Back to the Future (1985) Adults could be forgiven for harboring suspicions toward a movie about a time-traveling teenager (played by TV sitcom star Michael J. Fox, who that same summer was also starring in the abysmal “Teen Wolf”). But the film turned out to be so smart on so many levels that the grownups ended up not only totally immersed—but secretly hopeful their kids didn’t actually get all of it themselves (like the scenes where time traveler Marty’s mom has the hots for him).
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Let's put it this way: I was well into my thirties when I saw “Roger Rabbit”, and to this day the villain who appears in my nightmares is Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom, in full terror-toon glory, his eyes glowing like molten Ping-Pong balls, his black-gloved hand reaching out to...well, I can't go on. The last great animated film before the digital era, the human characters in “Roger”—led by Bob Hoskins as a down-and-out P.I.—interact seamlessly with an all-star cast of hand-drawn characters, including inspired pairings of Donald and Daffy Ducks and, in a joint appearance that carried the gravity of a world-leader summit, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Amid the animated anarchy, an undercurrent of loss runs throughout the film: the plot itself bemoans the loss of Los Angeles's red streetcars, and with each star toon turn—Betty Boop, Clarabelle Cow, Heckle and Jeckle, and dozens more—we sense we're visiting with some of these characters for the last time, as well. Alan Silvestri's mournful score, and director Robert Zemeckis's noir look, would be just as at-home in “Chinatown.”
Jurassic Park (1993) Sure, we're pretty jaded now when it comes to digitally created movie critters, but you've got to take yourself back to that summer when you settled down in a theater—and Steven Spielberg showed you something you had never, ever seen before. It comes a half-hour or so into the movie, when Sam Neill and Laura Dern are riding around in an open-top Jeep. They stop on a hill, and at first all we see is the gaping, astonished look on Neill's face. Then we see what he sees: a herd of enormous dinosaurs, standing in the bright sun, lazily eating leaves off the tops of trees. Unlike movie dinos of the previous century or so—jerky, stop-motion clay figures or actors in ungainly suits, for the most part—these digitally created animals require no suspension of disbelief whatsoever. They are perfect to the smallest detail; their slow, smooth movements don't just look correct, they seem absolutely, exactly right for a bunch of 12-story-high animals. With an unmatched summer track record—films like “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “War of the Worlds”— is the unchallenged king of the Dog Days. But seldom, if ever, did he elsewhere create a moment of such sheer wonder, shared equally by both his characters and his audience.