10 Summer Blockbusters You Must See Before You Die
Some of the best over-the-top blockbuster flicks are routinely released when the weather’s at its hottest. Here are 10 summer blockbuster releases, all of them found in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, that you can watch at home—no matter what time of year it is.
If Ridley Scott’s Alien mashed up the horror and sci-fi genres, James Cameron’s sequel gave us an all-out war in space that’s just as good. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a crew of soldiers return to the alien-infested planet from the original Alien—but in the years since Ripley escaped the first movie’s gnashing, acid-for-blood monster, it’s been colonized by a human community. Carnage has rarely been this much fun.
Amid the glut of comic-book franchise flicks these days, it’s hard to recall just how much excitement was generated back in the late ’80s for director Tim Burton’s first outing with the Caped Crusader. The wait was worth it. Burton jettisoned the campiness of the 1960s series, instead giving audiences a gothic, grotesque masterpiece. Michael Keaton makes for a perfect Bruce Wayne, while Jack Nicholson is a malevolently funny Joker.
3. District 9
Neil Blomkamp’s movie was refreshing for its use of an unfamiliar blockbuster backdrop: Instead of an all-American city, we have Johannesburg, South Africa. A smart satire about post-Apartheid society that transforms into a breakneck chase, District 9 exemplifies what sci-fi does best, simultaneously thrilling us and offering a potent commentary on our world.
If its cleverness finally undermines the action, there’s no denying the ambition of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending summer hit. The set pieces, from the collapsing streets of Paris to the Bond-like climax, set in a labyrinthine snowy retreat, are impressive; the cast, particularly Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, is great.
The modern blockbuster began here. Steven Spielberg’s third feature is a master class in sustained suspense. He’s aided in no small part by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, Robert Shaw and a superb supporting cast, as well as John Williams’ thrilling score, which keeps us elated throughout. The unconvincing shark notwithstanding, Jaws remains world-class, unbeatable entertainment.
6. Lethal Weapon
The buddy-buddy movie had been around a long time before Richard Donner united Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Shane Black’s whip-smart script and the stars’ on-screen chemistry helped make Lethal Weapon the ultimate action blockbuster. (At least, until Die Hard arrived over Christmas of 1988.) An antidote to the one-man-army films of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Donner’s movie is located in a recognizable reality and the co-stars’ charm carries us through a series of skillfully executed set pieces.
7. Star Wars
If Jaws initiated the modern blockbuster, George Lucas’ space opera turned it into a global sensation. The first film in his series is fun, even if the script is terrible. Harrison Ford is a charismatic hero, the aliens look great, the light sabre is probably the coolest weapon ever invented and Darth Vader remains one of cinema’s great dastardly villains. If some of the effects have dated, the film as a whole remains a hugely entertaining experience.
8. Terminator/Terminator 2: Judgment Day
These are Arnie’s finest hours, so much so that it wouldn’t be right to separate the first two installments of James Cameron’s sci-fi extravaganza. The first accomplishes so much on a shoestring budget, while the sequel is an all-out, no-expense-spared shoot-‘em-up on an epic scale. The subsequent sequels, prequels and TV spin-off don’t compare.
9. The Matrix
Forget the two sequels and the spin-off animated series; the Wachowskis’ sci-fi epic works best as a standalone film. Blending a neat story with state-of-the-art camera effects, The Matrix works brilliantly as a variation on Alice in Wonderland, albeit with no chance of ever leaving the rabbit hole. Keanu Reeves oozes cool, Laurence Fishburne is even cooler and Carrie-Anne Moss adds both frisson and kick-ass antics to the proceedings. Don’t try to unravel the theory. Just enjoy the ride.
10. Total Recall
The middle film in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trilogy (the others being Robocop and Starship Troopers) is one long chase across two planets in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hero battles an entire army in order to uncover a conspiracy that could literally change a world. The effects have not dated well and some of the Ah-nuld’s delivery is clumsy, but Total Recall revels in its B-movie cheesiness.
Now check out our list of 10 movies from master blockbuster maker Steven Spielberg you must see before you die.