The 12 Best Sci-Fi Summer Blockbuster Films of the late 20th Century

As mentioned in the previous post < Looking into the History of Summer Blockbusters>, summer is the season of the year where 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:

1. Alien (Sci-Fi/Horror)

Alien (1979)Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien tells is a frightening story of a nasty looking alien 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.

2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Sci-Fi/Space Opera/ Fantasy)

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)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.

Storm Trooper

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 wining 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.

3. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Sci-Fi/Space Opera/ Fantasy)

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)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

 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 mix 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)

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial DVD Directed by Steven Spielberg the films tells A beautiful story about the friendship between a friendly alien and a young boy, and about growing up.

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)

Blade Runner (1982)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 in work off-world colonies for the 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 mix 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 on 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 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.

6. Ghostbusters (Sci-Fi/Horror/Supernatural/Comedy)

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!”

7. Back to the Future (Sci-Fi/Time Travel)

Back to the Future (1985)Released on July 3, 1985 this may be the most popular time travel movie there is. Directed by Robert Zemeckis the movie combines science fiction, comedy, action and romance.

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 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.

8. Terminator 2: Judgment day (Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk/ Action /Adventure)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day DVDDirected 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 on itself it’s very rare finding in trilogies and franchises. The film got a massive fan following that supported the franchise through the years.

9. Jurassic Park (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

 Jurassic Park (1993)Based on the novel of Michael Crichton Jurassic Park is centered on a theme park which has cloned dinosaurs as the main attraction. Dinosaurs that 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 mix reviews from critics. 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 was 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 rides through the years.

10. Independence Day (Sci-Fi/Action/Military)

Independence Day (1996)Independence Day was directed by Roland Emmerich and released on 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 for disaster elements in blockbuster films. Following the film’s success, the story continued in the form of novels, video games, toys and a sequel.

11. The Fifth Element (Sci-Fi/ Cyberpunk/Fantasy)

The Fifth Element 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 guest 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 fifth element dvdThe movie was released in 1997 and received mix reviews (which by now I think it’s not surprising anymore). It has been called best summer blockbuster as well as 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 human 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)

The Truman Shows (1998)Directed by Peter Weir the film tells the story of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) who suddenly discovers that his whole life is a television show, like literally a reality TV show.

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 on 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 of 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 the 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 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.



16 thoughts on “The 12 Best Sci-Fi Summer Blockbuster Films of the late 20th Century

  1. Great post. Can’t say I disagree with any of your choices either. Although not a big fan of the Star Wars series, they were still good movies. Can’t get it straight in my mind the numbers. TO me, the original three will always be Episodes 1 thru 3.

    1. Hi there Micheal!
      Yes, they were indeed good movies.
      Thank you so much for taking some time to read my article.

  2. You definitely hit two of my favorites with Alien and Terminator up there. I always feel like people miss out on the 5th Element too, what a great movie that was! The only thing I feel you’re missing from your list is Spaceballs, although I can’t remember when it was released and I guess it is more of a comedy than it is a sci fi movie :P. but perhaps it half fits the bill!

    Thanks for sharing your list, you just made me want to go watch Alien!

    1. Hi Craig,
      I am glad you enjoyed it. That is an interesting choice, I heard a lot about this movie but I have never watched it. What I know is that its like a parody of Star Wars movies. It was released on June and did well. If the story was engaging and well written I guess there is no problem to think of it as one of the best sci-fi summer blockbusters?

  3. Dira – Time to time when I visit your site loads and loads of new information about movies, Thanks for this as I don’t need to refer any site for getting film details. I have almost seen all the movies in the list but when I see those in your post it reminds me of my old times. From your fantastic writing i have decided to go for terminator 2 – a cult classic in Hollywood cinema. keep well and keep posting, 🥂 Cheers.

    1. Hi Manasir,
      I am very glad you enjoyed it and very happy you found it helpful. Reading it is like getting a blast from the past (no kidding).
      Terminator 2: Nice choice!
      Thanks a lot for stopping by!

  4. I’m glad I found your site. I’m a huge sci-fi fan. What are the criteria for your list? Just curious. BTW, I just saw a trailer for the Blade Runner sequel.

    Your list hit on several of my favorites, including Blade Runner (I’m a Philip K. Dick fanboy), Truman show, and Fifth Element (which I’ve seen 5 or 6 times, never on purpose; but I still enjoy it).

    On a side note, what do think about Dune (the miniseries, not the feature film), Galaxy Quest, and the Firefly series?

    1. Hi Micheal Rhodes,

      Nice to meet you. I’m so glad you asked. I looked for movies that:
      1. Were released during the summer;
      2. Were successful at the box office (enough to be called a blockbuster);
      3. Have an engaging story, great narrative, character development and liked by critics;

      I’ll be honest I’ve never seen the Dune miniseries (I saw the movie and read some of the books). On which channel were they aired?
      Galaxy Quest is a movie that I’ve recently watched and I liked it a lot (very entertaining). It’s not a summer blockbuster but a winter blockbuster. The Firely series is a great sci-fi TV show that had a short life. If you’re interested check my link where I’m talking about this show and other short lived TV shows:The TV network’s culture impact on Sci-Fi TV shows

  5. I am glad to see that Independence Day on the list, but how could you forget Predator? I would have at least selected that over The Truman Show. I guess that’s my bias, but a great list regardless.

    1. Hi James,

      Thank you so much for taking some time to comment. I didn’t forget about Predator. I see from where you are coming from but I had to follow certain criteria that I set. Unfortunately Predator scored lower than the Truman show on character development and critical acclaim.

  6. Hi, As much as I love Alien I think it just is not the same place as Star Wars for me and I think that blockbuster problem is really big in this decade. I just think that old movies seem to have better logic behind them. What do you think about it?

    1. Hi Furkan,

      That’s one way to see it. It’s not just this decade. If you take a look into the history you will see that this problem exist for a long time.
      Believe it or not today (July 22, 2017) Alien has an 8.5 score on IMDB and Star Wars: A new Hope has an 8.7 score. On Rotten Tomatoes Alien has a score of 97% and Star Trek: A New Hope has a score of 93%.
      I see where you are coming from, I was also surprised when I found out (I barely remember the movie) but I have set a few criteria that I had to follow for the selection.

  7. Hello Dira,

    There are some really cool titles on that list, movies that are now legendary and can be rewatched many times.
    Such movies are ‘Alien’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Terminator’ and ‘Blade Runner’. They have shaped the sci-fi genre.
    By the way, I’m impatiently waiting for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. It looks very promising.
    Based on my opinion, the only movie that is not as good as the others that you mention is ‘Independence Day’.

    1. Hi Asen,

      Interesting views. I can understand your position with independence day. It was honestly really tricky because its loved and hated at the same time. It’s not great but it’s not bad either (its “sequel” is a proof of that). The story is engaging enough to enterain the viewers.
      It was head to head with Batman Returns for its spot on the list but it won based on its box office results.

  8. Wow, I have seen almost all of those except for the Star Wars movies. I agree, great movies with fantastic plot lines. Who could forget Ghost Busters? We still watch many of those movies when they’re on today. It’s always fun to catch a snippet of them while channel surfing too.

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