These days, the term “blockbuster” is so common in the film industry that it has taken on a meaning all its own. But how did the blockbuster reach such an honored place in Hollywood culture? Well to answer that question, here’s the history and evolution of the summer blockbuster
When the film Jaws was first released, word of mouth spread so quickly that people were incredibly eager to see a showing. Crowds would line up hours before showings. Lines would often wrap around the entire block. As a result, the term “blockbuster” was coined to refer to a movie that inspired such avid devotion that traffic around the block where the theater was located was effectively “busted”.
Studios didn’t fully commit to dreaming up big budget pictures designed to dominate the summer until George Lucas released Star Wars. Star Wars allowed for new film technology to take center stage. When the sequels to Star Wars opened at three and six year intervals, the Hollywood movie franchise was born.
Tom Cruise cemented his popularity as one of Hollywood’s favorite actors — a decision so final not even his insanity can undo it — with his leading man turn in Top Gun. The movie blended million-dollar set pieces, melodramatic moments that would, ahem, take your breath away, and an iconic pop soundtrack.
When Die Hard was released, no one expected it to be an enormous success. Bruce Willis was coming off two big bombs, so the studio was hesitant to even connect him with the film. Though it was number three in its first weekend, its eventual popularity earned it a huge $83 million at the American box office.
Superheroes Make Their Entrance in Tim Burton’s Masterpiece, Batman. For the first time in the costumed hero’s history, a director blended the best parts of the character comic fans loved with the action and riveting story line that movie fans craved. The film singe-handedly set the standard for comic book films for the next decade and ushered in the first whispers of a movie world that could sustain a super hero.
Steven Spielberg reclaimed his throne as the king of the blockbuster with Jurassic Park. The film delivered set pieces that were larger than ever before thanks to a relatively new special effects technique: computer generated imagery, or CGI. Spielberg’s dinosaurs were — and still are — exceptionally terrifying.
Roland Emmerich heralded the modern age of the summer blockbuster with a jaw-droppingly beautiful science fiction film Independence Day, that relied almost entirely on moment-to-moment enjoyment. Watching the White House blow up was breathtaking (and it still holds up). Listening to Will Smith’s endless string of one-liners was delightful. Seeing the heroes triumph was inspiring.
The film Shrek asserted that animated films had a place in the summer movie rush. It’s hard to call Shrek a “kid’s movie,” because the film is so widely appealing that practically anyone can watch and enjoy the cracked fairy tale. The result was a movie that helped mold animated films for years to come.
The Summer Season Today
With each passing year, the “summer” movie season gets a little bit longer and a little bit bigger. Today’s summer films may have swelled in terms of budget, but the marketplace has become somewhat egalitarian place. The summer season has become home to a huge variety of stories that all draw from the rich history established and developed over the last four decades.