Summer is officially upon us. If you think otherwise, you must have missed Memorial Day weekend. And summer means one thing: the beach! (or mountains!) It also means backyards and grills… and summer nights… But after all that, the summer means movies too! Ever since Steven Spielberg made a little movie called Jaws, the hottest months of the year, which by Hollywood’s calendar includes May, are the time of year where the biggest and brightest spectacles make a play for your popcorn.
So for movie fans, it’s a great time to rediscover the joy of a shared communal experience (and indoor air conditioning), and for movie lovers it is also a time to get wistful about seasonal highlights from the past. We here at Den of Geek have already given our list of the 25 best summer movies at all time, but Rotten Tomatoes has expanded way beyond that by offering the 10 best summer seasons, period, for going to the movies. As per the aggregate site’s Tomatometer scores, box office totals, and simply judging overall “consumer sentiment,” Rotten Tomatoes has compiled an analytical list of the 10 best summer movie seasons ever. So check their math below, and see if any of your favorite summers at the movies were included… or left off.
10. Summer 2011 (The Help, Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, Midnight in Paris, X-Men First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Hangover Part II, Thor, Beginners, Green Lantern, Cars 2, Horrible Bosses, Winnie Pooh, Captain America: The First Avenger, Crazy Stupid Love)
This is one we remember well, and certainly plays higher if you’re a big fan of Harry Potter (which includes most Millennials). The culmination of millions of childhoods was reached in the glowing magic of Snape’s final act during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, while some of the decade’s ensuing biggest franchises, including Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Thor, and Captain America, kicked off. Personally though, nothing beats seeing Michael Fassbender’s Magneto walk into a bar in X-Men: First Class or the general vinous buzz permeating Woody Allen’s infinitely charming fantasy, Midnight in Paris. (Plus, Crazy Stupid Love is an underrated little rom-com for all ages.)
9. Summer 1979 (The Amityville Horror, Apocalypse Now, Alien, The Muppet Movie, Life of Brian, Breaking Away, Phantasm, Rocky II, Moonraker, Escape from Alcatraz)
A little before our times, it is hard to argue with the summer that gave us one of the greatest science fiction films ever with Alien, as well as one of the best movies, period, in Apocalypse Now. Pity that Francis Ford Coppola might have lost his mind making the latter, but hey, even that led to the best “making of” documentary of all-time some years later, Hearts of Darkness, where Coppola’s wife, Eleanor recorded the carnge… plus James Bond went to space and Rocky won the title. Yo Adrian, he did it.
8. Summer 1989 (Batman, When Harry Met Sally, Do the Right Thing, Sex Lies, and Videotape, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Road House, Dead Poets Society, Weekend at Bernie’s, License to Kill, Parenthood, The Abyss)
If you weren’t there for Batmania in 1989, you missed what might have been the definitive marketing campaign in movie history. Certainly for the superhero genre, there was nothing bigger than the movie in which Michael Keaton proved the haters wrong while dressing in all-black. Like a psychotic rejection of the excesses of ‘80s movies and cultural excess in general, Tim Burton’s gothic fairy tale and satire came out of nowhere to announce superhero movies are for adults too. It also is the summer where Spike Lee shook audiences out of apathy with one of the best films ever made in Do the Right Thing, Steven Spielberg ended his trilogy with grace in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Robin Williams taught millions of Americans what “carpe diem” means. Although Meg Ryan was perhaps the greatest teacher of all in When Harry Met Sally…
7. Summer 1981 (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, Arthur, An American Werewolf in London, Escape from New York, Dragonslayer, Blow Out, Clash of the Titans, Great Muppet Caper, Heavy Metal)
It is the summer of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Do you really need more? Okay, it also was the summer of An American Werewolf in London (the best movie about carnivorous lunar activities in at least the last 70 years), and the forgotten fantasy gem Dragnslayer.
6. Summer 2002 (Spider-Man, Minority Report, The Bourne Identity, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Signs, Lilo & Stitch, About a Boy, Insomnia, Men in Black II, The Kid Stays in Picture, xXx)
Ah another summer back when superhero movies were events as opposed to regularly scheduled programming. Like Batman before it, the original Spider-Man movie was the shared fantasy Americans needed less than a year after 9/11, and a love letter to the silver age of comics that still sparkles with a cinematic joy missing in most more commonplace superhero fare today. Steven Spielberg also went dark with Minority Report, M. Night Shyamalan reached the height of his popularity in Signs, and Matt Damon suddenly became the most badass action star ever. Oh, and it is the summer with the worst Star Wars movie ever released. So there’s that…
5. Summer 1977 (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Smokey and the Bandit, The Kentucky Fried Movie, Sorcerer, Suspiria, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Hills Have Eyes, The Rescuers)
Star Wars. The end. (But seriously check out Suspiria, Sorcerer, and The Spy Who Loved Me if you haven’t!)
4. Summer 2015 (Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton, Mad Max: Fury Road, Trainwreck, Spy, Entourage, Love & Mercy, Jurassic World, Minions, Magic Mike XXL, Amy, Tangerine, Ant-Man, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Fantastic Four, Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Still seems pretty recent, but Inside Out is a Pixar favorite and Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the action movies of this decade. We’ll forgive moviegoers for making Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron the biggest movies of that summer, especially when even in popcorn fare, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was showing the whipper snappers how it’s done.
3. Summer 1984 (Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds, Red Dawn, The Last Starfighter, Sixteen Candles, The NeverEnding Story, Once Upon a Time in America, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
The summer of Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Sixteen Candles, The NeverEnding Story and Temple of Doom? There’s a reason Stranger Things have convinced future generations of nerd that this was a lost golden age…
2. Summer 2008 (The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Sex and the City, Tropic Thunder, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Strangers, Kung Fu Panda, The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, Mamma Mia!, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Man on Wire, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express)
The best superhero movie ever made in The Dark Knight, Robert Downey Jr.’s last brilliant non-Tony Stark performance in Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr.’s first brilliant Tony Stark performance in Iron Man, arguably Pixar’s finest hour in WALL-E, and the delirium that is Step Brothers. Hell, even Mama Mia! deserves a shout out for being the smartest bit of counterprogramming in multiplex history. (The box office smash opened the same day as The Dark Knight, believe it or not). It’s just too bad we never got that Steven Spielberg Indiana Jones movie we were promised. One of these days we’ll get the proper fourth Indy adventure. One day…
1. Summer of 1982 (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, An Officer and a Gentleman, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, TRON, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, The Thing, Poltergeist, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, The Secret of NIMH)
I wasn’t there for it, but I’ve seen just about every film listed above (sorry, Beastmaster), so that speaks to something being in the water that year. And for kids who were there, E.T. is the pinnacle of childhood imagination. For everyone else, the beauty of Blade Runner’s nihilistic noir dystopia is hard to beat.
So according to Rotten Tomatoes these are the best summers for going to the movies. Agree? Disagree? Let us (and them) know in the comments below!