Fire up the flatscreen, microwave some popcorn and relive these huge films that scream summertime.
Now that summer has unofficially started after Memorial Day (and I hope you all had a great one!), it’s time to broaden our horizons a bit and look at some of the big summer blockbusters over the years. You may not be able to join the crowds on opening weekend right now, but here are a few titles to recapture that sweet summer feeling.
Back to the Future (1985) (Netflix, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime)
One of the biggest surprise summer hits of the ’80s, this time travel comedy made a box office star out of Michael J. Fox (briefly), turned Huey Lewis and the News into the biggest thing on the radio and gifted us with a continuous wealth of memes. It might have all turned out very differently if original leading man Eric Stoltze hadn’t been dismissed from the production early on, but what we have now seems just about perfect.
Batman (1989) (DC Universe, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime)
The summer blockbuster may have been in full swing by this point, but no film had blitzed audiences for months on end like this one. For better or worse, Tim Burton’s hyper-stylized comic book epic — featuring a wild performance by Jack Nicholson and a very underrated one by Michael Keaton — is still a feast for the senses and comes with some of the craziest mainstream songs ever conceived by the late, much-missed Prince.
Ghost (1990) (YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes)
Nobody saw this one coming. At the turn of the ’90s, this impeccable blend of tearjerker, comedy and supernatural thriller won over audiences so much that they were still coming out in droves long after the VHS was released. Nominated for a best picture Oscar, the movie ended up winning statuettes for original screenplay and supporting actress for Whoopi Goldberg, who later admitted she was completely baked when she accepted her award!
Ghostbusters (1984) (Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime)
Spooky comedies had been around in Hollywood for decades, but it took director Ivan Reitman and writer-star Dan Aykroyd to crack the formula for a post-“Saturday Night Live” crowd. Bill Murray turned out to be the MVP in an insane cast including Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and the late Harold Ramis. The fact that “Ghostbusters” remains one of the most popular summer movies of all time is a testament to how much it keeps crossing streams to each new generation of movie viewers.
Jaws (1975) (YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Hulu)
The one that started it all. Steven Spielberg’s second big-screen feature made audiences terrified to go in the ocean and kicked off the official summer blockbuster formula with the perfect blend of promotion and timing. John Williams’ relentless score and a trifecta of classic performances from Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss make “Jaws” one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations ever despite a host of well-known production problems like Bruce the shark, who turned out to be the most problematic cast member.
Independence Day (1996) (iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime)
Rarely have the sublime and the ridiculous collided with as much energy as in Roland Emmerich’s adorably ludicrous outer space invasion film, which also works as a rah-rah patriotic Fourth of July movie night choice. Will Smith heads an all-star cast in one of the definitive popcorn movies that still delivers as long as you don’t think about it too hard.
Men in Back (1997) (Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes)
More Will Smith, and a whole lot smarter this time, as he cemented his leading man status with this mega-blockbuster co-starring Tommy Lee Jones about a secret government agency regulating alien activity on Earth. A fine mix of dazzling ILM visual effects and very witty dialogue, “Men in Black” is a clever twist on the buddy cop film and led to multiple sequels of varying degrees of quality.
Shrek (2001) (YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Prime)
DreamWorks Animation scored its first and most influential hit with this summer favorite about an ogre who becomes smitten with a princess hiding a very big secret. A snappy send-up of classic fairy tales, “Shrek” went into the history books as the first winner of the Oscars’ animated feature category. The movie also spawned a hit Broadway show and multiple sequels and made Eddie Murphy one of the most in-demand voice talents of his generation.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) (Disney+, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Vudu)
The historic union of Disney and Warner Bros. on this film resulted in something animation fans never thought possible: the chance to see the studios’ beloved characters cavorting together on-screen, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Goofy and plenty more. You also get a clever murder mystery set in Tinseltown where animated characters (“toons”) are real, all rendered with a revolutionary string of animation effects and a zippy pace thanks to director Robert Zemeckis. If you can’t already quote it by heart, watch it again.
Wonder Woman (2017) (YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Prime, iTunes)
After a string of financially successful but underwhelming releases, DC Comics finally found its mojo with this soaring big-screen rendition of the popular comic book about an Amazon who turns to fighting crime in our world. Gal Gadot delivers a star-making performance under the guidance of director Patty Jenkins, who also knocked us out with one of the best superhero action sequences of all time thanks to Wonder Woman’s charge into No Man’s Land.