As mentioned in the previous post < Looking into the History of Summer Blockbusters>, summer is the season of the year when we see many big-budget films at the movies.
The summertime goes from June 1 to August 31 for some countries (meteorological summer season) while for others the summer begins on May 1 and ends on August 1. Having many Sci-Fi blockbusters movies in the summer at the movies has become a tradition but it should be noted that there are also similar movies that were equally successful in other seasons like the winter.
Some great examples are the Star Wars Movies “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”. Despite that, the summer remains the most popular time to release big-budget movies. Then does it make sense to expect good movies in the summer?
Unfortunately, if a film is successful that does not mean that it’s a great film. It means that many people went to see the film and are buying its merchandise. Nowadays blockbusters are not known to be content-driven or Academy Awards contenders.
But there are exceptions where the creative team found the (perfect) balance between being entertaining and being able to tell a story that made sense. Since the use of the blockbuster term started in the late 20th century let’s take a look at 12 of the best Sci-Fi summer blockbusters films of the 70s, 80s, and the 90s:
Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien tells is a frightening story of nasty-looking aliens attacking humans and how the humans fight back.
Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto and released on May 25, 1979, this science fiction horror film received critical acclaim and was successful at the box office.
Alien received many awards and nominations because of its successful content-driven horror story. Because of the success of the film, the Alien franchise began, including a series of movies, video games, novels, comic books, and action figures. It remains an all-time favorite horror movie for many around the world.
Written and directed by George Lucas the story focuses on the Rebel Alliance led by Princess Leia who tries to destroy the Death Star (The Galactic Empire’s Space station).
The conflict reaches Luke Skywalker played by Mark Hamill (who lives a simple farm life) who unexpectedly acquires a pair of droids that possess stolen plans for the Death Star. When the empire (aggressively) starts searching for these droids, Luke goes with Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alex Guinness) on a mission to return the plans to the Rebel Alliance.
Initially released on May 25, 1977, with the title “Star Wars”. The subtitles Episode IV and A New Hope were only added to the subsequent theatrically re-releases in 1978, 1979, 1981 & 1982. Star Wars was digitally re-mastered for its 20th anniversary in 1997 (The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition) and re-released to movie theaters along with the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
The film received critical acclaim and ten Academy Award nominations winning seven including Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effect.
The original Star Wars Trilogy is considered one of the best trilogies in history and has a loyal fan base. The success of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope started the Star Wars Franchise of a series of films consisting of 3 trilogies, anthology films, Books, television series, computer & video games, and comic books.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was among the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally historically, or aesthetically significant.” The original trilogy is beloved by many and is a source of inspiration for many storytellers. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope remains one of the most successful films of all time.
Released on May 21, 1980, and written by George Lucas the second installment of Star Wars continues the story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and their fight against the dark force.
This time the movie has more character development, a more engaging story, great battle scenes, and one of the best well-written, and performed villains of all time.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is part of the epic original trilogy (also known as the Classic Trilogy) which consists of the first films of the Star Wars Saga. The film received mixed reviews from critics but that didn’t stop it from winning the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing.
Everything about this trilogy is beloved by many who are part of the fandom of the Star Wars Saga.
4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)
Starring Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote & Henry Thomas the movie was released on June 11, 1982, and received universal critical acclaim.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was nominated for nine Oscars and won four Academy Awards: Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. Over the years the film got a cult following that continues to hold the film as an all-time classic. This film is a summer blockbuster to watch with the whole family.
5. Blade Runner (Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk/Neo Noir)
Released on June 25, 1982, and directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is loosely based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick.
The film shows a dystopian future (2019) in which genetically engineered replicants are created to work off-world colonies for humans.
Those who disobeyed and leave their workplace are hunted down by Blade Runners. Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is tired of this work reluctantly agrees to work on one more case (a case that will make him question his beliefs).
The film received mixed reviews many on the negative side. That didn’t stop the movie from receiving numerous awards not only for the cinematography but also for the scores (soundtrack).
The central themes of the film are the implications of technology on the environment, having control over the environment, examinations of human morals, and a revaluation of what it means to be human.
As time went by the fandom increased and people began to understand Blade Runner. As with many innovative and out-of-the-box ideas, many couldn’t understand the film when it came out. Now that misunderstanding seems distant. Overall it is a visually stunning Sci-Fi masterpiece.
Directed and produced by Ivan Reitman Ghostbusters tells the story of 3 parapsychologists who investigate paranormal activities in New York.
Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, and Sigourney Weaver the film released on June 8, 1984. The story is engaging as well as entertaining. As the years go by, it remains a classic comedy to watch with the whole family.
The film’s theme song “Ghostbusters” remained a classic and is referenced in both films (from the 80s) and the cartoon series:
“If there’s something strange in the neighborhood; Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”
A teenager, played by Michael J. Fox, meets his scientist friend Dr. Emmet “Doc” Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, who had built a time machine. When his friend started the demonstration of the time navigation system all the crazy starts.
The movie and its soundtrack received many positive reviews for being an inventive, funny, and adventurous story. Back to the Future got a great fan following and was the first movie that started the Back to the Future Franchise including the film trilogy, an animated series, and video games.
Directed by James Cameron and released on July 3, 1991, the second installment in the Terminator Franchise follows Sarah Connor and her son as they are running from a more enhanced terminator (T-1000). A second terminator (T-800) is sent back in time to protect Sarah’s son.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Robert Patrick the film was co-written, produced, and directed by James Cameron.
The film received some positive reviews for being an engaging and entertaining story with great visual effects (highly advanced for that time). Terminator 2: Judgment day was well received by the moviegoers and perceived as a better version of the first film which in itself it’s a very rare finding in trilogies and franchises. The film got a massive fan following that supported the franchise through the years.
Based on the novel of Michael Crichton Jurassic Park is centered on a theme park that has cloned dinosaurs as the main attraction. Dinosaurs eventually get out of control and cause harm to humans and the park itself.
Steven Spielberg with the support of Universal Studios obtained the rights to the novel before it was published in 1990 and the author of the novel was hired by Universal Studios to adapt the novel into a proper screenplay.
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Attenborough, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Martin Ferrero, B.D Wong, and Bob Peck.
Jurassic Park was released on June 11, 1993, and received mixed reviews from critics. On one hand, there were many praises for the visual effects, on the other hand, there were many who thought that the storyline and character development were not that great.
Despite all that, during its release, Jurassic Park became the most successful film up to that time surpassing E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. The film and the novel were well received by the audience and got franchise support from its fandom releasing more movies, novels, comic books, video games, and theme park ride through the years.
Independence Day was directed by Roland Emmerich and released in 1996. The film follows a group of people (including the president of the U.S.A) who survived a surprise global attack by an alien race. The Americans along with the rest of the world launched a counterattack on July 4th.
The central themes of the movie are teamwork (of people from different religions and nationalities to defeat a common enemy) and survival.
Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, and Harvey Fierstein the film was a huge success becoming the highest-grossing film in 1996. The film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effect and a Grammy Award for the score composed by David Arnold.
Independence Day received mixed reviews mostly because there wasn’t much character development but the film was still entertaining. After the film was released there was a great interest in disaster elements in blockbuster films. Following the film’s success, the story continued in the form of novels, video games, toys, and a sequel.
Directed and co-written by Luc Besson the Fifth Element tells the story of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a taxicab driver, who coincidentally is a former special forces major whose life really takes a turn when a woman (Mila Jovovich) falls into his cab (who is on a quest to find mystical stones that will save the world). The story was inspired by several comic books.
The Fifth Element is a French science fiction movie that has a lot of action, funny and some over-the-top performances and some romance. Yes, it’s an English-speaking movie even though it’s a French movie. The director wanted to shoot the film in France, but unfortunately, that was not possible since suitable locations were not available.
The movie was released in 1997 and received mixed reviews (which by now I think it’s not surprising anymore). It has been called the best summer blockbuster as well as the worst summer blockbuster. Crazy right?
The movie did well at the box office and it became the highest-grossing French film at the international box office in 1997.
The soundtrack of the movie was very success full in France. There are several themes in this movie from identifying the value of life, environmental damage (and showing humans as responsible), and having hope to live. The Fifth Element was liked by many and became a Sci-Fi cult classic with its own cult following. And it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.
12. The Truman Show (Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Social)
All the people he knows are actors and there are thousands of cameras everywhere where he lives to monitor everything he does. The Truman Show was released in 1998, received critical acclaim, and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards.
The movie has some religious references like the conversation between Truman and Marlon at the bridge that can be compared to the conversation between Moses and God in the Book of Exodus. The Movie has also some similarities with the novel “Utopia”. It is an interesting story and some believe it was the inspiration for the reality show fever we have recently experienced.
All the above-mentioned Sci-Fi films are great entertainment and content-driven (some more than others). It becomes more and more difficult to find films with the perfect balance but not impossible. It’s true that the summer is a time of fun. But we can have great fun with a good story too! Of course, we won’t leave the Fantasy genre out of the discussion and we will briefly discuss which fantasy movies are the best in the next article so stay tuned for the next article.
Which film from the list would you choose as the best Sci-Fi summer blockbuster? Everyone has different views on films: Is there a film of the late 20th century that’s not on the list that you consider being the best Sci-Fi summer blockbuster? Feel free to leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.