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5 Films: The Summer Blockbuster Edition

by Nancy Ford


Big. Loud. Ridiculous. Ridiculously expensive.

That’s the basic criteria for what’s become a silver screen American tradition during the summer months. It’s like the Super Bowl of film, only it begins with the extended Memorial Day weekend, and lasts all the way through Labor Day, bolstered by July 4th’s big mid-summer bump, often courtesy of Will Smith.

This grand tradition started much more contemporarily than one might think with Steven’s Spielberg’s early thriller, Jaws, floated out of nowhere in the summer of 1975 (see below). Since Jaws’ big commercial bite, summer blockbusters are perhaps the coolest American indulgence since movie theatres started advertising air conditioning as their biggest draw.

This month, stick to your own air conditioning, hit up NetFlix, and happy summer!


Jaws  It’s impossible to talk about summer blockbusters without flipping a big tip of the popcorn barrel to Jaws. Upon release, it lured more than 67 million viewers out of the water and into the theatre with a budget of a mere $8 million—chum change by today’s standards. It then recouped almost that much on its opening weekend, and on a mere 409 screens. That same year it went on to gross more than $23 million, and that doesn’t count revenues generated by televised screenings or video and DVD sales. And now it’s available on Blu-Ray.

Gayest moment: We must momentarily re-brand the “gayest moment” inclusion here in deference to the film’s highly PETA-disturbing, “Grossest moment”: An actual white pointer shark was cut up and used in shots filmed in South Australia, predating the now-required “no animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture” tag. Ewww.

1975. Steven Spielberg directs. Universal Pictures (


Titanic  Yes, yes, it’s the all-time champion of all things sappy, mushy, and schlocky. The merciless, seemingly endless loop of its multi award-winning, Celine Dion-warbled love theme is burned into the aural region of our brains forever. It’s a heavily romanticizing of one the greatest tragedies exacerbated by classism in human history. And all these reasons are why we’ll never let go. Titanic, the ship, was exactly that, and so was Titanic, James Cameron’s film. Its estimated budget of $200 million parlayed into $601 million before its first DVD release, which has earned in excess of $900 million. The recent 3-D DVD re-do salvaged another $52 million by the end of April 2012. King of the world, indeed.

Gayest moment: Benjamin Guggenheim (Michael Ensign), refusing a life jacket as Titanic sinks: “No, thank you. We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen. But, we would like a brandy.”

1997. James Cameron directs. Twentieth Century Fox (


Armageddon  True, this end of the world extravaganza was released in an end-of-year holiday epic, the winter yin to the summer blockbuster’s yang. But thanks to its DVD version, we are able to enjoy all of Armageddon’s deep-space explosions even more in summer, simply by opening a window to Texas’ heat. The plot is simple: Boy (Ben Affleck) gets Girl (Liv Tyler), Girl loses Boy when Boy works with Girl’s Father (Bruce Willis) to destroy asteroid headed for Earth, Girl loses Father when said asteroid explodes, Girl gets Boy back because Father sacrificed himself for Boy and Girl, annnd cue love theme by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler (Girl’s real-life Father). Despite its blistering $140 million production cost, Armageddon eventually returned biblical box office receipts of more than $201 million. another $100 million in rentals. Shedding a quirky light on those figures, the following quote provides us with the film’s…

Gayest moment: President of the United States (Stanley Anderson): “We didn’t see this thing coming?”

Dan (Billy Bob Thornton): “Well, our object collision budget’s a million dollars. That allows us to track about three percent of the sky, and beggin’ your pardon sir, but it’s a big-ass sky.”

1998. Michael Bay directs. Columbia Pictures (


2012  Anyone who has watched as little as ten minutes of The History Channel anytime in the past 10 year knows that Mayan time clock is ticking down to the end of the world, a clock that is currently in the throes of it’s very last ticks. Unless Kukulcan, the Mayans’ Winged God/Feather Serpent suddenly appears to slap a few minutes on the overtime clock, seems we’re all tostada, come December 21 of this year. $200 million was also spent in production of this—ahem—titanic film, and had brought in almost $770 million, worldwide, by November 2011. Here we find misunderstood, limousine driver/divorced dad Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) doing his best to be a good parent to his two kids, despite seeing them only every other weekend. Probably the best way to be a good dad is to save the children and their mother (Amanda Peet) whom he still loves, of course, from the collapse of the cosmos. If the kids’ well-meaning step-dad (Tom McCarthy) is lost along the way and the original family lives happily ever after, would it be the end of the world?

Gayest moment: Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the governor of doomed State of California.

2009. Roland Emmerich directs. Columbia Pictures (


The Day After Tomorrow  Another Roland Emmerich joint finds another divorced dad doing his best to restore another broken family and another broken planet. Here, paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) travels from Washington DC to New York City, pretty much on foot, in sub-arctic, blizzardy weather to first rescue his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhahl, whom we still can’t quit) and hopefully, the world.

With production costs of $125 million, a paltry sum compared to other Emmerich inspirations, TDAT earned almost $543 million, before rentals. It also took home that year’s Environmental Media Award, USA, for Best Feature Film as well as the MTV Movie Award for Best Action Sequence for the annihilation of Los Angeles—reason enough to love it!

Gayest moment: Jack Hall: “Our climate is fragile. At the rate we’re polluting the environment and burning fossil fuels, the ice caps will soon disappear.”

Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh, inspired by former Vice President Dick Cheney): “Professor Hall, our economy is every bit as fragile as the environment. Perhaps you should keep that in mind before making sensationalist claims.”

Jack Hall: “Well, the last chunk of ice that broke off was the size of the state of Rhode Island. Some people might call that pretty sensational.”

2004. Roland Emmerich directs. 20th Century Fox (

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