The Best Years for Summer Movies

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
Ranked by
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 1994


    Notable releases: Forrest Gump, Speed, The Lion King, True Lies, The Mask, Clear and Present Danger, The Crow, Maverick, Natural Born Killers, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Spanking the Monkey
  • 1993
    Notable releases: Jurassic Park, The Fugitive, Sleepless in Seattle, In the Line of Fire, The Firm, The Last Action Hero, Menace II Society, Cliffhanger, Dave, Free Willy, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, So I Married An Axe Murderer, Hard Target
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 1983
    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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 1981
    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
  • 1996


    Notable releases: Independence Day, The Rock, Mission Impossible, The Nutty Professor, Trainspotting, Kingpin, The Frighteners, Twister, Dead Man, The Cable Guy
  • 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
  • 2004
    Notable releases: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Anchorman, The Notebook, Spider-Man 2, Napoleon Dynamite, The Bourne Supremacy, The Day After Tomorrow, Collateral, Shrek 2, Dodgeball, The Terminal, Fahrenheit 911, Before Sunset, I Robot, Garden State, Alien vs Predator
  • 1995


    Notable releases: Braveheart, Apollo 13, Babe, The Usual Suspects, Crimson Tide, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Pocahontas, Batman Forever, Clueless, Species, Waterworld, Desperado
  • 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
  • 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
  • 1979

    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

  • 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
  • 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