The Top 10 Summer Blockbusters of All Time

The Top 10 Summer Blockbusters of All Time

The summer movie season is officially in full swing, which means that moviegoers are deciding which big-budget flicks are going to be the year’s biggest blockbusters.

Every summer has a few – but which movies are the absolute greatest of all time? We took a look back at the biggest movies released between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend and rounded up the Top 10. (These are live-action movies only. There were a few animated films that could have been included, but that’s really its own list.)

We arrived at our ranking by averaging three rankings — the movies needed at least a 95 percent critical score and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a worldwide box office take of at least $100 million (adjusted for inflation, with ties going to bigger box office earnings). Two things quickly became apparent: Steven Spielberg sure knows his summer fare, and that the 1980’s were a hot decade for movies. 

With no further ado, here is our countdown of the 10 most critically-acclaimed summer blockbusters of all time. 

10. Airplane!, 1980

Surely, you can’t be serious that Airplane! is on this list — but it is. This absurd Leslie Nielsen comedy is a lesser-known title than other entries on the list, but it still earned both money at the box office and raves from critics.

9. Ghostbusters, 1984

When it came out, Roger Ebert praised Ghostbusters for being the rare big-budget special effects romp that also has slick, clever, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue — and he nailed it. This is one of the funniest screenplays of all time, coupled with a million-dollar production. And the end product is fantastic.

8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988

People seamlessly interacting with cartoons was quite the groundbreaking piece of technology in the late 1980s — and film fans flocked to see it on the big screen. If you’ve never seen this little gem (that definitely feels like one of the lesser known entries on this list), it’s worth a watch and totally holds up.

7. Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

Empire Strikes Back is the best movie of the Star Wars franchise for a lot of fans and critics. At the time, the St. Louis-Post Dispatch called it “an immense amount of fun — big and splashy and breathtaking in its display of cinematic genius by a huge group of marvelously talented people.”

6. Back to the Future, 1985

This Robert Zemeckis comedy hits the trifecta: One of the highest box office totals, one of the highest critical ratings and one of the highest audience ratings. One need only remember the hoopla in 2015 surrounding this film’s 30th anniversary to see how beloved it is with movie buffs.


5. Aliens, 1986

James Cameron has quite a few of the highest grossing films of all time, including this sequel to the 1979 horror film, which added a surrogate daughter for Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.

4. Alien, 1979

Before Weaver was looking for the key master in Ghostbusters, she was being terrorized by a killer alien in outer space. A lot of people prefer the sequel (above at #5), but for our money, this is the quintessential alien horror movie.

3. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, 1977

It’s the film that kicked off one of the most successful movie franchises of all time — one that is still going strong today, largely because of how highly enjoyable the films are. When the first one was released, the Newsday film critic said he hadn’t “had as much fun at a movie in years.”

2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

Summer moviegoers love killer aliens, but they also love cuddly, friendly ones. This tearjerker about a boy trying to help his new alien friend return home is a classic. At the time, the Boston Globe called it “the best cinematic fairy tale since the Wizard of Oz.”

1. Jaws, 1975

It’s only fitting that the film generally considered the first summer blockbuster is No. 1 on the list. It has two of the highest critic and audience scores, plus its $470 million worldwide box office take was practically unheard of at the time — adjusted for inflation, that translates to over $2 billion in earnings. Jaws was also an awards season contender, which is unusual for a summer blockbuster — it is one of only two films on this list that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (the other being E.T.).

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