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


Total Box Office: $3,772,559,161 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 53.76%
Top 3 Box Office: Mission: Impossible 2 ($313,415,133), Gladiator ($273,105,945), The Perfect Storm ($265,704,518)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Chicken Run (97%), The Original Kings of Comedy (86%), X-Men (81%)
Cultural Ranking: 40/44
Other Significant Films: Battlefield Earth, Bring It OnThe CellFantasia 2000Gone in 60 SecondsMe, Myself & IreneRoad TripScary MovieShanghai Noon

The Mission: Impossible franchise led the summer with the series’ best numbers to date, beating out Ridley Scott’s eventual Best Picture winner Gladiator and surprise hit The Perfect Storm. The X-Men and Scary Movie franchises were born just a week apart, and both Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence donned fat suits for The Klumps and Big Momma’s House. This was also the summer of Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath, Disney’s Dinosaur, and Aardman Studios’ Chicken Run.


Total Box Office: $4,132,105,131 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 49.72%
Top 3 Box Office: Shrek ($378,883,603), Rush Hour 2 ($320,152,896), The Mummy Returns ($285,961,859)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Shrek (88%), The Others (83%), Moulin Rouge! (76%)
Cultural Ranking: 36/44
Other Significant Films: A.I. Artificial IntelligenceThe Fast and the FuriousGhost WorldJurassic Park IIIA Knight’s TaleLara Croft: Tomb RaiderLegally BlondePearl HarborThe Princess DiariesWet Hot American Summer

It was neither Disney nor Pixar but Dreamworks that took home the trophy for the summer box office with their creation of Shrek, which also nabbed the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It beat out sequels to Rush Hour, The Mummy, American Pie, and even Jurassic Park. Shrek was not the only franchise to kick into gear this summer, though, as it also saw the release of The Fast and the Furious. This was also the summer of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, Steven Spielberg’s A.I., and Baz Luhrmann’s Best Picture nominee, Moulin Rouge!


Total Box Office: $4,252,688,780 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 60.68%
Top 3 Box Office:  Spider-Man ($562,240,230), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones ($420,860,530), Signs ($317,488,206)
Top 3 by Tomatometer:  About a Boy (93%), Insomnia (92%), Minority Report (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 21/44
Other Significant Films:  The Bourne IdentityLilo & StitchMen in Black IIxXx

Take away the re-releases of Star Wars and E.T., and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man became the third highest-grossing film in history upon its initial run. Only Titanic and The Phantom Menace had done better, and not even Attack of the Clones could match its popularity. Sci-fi was rich with Signs and Minority Report, while Austin Powers and the Men in Black returned for another outing, and Scooby-Doo and Lilo & Stitch were there for the kids. Just as Jason Bourne got into his first adventure (The Bourne Identity), Jack Ryan would get into his last until 2014 (The Sum of All Fears), and Christopher Nolan had his first major studio release with Insomnia.


Total Box Office: $4,491,158,620 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 55.92%
Top 3 Box Office: Finding Nemo ($462,577,330), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl ($415,870,844), The Matrix Reloaded ($383,412,260)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Finding Nemo (99%), Freaky Friday (88%), 28 Days Later (86%)
Cultural Ranking: 29/44
Other Significant Films: 2 Fast 2 FuriousBad Boys IIBruce AlmightyCharlie’s Angels: Full ThrottleHulkThe Italian JobSeabiscuitTerminator 3: Rise of the MachinesWhale RiderX2: X-Men United

Disney took center stage this summer with two of their most popular attractions. Finding Nemo became the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl took audiences and critics by surprise in the launch of a future $4.5 billion franchise. Both beat out the return of The Matrix, the X-Men, a Terminator, Bad Boys, and the crew in 2 Fast 2 Furious. The Hulk made his first big screen appearance while Seabiscuit galloped all the way to the Oscars.


Total Box Office: $4,227,313,155 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 53.68%
Top 3 Box Office: Shrek 2 ($585,216,894), Spider-Man 2 ($495,502,563), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($330,976,796)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Hero (95%), Spider-Man 2 (93%), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 31/44
Other Significant Films: AnchormanBefore Sunset, The Bourne SupremacyCatwomanThe Chronicles of RiddickCollateralDodgeballFahrenheit 9/11Harold and Kumar Go to White CastleI, RobotNapoleon DynamiteThe NotebookWhite Chicks

There was a sequel battle between two previous summer champions, and it was Shrek 2 besting Spider-Man 2 for the top spot at the box office, while the third Harry Potter came up a distant third. But heading to the top of the documentary chart was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Many of the big effects extravaganzas left middling impressions, but comedies like Anchorman, Dodgeball, and Napoleon Dynamite have endured over the years, thanks to their passionate fans.


Total Box Office: $3,791,525,298 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 56.24%
Top 3 Box Office:  Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith ($487,840,614), War of the Worlds ($300,553,024), Wedding Crashers ($268,449,739)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: March of the Penguins (94%), The 40 Year-Old Virgin (85%), Batman Begins (84%)
Cultural Ranking: 39/44
Other Significant Films: Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryCinderella ManCrash, Fantastic FourHigh TensionLayer CakeMadagascarMr. & Mrs. SmithThe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Star Wars prequels racked up a summer victory with Revenge of the Sith in 2005, while re-imaginings of War of the Worlds and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were embraced by audiences, and broad comedies like Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year-Old Virgin made a big splash. Fantastic Four finally arrived on the big screen, but was no match for the start of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in Batman Begins. Then, just one year after Michael Moore’s record-breaking documentary, March of the Penguins waddled into second place all-time.


Total Box Office: $3,784,403,743 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 49.64%
Top 3 Box Office: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ($526,091,683), Cars ($303,343,327), X-Men: The Last Stand ($291,262,784)
Top 4 by Tomatometer: Little Miss Sunshine (91%), Superman ReturnsThe Devil Wears Prada, and Over the Hedge (75%)
Cultural Ranking: 43/44
Other Significant Films: An Inconvenient TruthClerks IIThe Da Vinci CodeThe DescentMission: Impossible IIINacho LibreSnakes on a PlaneStep UpTalladega Nights

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest became the fourth highest-grossing film ever in its initial run. Superman returned, the X-Men had a Last Stand, while we also got Talladega Nights and The Devil Wears Prada. Though successful, Cars was the first Pixar film not to receive a 90% or higher with critics. Ultimately it was Little Miss Sunshine that was remembered most into the next year at the Oscars. And this was a very low-scoring season, on average, for the Tomatometer.


Total Box Office: $4,497,630,552 (adjusted for inflation) – Highest Total Box Office of All Summers
Tomatometer Average: 57.84%
Top 3 Box Office: Spider-Man 3 ($406,653,361), Shrek the Third ($389,965,328), Transformers ($385,767,749)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Ratatouille (96%), The Bourne Ultimatum (93%), Hairspray (91%)
Cultural Ranking: 28/44
Other Significant Films: 28 Weeks LaterHarry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixHot RodKnocked UpOcean’s ThirteenOnceThe Simpsons MovieSuperbad

It was the summer of threes. Not only was there a rematch between Spider-Man and Shrek with their third entries (which the webslinger won), but there was also Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (and nearly three hours of it), The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 3, and Ocean’s Thirteen. There was also the first Transformers, a fourth Die Hard, and fifth Harry Potter. Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie covered animation and the productions of Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad), in a way, spawned a franchise of their own. 2007 was also the highest-grossing summer ever.


Total Box Office: $4,292,073,950 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.44%
Top 3 Box Office: The Dark Knight ($620,648,788), Iron Man ($370,533,054), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($369,007,477)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Wall-E (96%), The Dark Knight and Iron Man (94%)
Cultural Ranking: 6/44
Other Significant Films: Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Incredible HulkKung Fu PandaMamma Mia! Man on Wire, Pineapple Express, Sex and the CityStep BrothersThe Strangers, Tropic Thunder

Iron Man may have kicked off the summer (and the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the return of Indiana Jones may have sparked almost equal interest, but there was one film everyone was waiting for. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight tore the box office apart, besting everything on offer including other compromised heroes like Will Smith’s Hancock and Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk. Families had their choice between Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda, laughs and romance were served in May with Sex and the City and continued well into August with Mamma Mia!. Comedies were once again well represented by the likes of Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers, and Pineapple Express.


Total Box Office: $4,328,498,885 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 52.52%
Top 3 Box Office: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($469,604,406), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($352,641,590), Up ($342,183,498)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Up (98%), Star Trek (94%), District 9 (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 32/44
Other Significant Films: (500) Days of SummerDrag Me to HellG.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraThe HangoverThe Hurt LockerIn the LoopInglourious BasterdsMoonThe Proposal

In summers past, Harry Potter failed to beat Shrek, Spider-Man, or Caribbean pirates. This year he was beaten by the Transformers, in their second outing. It was the summer that gave us the origins of Star Trek and Wolverine, not to mention Angels, Demons, and Inglourious Basterds. But it may be more notable for the lifetime remembered in the opening scenes of Pixar’s Up and the evening forgotten in The Hangover. Fortunately, the Academy certainly didn’t forget about District 9 or Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.

See Full Data on Every Summer
10 Best Summers Ever | 1970s | 1980s1990s | 2000s | 2010s

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