Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Summer Blockbusters

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.

Josh Zyber

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.

Luke Hickman

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.

Mrs. Z

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.

Dick Ward

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.

Mike Attebery

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.

Aaron Peck

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.

Junie Ray

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.


  1. Oh, I’m so jealous of M. Enois Duarte. “Back to the Future” is my favourite movie of all time, but I was a wee lad of 1 years old when it crashed cinemas so I have never seen it on the big screen.

    “The Dark Knight” was everything I wanted it to be, 3 years ago. A perfect summer movie that delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed “Spy Hard” and “The Flintstones” (mainly nostalgia). This year? Eh, nothing comes to mind.

  2. Jane Morgan

    ‘Jurassic Park.’ I saw it in theaters 17 times. When it hit VHS, I watched it every day for two years. Please, Mr. Zyber, don’t let the blu-ray suck.

    ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ would be my runner-up. It was even better than the trailer, and the trailer was genius with a cherry on top.

    ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ my papa always tells me how he took me to see it when I was four, because there were no available babysitters, and how I sat in my big seat, wide-eyed and ensorcelled.

    • My Dad wanted to screen “Raiders” before they took me to see it (I was 8 at the time). It was sold out, so he called up my Mom and said “Go ahead and bring Chad up to the movies, and we’ll see something else.”

      That something else?

      The Cannonball Run.

      Was there a more inappropriate movie for an 8 year old to see in 1981? I don’t think so….


      (PS: to this day, I LOVE Cannonball… and I did still get to see Raiders at the movies later that summer.)

    • How can Josh Zyber influence the quality of the Jurassic Park Blu-ray? Does he work (undercover) for Universal Pictures?

      • Josh Zyber

        I am secretly Steven Spielberg’s illegitimate love child, Stanley Spielberg. Kind of puts that poll we ran a couple months ago into perspective, doesn’t it? 🙂

          • Josh Zyber

            Remember that part where the parent abandons the young child in the middle of the woods miles from civizilation with nothing but a teddy bear and his wits to help him survive? True story! 🙂

  3. Eric

    I would agree that Jurassic Park is a great pick. For me, I think I’m going to go with Josh and say T2 was the most memorable. Say what you want about Cameron, but at least his movies generally are groundbreaking (not just in terms of box office numbers). T2, Titanic, and Avatar all brought visual effects to new levels, and even though the effects in T2 seem a bit dated twenty years later, they have been copied repeatedly over the years.
    This year’s X-men First Class lived up to the hype and was great fun. I hope Cowboys and Aliens will keep a pretty solid summer season going.

  4. Shayne Blakeley

    Fully agree with all of these choices, I kind of want to go watch them all for the zillionth time right now. My choice, basically because it’s the most fun I’ve ever had a the theater, how frothingly mad I was to see it as soon as possible, and meeting every theme park expectation I had for it is Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. I’ve always been a die hard Freddy fan and when I saw the previews for this I practically held a gun to my moms head to go buy tickets IMMEDIATELY! She did thankfully, and it was pure awesome. Super funny (I know a lot of people hate cartoony Freddy but I love it) more fun than most horror movies, and the first (and only) movie I ever saw in the theater with the old fashioned red/blue 3D. Perfect storm of awesomeness.

    • Shayne Blakeley

      And yes I know it came out in September, but I feel it fits better in the Summer popcorn flick category than in horror. At least it was everything I wanted from a Summer blockbuster.

    • HEY! You forgot the Power Glove! Classic, and I fully agree, I’ve loved all the Freddy movies even more so the ones where he was an evil comedian, some of the best one liners ever said in cinema! 🙂

      • BostonMA

        it’s funny how hated Transformers 2 is in the abbreviation world. Terminator 2 fans ensure that “T2” is for Cameron’s masterwork (and rightfully so), and the fanbase of the massively popular video game Team Fortress 2 claim the “TF2” as their own as well.

        yup, Transformers 2 is pretty much hated all around.

        • Haha, “the abbreviation world”. I can picture it in full : a world where nothing but abbreviations exist. People speak with just “lol”, “omg” etc, all billboards and signs are shortened …

          Wonder how people seduce a girl in the abbreviation world.

          A great idea for a movie or a comic book!

  5. Wyatt

    I agree with Josh, Terminator 2 was a great summer flick. I still remember seeing it on the big 70mm screen back in the hot summer of 1991.

    I also like the first Mission: Impossible film, yeah I know it wasn’t a great film but it was a lot of fun.

  6. Alex

    I still remember my brother coming out to visit us from college one year, and my Dad deciding that we needed a family night at the movies. We all piled into the Volvo station wagon and went to see “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Good times. Very good times.

  7. well for me its not one film but one summer. and that was the summer of 1982. it seemed like every film that came out that summer , i was dying to see except for young doctors in love. 🙂 i remember seeing star trek 2 and just loving it. then a burger king opened up for the first time in my town and my mother took my friend and i and we ate there before going to see E.T. i remember the previews , the one was for the world according to garp. the crowd was laughing. then the road warrior popped on the screen.my mom one one side goes that looks like garbage my friend on the other side was like yeah. that was on a thursday like a month after it e.t. came out and that place was packed. i dont think you’ll see that for harry potter or transformers in a month. good times.

    • EM

      In retrospect, 1982 is one of my favorite movie (not necessarily blockbuster) summers. In addition to the excellent Star Trek II and E.T. (both of which captured my imagination), that summer also spawned The Thing and Tron. Alas, I didn’t see the latter two until years later—actually, that’s a good thing in the case of The Thing, which my twelve-year-old mind would not have been able to handle.

      Hmm, that might make a fun quadruple-feature some lazy day before this summer is out!

      • it’s funny that you bring up tron because i remember tron not coming to my town and being disappointed and then the sequel came out last year and they played it everywhere. maybe the original would of been a hit if they played it on more screens.

        • EM

          The small city in and around which I spent most of my childhood had, in the early years of my recollection, only one movie theater, which had only one screen. (That’s not counting the drive-in theater owned by the same family and its one screen—I do feel blessed to have grown up with a drive-in in the area.) As you can imagine, a lot of anticipated movies did not make their way to that one screen. One of the joys of my adulthood in the era of home video has been in tracking down the movies I missed in my childhood, for one reason or another.

      • EM

        Today I went for my 1982 summer-movie quadruple-feature, watching Star Trek II, E.T., The Thing, and Tron, in that order (their original order of release). I had some time when I was finished, and so I watched Airplane II: The Sequel, from December of that same year.

        I had a blast! It was a great cinematic time capsule for a lazy, terribly hot and humid Sunday (spent in the air-conditioned indoors).

  8. EM

    The Empire Strikes Back. Not just because of its own merits. Not just because it’s one of the greatest sequels of all time, to one of the greatest blockbusters of all time. But Empire was the first movie I went to see in theaters a second time. And that second time, at the tender age of ten, was the first time I went to see a movie without any grownups. The Empire Strikes Back was a cinematic coming of age.

  9. Scott H

    I would have to say Jurassic Park back in 93. I saw it with my dad and man was it great. The scene when the T-Rex breaks out and attacks the jeeps in the rain, that stuck in my head, so every time it rained and thundered and I was in the car, I would imagine the T-Rex coming to attack. Also gotta love John Williams score for that movie. Another favorite summer flick is T2, I was wasn’t old enough to see it in theaters, so when my parents rented it, they told me it too scary for me too watch. So I walked up stairs and watched through the railing. And the scene where the T-1000 replicates the cop and stabs him while he gets his coffee, scared the heck out of me, cause of the noise made when the cop walks over his killer hidden in the floor, that wet shoe kinda of squishy sound. Every time i heard that I would turn around and see if the T-1000 was there to kill me. Now that is my favorite movie. I preordered the special edition and got it before I even had a DVD player to play it on, which happens to be the ps2 when it was first released. 3 months before I believe. Iv bought every version released since. That might be a good round table topic if it hasn’t been used before, how many versions of one movie do you own?

  10. I’m with Mike Attebery, it was always all about Tim Burton’s Batman for me. I’ve seen a lot of summer blockbusters, but I think I had about 3 different Batman shirts that I wore each week leading in the months leading up to it’s release, and I saw Batman back to back two nights in a row.

    Hate to admit it, but Star Wars, Ep 1 was probably the second biggest geek-out, seeing it 3 times in 4 days in 2 different states (KY and OH). Buying LOTS of toys too. So sorry that The Prequels turned out so terrible….

    • I saw the Phantom Menace I think 4 times in the theater, even Jar Jar cant and still doesnt ruin this movie for me, the wonder of Star Wars was back on the big screen and that was big enough in itself because I was such a Star Wars fan but never got to see any of them in the theater originally (although I did catch the SEs when they were re-released) and man did I love this thing, I still feel its the closest in feel to the original Trilogy and definitely dont agree at how bad it is, now Ep2 was BAD though 🙂

      • Josh Zyber

        Attack of the Clones is still a weak movie, but it’s a thousand times better than The Jar Jar and Friends Smile-Time Comedy Showcase.

        “Weesa in da big doo-doo now, Ani Fanny Bo-Banny. Duhh-duhhhh-duhhhhhhhhhhh…”

        • Hey to each their own, I would rather put up with Jar Jar than listen to the awful drivel that Padme and Anakin spout out in Clones, man my brain hurts every time I hear them speak, not to mention all of that dialog is trying to make them work as a couple and build their romance, good god is it terrible, sorry but Jar Jar is much easier to handle for me 🙂

          • I agree. I’m a big, stupid, geeky, nerdy Star Wars fanboy but “Attack of the Clones” is pure crap. “The Phantom Menace” actually resembles a movie.

    • I remember frantically buying (or making my parents buy rather) every Batman related piece of disposable crap I could find. In particular those cheesy collectors card sets, which came with like stickers you put in a picture book and a piece of dehydrated gum. I was all over that shit. Yeah that movie was crazy huge for me too.

      As for Phantom Menace, my neighbor won tickets to see it opening weekend and gave them to me. My mom let me skip school and we went and saw Star Wars. I had some jealous nerd friends pissed at me the next day. Regardless of any of the films faults, that was a damn fun trip to the movies

  11. Patrick A Crone

    Man, there’s so many to chose from. Okay, I’m going with Ghostbusters. It’s a movie I wanted to see so bad that I gave up having a birthday party to see it(My mom was flat broke)The movie was released 2 weeks after my birthday so it was torture having to wait, but it was worth it.

  12. I’m 38 years old. Been going to the movies in theaters since I was 7. Been a lot of summer blockbusters. But the only one that I anticipated like crazy that actually surpassed expectations was Inception.

    It was more than a mindless “bunch of explosions and chase-scenes” type of movie. It challenged the audience which is actually counter-intuitive of a summer blockbuster.

  13. paramedic0112

    Mike, are you from Farmington? I live here! That theater is two blocks from my house! There’s also the Allen 8 on 20th St. Wow I couldn’t believe I read that, what are the odds? By the way, I was the same way with Batman. I was so excited for that one. It’s probably the biggest summer movie of all time for me. Also, Jurrasic Park and Star Wars Episode 1. To bad about Jar Jar though.

  14. paramedic0112

    Ok so I have to respond to Adam’s comments about The Dark Knight and Iron Man 2. First of all The Dark Knight is supposed to be dark! You should read the comics. The Joker is one of the most insane, evil, depraved characters ever created! This is in my opinion by far the best comic movie ever made. And I actually liked Iron Man 2 better than the first one. I think it’s the number two comic movie ever. The first one didn’t have Scarlett Johanson in a skin tight black suit! It had everything. It was really funny, Mickey Rourke was a badass. Sam Rockwell was hilarious. Just my two cents.

    • I liked both Iron Man movies equally, Iron Man 2 IMO was just a fantastic continuation of the story and Downey Jr. was again amazing as Stark, his downward spiral and how he rebounds was so well done, it had less action than the first but that was needed IMO to develop Tony’s character even more, definitely a couple of the best comic book movies ever done, and yeah Dark Knight is amazing through and through 🙂

      • Jane Morgan

        ‘Iron Man 1&2,’ I would love, if they had better villains, and no Gwyneth Paltrow.

        ‘Iron Man 3,’ has me excited, now that it’s being written and directed by Mr. Shane Black. It might just become as badass as…

        ‘X-Men 2,’ which is still the greatest superhero movie of all time.

      • paramedic0112

        Very well put about the Stark character development. I really wanted to say that but I could not put my finger on it at the time! If something is very well done, I don’t think you need action every five seconds. It makes the action that’s in it that much more sweet.

        • paramedic0112

          I would like to say something more about the Dark Knight. Up until that movie, Burton’s first Batman was the one to top. I had always loved Nicholson’s Joker, but when I saw Ledger in the theater that summer I was just blown away like everyone else. He really captures the insanity of the character. He scared the shit out of everyone that summer! Just thinking about the possiblity that a person like that could exist in real life is mind boggling. Let alone having to be the person that has to take him down.

  15. Most blockbusters are released on the same day around the world, in order to discourage pirates that sell illegal versions or downloads. Back before someone invented “downloading”, we had to wait a few months to see an anticipated movie.

    As such, I went to see “Jurassic Park” in October 1993 and it totally blew me away. I still regard it as one of the best movies ever with the most convincing CGI. 18 years down the road, few movies can equal or top the pure awesomeness of the first Jurassic Park’s effects and impact it had on me as a little kid.

    “Episode I” was released in May, but we had to wait until October. A lot of my geeky Star Wars friends acquired the famous Z-copy and saw the movie many months before I did. I too had the chance to see the bootleg, but I intentionally declined the opportunity. I wanted to see it on the big screen for the first time.
    For this particular reason, I was very psyched for Episode I and it didn’t let me down. Even today, I think it’s a better movie than II and III.

    Lucasfilm learned their lesson and released Episode II worldwide on the first day. Truth to be told, we even got it two days before the US (because new movies arrive on Wednesday).

    • EM

      Episode II’s worldwide release, US inclusive, was May 16, 2002 (a Thursday).

      Worldwide same-date releases of US films have the curious effect of premiering the movies in numerous countries before the US gets them—several hours before, anyway. Well, maybe not all the US—I suppose those folks in Guam have a chance to watch the latest before people in most countries do.

      • My mistake! Turns out we got it on 17 May. Still, my original post remains valid : the only good that ever came out of illegal downloads, is worldwide release dates for anticipated movies! 🙂

  16. Star Wars Phantom Menace and Inception are two of my top summer blockbusters, I saw both 4 times in the theaters and most movies I never go more than once, Inception is probably at the top of my all time favorite movies list and since I’m a gigantic Star Wars fan, Episode I was amazing when I first saw it, it elevated Darth Maul almost to the top of my favorite villains in a movie 🙂

  17. M. Enois Duarte

    Plenty of great fun summer flicks, but surprise no mention of ‘Die Hard,’ ‘Predator,’ or ‘True Lies.’ Awesome blockbusters I love watching repeatedly.

  18. Jane Morgan

    ‘Wedding Crashers’ had all the elements of a great summer blockbuster. R-rated insanity, gratuitious nudity, and Christopher Walken.

  19. motorheadache

    I hate to admit it, but when I was 14, it was all about ID4. I loved seeing giant alien ships blowing up entire cities and monuments.

    Looking back on it now, I still enjoy it in a cornball fun kind of way, but I don’t think I’d even try explaining to some kid how I actually considered this an awesome movie back in ’96.

  20. There were a couple (namely the Harry Potter movies, which staggered between July and November releases), but in my opinion, the number one summer movie of all time was Jurassic Park. Nothing else even comes close, and its the ONLY movie I have seen more than 3 times at a theater (I believe I saw this one six times). It was just completely unlike anything I had ever seen before!

    If I am allowed to include May as summer blockbusters, I think I would have to include The Phantom Menace. Bought my tickets the day they went on sale (I was at the box office an hour before they opened, but wasn’t needed, there were a few freaks who had camped out for months, but I still got opening day tickets), and I arrived at the theater about 4 hours early for my movie (once again, there were freaks who had been camping out, but I was early enough to get great seats). Sadly, the movie sucked.

    If I may go to something more recently, though, Super 8 is an AWESOME summer flick, and has everything a good action movie should have!

    • paramedic0112

      Yeah, say what you will about the Phantom Menace’s many flaws, but there are still some redeeming qualities. The John Williams dual of the fates score kicks ass. Liam Neeson is really cool as a Jedi, and I really liked his partnership with Obi. Darth maul and the dual lightsaber is one of my favorite villans ever. The lightsaber fight is still freaking cool. I may be in the minority, but I prefer the choreography of that fight to many of the spastic CGI fights in the other two prequals.

  21. EM

    By the way—while I’m certainly not the fan that Mrs. Z is, I wish to commend her for her lyric-laden tribute to Grease, which certainly brings back memories of not just the movie but the summertime phenomenon. When I read her paragraph, my smile is automatic (possibly systematic, but almost certainly not hydromatic).