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Best Summer Ever: Which Summer Blockbuster Season Reigns Supreme?

We crunched the numbers to figure out which summer made the most money, which had the highest Tomatometer average, and which made the biggest moviegoing impression -- then we crowned the 10 Best Summers Ever.

by and | July 2, 2019 | Comments

See Full Data on Every Summer
10 Best Summers Ever | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s


1975

Total Box Office:  $2,262,233,184 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 77.21% – Highest Average of All Summers
Top 3 Box Office: Jaws ($884,827,881), The Return of the Pink Panther ($194,817,430), The Apple Dumpling Gang ($171,624,010)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Love and Death (100%), Jaws (97%), Nashville (92%)
Cultural Ranking: 14/44
Significant Films: Cooley HighDog Day AfternoonJawsLove and DeathNashvilleThe Return of the Pink Panther, Rollerball

This is the summer when everything changed. What once was a season for picnics and vacations was turned on its head when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws scared everyone out of the water and into theaters. This year featured the return of both Inspector Clouseau and Popeye Doyle and introduced us to the Apple Dumpling Gang and the game of Rollerball. But Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Bartholomew Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and a 25-foot shark named Bruce made Hollywood rethink the summer forever. Incidentally, this first summer was also the one with the highest Tomatometer average, though only 14 of the top 25 films had a score.


1976

Total Box Office: $1,392,080,542 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 76.46%
Top 3 Box Office: The Omen ($268,260,262), Midway ($190,309,281), Silent Movie ($158,958,007)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Outlaw Josey Wales (95%), The Shootist (90%), The Tenant (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 44/44
Significant Films: The OmenThe Outlaw Josey WalesThe Man Who Fell to EarthSilent MovieLogan’s Run, Murder by Death

Hollywood failed to deliver another be-all, end-all summer blockbuster like Jaws in 1976, but it did have a number of successes, including Richard Donner’s The Omen, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, which remains one of director/star Clint Eastwood’s defining westerns. Other hits that summer included Midway, Logan’s Run, Disney’s Gus, Murder by Death, and The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.


1977

Total Box Office: $3,498,651,999 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 64.4%
Top 3 Box Office: Star Wars ($1,270,358,586), Smokey and the Bandit ($523,986,067), A Bridge Too Far ($209,821,939)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Star Wars (93%), Suspiria (92%), Martin (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 12/44
Significant Films: Star WarsSuspiria, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Kentucky Fried MovieSmokey and the Bandit, The Hills Have Eyes, The Rescuers

Two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jaws changed the summer movie season, George Lucas’ Star Wars cemented it. The first $300 million blockbuster was the story of the year, though Smokey and the Bandit earned its share of ticket sales as well. It was a summer that featured more James Bond, more Love Bug, more Exorcist, more Bad News Bears, and more Benji. There was also A Bridge Too Far, The Deep, The Rescuers, The Kentucky Fried Movie, and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes.


1978

Total Box Office: $3,508,164,923 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 61%
Top 3 Box Office: Grease ($614,755,612), National Lampoon’s Animal House ($461,477,768), Heaven Can Wait ($313,721,550)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Buddy Holly Story (100%), Animal House (91%), Heaven Can Wait (89%)
Cultural Ranking: 41/44
Significant Films: Animal HouseConvoyGreaseHeaven Can WaitPiranha

Grease was the word this summer, though “toga” was a close second. Neither the sequel to Jaws nor Joe Dante’s Piranha was enough to take down the beloved musical or National Lampoon’s Animal House. Warren Beatty had a hit in Heaven Can Wait and Burt Reynolds had two with Hooper and The End. Damien returned in The Omen II, as did Inspector Clouseau in Revenge of the Pink Panther. There was also Convoy, Foul Play, The Buddy Holly Story, and Walter Hill’s The Driver.


1979

Total Box Office: $2,930,224,349 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 67.09%
Top 3 Box Office: The Amityville Horror ($298,282,674), Rocky II ($293,967,623), Apocalypse Now ($288,064,093)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Alien (97%), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (97%), Apocalypse Now (96%)
Cultural Ranking: 10/44
Significant Films: AlienThe Amityville HorrorApocalypse NowBreaking AwayEscape from AlcatrazLife of BrianMoonrakerThe Muppet MoviePhantasmRocky II

Three summers after The Omen, horror once again led the way, this time with The Amityville Horror. So much horror, in fact — including Alien, Dracula, Prophecy, and Phantasm — that one can again hear Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now that summer doubling down on it. The return of Rocky Balboa and James Bond were also massive hits, as was the first big screen appearance of the Muppets. Let’s also not forget Meatballs, Escape from Alcatraz, The In-Laws, North Dallas Forty, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Breaking Away.


1980

Total Box Office: $3,049,187,968 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 61.17%
Top 3 Box Office: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back ($636,697,057), Airplane! ($253,749,397), Smokey and the Bandit II ($201,083,312)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Airplane! (97%), The Empire Strikes Back (95%), The Shining (86%)
Cultural Ranking: 7/44
Other Significant Films: The Blue LagoonThe Blues BrothersCaddyshackFriday the 13thUrban CowboyXanadu

Star Wars and laughter was the recipe this summer. The Empire Strikes Back more than doubled the audience of its closest competition, but there was still plenty left over for Airplane!, Smokey and the Bandit II, The Blues Brothers, Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, and Caddyshack… which audiences needed after seeing The Shining and Friday the 13th. They also found time for The Blue Lagoon, Urban Cowboy, Xanadu, and Fame.


1981

Total Box Office: $3,229,262,780 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 60.50%
Top 3 Box Office: Raiders of the Lost Ark ($584,943,668), Superman II ($298,190,274), Arthur ($263,119,280)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Body Heat (97%), Raiders of the Lost Ark (94%), An American Werewolf in London and Arthur (88%)
Cultural Ranking: 5/44
Other Significant Films: Blow Out, Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, Escape from New YorkThe Great Muppet CaperHeavy Metal

Two iconic heroes led the way this summer, as the first appearance of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark knocked Superman II down to second at the box office in a season chock-full of choices. James Bond also returned in For Your Eyes Only, as did Tarzan, the Muppets, and Disney with The Fox and the Hound. Cheech and Chong were back, but they were no match for Arthur, Stripes, or The Cannonball Run. Genre fans were treated to the likes of An American Werewolf in London, Escape from New York, and Dragonslayer. Also worth noting for fans of thrillers were Body Heat, Blow Out, and Eye of the Needle.


1982

Total Box Office: $3,531,699,214 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 67.3%
Top 3 Box Office: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ($928,902,148), An Officer and a Gentleman ($335,658,027), Rocky III ($321,050,308)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: E.T. and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (98%), Night Shift (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 1/44
Other Significant Films: Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, PoltergeistThe Secret of NIMH, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The ThingTron

First, there was Jaws. Then there was Star Wars. In 1982, we got Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, dominating the summer and the top of the all-time box office chart once again. Science fiction claimed the year, from The Wrath of Khan to Tron to Blade Runner to The Road Warrior, while horror took the shape of Poltergeist and The Thing, and all of these became iconic exemplars of their genres. There was Stallone (Rocky III), Eastwood (Firefox), and some new guy named Schwarzenegger (Conan the Barbarian). But it was Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman that beat them all in a loaded summer that also featured Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Night Shift, and the The Secret of NIMH, plus a cavalcade of musicals.


1983

Total Box Office: $2,979,227,591 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 48.91%
Top 3 Box Office: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi ($635,379,667), Trading Places ($227,415,271), WarGames ($200,154,224)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Risky Business (96%), Wargames and National Lampoon’s Vacation (93%)
Cultural Ranking: 20/44
Other Significant Films: Mr. MomOctopussyStaying AliveTwilight Zone: The Movie

The Jedi returned and it nearly tripled the ticket sales of the next most popular film this summer. Nevertheless, it was the summer of Trading Places, Mr. Mom, Risky Business, and National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was also the summer of John Badham with WarGames and Blue Thunder. Not only was there another James Bond film (Octopussy) but new chapters to Saturday Night Fever, Superman, Jaws, Psycho, and Porky’s.


1984

Total Box Office: $3,206,212,855 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 64.08%
Top 3 Box Office:  Ghostbusters ($550,611,211), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ($432,024,500), Gremlins ($355,880,958)
Top 3 by Tomatometer:  Ghostbusters (97%), The Karate Kid (88%), Sixteen Candles (86%)
Cultural Ranking: 2/44
Other Significant Films: The Last Starfighter, The Muppets Take ManhattanThe Neverending Story, Once Upon a Time in America, Purple RainRed DawnRevenge of the NerdsStar Trek III:  The Search for SpockTop Secret!

Two of the biggest releases of the summer spawned the PG-13 rating but both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins were beat out by Ghostbusters. The Karate Kid held audiences in its grip, as did the serial killer Clint Eastwood chased in Tightrope. Music-and-dance fans had their choice between Purple Rain, Breakin’, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. The Star Trek crew searched for Spock and Robert Redford sought a comeback in The Natural. It was a summer with something for everyone, from comedies (Revenge of the Nerds, Bachelor Party, Sixteen Candles, Top Secret!) to stories of those trying to save the world (Red Dawn, The Last Starfighter).


1985

Total Box Office: $2,671,629,605 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 64.72%
Top 3 Box Office: Back to the Future ($490,403,656), Rambo: First Blood Part II ($350,241,494), Cocoon ($177,228,985)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Back to the Future (96%), Pale Rider (92%), Fright Night (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 8/44
Other Significant Films: Better Off DeadThe Black CauldronThe GooniesMad Max Beyond ThunderdomePee-Wee’s Big AdventureReal GeniusSt. Elmo’s FireWeird Science

Two films were seen by more than anyone this summer, but the clear victor then, now, and forever was Back to the Future. That’s despite a number of well-remembered films in a variety of genres. The return of John Rambo nearly doubled the audience of Ron Howard’s Cocoon, which came in third at the summer box office. But this was a summer for kids of all ages: The Goonies and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure for the children, big and small; Weird Science, Teen Wolf, Real Genius, and St. Elmo’s Fire for the teens and beyond. There was also James Bond, Mad Max, and Clint Eastwood, but Chevy Chase’s Fletch outdid them all.


1986

Total Box Office: $2,690,133,003 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.76%
Top 3 Box Office: Top Gun ($404,123,675), The Karate Kid Part II ($263,128,116), Back to School ($208,616,121)
Top 4 by Tomatometer: Aliens (98%), Ruthless People (94%), The Fly and Stand By Me (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 3/44
Other Significant Films: Big Trouble in Little ChinaFerris Bueller’s Day OffLabyrinthManhunter, She’s Gotta Have ItShort Circuit

The need for speed was strong this summer with Top Gun topping ticket sales. Audiences returned for the continuing story of Daniel LaRusso and Mr. Miyagi. That film led the sequel brigade along with James Cameron’s Aliens, which was part of a memorable genre summer that also included David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China. Back to School and Ruthless People led the comedies in what was also the summer of Stand By Me, Manhunter, and Spike Lee’s debut, She’s Gotta Have It.


1987

Total Box Office: $2,566,515,971 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 64.76%
Top 3 Box Office: Beverly Hills Cop II ($338,909,860), The Untouchables ($168,215,292), Stakeout ($144,843,009)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: La Bamba (96%), Full Metal Jacket (93%), No Way Out (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 18/44
Other Significant Films: Adventures in BabysittingDirty DancingIshtar, The Living DaylightsThe Lost BoysPredatorRobocopSpaceballsThe Witches of Eastwick

Axel Foley was the big draw this summer with a distant shout-out to Eliot Ness and his gang of Untouchables. An old cop returned (with comedy) to Dragnet and a new (robo)cop named Murphy became one for the ages, though neither were on the Stakeout with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez. Those with a nose for romance had Roxanne and Dirty Dancing, but it was also the season of Predator, The Lost Boys, and Innerspace, as well as The Witches of Eastwick, Full Metal Jacket, and No Way Out.


1988

Total Box Office: $2,865,872,035 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.72%
Top 3 Box Office: Who Framed Roger Rabbit ($330,036,472), Coming to America ($270,337,441), Big ($242,526,774)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (97%)Big and Bull Durham (97%)
Cultural Ranking: 9/44
Other Significant Films: CocktailThe Dead PoolDie HardA Fish Called WandaThe Last Temptation of ChristMac and MeMarried to the MobMidnight RunWillowYoung Guns

Memorial Day weekend brought the battle between Rambo and Crocodile Dundee. But the question of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the one audiences wanted answered. Eddie Murphy scored another hit with Coming to America and Tom Hanks had his biggest success (and first Oscar nomination) to date with Big. The legacy of Die Hard began, and it was a great season for comedy too, with A Fish Called Wanda, Bull Durham, Midnight Run, and Funny Farm.


1989

Total Box Office: $3,445,649,578 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.88%
Top 3 Box Office: Batman ($505,525,812), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ($396,814,619), Lethal Weapon 2 ($296,353,396)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: sex, lies, and videotape (96%), Do the Right Thing, and Parenthood (93%)
Cultural Ranking: 4/44
Other Significant Films: The AbyssDead Poets SocietyGhostbusters 2Licence to KillRoad HouseWeekend at Bernie’sWhen Harry Met Sally

The $40 million opening weekend was born with Tim Burton’s Batman and it finished its run with the best summer gross since Return of the Jedi. Indiana Jones got a rematch with Ghostbusters and won handily. It seemed like 1984 all over again, with Star Trek V and The Karate Kid Part III, each of which were overshadowed by Lethal Weapon 2. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Parenthood proved popular, as did Dead Poets Society and When Harry Met Sally. This summer also boasted The Abyss, Do the Right Thing, and sex, lies and videotape.


See Full Data on Every Summer
10 Best Summers Ever1970s | 1980s1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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