Summer is the season of action, when Hollywood unleashes its biggest-budgeted films on audiences looking for a thrill. The right movie can offer a perfect diversion from the heat, and there have been hundreds of movies that add to the dynamic, uplifting spirit of summer.
Here are my top 10.
“Raiders of the Lost Arc” (1981) – The world is introduced to Indiana Jones, America’s answer to 007. Harrison Ford embodied the archetypal hero, complete with a quest, charm and human flaws. An epic adventure, “Raiders” offers what many contemporary flicks don’t – a strong plot without leaning on the crutch of overused special effects.
“Bull Durham” (1988) – Summer and baseball go hand-in-glove, and writer/director Ron Shelton’s classic is the best baseball movie ever. There’s enough subplot to entertain those who don’t care much for the game. But the incredible depth of the film is owed to its focus on struggling minor league ballplayers rather than on those that make it to “the show.”
“Splash” (1984) – Without “Splash” most people might never have known who Tom Hanks was. The little romantic comedy has a huge heart thanks to Hanks, and Eugene Levy and the late John Candy do the comedic heavy lifting. If summer is for falling in love, this movie makes the list by sparking America’s love affair with Hanks (years before he was sleepless in Seattle or had mail).
“Top Secret” (1984) – Plain old credit-to-credit slapstick. The “Airplane” brain trust stayed true to their comedic style in this World War II spoof. Val Kilmer is so good, you have to wonder why he stayed away from the genre after “Real Genius” came out in 1985 ( “McGruber” and “Top Gun” don’t count). “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” would be a possibility here, but you kind of have to be a fan.
“Back to the Future” (1985) – It’s classic summer fun, and could almost be considered a crossover between comedy and sci-fi, with a touch of cliffhanger thrown in at the end. That’s plenty of entertainment, but everything works – the music is perfect for both time periods, production value holds up today and the main performances are arguably each respective actor’s best film work.
“Forrest Gump” (1994) – The Tom Hanks/ Robert Zemeckis epic was as big a summer hit as it was ambitious. Even the soundtrack was a big seller. The plot included nearly every significant American story over three decades and managed to do it without feeling bloated. This blockbuster had comedy, drama, adventure, and a bona fide movie star making us believe that an idiot can make more sense than most.
“Rocky” (1976) – If Sylvester Stallone’s boxing masterpiece doesn’t pick you up, nothing will. The bleak Philadelphia setting might leave you cold, but the against-all-odds story is undeniably bright. It’s a special film that is able to deliver a happy ending without compromising for a predictable one.
“Scream” (1996) – Kevin Williamson’s high-concept script is so unique one wonder’s how the movie would have turned out without horror master Wes Craven’s expert direction. Luckily, we don’t have to. A slasher flick that spoofs slasher flicks without lampooning them, it’s just a rippin’ good time.
“Die Hard” (1988) – Sometimes you need a summer movie where everything blows up. Where the action-packed plot would be ridiculous if you had time to dissect it between explosions. Bruce Willis has enough one-liners to make Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot something and Alan Rickman plays one of the best film villains of the 1980s. Yippie ki-yay —
“Blazing Saddles” (1974) – Okay, this is admittedly a guilty pleasure, but that’s part of what summer’s about. Not even Mel Brooks could make this movie today, but the absurd sense of humor is a brilliant way to show the absurdity of racism. You’ll laugh your butt off one second and hate yourself for it the next.