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Movies for Grownups’ Greatest Summer Blockbusters

From ‘Jaws’ to ‘Midnight in Paris,’ reminisce about Hollywood’s box-office hits

  • 40 Years of Thrills, Chills and Spills

    Until Jaws gave birth to the notion of summer megahits 40 years ago, the period from May through August was a Hollywood dead zone. Here’s our list of summer movies that thrilled us when they opened — and still hold up as all-season classics.

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  • Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Jaws’ (June 20, 1975)

    Perversely, Steven Spielberg’s monster flick swam into theaters at the height of the beach season, causing millions of swimmers — then and now — to associate sun, sand and surf with “dahh-dum, dahh-dum …

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  • Lucasfilm Ltd./Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Star Wars’ (May 25, 1977)

    George Lucas based his sci-fi classic on the plots of old westerns, and the result resonated so thoroughly that we can’t wait to get one more look at Harrison Ford as Han Solo when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens this December.

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Grease’ (June 16, 1978)

    Were Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta ever that young? Were we? Two of the boomer generation’s true icons sang and danced up a box-office storm in this 1950s musical extravaganza that still has us hopelessly devoted 37 years later.

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  • 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Alien’ (June 22, 1979)

    More than 35 years later, we still get heartburn when we think of that little space beast busting out of John Hurt’s chest.

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (June 12, 1981)

    The Internet is swirling with rumors of an Indiana Jones series reboot starring Chris Pratt — but there will be no way to recapture the sheer delight we felt when George Lucas’ tribute to Saturday afternoon serials first galloped to the screen.

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  • Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘E.T.’ (June 11, 1982)

    While most of us promptly forgot to phone home when our own mothers requested, none of us will ever shake the emotion-packed moment when Steven Spielberg’s extraterrestrial yearned to drop an intergalactic dime.

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  • Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Ghostbusters’ (June 8, 1984)

    Who ya gonna call for belly laughs and creepy chills? Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson’s “hilscarious” film became the top-grossing live-action summer comedy of all time.  

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  • MCA/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Back to the Future’ (July 3, 1985)

    Challenging Spielberg and Lucas for “King of the Summer” cred with his time-twisting sci-fi comedy, Robert Zemeckis turned TV celebrity Michael J. Fox into one of America’s most beloved movie stars.

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Top Gun’ (May 16, 1986)

    Before he climbed into an F-14 cockpit in Tony Scott’s flyboy feature, Tom Cruise was known primarily for playing hot young high schoolers. Virtually every year since, Cruise has been a summer movie staple.

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘The Untouchables’ (June 3, 1987)

    Bloody, gritty and stylish, Brian De Palma’s saga of Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and the G-man who nailed him (Kevin Costner) was pretty tough meat for a summer movie. It proved audiences would come in from the sun for more than escapist comedy adventures.

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  • Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (June 22, 1988)

    Hollywood had long since abandoned cartoons to the realm of kiddie fare when Robert Zemeckis unleashed this ’toon for grownups that is by turns dark, delirious and terrifying.

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  • Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Batman’ (June 23, 1989)

    Moviegoers who expected a manic 1960s-style reboot of the Batman saga were shocked, then thrilled, by Tim Burton’s shadowy, moody vision. As the Caped Crusader, Michael Keaton made the world forget all about Adam West.

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  • TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Total Recall’ (June 1, 1990)

    Lots of people think this is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour. Summer movie audiences came for the promised action scenes — and left remembering the twisty plot based on a Philip K. Dick short story about implanted memories

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  • Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘A League of Their Own’ (July 1, 1992)

    There may be no crying in baseball, but there were laughs aplenty in this enchanting tale of a 1940s women’s baseball league. Director Penny Marshall made a ball pic that appealed to both sexes, thanks to an all-star lineup including Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks.

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  • Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Jurassic Park’ (June 11, 1993)

    Kids raved to their pals about the supercool computer-animated dinosaurs — and grownups came away contemplating humankind’s obsession with mastering nature in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi cautionary tale.

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  • Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Forrest Gump’ (July 6, 1994)

    Who’d’ve thought a fanciful drama about a simple man who finds himself at the center of the mid-century’s most iconic moments would become an all-time dog-days blockbuster? School was out, but with Tom Hanks in the title role, summer vacationers got a history lesson they’d never forget.

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  • MCA/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Apollo 13’ (June 30, 1995)

    It was a true story, and the cast featuring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris played their no-nonsense astronaut characters by the book — but audiences embraced Ron Howard’s film as a classic summer-adventure flick.

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  • 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

    ‘Independence Day’ (July 3, 1996)

    Bill Clinton and Bob Dole were locking up their 1996 presidential nominations, but in theaters moviegoers voted overwhelmingly for Bill Pullman, the only president willing to personally scramble in a fighter jet to do battle with invading space aliens.

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  • Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Men in Black’ (July 2, 1997)

    After fighting aliens in Independence Day the previous summer, Will Smith teamed up with Tommy Lee Jones to do it again. Even today, we’re kind of reluctant to accept either one of those guys playing characters without Ray-Bans and thin black ties.

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  • DreamWorks/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (July 24, 1998)

    Opening with one of the most harrowing battle scenes ever filmed, this story of a World War II platoon dispatched to rescue a single soldier managed to lure vacationers away from their fun long enough to remind themselves of men who, a generation earlier, never had a nice day.

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  • Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘The Sixth Sense’ (Aug. 6, 1999)

    This was the summer of “DON’T TELL ME!” Those of us who hadn’t yet seen M. Night Shyamalan’s serpentine tale of a boy (Haley Joel Osment) who sees dead people had to cover our ears while around those who already knew the notorious twist ending.

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  • New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘The Notebook’ (June 25, 2004)

    There are still those who insist this is the most romantic movie ever made. Kids swooned for the Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling love story — but the rest of us bawled unashamedly at the heartrending finale with Gena Rowlands and James Garner.

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  • Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

    ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (Aug. 21, 2009)

    Wallowing in blood, brutality and gallows humor, Quentin Tarantino’s World War II adventure left audiences wondering whether they should laugh or lose their lunches.

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  • Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘The Expendables’ (Aug. 13, 2010)

    A game changer for the action movie genre, cowriter-director-star Sly Stallone’s blow-’em-up about a gang of middle-aged mercenaries proved there’s a market for kick-ass heroes old enough to brandish an AARP card.

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  • Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Midnight in Paris’ (June 10, 2011)

    Woody Allen’s films often open in summer as modestly successful palate-cleansers. Few were prepared for the box office explosion ignited by his whimsical comedy about love and nostalgia.

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