At one time or another, all film critics get accused of not understanding what real people like in movies – of only ever appreciating artsy fartsy film festival entries about miserable people being miserable all the time. We’ve taken a lot of grief to that effect here in the blog recently due to some dislike we’ve voiced for a certain director whose name shall not be mentioned. Nonetheless, the accusation simply isn’t true. We like fun summer blockbusters just as much as anyone else – when they’re good. In this week’s Roundtable, we’ll tell you some of our favorites.
Maybe this is an obvious pick, but for me, no movie exemplifies what a summer blockbuster should be better than ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘. Back in the summer of 1991, this was the most expensive movie ever made. Its budget was more than three times higher than the entire domestic box office gross of the first ‘Terminator’ – a fact that still astounds me. Yet not a penny goes to waste on screen. ‘Terminator 2’ has everything you want in a summer blockbuster: car chases, stunts, huge shoot-outs, massive pyrotechnics, and groundbreaking visual effects. It’s also enormously fun, funny and (save for a couple of niggling plot holes and logical errors) a pretty smart movie to boot. It succeeds at bringing the ‘Terminator’ story to a larger canvas while maintaining both rich character development and thematic resonance.
For the amount of money that Hollywood spends on movies today, why can’t every summer blockbuster strive to be this good? As far as I’m concerned, they all ought to at least try.
While I enjoy big mindless summer blockbusters, I’m not usually one to gawk over them. Sure, they’re a lot of fun, but there’s not enough substance to many of them. Whenever a summer blockbuster comes out that contains the action demanded of the season as well as a solid story, I’m very pleased. ‘Inception‘ was the last summer blockbuster to win me over that way. As I watched the film, I wasn’t only impressed by the special effects and action, but also by the completely original story and fantastic performances. I hadn’t been that blown away by a movie since ‘The Matrix’, and don’t expect to be again for a very long time.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
For my money, ‘Iron Man‘ is everything a summer action flick ought to be. While so many other superhero movies these days duke it out over which is grittier, bleaker, and the most hellbent on slaughtering its supporting cast, ‘Iron Man’ captures everything I love about Marvel comics. The movie leaps back and forth between being fun and playful without defusing the intensity or emotional wallop of its more dramatic moments. There’s no shortage of massively budgeted CGI spectacle on display, but it doesn’t lean on action or an $80 million effects budget as a crutch.
Robert Downey Jr. is so brilliant in the role of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark that this would’ve been my favorite summer blockbuster of 2008 even if he never did get around to slipping on the suit. Still, when we do first see the red and gold of the Mark III armor in flight, it’s as awe-inspiring as seeing Spider-Man zip along on a web-line or Superman take flight for the first time. I know I’m in the minority here, but ‘Iron Man’ gets the nod as my absolute favorite superhero flick, not just of the summer of ’08 (trumping even the unrelentingly bleak ‘The Dark Knight’), but of all time. Hollywood frequently seems to forget how kinetic, smart and fun summer blockbusters can be. Favreau and Downey have captured the best of that – not to mention one of Marvel’s most underrated superheroes – with ‘Iron Man’. Um, too bad about ‘Iron Man 2’, though.
When it comes to my all-time favorite summer blockbuster ‘Grease‘ is the word! I can sing along with every number and I was born to hand-jive, baby. Slumber parties, T-Birds, bonfires, Pink Ladies & FRANKIE AVALON! What’s not to love? I admit that I’m hopelessly devoted. Whether you’re a poor man’s Sandra Dee or a beauty school dropout, put on your best cat-suit and red stilettos, grab the one that you want, and tell him that he better shape up. No need to strand him at the drive-in, it’s a perfect way to spend those summer nights. After all, there are worse things you could do.
There used to be this amazing thing that happened in the summer. Great summer blockbuster films would be released on July 2nd – my birthday. That has dried up since, and I get crap like ‘Hancock’ most years. One of my favorites was 1997’s ‘Men in Black‘. I saw it on my 15th birthday while on a family vacation out west, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a nice break from camping and was plenty of fun. A landmark piece of cinema? Not at all. But it’s a nice, lighthearted flick and that’s gotta count for something.
It isn’t aging as well as I would have liked, and frankly, aside from Michelle Pfeiffer (wow…), Tim Burton just about ruined the series for me with ‘Batman Returns’, but I’ve never been as obsessed with a film before or since as I was with ‘Batman‘. The only reason I originally went to see ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ with my parents was because I hoped the theater might show a trailer for ‘Batman’, which it did. (Movie was good too. Yeah, I cried.)
The day the film came out – June 23, 1989 – I convinced my mother to delay the departure time for a family camping trip so that my sister and I could see the movie at the Animas Valley Mall in Farmington, NM before we left. The theater was PACKED, and everyone, I mean everyone, was totally entranced.
I saw the movie three more times that summer. I bought every toy and action figure available. I watched the movie innumerable times when my friends bought the VHS tapes. I went as the Caped Crusader for Halloween. I got a life-sized cardboard cutout of Michael Keaton in full Batman gear from the video store before it got thrown out. And I basically did nothing but think about Batman, read Batman comics, and play with Batman action figures until ‘Dick Tracy’ came out the following summer. I was completely and utterly captivated by the movie. Even now, for better or worse, I know every single line of dialogue before the actors even open their mouths to speak. It’s kind of sad, really.
Sure, you have your big classic summer films like ‘Jaws’ and ‘E.T.’, but there’s one movie that sticks in my mind as perfect summer blockbuster fare. It’s a movie we tend to forget sometimes, but when we’re reminded of it, we remember how good it really was. As an animation fan, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘ still remains one of my favorite animated movies of all-time. It grossed over $150 domestically and doubled that total in its worldwide numbers. Why the movie has been forgotten when it comes to sequels or even a Blu-ray release is a mystery. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ may not be the most famous of summer blockbusters, but it definitely is one of the most enjoyable we’ve had over the years.
M. Enois Duarte
Back when the idea of the summer blockbuster was still taking shape, one movie has been a favorite since I first saw it theaters. ‘Back to the Future‘ captured the imagination of millions of moviegoers everywhere during that summer of 1985, and practically solidified those hot, sweltering months as the time to release large-scale, special effects extravaganzas. During the height of Michael J. Fox’s popularity and featuring some of the best techniques in optical effects, the movie was (and still is) an exciting thrill ride through time. The story by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale is universally appealing and highly engaging. It proves that a summer blockbuster doesn’t have to be brainless or stupid. Even funnier is how the film celebrates the more memorable aspects of the past while breaking new ground for future filmmaking.
It’s important to be slightly embarrassed by your favorite summer blockbuster. I was a teen in the eighties, so I’m going with a summer blockbuster pick from that era. If I was trying to be cool, I’d say that ‘The Breakfast Club’ was my favorite. But if I’m being honest, that honor needs to go to ‘Dirty Dancing‘. I’m not proud.
See, we like fun summer movies too. Now it’s your turn to tell us some of your favorites.