As the summer blockbuster turns 40 today, we are going to take a brief look at the genre which began with Steven Spielberg’s shark attack thriller Jaws back in 1975. The film which made a generation afraid of the water and effectively brought the “less is more” aesthetic to the fore in thriller film-making.
Blockbusters aren’t a new thing as epics such as the MGM era movies such as Ben~Hur (1959) and earlier hits such as Gone With The Wind (1939) have taken cinemas by storm for decades but in the New Hollywood Era, Jaws was paving the way for “event cinema” which would soon lead to Star Wars in 1977.
So, on June 20th, 1975, Jaws was released and it would go on to gross over a $100,000,000 at the box office and become the first of the New Hollywood Blockbusters and start the trend of Summer Blockbuster event movies. But other classics such as Gone With The Wind (1939) and The Sound Of Music(1965) have beaten that total but over a much longer period having been on release in one way or another for a greater time. Gone With The Wind was supposedly in a French cinema for 39 years!
So in honour of this anniversary, here is my list of the Top 40 Blockbusters over the past four decades, one for each year. I am sure it will be controversial…
LIST TOP 40
- 1975 – JAWS (Steven Spielberg)
- 1976 – ROCKY (John G. Avildsen)
- 1977 – STAR WARS (George Lucas)
- 1978 – SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Richard Donner)
- 1979 – ALIEN (Ridley Scott)
- 1980 – STAR WARS: EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Irvin Kershner)
- 1981 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Steven Spielberg)
- 1982 – STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (Nicholas Meyer)
- 1983 – STAR WARS: EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (Richard Marquand)
- 1984 – GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman)
- 1985 – BACK TO THE FUTURE (Robert Zemekis)
- 1986 – TOP GUN (Tony Scott)
- 1987 – ROBOCOP (Paul Verhoven)
- 1988 – WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Robert Zemekis)
- 1989 – BATMAN (Tim Burton)
- 1990 – TOTAL RECALL (Paul Verhoven)
- 1991 – TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (James Cameron)
- 1992 – BATMAN RETURNS (Tim Burton)
- 1993 – JURASSIC PARK (Steven Spielberg)
- 1994 – TRUE LIES (James Cameron)
- 1995 – APOLLO 13 (Ron Howard)
- 1996 – INDEPENDENCE DAY (Roland Emmerich)
- 1997 – TITANIC (James Cameron)
- 1998 – ARMAGEDDON (Michael Bay)
- 1999 – THE MATRIX (The Wachowski Brothers)
- 2000 – GLADIATOR (Ridley Scott)
- 2001 – BLACK HAWK DOWN (Ridley Scott)
- 2002 – MINORITY REPORT (Steven Spielberg)
- 2003 – PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (Gore Verbinski)
- 2004 – PULP FICTION (Quentin Tarrantino)
- 2005 – BATMAN BEGINS (Christopher Nolan)
- 2006 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (J.J. Abrams)
- 2007 – TRANSFORMERS (Michael Bay)
- 2008 – THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan)
- 2009 – AVATAR (3D) (James Cameron)
- 2010 – INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan)
- 2011 – RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Rupert Wyatt)
- 2012 – MARVEL AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (3D) (Joss Whedon)
- 2013 – MAN OF STEEL (3D) (Zack Snyder)
- 2014 – GODZILLA (3D) (Gareth Edwards)
Topping our list with FOUR films each, are veteran directors and the man who started it all, Steven Spielberg equalled by the self proclaimed “King Of The World” James Cameron. Cameron brought us Titanic, love it or hate it, it was the sensation of 1998, winning 11 Oscars and breaking records across the board. Then in 2009, it was his Avatar, not the greatest film by any stretch but still one the all time top grossers, which rejuvenated the 3D film industry. Thanks, I suppose…
But Spielberg has been doing this for 40 years and have been consistently reinventing his film-making without compromising his distinctive style. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) basically fuelled the alien abduction phenomenon, whilst Jurassic Park (1993) brought dinosaurs back to life. Saving Private Ryan (1998) finally told us what our parents and grandparents had gone through in World War 2 and Indiana Jones… need I say more…
With THREE movies a piece, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, have brought depth to the shallow money pit of the blockbuster. Ridley has been going almost as long as Spielberg whilst Nolan began in earnest in 2000 with Memento. His first film, Following (1998) was a student film in 1998 which does count in way but Memento was his breakthrough. With Nolan reinventing the comic book movie and going a bit Stanley Kubrick meets Alfred Hitchcock and Scott moving from the Hovis adverts to Alien (1979), Black Hawk Down (2001) and reviving the epic genre with Gladiator (2000), these two very British directors have left their marks on Hollywood.
Robert Zemekis, Paul Verhoven, Tim Burton and Michael Bay each have TWO films in the list. Verhoven is Dutch whilst the rest are American. Yet Verhoven’s satirical take on American culture is spot on, whilst Zemekis is the technically innovative Spielberg type, whist Burton is very much in the realms of the early German impressionists of the Silent era, such as F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. Michael Bay is just criticised unfairly, a point which I have laboured for years.
And with ONE each we have:- John G. Avildsen, George Lucas, Richard Donner, Irvin Kershner, Nicholas Meyer, Richard Marquand, Ivan Reitman, Tony Scott, Ron Howard, Roland Emerich, The Wachowski Brothers, Gore Verbinski, Quentin Tarrantino, J.J Abrams, Rupert Wyatt, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder & Gareth Edwards.
So it’s happy birthday to a genre which has been as revered as it has been reviled over the years, producing some of cinema’s greatest as well as some of the most cynical movies of our time, such as the Transformers franchise, one which I personally love but many hate with the same veracity. But it is a financial exercise and business when all is said an done and the more entertaining, the more seats get filled. But there are times when artistic and commercial viability coincide as with most Spielberg and Nolan films.When this happens, we’re in for one hell of ride.