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PART 3: The 102 Best Modern Summer Blockbusters (#41-60)

August 14, 2020

Welcome to Part 3 of our countdown of the 102 Best Modern Summer Blockbusters. The criteria? Released in the U.S. anytime after JURASSIC PARK (modern)… released from May through August (summer)… with a production budget of approximately $50-Million or more (expensive). That’s it! These are best summer movies money can buy, and ranked according to their success (box office, crowd-pleasing ability, and other intangibles) and we hope you’ll find a little something for everyone on this list.

Click here to catch up on Part 1.

Click here to catch up on Part 2.

60. The Firm

Release: July, 1993

Adjusted Budget: $75M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $358M

IMDb: 6.8

Meta: 58

The Firm was released just a few weeks after Jurassic Park making it one of the earliest eligible candidates for this exercise. Based on the popular John Grisham novel, this movie was a mega-hit from an era when middle-brow grown-up novel adaptations with movie stars were reliably bankable. The reviews were middling, and yet The Firm persists as a paranoid (but entertainingly so) legal thriller. Featuring a youthful Tom Cruise as a sprinting hotshot lawyer and plenty of overcooked-yet-still-delicious villainy from the likes of Wilford Brimley and Gene Hackman, The Firm is still pretty fun to lose yourself in for the duration of its massive 2.5-hour runtime.

59. Babe

Release: August, 1995

Adjusted Budget: $50M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $108M

IMDb: 6.7

Meta: 83

Leave it to George Miller — the Australian filmmaker behind the Mad Max films — to write a pastoral kid flick featuring talking animals that nonetheless works on viewers of all ages. If you skim the gushing reviews from 1995, you’ll see words like “charming” and “intelligent” over and over again. The critics weren’t wrong. Babe is a feel-good story for the ages and the talking-animal effects still look good today thanks to the Oscar-winning effects team which included Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up during a challenging time (and who isn’t?) Babe should fit the bill.

58. Hercules

Release: June, 1997

Adjusted Budget: $136M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $160M

IMDb: 7.3

Meta: 74

As big a hit as Disney’s Hercules was, it’s interesting to note that it disappointed at the box office in 1997. Still, Hercules has a lot going for it including a novel mixture of hand drawn and computer animation, an eclectic and catchy catalog of original songs, and Hall of Fame-worthy voice acting. Hercules was well-received by most audiences even if it hasn’t been enshrined in quite the same way as some of the earlier Disney Renaissance hits. Regardless of where it stands in animation canon, he Mouse House’s take on Greek mythology stands as a pure pop confection that should at least put a smile on your face.

57. Jurassic World

Release: June, 2015

Adjusted Budget: $162M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $720M

IMDb: 7.0

Meta: 59

You know that gist… Jurassic World made over $500 million worldwide in its opening weekend. That’s pretty much the case for the 2015 re-boot of Jurassic Park… also dinosaurs. The movie is entertaining but aside from some winking meta-commentary about the nature of sequels it doesn’t break any new narrative ground. In a way, Jurassic Park is the current model for the modern blockbuster. It spared no expense in putting a new coat of paint on a classic, and somehow managed to earn back its mega-budget several times over, like a surprise indie hit on steroids. The reviews were fine, nothing too scathing, but there’s an odd and off-putting frictionless-ness to this very expensive and successful film. So yeah, it belongs on this list for all of the obvious reasons, but it was successful almost to an oppressive degree.

56. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Release: July, 2018

Adjusted Budget: $165M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $230M

IMDb: 7.1

Meta: 70

Ant-Man and the Wasp is one of the most purely enjoyable MCU films, with its breezy action, high joke count, and quirky mad scientist vibes. Both Ant-Man films have benefited from their relatively smaller stakes which offer counter programming to the proper Avengers films which only seem to get bigger and bigger with each new entry. Though the story dovetails with the grander narrative, Wasp stakes out just enough ground to be an enjoyable standalone. That proper balance of elements, plus an eclectic cast make for a thoroughly appealing action comedy. Both Ant-Man movies scored well in this exercise, and were solid box office hits, so feel free to consider either as the true holder of this spot on the countdown.

55. Air Force One

Release: July, 1997

Adjusted Budget: $136M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $353M

IMDb: 6.5

Meta: 61

It’s fun to discuss where Harrison Ford’s James Marshall ranks among cinematic presidents, and it’s still pretty fun to revisit his presidency in Air Force One. It’s over-the-top, but elevated by star performances from Ford and Gary Oldman, and the sure-handed action movie craftsmanship of Wolfgang Peterson. With movie stars, blockbuster action, and gobs of American iconography, Air Force One was a major populist hit that raked it in at the box office, placing fifth among 1997 releases. It’s a bit dated in 2020, but it’s a testament to those involved that Air Force One is still entertaining and good for some escapist fun.

54. Brave

Release: June, 2012

Adjusted Budget: $207M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $281M

IMDb: 7.1

Meta: 69

Brave might have had a quieter run than many other Pixar movies, but it’s still an exemplary film. Notable for being the famed animation house’s first film with a female protagonist, Brave is much more than just a girl power merchandising opportunity. The core mother-daughter relationship was an important addition to the Pixar canon, but Brave is still a fun movie to watch in spite of the burden of representation. It’s a rousing fantasy-action hybrid and as beautifully animated as any of its contemporaries. Brave was in the middle-of-the-pack in terms of Pixar box office successes, which puts it way ahead of most general releases.

53. War of the Worlds

Release: June, 2005

Adjusted Budget: $173M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $342M

IMDb: 6.5

Meta: 73

What is more thoroughly remembered in 2020; Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds itself or Tom Cruise’s press tour for said movie? It’s probably a toss-up, but allow us to recommend the movie as the considerably better experience. The alien invasion story has been done on the big screen many times over many decades and Spielberg’s version of the H.G. Wells tale is a worthy entry. The spectacle and the scale of destruction gets pretty harrowing, but it’s also a grounded and gripping tale of the estranged Ferrier family struggling to simultaneously connect and survive over the course of the film. Fans came out in droves to see War of the Worlds back in 2005, but fifteen years later, it seems to have faded a but, and it’s hard to say that it’s one of Spielberg’s more popular films. Fairly overshadowed or not, War of the Worlds impressed critics at the time, and is still a highly rewatchable blockbuster.

52. Pacific Rim

Release: July, 2013

Adjusted Budget: $209M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $113M

IMDb: 6.9

Meta: 65

When the initial Pacific Rim trailer began circulating, it was easy to write the whole movie off as some kind of Rock Em Sock Em Robots adaptation. Thankfully, the movie is an original story and way, way better than the deluge of toy and board game movies of the time. With it’s massive scale, imaginative creature design, and a slew of scene-stealers in supporting roles, Pacific Rim is a flat-out blast. It’s Guillermo del Toro’s loving ode to kaiju cinema and junk science fiction. It’s a beautiful cacophony of action but also an earnest production that’s genuinely interested in concepts like audience representation and international cooperation. Pacific Rim was not a big box office earner — but in case you haven’t seen it yet, don’t write it off as a soulless CGI-orgy. It is a delight.

51. Fast & Furious 6

Release: May, 2013

Adjusted Budget: $176M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $267M

IMDb: 7.1

Meta: 61

If you can only differentiate the Fast films by their most outlandish setpieces, then Fast & Furious 6 is either the one where Dom and Letty leap from separate vehicles and over the gap between two elevated highways into each other’s arms — OR — the one where Dom drives a car out of the nose cone of an exploding cargo plane. Also, Luke Evans is in it. This Justin Lin-directed sequel is insane, and also good, and also a loud and clear indication that Fast was/is fully committed to its new identity as a maximalist mashup of James Bond and The Avengers and every action movie in-between. That’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (or Corona… or Red Bull), but Fast & Furious 6 finds balance with a diverse and accomplished cast that’s up for anything. In line with most of the recent Fast installments, critics and general audiences have rewarded FF6 for its moxie. The Fast and the Furious is a summer movie franchise if there ever was such a thing, however, some of the fan-favorites including Fast 5 and Furious 7 were April releases and therefore ineligible for this exercise.

50. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Release: July, 2014

Adjusted Budget: $184M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $228M

IMDb: 7.6

Meta: 79

You could make a case that the newer Planet of the Apes movies beat 2019’s The Lion King to the punch in the photorealistic animated animal department. While it’s a bit strange that this series is essentially a re-imagining of the original series’ lesser sequels, there’s no denying that the films have been entertaining and more provocative than your usual big-budget summer fare. All three Apes films since 2011 have been big summer successes, and each was lauded by critics. It will be interesting to see where this story can go with Disney now in control of the franchise. Apes is such a proven commodity, that even the much-maligned Tim Burton-Mark Wahlberg version was a sturdy hit. All of these movies qualified, but Dawn gets to represent the series in this spot on the countdown.

49. Kung Fu Panda

Release: June, 2008

Adjusted Budget: $155M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $281M

IMDb: 7.5

Meta: 74

Kung Fu Panda, a franchise now boasting three feature films and a slew of shorts and TV projects, is about as successful as non-Disney animation gets. Each film in the series was a huge international hit and well-liked by critics. In addition to the animal characters and kid-friendly comedy, Kung Fu Panda distinguished itself with gorgeous animation and a deep, celebrity-laden voice cast headlined by Jack Black. It’s fun for the whole family and you could do a lot worse even if you’re watching by yourself.

48. Star Trek

Release: May, 2009

Adjusted Budget: $179M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $324M

IMDb: 7.9

Meta: 82

J.J. Abrams’ (and later, Justin Lin’s) Star Trek films are glossy action movies that veered pretty far from the franchise’s more cerebral and character-driven roots. That said, they’re also extremely entertaining and irresistibly cast. This reimagining was richly rewarded at the box office (including a record opening weekend for IMAX screenings) and had many critics doing backflips. If you can handle Abrams’ full arsenal of lens flare, dutch angles, and snap zooms then it’s easy to have a great time with Star Trek. The sequels (Into Darkness and Beyond) each have a lot to offer as well, but by our metrics, it’s tough to justify either of them displacing the 2009 film for this spot on the countdown.

47. Edge of Tomorrow

Release: June, 2014

Adjusted Budget: $193M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $109M

IMDb: 7.9

Meta: 71

It’s not based on an actual game, but viewing Edge of Tomorrow might replicate the experience of playing a video game more than any other movie. The way Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s characters make incremental progress toward their objective before inevitably dying and reverting to a spawn point is unmistakable. Despite thrilling critics and audiences alike (at least the precious few who made it out to the theater… guilty), the uber-expensive alien invasion flick disappointed at the box office. Six-plus years out, it seems poised to live on indefinitely as a fan favorite.

46. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Release: May, 2005

Adjusted Budget: $148M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $556M

IMDb: 7.5

Meta: 68

Is Revenge of the Sith the best Star Wars prequel film? Many would say “yes,” and the reviews certainly back that up. Regardless, Sith, Attack of the Clones, and The Phantom Menace all feel of a piece with one another and they were all May releases to boot. Sith arrived with massive anticipation as the capstone on the Anakin Skywalker story and it does serve to fill in the gap between the earlier prequels and the more revered Original Trilogy. To its credit, Sith operatically nails all of the emotional beats needed to complete the story. The film has its deficiencies, but there’s plenty in Episode III for the Star Wars faithful to enjoy. It may be a small surprise that the only other Star Wars movie released over the summer was Solo in 2018. All four summer Star Wars scored similarly by our metrics so feel free to pick your favorite to represent the franchise in this spot.

45. Eyes Wide Shut

Release: July, 1999

Adjusted Budget: $100M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $87M

IMDb: 7.4

Meta: 68

Eyes Wide Shut is an odd inclusion in this list. It has the opposite energy of the typical summer movie. It’s technically a Christmas movie (you know, like Die Hard). It flopped in the U.S. However, like a number of other films in this countdown, Eyes Wide Shut is a legendary film for a number of reasons that bolster its nontraditional summer movie status. Stanley Kubrick completed his final film a matter of days before he passed away, and the film’s emotionally intense and record-setting 400-day shooting schedule has been credited as a factor in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s divorce. “Summer blockbuster” isn’t a common descriptor for Eyes Wide Shut, but it casts a much longer shadow than most movies on this list.

44. Deadpool 2

Release: May, 2018

Adjusted Budget: $112M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $325M

IMDb: 7.7

Meta: 66

Deadpool was a big hit in the Spring of 2016, but this glorious sequel fully embraced summer movie madness with a barrage of sharp elbows to the ribs of the summer blockbuster industrial complex. Deadpool is excessive in all its gory vulgarity, but it’s lovingly excessive. From the James Bond-esque opening title sequence to director David Leitch’s dedication to staging imaginative fight scenes, Deadpool feels very carefully considered in its excess. Even casting Josh Brolin was a wink! After seeing Deadpool 2 in the theater, you could have immediately walked into the next auditorium and seen him playing Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War which overlapped with Deadpool 2 for several weeks at the multiplexes. With Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, this was likely the last gasp of the R-rated Deadpool franchise, but at least Ryan Reynolds, Zazie Beetz, et al. conspired to give us this wonderfully filthy movie.

43. The Sixth Sense

Release: August, 1999

Adjusted Budget: $62M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $540M

IMDb: 8.1

Meta: 64

Twist endings were not invented by The Sixth Sense, but such twists did seem to be firmly en vogue following M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough film in 1999. The ending is what everyone talks about, but The Sixth Sense is good enough that it might still have been a big hit without it. Shyamalan effectively blended genres, infusing his ghost story with horror but also with a commitment to old-school visual storytelling. The Sixth Sense also benefited from a groundbreaking performance from then-child-actor Haley Joel Osment, not to mention lauded performances by Bruce Willis and Toni Collette. Word of mouth propelled this mid-budgeted picture to such rare heights, that it remains one of the 74 highest-grossing films of all time in adjusted dollars.

42. Inception

Release: July, 2010

Adjusted Budget: $188M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $355M

IMDb: 8.8

Meta: 74

Was Inception the inception of the modern teaser trailer? The influence of Zach Hemsey’s bombastic “Mind Heist” music says, “yes.” At the very least, Inception’s marketing seemed to cement the idea that Christopher Nolan was the rare filmmaker who could successfully open a mega-budget blockbuster free from the constraints of “Big IP.” That idea has aged well. As for the movie itself, Inception is a mish-mash of junk dream science and not-so-thinly veiled metaphors for filmmaking, replete with Leonardo DiCaprio as an obvious Nolan clone. The film does not live up to its trailer, but it was a true original and remains memorable for its dream-wthin-a-dream gimmick and a few visual hallmarks including the van careening off the bridge in slow motion and, of course, the rotating hallway fight.

41. Transformers

Release: July, 2007

Adjusted Budget: $185M

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $435M

IMDb: 7.0

Meta: 61

Michael Bay has made five Transformers movies and, for the most part, each has been worse than the last. Travis Knight’s 2018 hit, Bumblebee, was a holiday release, meaning this 2007 Shia Labeouf vehicle has an uncontested claim to this spot on the countdown. To focus on its many bad sequels would be to forget that Transformers was a crowd-pleaser and massive overall success in the Spielberg/Amblin vein. It also is in the running for earning Michael Bay the best reviews of his career. Chances are, if you saw this movie in the theater as a teen (guilty) then the reviews and box office don’t even do it full justice.


Thank you for reading! Parts 4 and 5 are coming… before the end of August (we hope!).

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