by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
Movie buffs always look forward to summer anticipating the release of major motion pictures. Summer blockbusters have often been record-breakers in terms of revenue generated for movie studios, but that’s not why the movie-going public loves them. For the chronic movie fanatic, the habitual Netflixer, or the active DVD and Blu-ray borrower, these movies are about pure entertainment. The term “blockbuster” first made its appearance in the American press during World War 2 in reference to bombs with the power to destroy entire blocks of streets. The term was later applied to successful theater plays, then hit movies, best-selling novels, and computer games. Movies such as “The Ten Commandments,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “Ben-Hur,” were the blockbusters of their times. In terms of summer blockbusters, however, and the concept of the blockbuster as a film genre, we have to look no further than Steven Spielberg’s 1975 hit “Jaws.” After the success of “Jaws,” Hollywood producers attempted to create similar “event films” with wide commercial appeal. The 1974 novel, “Jaws,” by Peter Benchley, was also a blockbuster, spending 44 weeks on the bestsellers list and selling millions of copies.
The summer blockbuster for 1977 was George Lucas’ “Star Wars” (the title we now know as “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”). The Star Wars saga also reached summer blockbuster status in 1980 with “The Empire Strikes Back,” 1983 with “Return of the Jedi,” 1999 with “The Phantom Menace,” and 2005 with “Revenge of the Sith.” “The Amityville Horror,” was the hit of 1979. Based on the 1977 book “The Amityville Horror: A True Story,” by Jay Anson, it tells the story of Lutz family and the hauntings they endured in their house in Amityville on Long Island in New York.
Other successful books have made the transition to summer blockbusters. “Jurassic Park,” for example, was the hit of 1993. “Jurassic Park,” by Michael Crichton, was published in 1990, and spawned a series of books and movies. Is the latest installment, “Jurassic World,” the summer blockbuster of 2015? At grossing over a billion dollars worldwide already, it’s a pretty safe bet. Who can forget “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” the summer hit of 1982? Steven Spielberg again. In fact if you look at the list of top grossing films from 1975 to 2014, a third of them can be attributed to Lucas, Spielberg, or both.
It’s not a surprise that summer mega-movies are often of the action-adventure variety. There have, however, been exceptions. “Grease,” a musical, was the summer hit of 1978, while the romantic ghost story, “Ghost,” took those honors in 1990. Family rated movies have also made the summer splash. Disney’s “The Lion King,” made it big in 1994. “Shrek,” another hit based loosely on the book of the same title, by William Steig, was the blockbuster for 2001, followed by “Shrek II,” in 2004. In between, during the summer of 2003 we were watching “Finding Nemo.” While “Toy Story,” and “Toy Story 2,” were popular Pixar films, only “Toy Story 3” made it to top grossing summer movie status in 2010.
Superheroes have been popular with summer audiences. “Batman,” was the top grossing movie of 1989. “Batman Returns” took that honor in 1992, “Batman Forever” in 1995, and “The Dark Knight” in 2008. But the Caped Crusader wasn’t alone. “Spider-Man” made it big in 2002, and “Spider-Man 3” in 2007. The last few years of summer hits have belonged to Marvel comics: “Marvel’s The Avengers” in 2012, “Iron Man 3” in 2013, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014.
You can find the complete list of the top grossing summer films from the past forty years at http://parade.com/398513/parade/what-movies-were-summer-blockbusters. Don’t forget that most of these titles are available in DVD and/or Blu-ray at your Manhattan Public Library.