What Makes a Great Summer Movie?

For most of us in the U.S. we are either already on summer vacation or will be within the next month and with this shift in seasons comes the dreaded Summer Movie Season! Did you hear that? That’s the sound of 1,000 Criterion Collection fans screaming in agony at the prospects of another summer filled with stupid Hollywood blockbusters and unfunny star-driven comedies. I have to admit as a Criterion Collection fan, I actually really love Summer Movie Season. There is just something so great about going to a movie theatre on a hot, humid day and watching a mindless, action-packed extravaganza and feeling the adrenaline pumping through my body as I leave the theatre and walk out into the hot summer evening.

This summer I’m excited to see Prince of Persia, Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right, Inception and Salt but I have to ask, what makes a summer movie great? For me a summer movie can be totally ridiculous and laden with special effects as long as it is well executed. Summer movies are all about fantasy and if this fantastical vision is poorly executed, the movie is doomed to disappoint (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). So here are my picks for the best summer movies of the last decade.

2009 – Star Trek

I would say Inglourious Basterds was the best film of the summer of 2009 but it came out at the very end of August and to me was too worthy of the title, it was perhaps the best film of the year not just the summer. Now on to Star Trek, this re-imagining of the original series was so fun and had such a great cast that I left the theatre wanting more. Critics and audiences both agreed that it was the most exciting film of the summer.

Runners up: The Hangover, Moon, District 9

2008 – The Dark Knight

Come on, what other movie from the summer of ’08 can even touch The Dark Knight? Not only was it thrilling and action packed, it was intelligent, which is an adjective that is rarely ever associated with summer blockbusters.

Runners up: Iron Man, Wall-E, Pineapple Express

2007 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix

Order of the Pheonix is one of the best novels in the Harry Potter series and it made for probably the best Potter film. New characters like the unimaginably annoying and wicked teacher Dolores Umbridge and the sexily evil Bellatrix Lestrange added much needed freshness to the series. The movie ends with an epic showdown between Harry and Voldemort, finally adding some much needed darkness and weight to the series.

Runners up: Knocked Up, Superbad, The Bourne Ultimatum

2006 – Little Miss Sunshine

This was a pretty weak summer for summer movies but luckily there was Little Miss Sunshine to save the day. The film isn’t an action-packed blockbuster or even a typical comedy but it is a variation on the road-trip movie, which is at its core a summer movie genre. Little Miss Sunshine proved that studios can release smart, darkly comedic movies in the summer.

Runners up: Cars, The Devil Wears Prada

2005 – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Unlike, 2006, 2005 had a very strong summer for movies. I pick Star Wars: Episode III ultimately because it was a very fun movie to watch and though it was nowhere near the quality of the 3 original Star Wars films it was exponentially better than the two other prequels. It brought the prequel trilogy to a satisfying end, despite the terrible dialogue and horrendous acting.

Runners up: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin

2004 – Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 is a perfect example of how you make a great comic book superhero movie. Building off of the first film, the second adds a compelling villain and makes the internal struggles of the characters as interesting as the external struggles of good vs. evil. Spider-Man 2 is like a perfectly made sundae, it just tastes so good.

Runners up: Troy, Shrek 2, The Bourne Supremacy

2003 – The Matrix: Reloaded

Neither of the Matrix sequels could ever hold a candle to the brilliance of the original but The Matrix: Reloaded did deliver some amazing action scenes. Though it was less intelligent than the original, it still managed to be intriguing but let’s admit it, the real reason we watched it was for the eye-candy in the form of the fight scenes and in Monica Bellucci.

Runners up: X2: X-Men United, Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean

2002 – Minority Report

Minority Report is very well executed. It’s exciting, disturbing and pseudo-intelligent. Even if you don’t like Tom Cruise’s odd behavior this movie delivers a tasty piece of cold summer cherry pie.

Runners up: Spider-Man, Lilo & Stitch, Signs

2001 – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is the perfect summer movie. Why? Because you don’t have to think, the plot is exciting yet incredibly simple and it stars Angelina Jolie. It’s fun and it’s dumb, what more could you want?

Runners up: Shrek, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, The Fast & The Furious, Jurassic Park III, The Others

2000 – Gladiator

I had no idea Gladiator came out in the summer (May 5) because to be honest it seemed too good to have come out in the season of sequels and prequels. It has the action of big summer movies but also the story and execution we are usually only used to during “Awards Season.” I think Gladiator is the perfect example that we need not wait to release all the good movies between September and January. Indeed this past year The Hurt Locker came out during the summer, so perhaps one day soon summer movie season will not be synonymous with bad movies, then again we still have Piranha 3-D and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore to look forward to this summer.

Runners up: X-Men, Chicken Run

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