Top 10 Summer Blockbusters through the Years

It is shaping up to be one of the best summers for Hollywood blockbusters in recent memory. Top 10 Films takes a look at some of the highest grossing block-busting movies.

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The summer movie season is almost upon us and, as usual, there is plenty to get excited about. While film snobs all over the world turn up their noses at summer blockbusters and see them as mindless, loud spectacles, there can be no denying that summer movies are a lot of fun. Yes, they can be mindless, loud spectacles, but that’s part of the appeal. You might want to say that “Citizen Kane” is the film that inspired you to seek a degree in film production, but it was probably something like “Star Wars” (now officially known as “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Jurassic Park.” A good summer film is pure, undiluted entertainment and there’s no shame in admitting your love for the blockbuster season.

Here is a look at the 10 highest-grossing summer films. This may come as a surprise to some people, given the reputation of the stuff we usually see in the summer, but these movies are highly regarded as being well-made, influential and generally very good films. Let’s take a look at these top earners and discuss why they deserve their reputations.

(Note: The earnings of each of these movies are adjusted for inflation. Also, keep in mind that these numbers also take into account re-releases, which bring in a lot of extra money.)

  1. “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977) – Not a lot needs to be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It’s without question one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made. You can be a snob and say that it doesn’t do anything new as far as its story is concerned (writer and director George Lucas borrowed liberally from movies by Akira Kurosawa, Westerns, World War II-era war movies and old “Flash Gordon” serials as well as the writing of Joseph Campbell), but “Star Wars” featured special effects the likes of which had never been seen before and captured the imaginations of millions of fans worldwide. Gross: $1,289,662,081.
  2. “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) – A heartwarming story of a boy who discovers a lost alien who is trying to contact his home planet, “E.T.” proved to be one of the most emotional films on this list. It earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination and sealed the reputation of Steven Spielberg as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Gross: $1,062,887,574.
  3. “Jaws” (1975) – Largely considered to be the first true summer blockbuster, “Jaws” was an ambitious undertaking from Steven Spielberg when he was a largely untested director. The movie overcame a famously troubled production to become one of the most famous films of Spielberg’s career. Gross: $974,679,803.
  4. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – As good as “Star Wars” was, this sequel improves on it in every conceivable way. The story is darker and more emotional, the performances are better, the special effects are vastly improved and it features one of the most iconic twists in cinema history. You probably know what we’re talking about, but we’ll keep quiet just in case you’re a “Star Wars” virgin. Gross: $768,957,136.
  5. “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” (1983) – The third film in the original Star Wars trilogy is generally considered the weakest one of the three, but “The Empire Strikes Back” was such a tough act to follow that we can’t blame “Return of the Jedi” for not being as good. For what it’s worth, this film is a worthy conclusion to the “Star Wars” saga that ties everything up nicely. Gross: $709,474,258.
  6. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) – Yet another Steven Spielberg movie goes on this list. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” not only introduced moviegoers to Harrison Ford’s iconic Indiana Jones, but it proved that there was still room in Hollywood for good old-fashioned adventure. Watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” feels like watching a matinee from the 1940s – and we mean that in the best possible way. Gross: $659,021,792.
  7. “Jurassic Park” (1993) – Few movies manage to combine the sense of wonder with a sense of terror quite like “Jurassic Park” did. Its groundbreaking special effects may have brought upon us the scourge of computer-generated imagery that has all but done in traditional special effects, but they were done so well here that the dinosaurs still feel real nearly 20 years later. Gross: $656,349,535.
  8. “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999) – It’s safe to say that this movie ended up on this list thanks to the hype surrounding it. No, it doesn’t come close to being as good as any part of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, a statement that not many fans are willing to argue. Whether it deserves all the hate it so often receives is debatable, as it is still perfectly watchable thanks to some nice special effects and a few impressive action scenes. In short, it’s still “Star Wars” and, for all this film’s faults, that still counts for a lot. Gross: $645,783,843.
  9. “Forrest Gump” (1994) – If any movie felt like it didn’t belong on a list of summer blockbusters, it’s this one, a very character-centered drama about the fantastic and unlikely life of the borderline mentally-challenged yet still remarkable Forrest Gump. It’s hard not to like Forrest in this movie, thanks in part to Tom Hank’s Academy Award-winning portrayal. Gross: $601,672,695.
  10. “The Lion King” (1994) – In 1989, Disney had something of a renaissance with their animated films when they released “The Little Mermaid.” This renaissance culminated with “The Lion King,” a movie that proves to be visually impressive as well as achieving the lofty goal of retelling Hamlet with cartoon lions (seriously). It’s the highest-grossing Disney animated film and one of the best and most well-loved films in the studio’s animated canon. Gross: $599,564,900.

Whether or not these movies are the “best” summer movies is really a matter of opinion, but few people will argue about the quality of most of these movies. These movies have inspired countless people to get involved in film production. If you are interested in film production but don’t want to go to film school, there are always other ways to get involved in film such as costume design or makeup. Many have even gone to cosmetology school and applied what they have learned to careers in television and film. There are always ways to get involved in film production if you’re passionate enough to be involved.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    I get why Phantom Menace made it on there even if I dislike the movie immensely, but I’ll never understand the popularity of the Lion King. I just never cared for that film and I don’t get why people love it so much. It’s basically Shakespeare with animals.

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    Scott Reply

    STAR WARS own the summer blockbusters huh!!?

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    Jaina Reply

    I think you can safely say that Spielberg is the king of the summer blockbusters. Unlike George Lucas, he’s lost none of his cred over the years!

    Really glad to see that out of all of Disney’s films, The Lion King made it into this list. It’s my all time favourite Disney film and never fails to bring me to tears. Great retelling of Hamlet. Which happens to be one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

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    Louise Reply

    Did not expect such a high Star Wars count. Where’s all the Will Smith movies – he owned the 4th July/summer blockbuster season for a few years.

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    Pete Reply

    Were Titanic and Gone with the Wind not summer blockbusters then? Guess that means they were Xmas releases? I think my fave on this list is Forrest Gump. I agree it doesn’t sit too well on this list with the others!

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    David Reply

    I’m surprised Forrest Gump is here

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    mark Reply

    I’ve always had trouble with the summer blockbuster thing because I live in the southern hemisphere. Admittedly things in 2012 aren’t anywhere near as bad as they used to be, but I remember reading about Star Wars in Time during July 1977, but not being able to see the film until January 1978 (which was the heart of Australia’s summer). Same with Jaws, which came here during the turn of 1975/76 (ie the OZ summer), but had already established itself as the world’s highest grossing pic.

    I think box office analysis should be measured not on seasonal impact, but on overall popularity. It should be free of seasonist discrimination.

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    Amy Reply

    I’m also pretty surprised Forrest Gump is up there, but Tom Hanks is a total legend so it makes sense really. Obviously happy to see Star Wars but can’t help but feel bitter towards Phantom Menace..

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