Man and woman at the cinema

Summer at the Cinema

We walked by The Varsity the other day and saw that they were gearing up for summer blockbuster season. It’s a funny time of year for the movie business. On the one hand, you have film aficionados hotly debating the choices made at the Cannes festival (and congrats to Canadian Xavier Dolan for a big Grand Prix win). On the other hand, you have movie buffs eagerly anticipating the great blockbuster rollout.

The two crowds couldn’t be more different, and while we can (and often do) take the highbrow route, we have to side with the buffs on this one. Because if you love movies, you HAVE to love what they bring us for the summer.

Birth of the Blockbuster

Summer used to be the low season for theatre operators, because who wanted to spend two hours inside on a beautiful afternoon or evening? That all changed on June 20th, 1975, when a little summertime flick about a bloodthirsty shark was released. Jaws worked because it mirrored what people were doing during the day (going to the beach). This movie from then-unknown director Steven Spielberg did close to $8 million in its first weekend, more than De Niro in The Godfather Part II, Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.

Suddenly, the Hollywood powers-that-be saw an opportunity. Film-goers WOULD spend two hours in a movie theatre in the middle of the summer…for the right movie. And the early returns on this summer’s releases are super-positive. There are Superhero films galore, Pixar’s Finding Dory, Independence Day: Resurgence, The BFG and plenty of others. Oh, and the Ghostbusters reboot, of course. Until then, here are a few quintessential summertime movies to tide you over.


Five best summer movies of all time.

5. Jaws (1975)
IMDB: 8.0 / Rotten Tomatoes: 97% Fresh

We already mentioned this one, but let’s talk about it again — especially the two-note bar of John Williams’s incredible score echoing in your head right now. Dun-dun…dun-dun…

This flick puts a masterful spin on what should otherwise be a laid-back summertime destination. We used to go to the beach to forget about our stress, but Spielberg had other plans for us. Now we wonder just how many cold-blooded killing machines are circling under our paddling legs. For those of us enjoying Toronto Island, the answer is thankfully zero.


4. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
IMDB: 6.7 / Rotten Tomatoes: 31% Fresh

We talked earlier about successful summer movies mirroring what people do each summer. This one nails the summer camp experience.

Don’t let the Rotten Tomatoes score fool you: this cult classic is hilarious. It’s the last day of camp in 1981, and the counsellors are getting a bit rowdy. What plays out is tapestry of romance, debauchery, adventure and intrigue, featuring a cast that went on to do all sorts of amazing things. Bradley Cooper, for instance, delivers a brilliant comedic role nearly a decade before he burst into stardom. You’ll also notice Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni and plenty of others. While it didn’t quite land when it was first released, its popularity has blossomed since, prompting Netflix to produce an excellent prequel series as well as an upcoming movie.


3. The Sandlot (1993)
IMDB: 7.8 / Rotten Tomatoes: 59% Fresh

In the summer, the streets, parks and (ahem) sandlots are lined with kids playing baseball until dusk. That’s what this timeless kids’ movie is about, and it’s a grand slam.

Jostling between other feel-good sports movies of the 1990s, the Sandlot captures the essence of summer in a way that its peers never did. A rag-tag group of neighbourhood kids gets into trouble, learns solid life lessons and plays ball against the sunny back-drop of 1960s California.


2. The Parent Trap (1961 or 1998)
The 1961 Original – IMDB: 7.0 / Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Fresh
The 1998 Re-Make – IMDB: 6.4 / Rotten Tomatoes: 86% Fresh

This two-fer, appropriate considering its subject matter, depicts the sort of mischief kids get up to when they’re not bothered by the inconvenience of school. Twin girls, separated at birth, meet at summer camp and decide to switch places in an elaborate attempt to re-unite their estranged parents. Tale as old as time, right?

This is one of those rare instances in which a re-make stands up quite well against its original. Lindsay Lohan is absolutely charming in the newer version, but the casts of both movies are excellent as well. We heartily recommend it to anyone with young girls, but the newer version is great for all audiences.


1. Independence Day (1996)
IMDB: 6.9 / Rotten Tomatoes: 61% Fresh

It doesn’t get more blockbuster-y than a multi-cultural cast of freedom-loving Americans coming to the world’s aid against an invading race of aliens.

Independence Day set the bar for summer blockbusters, and upped the ante when it came to over-the-top special effects. Quick recap: aliens invade earth, so Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum save us all with jet planes and mathematics, respectively. American President Bill Pullman gives an unforgettable speech that even stirred the patriotism of these jaded Canadians.

It’s everything a summer action movie should be: epic, stupid and stupidly epic. If you didn’t get a chance to catch it in theatres the first time round, don’t worry: a sequel is slated to be released this summer. It’s looking every bit as thrilling as the original, so swing by the Varsity when you want to scratch that Alien-blasting itch.

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