Summer is a season for blockbusters and smash hits. The season regularly produces instant classics that immediately wedge their way into popular culture. These hugely popular, successful films range from gritty action to children's musicals to fantastical science fiction, offering something for everyone. Movies like these produce inside jokes, references and quotes which a large part of the population recognizes and understands, cementing the films into the wider cultural memory. Flicks like these live on long past their initial release as audience favorites.
This Disney favorite was released on June 15, 1994 and quickly became the highest-grossing film of the year. Eventually settling in as the 19th highest grossing film ever, as of 2014, "The Lion King" grossed nearly $1 billion globally. This film tells the story of a lion pride taken over through deceit and deception by the brother of the original king of the pride, Mufasa. Most of the film shows the journey of Mufasa's son, Simba, as he grows to maturity and saves the tribe.
In true Disney fashion, this film features a deadly villain and comical sidekicks, as well as a romance. Multiple songs help tell the story, many of which are as well known as the current Top 40 hits. "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are two of the most popular songs, and help move the plot forward in two crucial moments.
"Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope"
Originally titled simply "Star Wars," "A New Hope" was the first film in the Star Wars franchise. Released on May 25, 1977, this science fiction adventure continues to take audiences far, far away and back in time to a galaxy filled with strange aliens and evil emperors. Adjusted for inflation, this film has grossed over $1 billion total over its multiple theatrical releases and re-releases as of 2014.
This special effect-filled movie follows Luke Skywalker as he learns of his past and tries to master the Force to become a powerful Jedi. Along with intelligent robots C-3PO and R2D2, as well as wise Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia and smuggler Han Solo, Luke travels across the galaxy fighting the oppressive Empire in impressive battles.
Released by Disney on May 30, 2003, "Finding Nemo" is another masterpiece from Pixar Animation Studios. This film dives deep into the ocean to introduce a cast of marine friends. What makes this movie unique is that it lacks a true villain. The main conflict is between clownfish Nemo and his overprotective father Marlin, and is heightened when Nemo is captured by a fisherman. Marlin sets out on an epic journey to retrieve his lost son, meeting fun characters along the way, including forgetful Dory and the laid-back turtle Crush.
Pixar hit it out of the park with this film, grossing over $930 million as of 2014. The movie uses impressive CGI to build a living, breathing world under the water. In true Pixar fashion, the characters are realistic and easy to relate to. Even more than the plot, it is the characters that make "Finding Nemo" stand out.
"Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
This 1991 film premiered on July 1, with its theatrical release following two days later on July 3. The sequel to 1984's "Terminator," this movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a re-purposed T-800 model terminator who is sent back in time to protect John Connor from the more advanced and deadly T-1000.
Filled with guns, explosions and impressive special effects, this film stands the test of time as an iconic science fiction story. "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" grossed over $500 million globally, making it a huge success compared to the original film. The humor and the subplot of the Terminator becoming a father figure to John make this a memorable movie.
"The Dark Knight Rises"
The world premiere of the final movie in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy on July 16, 2012 was quickly followed by the United States theatrical release on July 20. This gritty Batman film took the often under-appreciated enemy, Bane, and turned him into a formidable foe who terrorizes Gotham and immobilizes Batman.
"The Dark Knight Rises" quickly exceeded $1 billion worldwide and broke multiple records on its way to number 10 on the chart of highest-grossing films, as of 2014. Featuring a climactic ending that turns Gotham and those who rely on Batman on their heads, this was an explosive, appropriate finale to Nolan's Batman saga.
These are some of the most popular and highest-grossing summer films. Successful releases and the love of fans made these films into classics almost as soon as they hit theater screens. Anyone interested in movies should make sure to have these fan favorites on their shelves.