Top Grossing Summer Movie Releases

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford

Summer movie releases generally refer to movies released in the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It's generally the biggest movie season of the year, other than the holiday season. Some of the most memorable and most profitable movies of all time have been released during the summer months.

The List of the Biggest Money Makers

It seems like the top-grossing movie release records are getting broken every year. The following list of movies takes inflation into consideration, adjusting the box office receipts to the same cost of living. If they were all released under the same economy, these fifteen films would be the top-grossing summer movie releases of all time.

  1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977 - Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, this was the movie that started the whole franchise. Two sequels and three prequels were released afterwards, with three of them also appearing in this list.
  2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982 - This film had moviegoers falling in love with not just the title character, but young Drew Barrymore, who made this her second film. The film is based on an imaginary friend from director Steven Spielberg's youth.
  3. Jaws, 1975 - It's the movie that had everyone afraid to go into the water. Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss starred in the story of a beach being forced to remain open, despite the threat of several shark attacks. The theme music hit pop culture status and became the music played every time someone was about to encounter a sneak attack.
  4. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 - Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher reprised their roles in this sequel to the first Star Wars adventure. executive producer George Lucas bucked the trend and financed the entire film himself. He recovered that initial $33 million investment in just the first three months after the release.
  5. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, 1983 - The principal characters once again agreed to sign on, this time for the second sequel in six years. David Lynch turned down Lucas' invitation to direct, as he wanted more control, and directed Dune instead.
  6. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 - Harrison Ford starred in this film, meaning along with the three Stars Wars films he appeared in, he's a part of the success of over a quarter of the films on this list. Like Stars Wars, this one went on to have multiple sequels. Unlike the Star Wars films, he starred in every single one.
  7. Jurassic Park, 1993 - Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum starred in this film based on a Michael Crichton novel. The story focused on an amusement park with living dinosaurs that were were produced via cloning, shown via computer-generated imagery in the film. It ignited the fascination with dinosaurs in pop culture.
  8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 1999 - After a sixteen-year absence, the film franchise made a return, although this time without its principal characters. George Lucas purposely waited this long, as he wanted to involve computer-generated imagery in the film.
  9. Forrest Gump, 1994 - It picked up six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Tom Hanks, Best Director for Robert Zemeckis, and Best Picture. It also utilized a good deal of computer-generated imagery, picking up a trophy for Best Visual Effects as well.
  10. Mary Poppins, 1964 - Well before the computer-generated imagery age, this Disney movie included a mix of live action and animation, and starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Andrews, and Best Visual Effects.
  11. The Lion King, 1994 - It was the highest-grossing film of all time until the release of Finding Nemo. It was the story and music that drove the film, as it won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. It featured the voices of many big-name stars, including Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, and Whoopi Goldberg.
  12. Grease, 1978 - John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John brought this Broadway musical to film, taking moviegoers on a musical journey back to the 1950s. It was Travolta's fourth film and Newton-John's third. A sequel was released four years later, but was a commercial flop.
  13. The Dark Knight, 2008 - This film was a sequel to Batman Begins, but is one in a long line of films based on the DC Comics character. Christian Bale played Bruce Wayne/Batman, but it wasn't him driving the film's success. It was Heath Ledger, appearing as The Joker, and he passed away just a few months before the release of the film.
  14. Ghostbusters, 1984 - Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis starred in this film as accidental heroes who happened into careers of ridding New York City of paranormal activity. They were the original Ghost Hunters. It spawned a sequel, video games, and a cartoon series, but none had the magic of the original film.
  15. Independence Day, 1996 - Instead of the aliens becoming beloved characters, Will Smith spent the entire film slaying them as an anti-hero Marine captain. The director and writer of the film, Roland Emmerich, conceived the film while promoting the film Stargate.

Aliens and Sequels

dark knight dvd

This list tells a definite story of commercial success. While there are certain films that deviated from the formula, science fiction movies do very well commercially and spawn multiple sequels. Once computer-generated imagery was introduced to the summer movie releases, it only increased the success of these films.

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Top Grossing Summer Movie Releases