In 1975, the culture of summer movies was changed forever when a giant mechanical shark scared the daylights out of beach goers and bath-lovers alike. Since Jaws, the hottest months of the year have been home to some of the biggest moneymakers in Hollywood history. Some of these movies were great. Some of them were terrible. Here’s my personal top five of each. Feel free to debate in the comments (but if you enjoyed Transformers 2, feel free to take your comments elsewhere)!
5. Independence Day
Ah, the mid ‘90s. That glorious age that gave us our first glimpses of good CGI, allowing directors the world over to convincingly destroy all of our most prized monuments and landmarks. And never was that destruction more satisfying than in Independence Day (or ID4 for short, though that title just made people wonder how they missed the first three). It was also back when Will Smith was still making good script choices and actually having fun with his movies (god that really was a long time ago). Independence Day gave us countless gems, including Jeff Goldblum doing another spot-on Jeff Goldblum impression, crazy Randy Quaid, and (at least for me) plenty of fun times dogfighting in the Sega Saturn movie tie-in video game.
Most memorable moment: Bill Pullman’s rally-the-troops speech: “We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night!’ We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” YEEEESSSSSSS.
4. The Empire Strikes Back
I’m less of an outright Star Wars fan than many of my friends, but there’s no denying the impact of the second part of George Lucas’ original trilogy. Every relationship that was set up in the first film is expanded upon in Empire to wonderful effect, giving the series the emotional weight that still defines it 30 years later. It puts all of our main characters through the ringer, and is responsible for maybe the biggest twist in movie history. Empire pretty much set the bar for all “Part 2”s, including the next movie on my list.
Most memorable moment: Come on. We all know what it is. “No. I…am your father.” ‘Nuff said.
3. The Dark Knight
Batman Begins went a long way in redeeming the character from the travesties committed by Joel Schumacher, but it wasn’t until The Dark Knight that the full potential of Batman – and all of his supporting cast – was realized. Christopher Nolan was able to advance the vision of the character he created in the first film, and gave us a multi-layered crime drama in the framework of a comic book superhero. It’s not every day that a movie completely redefines a genre, but that’s exactly what The Dark Knight did.
Most memorable moment: There’s really no argument here that the first one-on-one between Batman and The Joker in the interrogation room is the standout scene. It’s easily the most quoted part of the movie, and really establishes Heath Ledger’s Joker as one of the best movie villains in recent memory.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
I’m sure many Star Wars fans will disagree with me, but I don’t think Harrison Ford has ever been better than as everyone’s favorite whip-wielding archaeologist. Steven Spielberg’s tribute to old-school serials is easily one of the most fun and entertaining adventures in film history. There’s a lot to be said for a movie that successfully combines Nazis, religious mysticism, car chases, and good old-fashioned punches to the face.
Most memorable moment: I hate picking just one, but it has to be the first time the Nazis open the Ark at the very end. So much face-melting glory.
1. Jurassic Park
When I was eight, I went to see Jurassic Park in the theater twice in the same day. This was largely because during the first showing my mom had covered my eyes during all the best (goriest) parts, and I wanted to see these parts, so I went back with my best friend and his parents, who allowed me to revel in all the people-chomping dinosaurs I could handle. When Jurassic Park came out on VHS (remember those?), I watched it probably three times a week for at least a month, and it’s still one of the most re-watched movies on my shelf. And how could it not be? It revolutionized special effects (and even 20 years later, they hold up pretty darn well), has an unbelievable score, incredible action set pieces, memorable characters, and it’s about dinosaurs. There is nothing bad about this movie.
Most memorable moment: Again, is there even just one? The raptors. The T-Rex assault on the park jeeps. The little spitter eating Newman from Seinfeld. The nerve-wracking soon-to-be-electrified fence climb. All of it is so effing amazing.