From Lightsabers to Nakatomi Plaza, Here Are Five Favorite Summer Blockbusters


Lucasfilm, Warner Bros., Paramount

Star Wars: A New Hope, Twister, and Grease are among the finest summer blockbusters ever released.

Carly Philpott, Editor-in-Chief

With summer on the way, it’s time to start preparing for long hours with nothing to do. If you’re going to turn to movies to fill your time, why not watch ones that were intended for summer months? While not all of these films have a summer-y setting, all were originally “summer blockbusters,” intended to draw large audiences to theaters in the heat of the summer. Needless to say, all of them succeeded.

Here’s why they’re still timeless today.

1. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

Starting off hot with…potentially the beginning of the most iconic film franchise ever. Obviously A New Hope is a complete classic. But to me, it’s not just about the movie itself: it’s about what it represents.

Everything about Star Wars is beautiful from the beginning. Dazzling hyperspace tunnels, powerful Jedi Knights, the dark versus the light – it’s all introduced here, in Episode IV, the indisputable commencement of a multi-generational franchise. Since A New Hope, potentially billions of people have seen force-wielders duel it out with laser swords, clones emerge from shady island labs, and the bad guys turn good. So truly, A New Hope doesn’t stand alone. Instead, it stands at the head of a saga for the ages.

But regardless of what has come later, A New Hope is still special all on its own. There have been eight more “Skywalker Saga” films released since, and yet A New Hope is still the highest grossing one at the box office when adjusted for inflation, according to Statista. So if you’re looking for your next movie marathon, why not start with A New Hope?

2. Twister (1996)

Let’s take a step down in cinematic quality for a moment to talk about Twister. An unappreciated herald of the ’90s Disaster Movie Age, Twister combines one of the most stacked casts of the decade (Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cary Elwes…) and a bizarre mix of both touching and completely out-of-pocket scriptwriting to create potentially one of the finest natural disaster movies ever. But it is still a little silly.

At one point, one character refers to F5 tornadoes in the most faux serious tone ever as “the finger of god.” In another one of the more potent scenes, main characters (and estranged love interests) Bill (Paxton) and Jo Harding (Hunt) are in a car with Bill’s new fiance, Melissa (Jami Gertz), when a tornado picks up an entire cow and flings it past their window once – then again – resulting in some of the finest dialogue ever: “Another cow!” “Actually, I think that was the same one.” (If you watch it in French, it’s even funnier: “C’est la même vache!”) And in another scene, inexplicably, Bill screams at Jo while on two-way radio with the entire storm chaser team: “I know your dad died, but that was a long time ago!”

But cheesy dialogue aside, Twister is actually pretty good. The soundtrack is a total banger, culminating with a whole Van Halen original as credits roll, and the CGI is fairly ahead of its time. Plus, the plot is exactly what you’d want: a familial group of funny characters, a compelling love story, retribution for the villain, and some really cool tornadoes. Plus, it’s actually set in summer months, so if you’re trying to freak yourself out during a particularly intense rainstorm, seek out Twister.

3. Grease (1978)

And now we get into the movie that made me a movie lover. While the endless innuendos and semi-erotic dancing definitely went over my head as a kid (as it has for four generations now), little me loved this movie. It covers an entire school year but it’s set in Los Angeles, so it’s always warm enough for short sleeves – so we’re talking serious summer vibes.

But let’s talk about why this movie is so good. Because obviously we’re looking at a cast that’s an average of 10, maybe 15, years older than the characters, in a generation that very few people nowadays can still relate to. And yet the flawless dance numbers and the beautiful tension will draw just about anyone in for the entire hour and 50 minutes. Little me was obsessed with “Beauty School Dropout” and “We Go Together”; current me is obsessed with “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” And since the untimely death of its star, Olivia Newton-John, last year, this movie has become all the more of a nostalgic callback.

If you’re looking for an easy watch that’ll still take you on an emotional rollercoaster, Grease is the way to go.

4. Die Hard (1988)

Hopefully, the designation of this movie as a summer blockbuster will erase any lasting disagreement: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. But that aside.

While I continuously say that I don’t like action movies, the truth is, I love them. Still, I was just a little apprehensive of this movie. I shouldn’t have been. It might be straight action the entire time, but star Bruce Willis’s acting goes far beyond fight scenes. There’s also a psychological element to it as well: can you figure out hero John McClane’s next move before he does?

I also appreciate the added twist on the typical love story: McClane’s love interest isn’t someone new, but rather his estranged wife who he works tirelessly to save the entire film. And I love the fact that almost the entire movie takes place in one building – your only glimpses into the outside world are the beginning and end and the occasional phone call out.

Winter setting, but great summer movie. Watch Die Hard for an excellent thrill.

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Just as I began this list with a movie that requires a marathon, I’m ending the list with another one – although not quite. Of course, if you haven’t seen any other Harry Potter films, you’ll need to watch them all before you get to Deathly Hallows: Part 2, but if you’ve already watched the whole series, this is a great movie to watch on its own.

The franchise runners made a wonderful decision when splitting the final Harry Potter book into two separate films. For one thing, it meant more last minutes on screen with our favorite wand-wielding heroes. But for another, it accentuated the complexities of the whole war. Part 1 is a little slower than Part 2, mostly because the main action-packed conflict in Deathly Hallows comes with the ultimate final battle at the end. But Part 2 is the self-contained Battle of Hogwarts, and giving it its own movie meant that so many details got to make the final cut. Whether it’s Molly Weasley shouting “B*TCH” at Bellatrix Lestrange, or Harry Potter making his way to the ultimate sacrifice, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is an amazing way to dig back into a fan-favorite franchise.