Jaws (1975) The shark doesn’t even appear in full until 90 minutes into the movie (spurring one of the great movie lines of all time: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”). And that’s just one of the ways director Steven Spielberg breaks the rules in his seminal horror flick. For one thing, in "Jaws" there’s no dark, scary house: the terror explodes in glaring daylight, and the fact that it’s telegraphed by John Williams's sickeningly relentless theme only makes the anticipation more nail-biting. And right when we expect the action to reach its catharsis, Spielberg stops everything for a seven-minute monologue—one of the greatest in all of movie history—as the grizzled fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) recalls his days adrift in shark-infested waters following the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis. “…A shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes. Like a doll’s eye.” Brrrrr….
Star Wars (1977) You've got to track down an old VHS tape to remember just how gloriously tacky "Star Wars" looked back in the day—over the years, it seems director George Lucas has digitally "special editioned" his breakthrough film more times than Nancy Pelosi's been Botoxed. But the movie's central genius, lost in most of the sequels, remains intact: it's a conventional western, populated by free-spirited outsiders, black-hatted bad guys, and vast frontiers in need of civilizin'. Even the climactic battle, counting down to the moment when the Death Star will destroy the rebels, harkens back to that ticking clock in "High Noon." As film literature, "Star Wars" references some mighty terrific sources with uncannily perfect calibration (except for that awful last shot, of the heroes stupidly standing there accepting the citizens' applause, seemingly waiting for Lucas to finally yell "Cut!").
Superman II (1980) If the first Superman movie, in 1978, didn’t quite deliver on its tag line, “You’ll believe a man can fly!” the second one does answer the question, “Can Superman get it on with Lois without crushing her in his super embrace?” This installment is head-and-shoulders above the original "Superman", if only because we’re spared the laborious scenes on Krypton (remember Marlon Brando getting $3.7 million for his brief role as Superman’s pop?) and the obligatory Clark Kent-as-a-kid scenes. Here the action starts right out of the gate, as Superman saves the Eiffel Tower from an atomic explosion but inadvertently unleashes a trio of truly bad villains, who vow to dominate the Earth.
Ghostbusters (1984) Most classic big-budget summer movies are action films. Not many of them are flat-out comedies, and the reason seems to be a simple one: generally, the more money spent on a comedy, the less funny it is (Just try sitting through the mega-budget comedies "1941" or "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines"). Director Ivan Reitman solved that problem in "Ghostbusters" by melding science fiction thrills with slapstick-y swagger. At its slimed heart, "Ghostbusters" is two movies: one a genuinely terrifying fable of unleashed evil; the other a winking caper flick with fast-talking goofballs right out of a Rat Pack film. The mix is perfect, and "Ghostbusters" endures as simultaneously one of the scariest and funniest films ever made.