Throwback Thursday: Classic Summer Blockbusters

Charles Liu

The year’s biggest movies nearly always come out during the summer. From alien invasions to superheroes, these pictures seek to deliver the spectacular and the fantastical, but the best remain firmly grounded in human perspective. Here are four summer blockbusters worth revisiting or watching for the first time.


The granddaddy of big summer flicks, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is a thriller masterpiece. It’s the story of a man-eating great white shark that terrorizes a New England town, and the police chief (Roy Scheider), marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark hunter (Robert Shaw) who dare to pursue it. In its first half, “Jaws” focuses on the growing dread on land, while its second half brims with the excitement of a high-seas adventure. The main characters are likable everymen, swept up in a retelling of “Moby Dick” that ends with one of cinema’s most triumphant moments. Yes, the shark looks fake, but Spielberg’s use of the animatronic great white is minimal. He often implies the presence of the beast with John Williams’ aggressive score, which inspires far more terror than any image can provide. “Jaws”’ leading men might need a bigger boat, but you’ll rarely need a summer film better than this.

“Back to the Future”

Phone booth time machines are so passé. Real time travelers ride DeLoreans with flux capacitors. In Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future,” Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) uses a DeLorean time machine and accidentally travels back to 1955. His only hope to return to the future is Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), the inventor of the machine and his friend. The trouble is that he’s also stopped his high-school-aged mother (Lea Thompson) and father (Crispin Glover) from meeting each other, jeopardizing his existence. “Back to the Future” never fails to entertain with its charm and humor, and Fox and Lloyd’s delightful rapport make Marty and Doc one of the great cinematic duos. This warm, breezy picture hits the ground at 88 mph and never looks back.

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the Terminator in James Cameron’s bombastic sequel. Far superior to the first “Terminator” film, “T2” flips the original on its head by making Schwarzenegger’s Terminator the good guy. His mission: protect John Connor (Edward Furlong), future leader of humanity’s resistance against the evil machines, from assassination. The villain is a Terminator made from liquid metal, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Cameron brings it to life with computer-generated effects that were ahead of their time in 1991. “T2” is locked and loaded with gripping action, but it also has a poignant story. It’s unexpectedly affecting to see John develop a relationship with the Terminator. In between all of “T2’s” intense moments of darkness, glimpses of love shine through.

“Independence Day”

Will Smith welcomes aliens to Earth in Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day.” When extraterrestrials stage an all-out attack on our planet, an Air Force pilot (Smith) teams up with a satellite technician (Jeff Goldblum) and the President of the United States (Bill Pullman) to make the ugly invaders pay. Silly, loud and fun, “Independence Day” is a macho sci-fi action picture that boasts big set pieces and just enough heart to tie them all together. Emmerich’s alien invasion boasts an impressive scope that borders on the ridiculous and overdone, but what better challenge for our heroes than a nearly insurmountable one? Smith cements his leading man status amid the whirlwind of explosive CGI effects, and Pullman gets to deliver one of film’s most memorable, and cheesiest, speeches.