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: $4,083,939,849 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 49.48%
Top 3 Box Office: Toy Story 3 ($476,839,952), Iron Man 2 ($358,985,404), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ($345,310,507)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Toy Story 3 (99%), Inception (86%), Despicable Me (81%)
Cultural Ranking: 24/44
Other Significant Films: Eat Pray LoveThe ExpendablesIp ManThe Kids Are All RightThe Last AirbenderThe Other GuysPiranha 3-DSaltScott Pilgrim vs. The WorldWinter’s Bone

Pixar had its greatest box office success to date (domestic and worldwide) with Toy Story 3. It also matched the only summer film up to this point to achieve a 99% from critics (the other being Pixar’s own Finding Nemo). The second Iron Man film, the third chapter of the Twilight Saga, and the fourth Shrek film drew audiences, but original creations like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Illumination’s Despicable Me also captured their imaginations. The Karate Kid and Robin Hood got updates, and Adam Sandler had his biggest hit since 1999 with Grown Ups. New action action heroes arrived with The Expendables and Salt, while some of that bravado was skewered in The Other Guys. Toy Story 3 and Inception were joined in the Best Picture race by Sundance successes The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone, the latter of which kickstarted the career of future four-time Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence.


Total Box Office: $4,162,184,886 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.72%
Top 3 Box Office: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($424,385,441), Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($392,506,594), The Hangover Part II ($283,432,458)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (96%), Midnight in Paris (93%), Bridesmaids (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 17/44
Other Significant Films: BeginnersCars 2Captain America: The First AvengerCrazy, Stupid, Love.Green LanternThe HelpHorrible BossesRise of the Planet of the ApesThorWinnie the PoohX-Men: First Class

Sequels were in business this summer with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Cars 2 rounding out the top five. But it was the final Harry Potter installment that finally came out on top. The Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Thor and Captain America, while DC stumbled with Green Lantern. The X-Men series was rebooted with First Class, as was another franchise with the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Then there were successful female-led comedies Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher as well as Best Picture nominee The Help. Fellow nominees Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life also factored into the summer.


Total Box Office: $4,008,488,724 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 59.48%
Top 3 Box Office: Marvel’s The Avengers ($680,243,520), The Dark Knight Rises ($489,034,812), The Amazing Spider-Man ($285,942,727)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Marvel’s The Avengers (92%), The Dark Knight Rises and ParaNorman (87%)
Cultural Ranking: 34/44
Other Significant Films: BattleshipBeasts of the Southern WildBest Exotic Marigold HotelBraveMagic MikeMen in Black IIIMoonrise KingdomPrometheusSnow White and the HuntsmanTed

Marvel’s superheroes finally came together for The Avengers, and the five years of prep paid off, as it became the third highest-grossing film of all time behind Avatar and Titanic. Christopher Nolan completed his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, which was a solid second for the summer. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted left all comedies in the dust, while families chose animated bears and assorted creatures in Brave, Madagascar 3, and the fourth Ice Age film. New spins on old tales were tried with Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, and The Bourne Legacy while, at the same time, Sony rebooted its biggest franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man.


Total Box Office: $4,313,482,519 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 59.88%
Top 3 Box Office: Iron Man 3 ($438,154,158), Despicable Me 2 ($394,283,755), Man of Steel ($311,781,029)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Star Trek Into Darkness and The Conjuring (86%), This Is the End (82%)
Cultural Ranking: 38/44
Other Significant Films: Before MidnightBlue JasmineLee Daniels’ The ButlerFast & Furious 6Fruitvale StationThe Great GatsbyThe HeatMonsters UniversityPacific RimThe Purge, World War Z

The Iron Man series reached a new high in 2013, as its third installment became the second highest-grossing Marvel film to date. Kids were entertained by sequels Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University, as fans of the Fast & Furious and Star Trek franchises also got new installments. Horror fans flocked to World War Z and The Conjuring, the latter of which spawned a franchise – sorry, universe – of its own. Fans of comedy who had enough of The Hangover series made fresh hits out of The Heat, We’re the Millers, and This is the End. Also born were Now You See Me, Pacific Rim, and The Purge, along with Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, which kickstarted the DCEU.


Total Box Office: $3,608,313,742 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 55.56%
Top 3 Box Office: Guardians of the Galaxy ($352,612,464), Transformers: Age of Extinction ($259,756,770), Maleficent ($255,493,058)
Top 5 by Tomatometer: Guardians of the Galaxy and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (91%), X-Men: Days of Future PastEdge of Tomorrow, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (90%)
Cultural Ranking: 27/44
Other Significant Films: 22 Jump StreetBoyhoodThe Fault in Our StarsGodzillaLove Is StrangeLife ItselfSnowpiercerWhat We Do in the Shadows

For the first time ever in what we define as the modern summer box office, an August release took the crown. The newly minted Guardians of the Galaxy bested everyone during a summer when the Transformers hit a series low at the box office (and yet still came up second) and the X-Men hit a near series high with Days of Future Past. Sleeping Beauty spinoff Maleficent proved a huge hit with families, while Godzilla and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also rebooted, not to mention another attempt at Hercules (starring the now ubiquitous Dwayne Johnson). New installments of the Apes saga, Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, Jump Street, the Purge, and How to Train Your Dragon drew audiences of various sizes. They laughed at Neighbors, cried at The Fault In Our Stars, but a few years out, they’re likely thinking more about Edge of Tomorrow. Or is it Live, Die, Repeat?


Total Box Office: $4,093,563,710 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 61.28%
Top 3 Box Office: Jurassic World ($686,772,440), Avengers: Age of Ultron ($483,284,955), Inside Out ($375,316,731)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Inside Out (98%), Mad Max: Fury Road (97%), Spy (94%)
Cultural Ranking: 19/44
Other Significant Films: AmyAnt-ManEntourageFantastic FourLove & MercyMagic Mike XXLMinionsMission: Impossible – Rogue NationStraight Outta ComptonTangerineTrainwreck

A new generation came forward to put dinosaurs back on top of the food chain when Jurassic World handily beat the Avengers sequel to become the third highest-grossing film of all-time this summer, while Inside Out became Pixar’s second-highest grosser. Action enthusiasts got their fill with two of the best-reviewed films of the season with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and six-time Academy Award-winning Mad Max: Fury Road. Female-led comedies proved to be on target, with Pitch Perfect 2, Spy, and Trainwreck all faring well. Finally, Straight Outta Compton became the most successful film ever directed by a black filmmaker.


Total Box Office: $3,829,486,054 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 59.92%
Top 3 Box Office: Finding Dory ($505,639,428), Captain America: Civil War ($424,317,130), The Secret Life of Pets ($383,037,924)
Top 4 by Tomatometer: Finding Dory (94%), Captain America: Civil War (91%), Don’t Breathe and Pete’s Dragon (88%)
Cultural Ranking: 42/44
Other Significant Films: The BFGThe Conjuring 2GhostbustersHell or High WaterIndependence Day: ResurgenceKubo and the Two StringsLights OutThe Nice GuysSausage PartyStar Trek BeyondSuicide SquadWarcraft

Fish, pets, and superheroes commanded the summer of 2016. Finding Dory overtook Toy Story 3 to become Pixar’s highest all-time domestic grosser, while The Secret Life of Pets outgrossed all the Despicable Me films to become Illumination’s all-time best. Both Marvel and DC found box office success with Captain America: Civil War and Suicide Squad, though critics received them very differently, and the franchises of Jason Bourne, Star Trek, and X-Men were met with some of the lowest ticket sales on their charts. Audiences were not so interested in sequels to Independence Day, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Alice in Wonderland, Now You See Me, Ice Age, and Neighbors, instead embracing films like Bad Moms, Sausage Party, and Don’t Breathe.


Total Box Office: $3,359,156,925 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 58.4%
Top 3 Box Office: Wonder Woman ($421,695,951), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($398,442,041), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($341,599,048)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: The Big Sick (98%), Baby Driver and War for the Planet of the Apes (93%)
Cultural Ranking: 15/44
Other Significant Films: Alien: CovenantAmerican MadeAtomic BlondeBaywatchCars 3DetroitThe Emoji MovieGirls TripLogan LuckyThe MummyValerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Despite having the weakest turnout at the box office since 2006, this summer nevertheless marked a landmark moment for cinematic comic book adventures. Wonder Woman managed to outgross both the Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man to become the DC Universe’s biggest success to date and, at the time. Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning WWII film Dunkirk was the highest-grossing non-comic book film not to feature Minions, and Edgar Wright finally had a breakout success with Baby Driver, while the Sundance Film Festival produced its biggest summer film (The Big Sick) since (500) Days of Summer in 2009.


Total Box Office: $3,600,289,800 (adjusted for inflation)
Tomatometer Average: 65.52%
Top 3 Box Office: Incredibles 2 ($608,581,744), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($417,719,760), Deadpool 2 ($318,491,426)
Top 3 by Tomatometer: Leave No Trace (100%), Minding the Gap (100%), Summer 1993 (100%)
Cultural Ranking: 33/44
Other Significant Films: BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Crazy Rich Asians, Eighth Grade, Hereditary, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, RBG, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ocean’s 8, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Though 2018 boasted a few big box office earners — both Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Incredibles 2 ultimately landed in the top 20 moneymakers of all time — the year was arguably more notable for its smaller (relatively speaking) films. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman was one of his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful features ever; Bo Burnham, Ari Aster, and Boots Riley enjoyed impressive debuts with Eighth Grade, Hereditary, and Sorry to Bother You, respectively; and documentaries like RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? became pop culture phenomenons. Beyond that, Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace quietly became the second best-reviewed film of all time on RT (just behind Paddington 2, which opened earlier in 2018), and Crazy Rich Asians proved that a film populated primarily with Asian-Americans could yield spectacular results. Not too shabby, but it remains to be seen how well this summer will hold up over the coming years.

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

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