Article By: Dan Clark
The Summer Films of this Generation
While Pacific Rim isn’t hitting it big in the box office, it is sparking quite a debate. One of the biggest I noticed was the notion that Pacific Rim is the summer movie of this generation. Though I really enjoyed my time with it I was not ready to give it that title quite yet. It did have me pondering what are the summer movies of this generation? When I think about the summer movies of the 1990’s a few films like Independence Day, Jurassic Park, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day immediately pop into my head. When I think of the summer movies of the 2000’s things are a little murkier. So I went back and looked at the summer films released from 2000 until today to see what stood out. I crafted a list of movies (in no particular order) that I feel represent the summer films of this generation. There are few things to consider when looking at this list. For one I was looking mainly at summer popcorn blockbusters. There have been a number of solid dramas, comedies, and animated movie to come out in the summer months, but I figured I would reserve those for their own lists. In addition with the massive amount of franchise out there I attempted to pick what is universally considered the best one. Most importantly this list isn’t just about quality it is also about representation. You may see films that are not technically great, but show what the films of this generation had to offer. After considering all of those factors the following movies made the cut.
Date Released: June 27th, 2003 (US)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Box Office Gross: $45 Million Domestic, ($82 million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Starting off with kind of cheat. 28 Days Later… was not a summer movie in much of the world, but it was in the US. 28 Days Later… revamped the zombie genre (I know they are infected and not zombies—hold your hate mail) for a new generation. Boyle also pushed boundaries with his use of digitally photography. With it in its relative infant stage he used the technique to give 28 Days Later… a look unlike anything else. Zombeis are more popular than ever, and you have to credit this film some for helping ignite the craze once again.
Date Released: May 4th, 2012
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Box Office Gross: $622 Million Domestic ($1.5 Billion Worldwide)
Quick Take: When people look back at the summer movies of this generation ten or twenty years from now I feel safe in assuming one of the most common movies that will be brought up is The Avengers. Some call it the Star Wars of this generation, and based solely on box office numbers it’s hard to argue against. Four years of planning lead to one of the greatest superhero films ever made.
Date Released: July 18th, 2003
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 23%
Box Office Gross: $138 Million Domestic ($273 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Say what you will about Michael Bay—as he has pretty much earned every negative thing you could ever say about him—but he does have the ability to occasionally make a fun summer movie. It helps when his normal dreadful sense of humor is drowned out by comedians the likes of Will Smith and Martin Lawerence. Throw in one pretty awesome car chase and you have yourself one heck of a good time.
Date Released: August 3rd, 2007
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Box Office Gross: $227 Million Domestic ($442 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: For my money The Bourne Ultimatum is the best pure action film of this generation. The tension is unrelenting to the point of exhaustion. Action comes in all shapes and sizes from car chases to roof top escapes. So many trilogies fail to seal the deal, and this was one that was able to top everything that came before. Now let’s all forget Bourne Legacy ever happened and we can all walk away happy.
Date Released: July 22nd, 2011
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Box Office Gross: $176 Million Domestic ($368 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Loving Raiders of the Lost Ark I couldn’t help but fall in love with what Joe Johnston created with his vision of Captain America. Chris Evans made you completely forget he was ever apart of those Fantastic Four movies. Steve Rogers was rightfully represented as a man who simply stood up for what is right. The special effects were equally impressive as we saw the fragile Rogers transform into a walking superhero of muscle.
Date Released: July 18th, 2008
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Box Office Gross: $534 Million Domestic ($1 Billion Worldwide)
Quick Take: In the post 9/11 world we saw many of our summer blockbusters shift focus and take on a darker and grittier tone. None better represent that change than The Dark Knight. It’s not necessarily a movie you have fun with; nevertheless it has endless amounts of excitement. Part of me wishes we can return to a world of lighter affairs, but I cannot help but respect what The Dark Knight did for the superhero genre. It is high art cinema with a blockbuster backdrop.
Date Released: August 14th, 2009
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Box Office Gross: $115 Million Domestic ($210 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: District 9 was that summer movie that came out of nowhere. Sure it had Peter Jackson’s name attached as a producer, but I still don’t’ think people were anticipating it to be such the sensation it was. Not that it was a huge success at the box office compared to other films on this list. What it did have was heaps of fanfare and critical praise that eventually landed a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. Also it showed you didn’t need a big budget to have quality special effects.
Date Released: June 9th, 2000
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 25%
Box Office Gross: $101 Million Domestic ($237 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Of all the films on the list I would put this one near the bottom. Honestly part of the reason I placed it on the list was so the summer of 2000 was represented as there wasn’t much that came out that year. That’s not to say Gone in 60 Seconds is void of entertainment. It this dumb fun concept latched onto a ridiculous premise. Though it seems to be unaware of its own ridiculousness. That blatant ignorance only adds to its charm.
Date Released: April 29th, 2011
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Box Office Gross: $209 Million Dollars ($626 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Based on the date of release some may consider Fast Five more of a Spring movie, yet looking at its box office return it reads like a summer movie. As a person who was not a fan of this franchise I was reluctant to give Fast Five its proper respect. When I finally sat down to watch it I was awed by director Justin Lin’s ability to construct an orgy of carnage, car races, and bulging neck veins. Lin has an eye for crafting great action set pieces that keep the energy flowing.
Date Released: July 15th, 2011
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Box Office Gross: $381 Million Domestic ($960 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: I almost didn’t place any Harry Potter movies on this list—not because they are not deserving—but because they are not movies that benefit by a summer release.. You could release Harry Potter on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of March and it’s still making nearly a billion dollars. Plus only a few were actually released in the summer. However, I couldn’t rightfully call this a representation of this generation without an installment from this franchise. If you’re an honorary member of Hogwarts or crazily believe Harry Potter turns kids into pagan drones you can’t deny how impactful this franchise has been.
Date Released: July 16th, 2010
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Box Office Gross: $292 Million Domestic ($532 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Christopher Nolan has the very rare ability to craft huge blockbuster that appeal to the masses as well as critics. This is also the second film on this list that was nominated for a Best Picture at the Oscars. Inception has a narrative that walks the line between confusing and complex. There are countless pieces moving all at once and it would have been easy to get lost in the shuffle, yet it all fits together in such a perfect package. Visually the film is beautifully stunning and a joy to look out.
Date Released: May 2nd, 2008
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Box Office Gross: $318 Million Domestic ($585 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Iron Man showed B level heroes could work on the big screen. Robert Downey Jr. came out in full force to instantly become one of the best superheroes ever. Origin stories are hard to pull off, but Iron Man rarely feels like your usual origin story. Generally seeing a person come to understand their new found powers is rather tedious. In Iron Man those scenes are some of this film’s best moments. Plus that final after credit scene forever shook the foundation of geek culture.
Date Released: May 30th, 2003
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73%
Box Office Gross: $106 Million Domestic ($176 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Not surprising a remake would emerge on a list of this generation’s most notable summer movies, and like most remakes it bares little resemblance to the original film. Minus the use of the Mini Cooper this 2003 remake is pretty much its own film. The Italian Job is certainly not the most dynamic plot, but it has a host of interesting characters that make its heist format work. Similar to the original it does use the Mini Cooper to create some rather enjoyable car chases.
Date Released: June 21st, 2002
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Box Office Gross: $132 Million Domestic, ($358 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Minority Report will be covered in more detail in the Stephen Spielberg Retrospective so I will keep this rather brief. I will say that Minority Report is a movie that has even gotten better with age. Besides Blade Runner it may be the best film adaptation of Phillip K. Dick story. Some may have dismissed it as a wannabe Matrix, but it’s much more than that. Hopefully as time passes its respect will rightfully grow.
Date Released: June 10th, 2005
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%
Box Office Gross: $186 Million Domestic ($478 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Mr. & Mrs. Smith is probably more infamous for its off-camera drama than the actual film itself. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have tremendous amounts of chemistry—it is not hard to understand why. Again this is another remake that has little to do with the original besides the basic premise. There are a few standout action moments—especially the minivan car chase. Plus the humor works well enough to give it that summer movie feel.
Date Released: July 12th, 2003
Rotten Tomatoes Score:
Box Office Gross: $45 Million Domestic ($98 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: I would be remised if I did not include the movie that inspired this article. Pacific Rim may not have staggering box office numbers, but it does have an unrelenting desire to be a vehicle of pure entertainment. I feel its failure at the box office won’t diminish its longevity with fans. Years from now I can see people completely forgetting it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office. If you don’t believe that consider the fact that It’s a Wonderful Life, Wizard of Oz, and Blade Runner all flopped when they were released.
Date Released: July 9th, 2003
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Box Office Gross: $305 Million Domestic ($654 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an example of a movie that would have been better off not becoming a massive franchise. As the box office dollars have gone up for each installment the overall quality has dropped dramatically. When the original Pirates came out it was unlike anything else released at that time. Jack Sparrow had yet to wear out his welcome, and the amalgamation of swashbuckling adventure, family comedy, and fantasy worked extremely well. Not to mention a fantastic score that tied everything together.
Date Released: August 5th, 2011
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Box Office Gross: $176 Million Domestic ($481 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be one of the biggest pleasant surprise in the last decade. Most thought Tim Burton killed the Planet of the Apes franchise with his dreadful reinterpretation in 2001. Apparently you can’t keep a good ape down because it came roaring back in 2011. Unlike many blockbusters Rise of the Planet of the Apes had an intimate feel that gave its action an actual purpose. The special effects were outstanding, and Andy Serkis was remarkable as the tragic Caesar.
Date Released: August 2nd, 2002
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Box Office Gross: $227 Million Domestic ($408 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Today M. Night Shyamalan is nothing more than a running joke. When his name appears on a movie it evokes audible laughter from a crowd. At one point he was actually a respected director, and some even considered him the next Stephen Spielberg. A big reason people saw a bright future for him was due to films like The Sixth Sense and Signs. With Signs Shyamalan was surprisingly able to construct a story of intriguing mystery that had a number of tension filled moments.
Date Released: May 8th, 2009
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Box Office Gross: $257 Million Domestic, ($385 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Personally I was never a huge Star Trek fan so I went into this reboot void of baggage. When I walked out it had me inspired to reexamine my viewpoint on this franchise. It was enthralling from start to finish. The pacing never let up. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto had rather large shoes to fill, and did an admirable jobs living up to the pressure. It certainty split the hardcore fan base as some loved it while others felt it dumbed everything down. Personally I feel it opened the door for people like me to join in on the fun.
Date Released: May 19th, 2005
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Box Office Gross: $380 Million Domestic ($848 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: If you were to look at a list of the most disappointing movies of all time you are sure to find some of the Star Wars prequels. To be fair they had some of the greatest hype to live up to, and the only one that really came close was Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It had a darkness to it that others greatly lack. There were even monuments that had a great of emotional resonance. It almost made sitting through Phantom Menace worth it—which is perhaps one of the greatest compliments you can give a movie.
Date Released: June 10th, 2011
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%
Box Office Gross: $127 Million, ($259 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Super 8 is basically J.J. Abrams love letter to Stephen Spielberg. Everything down to the way the kids speak feel like classic Spielberg lore. Abrams is great at crafting mystery—not always great at solving it. While the monster of Super 8 leaves a lot to be desired, the rest of the characters are very well developed. Elle Fanning’s performance as Alice was one of my favorites of that year. Her shining moment at the train station was unquestionably brilliant.
Date Released: July 3rd, 2007
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
Box Office Gross: $319 Million Domestic ($709 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Transformers has become a dirty word for a lot of movie fans. They signify nearly everything that is wrong with movies today. Big, loud, empty, and of course dumb. Still it would be wrong not to include an installment on this list. They have ruled the summers to become some of the biggest blockbusters of all time. Michael Bay wouldn’t know what character development was if it exploded in his face, but he does know how to craft great some visually appealing set pieces. I did enjoy the first Transformers for what it was. Special effects wise it was gorgeous to look at—though I hope the budget for Transformers 4 includes a few tripods so we can understand what is happening in all that chaos.
Date Released: June, 29th 2005
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Box Office Gross: $234 Million Domestic ($591 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: Similar to Minority Report I’ll keep my thoughts of War of the Worlds brief as it will be included in the Spielberg retrospective. War of the Worlds was one of the first movies to show how much of an effect 9/11 was going to have on the summer blockbuster. This summer still has has movies evoking 9/11 imagery in many ways. A lot of the fun has been replaced with regretful dread. Though I do think we are nearing a watershed for summer blockbusters with the release of movies like White House Down and Pacific Rim. Though we may not be ready for them quite yet—I think we are closer than ever.
Date Released: May 2nd, 2003
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Box Office Gross: $214 Million Domestic ($407 Million Worldwide)
Quick Take: We end the list with one of my personal favorites. I don’t think I was ever excited for a movie more than X2. Being an X-Men fan since I was a kid I was ecstatic with the possibilities this movie provided, and it delivered on that promise. Nightcrawler’s assault on the White House started the film off on the right note, and things only continued to get better. Bryan Cox’s performance as William Stryker is criminally underappreciated. He goes toe to toe with both Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and effortlessly holds his own. It set the franchise up perfectly for the next installment. Too bad that promise never paid off.
So there you have it. Looking at this list how to you feel this generation’s summer films stack up to past decades? What doesn’t belong on the list? What wasn’t included that should have been? Sound off in the comment sections below!