The 30 best summer blockbusters ever

TONY ranks the biggest fun machines of all time: the movies designed for maximum impact.



Add +
  • Summer blockbusters: Gladiator (2000)

  • Summer blockbusters: Batman (1989)

  • Summer blockbusters: Animal House (1978)

  • Summer blockbusters: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

  • Summer blockbusters: The Truman Show (1998)

  • Summer blockbusters: Total Recall (1990)

  • Summer blockbusters: Die Hard (1988)

  • Summer blockbusters: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

  • Summer blockbusters: Jurassic Park (1993)

  • Summer blockbusters: The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Summer blockbusters: Gladiator (2000)


Gladiator (2000)

No one brings the huge like Ridley Scott, recapturing the grandeur of his earlier landmarks Alien and Blade Runner with this massive-feeling Roman-era epic. Computerized tigers and Russell Crowe cemented the appeal, leading to an unusual Best Picture Oscar for a summer blockbuster. Are you not entertained? Maximus’s question was moot.—Joshua Rothkopf

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Batman (1989)

No need to look to the skies for the Bat Signal; it was ubiquitous long before Tim Burton’s gothic reimagining of the pointy-eared avenger hit theaters. This movie is ground zero for the golden age of mass-marketing branding; by opening weekend, that inescapable black-and-yellow icon had just as much marquee value as the film’s stars.—David Fear

 Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Animal House (1978)

This Rosetta stone of raunchy comedies turned gross-out laughfests into a cottage industry, establishing a surefire-success template: gonzo humor plus profanity and nudity equals a hit. Everybody from Judd Apatow’s beta males to the Frat Pack’s spastics can thank this monument to men behaving badly for their careers.—David Fear

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Director Alfonso Cuarn (later of Children of Men) made the third installment of J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series his own by not slavishly following the text. The result was the first film in the franchise to truly connect the magical goings-on to the characters’ growing pains—and a model for book-to-movie adaptations to come.—Keith Uhlich

 Watch now on iTunes    Buy on Amazon


The Truman Show (1998)

Jim Carrey traded his usual make-’em-laugh mania for introspective aw-shucksiness as a man unknowingly living his life on TV. This lighthearted (though still scathing) media satire is the bridge between Ace Ventura and Eternal Sunshine. Audiences flocked and gave Carrey license to further stretch his dramatic chops.—Keith Uhlich

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Total Recall (1990)

The standard Schwarzenegger action vehicle got the Paul Verhoeven treatment, which meant trashy excess and three-titted-whore perversity. But it also let the future Governator show off a softer, vulnerable side without forgoing the expected quotable kiss-offs (“Screw you!”). The man best known for playing a robot had rarely seemed so human.—Keith Uhlich

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Die Hard (1988)

The concept is so simple, it’s genius: Place your hero in a half-empty office building, moving upward through levels as if it were a video game. Blow much shit up. John McTiernan’s airtight action-adventure established Bruce Willis as a he-man star and perfected a formula; every time a movie gets described as “Die Hard on a bus,” etc., you’re reminded that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.—David Fear

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Robert Zemeckis’s comic-book noir—featuring a fedora-clad detective (Bob Hoskins) running around ’40s L.A. with a cartoon rabbit—is a benchmark for convincingly mixing live-action with animation. It anticipated the many CGI-hybrid blockbusters that we’re now inundated with, though the bulk of the work was, incredibly, done by hand. Pure magic.—Keith Uhlich

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


Jurassic Park (1993)

Dinosaurs walk the earth in Steven Spielberg’s megahit, which gives us a nice helping of awe before a T. Rex has its bloody way with a goat. It’s a deft mix of animatronics and CGI, a perfect blockbuster. That Spielberg made this and Schindler’s List within the same year is still impressive.—Keith Uhlich

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video


The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Underrated for its political daring, this dynamic third installment of Matt Damon’s amnesiac-spy saga returned Jason Bourne to Manhattan, to confront his spook superiors about their illegal operations. Director Paul Greengrass was just coming off United 93; in many ways, this was its fictional counterpart, equally timely and suffused with rage.—Joshua Rothkopf

 Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

Users say

Lars T
Lars T

Who is calling or has ever called the Dark Knight a self important mess? That's like a throw away line about how you believe 9/11 was an inside job. Speaking of, I thought this was a list of the "biggest fun machines" ever, and Farenheit 9/11 was number 6. Why is a documentary about one of the worst days in American history and the corruption of our government on a list of summer fun movies? It's like you assembled a list of your favorite mammals and one of David Fear's choices was the color green.


Where is Harry Potter- Deathly Hallows Part 2? IT WAS SOOO EPIC :)