Looking into the history of Summer Blockbusters

We hear the term blockbuster a lot in the movie world, especially in the summertime, movies are referred to as summer blockbusters.

But what is a summer blockbuster?

First, we have to understand what the term blockbuster means.

The term blockbuster was first used in the 1940s referring to aerial bombs capable of destroying a whole block of streets.

Later the term was used to refer to successful movies, which is ironic since a box office bomb has the exact opposite meaning of success: failure at the box office.




Summer Time

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial DVDIt should be noted that before the ’70s, people used to go to the movies during wintertime. The summer was reserved for going to the beach, dancing, and going out. Somehow these habits changed and people were going to the movies.

One explanation is that the young people (the majority of the population at that time) who were on their summer vacation were willing to spend time in a dark room watching a big screen.

Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws was the first official blockbuster in 1975 opening in 409 theaters and grossing over 7 million over the course of its first weekend at the box office.



Successful Films

Alien (1979)In the 70s that was a lot of money. But it wasn’t until 1977 that summer became the favorite season of the year to watch movies for the audience with George Lucas’s Star Wars doing really well that year.

The following years we saw successful films like Grease (1978), Alien (1979), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Ghostbusters (1984), Top Gun (1986), Who framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Die Hard (1988), Batman (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lion King (1994), Independence day (1996).

It shows that a blockbuster can be made from any movie genre (from traditional action-adventure and science fiction to comedy and drama). It became a normal occurrence to have summer blockbusters but that did not mean that the quality and originality of these movies were great.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982)Originally the term blockbuster was referring to as being successful based on how many people went to see the movies (its popularity and how many movie tickets were sold).

Later the term blockbuster changed to refer to high production budget and marketing efforts rather than success and popularity making it possible for a movie to be a blockbuster and a box office bomb at the same time.

Many tried to copy the Jaw’s formula and as time goes on summer blockbusters became more of the same (the blockbuster mentality).

Studios didn’t see the value in making the effort in creating something different and didn’t want to take the risk since production costs were rising. The demands for a blockbuster movie were too high in regards to marketing and distribution because it earned considerably more than its production budget in order to generate profit.

Ghostbusters (1984)Fortunately, the moviegoers were also changing the way they perceived the movies and because of the internet, they had the opportunity to express their opinion more directly. In a way, it made it more confusing for studios to follow.

Moviegoers wanted something different but also familiar. Studios struggled to comprehend this behavior and started creating sequel after sequel.

Later realizing that this particular formula didn’t work every time and leaving them wondering why some were successful while others failed and till today they are still wondering how to make it work.




Final thoughts

To conclude, the term blockbuster was originally used when many people saw the movie and sales were high during the summertime. Afterward, it became about high-budget production and marketing on which studios relied to make a profit. It does not mean that the film did well. Don’t get confused; it’s just a term. It just means that a lot of money was used to create it.

Now that we know a little about the history of summer blockbusters, we can talk more about them specifically about the sci-fi summer blockbusters. Stay tuned for more articles about summer blockbusters.

Which classic summer blockbuster was more memorable for you? Feel free to leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.


Hi There! I am Sci-Fi Fan who wishes to share the love for Sci-Fi. Whether you know about Sci-Fi or not, on SFM&TV you will find interesting material to explore. I'll be happy to share with you what I know and to learn from you as well.

18 thoughts on “Looking into the history of Summer Blockbusters”
  1. Wow! Your post brings back sooo many old memories of when I was younger. I must have seen every movie on the list and I have to admit I remember thoroughly enjoying each film. The one that I particularly remember and have great summer memories of was Independence Day. I think I watched 4 times that summer! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  2. Hi
    I remember cueing for 2 hours to see grease ! the swimming club I was a member of booked the full club in to see it on it’s release in Hull UK. With parents & kids there must have been about 80 of us.
    Great memory’s brought back from reading your page !

  3. Great Article, I never realised blockbuster referred to a bomb, well you learn something new everyday. Yje films you mentioned were around my teen years and took me back, Thanks for the nostalgic moment, Look forward to your next post.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Yes, you never stop learning (and you shouldn’t). I am glad you liked it and want to tank you for taking some time to read this post. Much appreciated.

  4. Jaws is one of my all time favourites but I hadn’t realised that it took that much at the the theatre in the first week! 7 million is a lot now let alone back then. Thanks for taking me down memory lane

    1. Hi Matthews,

      Pretty Amazing indeed. Now we are talking more of 70 million than 7 million. The numbers are much higher but you are right 7 million is still a lot.

  5. I am a big star wars fan so it has to be the empire strikes back for me. The first spin on the star wars story lines and the first time we meet master Yoda… Classic

  6. Thank you for sharing!! I love Alien movies since I was a child. Terminators! Another one of my favorite series movies. I like your article!!

  7. These are all my favorite movies..I can watch all of them one more time and still enjoy like seeing it for first time. My all time favorite is Top Gun. I can never get tired of it.

  8. I really liked the definition given for blockbuster in terms of using it in movie. I just come come across this meaning only on your article which is informative by the way – I really liked the picks Top Gun, Aliens, raiders of the lost ark, etc. I have missed seeing the movie ‘Grease’ hope that would be a good treat for this weekend. Thanks for making this weekend for us a good movie to enjoy, Have a nice day 🙂

    1. Hi Manasir,

      Like many I have been using this term a lot but when I started questioning what these movies are, why are they blockbusters? What is a blockbuster? That is when I got the idea to start researching about it. We often tend to use words we don’t really know the meaning or history behind it. I am glad you found it informative and thanks a lot for your comments.

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