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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


1990

Total Box Office: $2,916,619,636 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 50.44%
Top 3 Box Office: Ghost ($417,189,389), Total Recall ($228,874,518), Die Hard 2 ($225,320,689)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Freshman (93%), Arachnophobia (92%), Presumed Innocent (86%)
Cultural Ranking: 37/44
Other Significant Films: Back to the Future Part IIIDarkmanDays of Thunder, Dick TracyFlatlinersGremlins 2: The New BatchMetropolitanWild at Heart

It was neither Arnold Schwarzenegger, nor Bruce Willis, nor even Marty McFly who drew the biggest crowds this summer. Ghost, the supernatural romantic mystery from one of the directors of Airplane!, handily won the season. 48 Hrs, Robocop, Gremlins, and Young Guns all got sequels this year, while Dick Tracy was the law and Harrison Ford was Presumed Innocent. People were afraid of spiders, cheated death, and Tom Cruise raced cars. But none of them had a pottery wheel.


1991

Total Box Office: $2,659,504,388 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 60.12%
Top 3 Box Office: Terminator 2: Judgment Day ($376,818,507), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves ($304,433,455), City Slickers ($228,165,713)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Boyz N the Hood (96%), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (92%), City Slickers (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 16/44
Other Significant Films: Bill & Ted’s Bogus JourneyJungle FeverPoint BreakThe RocketeerThelma & Louise

Thankfully, there were no Ghosts for Schwarzenegger to battle this year, so he revived the T-800 and led the box office with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Aside from The Naked Gun 2 ½ it was one of the few successful sequels of the summer. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and City Slickers were the only other $100 million grossers of a summer that also featured Backdraft, The Rocketeer, and Point Break, the latter of which has become a classic in its own right. Hot Shots!, What About Bob?, and Doc Hollywood rounded out the comedies while Boyz n the Hood and Thelma & Louise touched upon lasting issues that are just as relevant today.


1992

Total Box Office: $2,659,668,687 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 48.64%
Top 3 Box Office: Batman Returns ($290,782,826), Lethal Weapon 3 ($258,459,765), Sister Act ($249,305,145)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Unforgiven (96%), Batman Returns (81%), A League of Their Own (77%)
Cultural Ranking: 35/44
Other Significant Films: Alien 3BoomerangBuffy the Vampire Slayer, Encino ManPatriot GamesSingle White Female

Batman Returns had the biggest opening weekend to date and still just barely edged out the return of Riggs & Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 3. Clint Eastwood brought Warner Bros. the biggest victory of all when Unforgiven would go on to win Best Picture. Sister Act and A League of Their Own delighted audiences, as did Goldie Hawn in both Housesitter and Death Becomes Her. Harrison Ford became the new Jack Ryan in Patriot Games, while Eddie Murphy played games of his own in Boomerang, and not only did David Fincher make his film debut with Alien 3, we also got Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which would spawn a beloved television series.


1993

Total Box Office: $3,158,146,291 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.52%
Top 3 Box Office: Jurassic Park ($619,113,812), The Fugitive ($318,818,935), The Firm ($274,557,439)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The FugitiveIn the Line of Fire, and What’s Love Got to Do with It? (all on 96%)
Cultural Ranking: 11/44
Other Significant Films: CliffhangerDaveFree WillyHocus PocusLast Action HeroMuch Ado About NothingSleepless in SeattleSuper Mario Bros.

“Welcome to Jurassic Park.” Four words that defined a summer when Steven Spielberg replaced his own E.T. as the all-time box office champion. It was a true summer of thrills with Harrison Ford being hunted as The Fugitive, Tom Cruise being chased by The Firm, Clint Eastwood placing himself In the Line of Fire, and Sylvester Stallone starring in a Cliffhanger. Somewhere in between, Sleepless in Seattle charmed audiences in need of a little breather. It was also the summer of Ivan Reitman’s presidential impostor comedy, Dave, a second Michael Crichton adaptation in Rising Sun, and Free Willy and Rookie of the Year for families.


1994

Total Box Office: $3,483,592,622 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 48.04%
Top 3 Box Office: Forrest Gump ($557,379,473), The Lion King ($528,911,669), True Lies ($247,304,136)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Lion King and Speed (93%), Clear and Present Danger (82%)
Cultural Ranking: 13/44
Other Significant Films: The ClientThe CrowThe MaskMaverickNatural Born KillersWyatt Earp

It was the summer of The Lion King… until Forrest Gump came along. These two films blew up even the most successful of the season’s action fare, which included True Lies, Clear and Present Danger, and Speed. The year of Jim Carrey also continued with The Mask, while classic relics like The Flintstones, Maverick, and The Little Rascals got their shots on the big screen. The summer also featured Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, John Grisham’s The Client, Mike Nichols’ Wolf, and Brandon Lee’s final role in The Crow.


1995

Total Box Office: $3,120,132,188 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 51.12%
Top 3 Box Office: Batman Forever ($302,547,631), Apollo 13 ($282,885,688), Pocahontas ($232,757,518)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Babe (97%), Apollo 13 (95%), The Bridges of Madison County (89%)
Cultural Ranking: 25/44
Other Significant Films: BraveheartCluelessCrimson TideDesperadoDie Hard with a VengeanceKidsMortal KombatThe Usual SuspectsWaterworld

The cowl had been passed from Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer, but Batman Forever still won the summer, just edging out Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning Apollo 13, which was ultimately toppled in the Best Picture race by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Kid-friendly Babe was surprisingly another Best Picture nominee, though it wasn’t as big a family draw as Pocahontas or Casper. Action fans also had plenty to choose from, including Die Hard with a Vengeance, Crimson Tide, and Waterworld. Teenagers got their ultimate ’90s companion piece with Clueless, which was also the perfect word to describe audiences watching the climax of The Usual Suspects.


1996

Total Box Office: $3,182,368,539 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 50.72%
Top 3 Box Office: Independence Day ($488,906,854), Twister ($385,993,378), Mission: Impossible ($289,001,148)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Matilda (90%), Courage Under Fire (85%), Emma (84%)
Cultural Ranking: 22/44
Other Significant Films: The CraftThe Cable GuyKingpinThe Nutty ProfessorThe RockSupercopTrainspotting

This summer was a disaster. At least, that’s what the cineplexes were offering audiences, starting with Twister and culminating with Independence Day. Michael Bay’s sophomore effort, The Rock, and Eraser with Mr. Schwarzenegger, also drew their share of action fans, but it was the kickoff of the Mission: Impossible franchise that outdid them at the box office. The summer also featured more Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor), John Grisham (A Time to Kill), and Jim Carrey (The Cable Guy). Other notable dramas included Phenomenon, Courage Under Fire, and Trainspotting. And, of course, there was Kingpin.


1997

Total Box Office: $3,280,167,532 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 55.48%
Top 3 Box Office: Men in Black ($391,336,522), The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($357,612,156), Air Force One ($269,990,881)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Full Monty (96%), Men in Black and Face/Off (92%)
Cultural Ranking: 26/44
Other Significant Films: Austin Powers: International Man of MysteryBatman & RobinCon AirContactEvent HorizonThe Fifth ElementGood Burger, HerculesMimicMy Best Friend’s Wedding

Welcome back to Jurassic Park. Except it was another Spielberg-produced entity that won the summer, namely Men in Black. Batman & Robin and Speed 2 famously did not perform very well, as action fans gravitated towards Harrison Ford, John Travolta, and two Nicolas Cages in Air Force One, Face/Off, and Con-Air. Julia Roberts scored her biggest hit since Pretty Woman with My Best Friend’s Wedding, and families chose between George of the Jungle and Disney’s Hercules. Other films to remember include Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, the introduction to Austin Powers, Cop Land, and Best Picture nominee The Full Monty.


1998

Total Box Office: $3,651,246,814 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 62.08%
Top 3 Box Office: Saving Private Ryan ($332,843,304), Armageddon ($309,844,216), There’s Something About Mary ($271,273,149)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Truman Show (94%), Out of Sight (93%), Saving Private Ryan (92%)
Cultural Ranking: 30/44
Other Significant Films: BladeDeep ImpactFear and Loathing in Las VegasGodzillaHow Stella Got Her Groove BackThe Mask of ZorroMulanThe Parent TrapPiThe X-Files: Fight the Future

It was the battle of competing asteroid/comet films with Armageddon and Deep Impact, but it was the opening battle of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan that helped make it the must-see of the summer. Sight gags about zippers and hair gel made There’s Something About Mary into the comedy event of the season. Doctor DolittleThe Parent Trap, and Godzilla were dusted off for another go-round, while the X-Files jumped to the big screen, and enraptured viewers observed Jim Carrey’s life on a small one in The Truman Show. Audiences also turned their attention to Mulan, The Mask of Zorro, and Blade, but in a rare move, Lethal Weapon 4 and Halloween H20 were the only sequels of the whole summer. Those were the days…


1999

Total Box Office: $4,273,555,725 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 54.2%
Top 3 Box Office: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace ($648,304,009), The Sixth Sense ($441,397,523), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me ($309,859,060)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Tarzan (88%), The Blair Witch Project (87%), The Sixth Sense (85%)
Cultural Ranking: 23/44
Other Significant Films: American Pie, Big DaddyDeep Blue SeaEyes Wide ShutThe Iron GiantThe MummyMystery MenNotting HillRun Lola RunSouth Park: Bigger, Longer & UncutWild Wild West

For the first time in 16 years, Star Wars returned to theaters with The Phantom Menace, and it was the event of the summer, but the surprise of the season would happen later with the out-of-nowhere success of The Sixth Sense. Animation offered something for every audience, from Disney’s Tarzan to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut; Julia Roberts had dual success with Notting Hill and Runaway Bride; and Adam Sandler had his biggest hit ever with Big Daddy. Both The Mummy and American Pie spawned multiple sequels, and the packed summer also found room for Eyes Wide Shut, The Iron Giant, and the godfather of found-footage horror, The Blair Witch Project.


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