fact he’s dating a high schooler to bolster his self-esteem—when he meets the alt-girl of his dreams, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a transplant to Toronto with a past. And she has the seven deadly evil exes to prove it. No really, they are deadly and each will challenge Scott to a duel over the course of the movie, with weapons that may range from swords to skateboards to vegan superpowers (because being vegan naturally makes you better than most people).
With its post-modern pastiche elements that mix in the elements of ‘90s arcade video game aesthetics with the melodramatic character beats of manga—and no less than a Seinfeld-inspired laugh track or two—Wright blends pop culture of the previous 25 years into a universal yet strangely specific coming-of-age adventure about a character who is a bit of a shit. – DC
12. Step Brothers
Release Date: July 25, 2008
I don’t think anyone can really say what qualifies as a summer movie. Sure, a movie released during the summer months may technically be a summer movie, but there are certain movies that just feel like summer. And I’m not talking about summer as we experience it as adults, but as we did as kids: endless and sprawling, full of opportunity and time to explore, filled with unsupervised fun. Few movies on this list capture that spirit like Step Brothers, which is funny considering that the two leads are full-grown men. However, John C. Riley’s Dale and Will Ferrell’s Brennan act like overgrown children who fight when their parents aren’t home, try to avoid the neighborhood bullies that make them lick old dog turds, and spend their free time on activities like turning their beds into bunk beds or doing karate in the garage. That sure as hell sounds like summer to me.
Another thing that makes Step Brothers feel like the perfect summer comedy is its free-wheeling spirit and infectious energy. According to the cast and crew, a lot of the material that made the film was improvised on the spot, and all parties agree that it was one of the best, most creatively fulfilling sets that they’ve ever worked on. That warmth and lack of restraint come across perfectly when you watch the film, and gives the movie incredible replay value, something every great summer movie should have. Honestly, is there a movie scene that encapsulates being a kid with nothing but free time on your hands better than Richard Jenkins’ monologue about wanting to be a dinosaur? I’m struggling to think of one. – NH
Release Date: May 23, 2011
On one of Bridesmaids theatrical posters, a passage from a review in bold, pink letters reads “Chick Flicks Don’t Have to Suck!” Well yeah, obviously. Though that’s common sense now, back in the primitive days of … *checks notes* 2011, movie marketing teams somehow considered it controversial that chicks liked comedy too. Or to put it more accurately, the men on movie marketing teams somehow considered it controversial. Thankfully, the supremely funny and audience-enchanting Bridesmaids laid that notion to rest for an entire generation of theatergoers of all sexes and genders.
The Paul Feig-directed comedy stars Kristen Wiig as Annie Walker, an unsuccessful single businesswoman in her mid-thirties who is unexpectedly invited to be the maid of honor in her friend Lillian’s wedding (Maya Rudoph). Bridesmaids takes viewers through all the various rituals of the pre-wedding process, and in each instance adds a layer of hilarious mishaps over it. Featuring a breakout supporting cast of Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, and more, the film rides raucous audience laughter into the annals of summer movie history. – Alec Bojalad
Release Date: June 27, 2008
WALL-E centers on a lonely robot tasked with cleaning up a futuristic and uninhabitable Earth in 2805. Falling in love with a starship probe called EVE, he follows her off-world and into space where he meets a chunk of what’s left of the human race. They have, quite frankly, given up trying, and WALL-E and EVE provide the hope of a new beginning—one we would be lucky to get as we watch the environment deteriorate around us in the grip of an endless production line of greed and waste.
Pixar Studios released WALL-E in the summer of 2008 after a string of acclaimed animated films, but something about this interstellar adventure from the studio really did hit different. Appealing to all ages across the globe, the film offered minimal dialogue and concentrated on its visual mastery, amounting to not just a worthy update of environment-pondering films like 1972’s live-action Silent Running, but a carefully-constructed message of future disaster that anyone could understand and positively act on. – KH
9. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Release Date: July 26, 2019
Quentin Tarantino’s sunniest movie is about summer itself… although not the one it was released in. As a film obsessed with Los Angeles circa the summer of ’69, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a love letter to a version of the town that Tarantino grew up in. It was a time of transformation and upheaval, of the first gasps of New Hollywood and the final death rattles of the studio’s previous Golden Age. And it was the summer where movie starlet Sharon Tate (portrayed here by Margot Robbie as the effervescent idol of her age) was brutally murdered by the Manson Family.
In a fashion typical of Tarantino, he takes the reality of his obsessions and blurs it into a cinematic fiction that borders on mythmaking. Yet more than other examples of the filmmaker’s love of alternative history, OUATIH is also an elegy for a world that was already on its way out in the filmmaker’s infancy. This surpasses nostalgia and becomes pure wish fulfillment as, for perhaps the first time in his career, Tarantino crafts a multilayered yarn around characters he actually just wants to hang out with, including Leonardo DiCaprio’s washed up cowboy actor Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Oscar winning real thing, Cliff Booth. And, of course, the aforementioned Tate, whose legacy is treated akin to idol worship here. Perhaps that’s why he protects these creations, as opposed to revels in their destruction. The movie invites you to turn on, tune in, and drop out with these show folk in the dog days of summer—and ignore the coming of fall. – DC
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Sometimes one gets the sense that an entire generation of filmmakers have spent their careers trying to recreate the sensation of all-consuming joy they felt upon seeing Star Wars for the first time. Of all those aforementioned filmmakers, it may just be superhero auteur James Gunn who comes closest to articulating those pure, childlike feelings of storytelling bliss. He does so beautifully here in the profoundly entertaining Marvel outing, Guardians of the Galaxy.
When it rolled around in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was a big risk for Marvel Studios. Wedged in-between a Captain America sequel and Avengers: Age of Ultron, this saga about Marvel comics Z-listers ran the risk of falling flat on its face. Thankfully, however, the movie understands that comics aren’t about mere character recognition. They’re about fun! And Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot of it. Featuring a carefully curated cast and an even more carefully curated soundtrack, Guardians is the kind of film that invites audiences to laugh, cheer, and make outer space explosion noises with it. A better summer movie recipe you could never hope for. – AB
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Release Date: July 27, 2018
Who would’ve guessed in 1996 that the latest Tom Cruise star vehicle—an adaptation of a somewhat popular but dated ‘60s TV procedural—would mark the beginnings of one of the greatest action movie sagas in Hollywood history? Cut to more than a quarter-century later, and we are all jazzed because of a sizzle reel for Cruise’s seventh Mission: Impossible movie was released a year early. But then there’s good reason for that: Unlike almost every other studio tentpole franchise, Cruise’s signature Ethan Hunt character has led a series that’s progressively gotten better with each entry. And the most recent installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, was a stone cold masterpiece in action cinema and stunt work… most of which was done by Cruise himself.
In the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, Cruise reteamed with frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (who was also the first director to do more than one movie in this series), and the results speak for themselves. Fallout is a symphony of breathtaking spectacle courtesy of Cruise’s borderline self-destructive commitment to his movie star status and his, McQuarrie, and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood’s mutual desire to constantly top themselves—although it’s hard to imagine one-upping Cruise doing real-life HALO jumps out of a plane flying at 25,000 feet, and all captured in IMAX.
Throw in Oscar-winner McQuarrie’s sharp screenplays, which continue to crackle with witty dialogue and a genuine vested interest in exploring the seemingly suicidal convictions of Cruise’s super-spy, plus an absurdly winsome supporting cast of familiar faces, including Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and the ensemble’s most valuable addition in the last decade, Rebecca Ferguson, and you have the best action franchise of this century. – DC
6. Inglourious Basterds
Release Date: August 21, 2009
At their core, summer movies are crowdpleasers. And there are few better ways to please a crowd than to kill a whole bunch of Nazis. Quentin Tarantino’s cheeky WWII alt-history is just a jolly good time at the movies. Though split into five different “chapters,” the film largely follows its title group of Jewish American soldiers as they traverse a war-ravaged Europe in search of Nazi skulls to crack. Or as Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) puts it, “We’re in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-booming.”
Aside from its base wish fulfillment, Inglourious Basterds is a rich, gloriously entertaining film in every way. Its best scenes often feature two or more parties merely talking as the simmering tension of historical context builds menacingly around them. It’s also filled with big, bombastic performances. Christoph Waltz in his Oscar-winning breakout role as Col. Hans Landa is undoubtedly the best known presence but don’t sleep on Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) as the movie’s emotional core and cinema-sized face of Jewish vengeance. Inglourious Basterds understand the power of movies as mythmakers better as well as any other project of the last 15 years. And that makes it the ideal summer fare. – AB
5. Toy Story 3
Release Date: June 18, 2010
Every Toy Story movie is, at its core, an adventure tale. The first film found mismatched duo Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) lost out in the big scary world, trying to find their way home. The second relocated Woody to a sort of toy collector’s paradise and questioned why he should even come home. The third, however, is the most sprawling journey presented in the entire franchise.
As Andy prepares to go off to college, he decides to leave his childish things behind (save for Woody). An unfortunate garbage day mishap instead sends Woody, Buzz, and Andy’s remaining few toys off to a Sunnyside Daycare where the toys are ruled with an iron fist by Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear, a.k.a. Lotso (Ned Beatty). What follows is one of the most exciting prison break sagas ever committed to screen. Toy Story 3 puts its characters (and its audience) through the emotional ringer. The mission seems impossible, and yet it all culminates to the most emotionally affecting conclusion in any Pixar tale. – AB
Release Date: July 16, 2010
Coming off the electrifying thrill of 2008’s The Dark Knight (another iconic summer movie), director Christopher Nolan turned to something more cerebral and distinct—yet still packed with action, scope, ambition, and astounding imagery. In a world increasingly constricted by franchises (especially during the summer months), Nolan delivered a wholly original sci-fi melodrama crossed with a James Bond adventure, and seasoned with some truly mind-bending concepts.
Even if you got a little lost in the movie’s dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream scenario (which might have been the point), Inception managed to keep things moving with one incredible set piece after another, climaxing in a battle on the snowy slopes of a mountain that would make 007 proud. The fantastic all-star cast kept the stakes personal as well. There are certain types of summer blockbusters that are getting harder to find, and Inception may be among the last of its kind. – DK
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Release Date: May 15, 2015
When George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road crashed across cinema screens like a semi-truck doing 90, the term “legacy sequel” hadn’t yet entered the pop culture lexicon. There had been no Jurassic Worlds, nor a Force that had awakened and/or risen. So there was a lot more novelty about an old master, in this case then-70 Miller, returning to his roots for a belated franchise spectacle. But even after more than half a decade of fawning reboots that go down memory lane, Fury Road remains ferociously fresh—and as visceral as that sight of a guitar player’s instrument shooting fireballs from the vanguard of an eight-wheeler armada.
That’s because Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t concern itself with nostalgia. It instead prefers to be the most frenzied distillation of Miller’s flights of post-apocalyptic fancy to date, in which the future of humanity is grim but also glorious, and each set-piece is a chance for him and his team of stuntmen and literal circus folk (that’s Cirque du Soleil students up on ‘em poles!) to take it to 11. There’s no greater visual splendor you saw at the multiplex in the last 15 years than this. And there’ve been few studio event films as poignant either given how the whole movie is really built not around Tom Hardy’s mumbly Mad Max, but Charlize Theron’s transcendent Furiosa, a woman who will have her revenge in this life, and make Valhalla a place on Earth too. – DC
2. The Avengers
Release Date: May 4, 2012
It was 10 years ago that the opening of a Marvel movie became a cultural event. That was when the studio achieved what many thought was impossible—connecting a series of movies about unrelated superheroes together to culminate in a jumbo crossover/team-up that changed the course of movie history. Marvel had a vision, trusted in the growing loyalty of its audience, and rolled the dice on what became one of the biggest movies of all time.
The Avengers really did seem like an event. It took the typical mammoth summer movie opening and put it on blast, with an epic that was heartfelt, fun, funny and ambitious in its storytelling. It condensed 50 years of Marvel comic book narratives into one 140-minute extravaganza that even someone who never picked up a funnybook in their life could respond to. Best of all, it ended on an upbeat, triumphant note, making it endlessly watchable for months to come. The Avengers assembled, and the world was never the same. – DK
1. The Dark Knight
Release Date: July 18, 2008
How many more of our lists this year will The Dark Knight appear on? Who knows! We’re losing count!
But there’s a reason for that, after all. The Dark Knight isn’t just a Batman movie, it’s possibly the Batman movie. It’s not just a superhero movie, the kind that now dominate multiplexes not just in the summer but year-round; it’s perhaps the finest example of the entire genre. And while there have been other thoughtful, cinematic, “adult” takes on superheroes in its wake, none have ever given you quite as much to chew on with your popcorn while letting you escape the heat for nearly three hours.
Y’see, it’s also a crime epic shot with the kind of breathless, epic cinematography usually reserved for movies that don’t take place within streets confined by skyscrapers! It’s got the definitive live-action performance of its title character! It’s got one of the greatest screen villains of this century in Heath Ledger’s Joker! It’s got a surprisingly downbeat and ambivalent ending for a summer blockbuster! It’s got the most minimalist, unsettling score you’ll ever hear in a superhero movie! Listen, it’s the goddamn Dark Knight, folks. Was there really ever any doubt? – MC
Movies that also received a significant amount of votes in descending order: Hot Rod, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Captain America: Civil War, Upgrade, The Other Guys, Hell or High Water, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Boyhood, John Wick 3: Chapter 3, Inside Out, Ratatouille, Up, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Moonrise Kingdom, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Logan Lucky, Trainwreck, Before Midnight, The Suicide Squad, Neighbors, Swiss Army Man, The Dark Knight Rises, In the Heights, Magic Mike, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 22 Jump Street, Chef, BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Baby Driver, Old, Jurassic World, X-Men: First Class, Crazy Stupid Love, Speed Racer, Iron Man 3.