Summer blockbusters

Have you ever noticed the nature of the movies released in the summertime is different than what appears toward the end of the year?

Being that the film industry is a business like any other, there are motives for deciding which movies come out when. The Oscars, various film festivals, and award shows take place in the fall and winter months. Seeking acclaim and recognition from the Academy, the more dramatic movies-in which actors deliver strong, challenging performances-come out right before awards season. During summer, on the other hand, school is out, kids are loose, families are on vacation, and people want to be amused (but not necessarily by a riveting dramatic performance, period piece, or revealing bio-pic). They want pure entertainment and studios see this time of year as the cash cow.

Production companies use formulas to breed projects into potential mega-money makers. They go all out through effects and marketing, investing money behind the movie as if it were a horse in a race. More often than not, however, their horse in the race underperforms and stalls. But once in a while, a movie will take off, soar past expectations, and is capable of becoming synonymous with summer entertainment. Like The Dark Knight or E.T., it becomes almost mandatory to see and enjoy. That’s the kind of win the studios want.

This kind of success was first achieved in the summer of 1975, when a 26-year-old director by the name of Steven Spielberg terrified audiences around the nation, frightening them off the beach and into the theaters. His movie Jaws grossed $470,653,000, which is the equivalent of $1,031,034,500 (that’s more than a billion!) by today’s standards.

Other summer movies throughout the years have had similar success (many of them with the names Spielberg and Lucas behind them).

Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Back to the Future all grossed upward of $360 million each at the box office (and all conveniently produced at least two sequels). Films like these were, and still are, dubbed “blockbusters,” a term that was first coined during World War II when describing the impact of particularly powerful aerial bombs on cities. The term was then translated to stage plays and feature films to describe the powerful and wide-spread impression they made.

Over time, studios have set their sights so much on creating and financing blockbusters, that they sometimes overlook the essence of a good movie. A movie without a decent story, after all, has no backbone. The movies I named above, for example, are all visually exciting, and often contain groundbreaking special effects, but they are also driven by compelling stories and intriguing characters. If a movie is missing a decent story, the fatal flaw cannot be masked by a mere special effects tour de force.

A compelling story-yes with action, yes with thrills, but always with substance-after all, is what audiences seek for summertime entertainment.

The lineup

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, PG) is, somewhat oddly, showing on CMT on July 15 at 8 p.m.

The Dark Knight (2008, PG-13) will be on July 20 at 5:45 p.m. on TNT

Jurassic Park (1993, PG-13) will be showing on July 21 at 8 p.m. on AMC

The Avengers (2012, PG-13) is available to stream on Netflix.

(Reece Kelly, a native of East Liverpool, studied film at Regent University. Let him know what you thought of this week’s featured films by sending an email to