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The Best Years for Summer Movies

Updated May 24, 2018 5.8k votes 908 voters 69.5k views35 items

List Rules"Summer movies" in a given year must have opened in the months of May, June, July or August.

List of the best "summer seasons" for new mainstream films. The notion of the "summer blockbuster" movie season started in June of 1975, when Steven Spielberg's Jaws became the biggest box office draw to date (the troubled production had spiraled out of control and wound up costing nearly four times as much as was initially projected). Since then, studios have all attempted to program event movies for the summer months, typically around fare designed to appeal to younger audiences, such as action movies and broad comedies. The long July 4th weekend has always been a coveted release date for new films, but the summer season now extends far longer than it did in the '70s and '80s. New "summer" films now open in early May and continue coming out right up through Labor Day.

In the decades since Jaws, many classic films have seen release during the busy summer movie season. Great summer movies happen every year, but some years have more than others. It's now possible to go back and look at the actual historical summers that have given us some of these memorable film experiences, and evaluate which season itself featured the most genuinely good summer movies. This isn't just a summer movies list or a list of best movies by year, this is a list of the best years for summer movies from '75 through the present day.

Check out more lists like Greatest Movies that Take Place During Summer, Movies That Take Place in Summer Camp, and Hottest Actors in Summer Movies
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  • 1
    244
    91

    1984

    Notable releases: Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Karate Kid, Gremlins, The Neverending Story, Once Upon a Time in America, Purple Rain, Red Dawn, Revenge of the Nerds, Top Secret, Bachelor Party, The Natural
  • 2
    176
    52

    1989

    Notable releases: Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, When Harry Met Sally, Dead Poets' Society, Do the Right Thing, The Abyss, Ghostbusters II, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, License to Kill, Parenthood, Uncle Buck, Road House
  • 3
    193
    68

    1985

    Notable releases: Back to the Future, The Goonies, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Teen Wolf, Weird Science, National Lampoon's European Vacation, The Black Cauldron, Cocoon, Fletch, Fright Night, St. Elmo's Fire
  • 4
    188
    66

    1982

    Notable releases: Blade Runner, E.T., The Thing, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Poltergeist, The Road Warrior, Rocky III, Tron, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Conan the Barbarian, The Secret of Nimh, An Officer and a Gentleman
  • 5
    191
    69

    1980

    Notable releases: The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, Dressed to Kill, Fame, Friday the 13th, Used Cars, The Big Red One, The Blue Lagoon
  • 6
    187
    70

    1986

    Notable releases: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Aliens, Top Gun, Stand by Me, The Fly, Big Trouble in Little China, Back to School, Cobra, Labyrinth, Short Circuit, Transformers: The Movie, SpaceCamp, Flight of the Navigator
  • 7
    156
    67

    2008

    Notable releases: Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E, Hancock, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Sex and the City, Tropic Thunder, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Incredible Hulk, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mamma Mia!, Stepbrothers, Pineapple Express
  • 8
    106
    44

    1987

    Notable releases: Predator, Robocop, Dirty Dancing, The Living Daylights, Full Metal Jacket, La Bamba, The Untouchables, Innerspace, Harry and the Hendersons, Spaceballs, Adventures in Babysitting, The Witches of Eastwick, Withnail & I
  • 9
    121
    58

    1997

    Notable releases: Men in Black, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Fifth Element, Contact, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Con Air, Hercules, My Best Friend's Wedding, Face/Off, Good Burger, Air Force One, Spawn, Event Horizon
  • 10
    108
    51

    1988

    Notable releases: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, Coming to America, A Fish Called Wanda, Big, Midnight Run, Bull Durham, The Great Outdoors, Young Guns, Married to the Mob, The Last Temptation of Christ, Willow
  • 11
    102
    51

    2003

    Notable releases: Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, X2, The Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty, The Italian Job, 28 Days Later, Whale Rider, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2, Bad Boys II, Freddy vs. Jason
  • 12
    98
    52
    Notable releases: Return of the Jedi, Risky Business, War Games, Trading Places, The Man With Two Brains, National Lampoon's Vacation, Strange Brew, Octop***y, Twilight Zone: The Movie
  • 13
    79
    42

    1999

    Notable releases: The Sixth Sense, South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut, American Pie, The Phantom Menace, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut, The Mummy, Notting Hill, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Run Lola Run, Deep Blue Sea, The Iron Giant
  • 14
    94
    61
    Notable releases: Raiders of the Lost Ark, An American Werewolf in London, Superman II, Body Heat, Stripes, The Great Muppet Caper, Escape from New York, Arthur, Clash of the Titans, History of the World: Part 1, For Your Eyes Only, Dragonslayer
  • 15
    101
    70

    2009

    Notable releases: The Hangover, Star Trek, Up, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, District 9, 500 Days of Summer, Moon, Drag Me to Hell, In the Loop, Terminator Salvation
  • 16
    74
    44

    1996

    Notable releases: Independence Day, The Rock, Mission Impossible, The Nutty Professor, Trainspotting, Kingpin, The Frighteners, Twister, Dead Man, The Cable Guy
  • 17
    86
    56

    2012

    Notable releases: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Men in Black 3, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Brave, The Amazing Spider-Man, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dictator
  • 18
    69
    50

    1995

    Notable releases: Braveheart, Apollo 13, Babe, The Usual Suspects, Crimson Tide, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Pocahontas, Batman Forever, Clueless, Species, Waterworld, Desperado
  • 19
    66
    47

    1991

    Notable releases: Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Thelma and Louise, City Slickers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Rocketeer, Boyz n the Hood, Point Break, What About Bob?, Jungle Fever, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, Barton Fink
  • 20
    70
    52

    Notable Releases: Apocalypse Now, Alien, Rocky II, Dracula, Nutcracker Fantasy, Monty Python's Life of Brian, Escape from Alcatraz, The Muppet Movie, The In-Laws, Prophecy, The Main Event

  • 21
    83
    70

    2011

    Notable releases: Bridesmaids, Thor, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: First Class, The Tree of Life, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8, Kung Fu Panda 2, Attack the Block
  • 22
    57
    42

    2001

    Notable releases: Shrek, The Fast and the Furious, AI, Legally Blonde, Moulin Rouge, Rush Hour 2, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Mummy Returns, Sexy Beast, Wet Hot American Summer, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
  • 23
    63
    52

    1998

    Notable releases: Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, Armageddon, There's Something About Marry, The Mask of Zorro, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Can't Hardly Wait, Buffalo 66, Out of Sight, Blade
  • 24
    53
    41
    Notable releases: Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Minority Report, Lilo & Stitch, Signs, About a Boy, The Sum of All Fears, Road to Perdition, Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • 25
    53
    43

    1990

    Notable releases: Ghost, Total Recall, Die Hard 2, Dick Tracy, Back to the Future III, Arachnophobia, Gremlins 2, Darkman, Mo' Better Blues, Flatliners, Wild at Heart, My Blue Heaven, Pump Up the Volume