Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

vulture asks

Was 1988 the Best Summer of Movies?

Earlier this spring, Austin's Alamo Drafthouse announced that it would program a summer screening series tied to the 30th anniversary of what it dubbed "The Greatest Summer of Movies...Ever." According to the Alamo (which might be The Greatest Movie Theater ... Ever), the films released in the summer of 1982 comprise the most impressive big movie lineup of the modern, post-Jaws blockbuster era. But after double-checking and weeding through each summer since 1975, we believe we've found one that could give 1982 a run for its money, or possibly even top it: the summer of 1988.

Looking at the Alamo's 1982 list, it's really E.T. and Blade Runner — a family movie classic and an influential, dark, sci-fi masterpiece — that carry the bulk of that summer's greatness. Throw in Wrath of Khan (eleven Star Trek films have been released, and this is still the best), The Thing (a film whose reputation has grown exponentially since its release, and rightly so), Poltergeist, and The Road Warrior and you've got a sextet of titanic genre films, to be sure. The other three seem like filler: Tron was revolutionary in terms of computer effects, but not much more; Conan the Barbarian is fun, but kind of ridiculous; and Rocky III is beloved in a theoretical, great-when-you-were-a-teenager sense, but, really, a classic? (Angry Clubber Lang fans begin frothing at the mouth and predicting pain ... now!)

The summer of 1988 features not a single major sci-fi or fantasy film among its lineup of eight greats. (There was Willow, but, you know, that's Willow.) However, instead you have a string of smaller-scale but no less entertaining classics: what is possibly the most perfect action movie ever made (Die Hard); a baseball film that manages to be funny, sexy, and sporty all at once (Bull Durham); a half-animated film that also serves as the best Chinatown homage yet produced (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?); a beautiful and complex movie about Christianity (The Last Temptation of Christ); an Eddie Murphy classic (Coming to America); a deceptively perceptive movie about children and grown-ups (Big); an Oscar-winning farce (A Fish Called Wanda); and the ne plus ultra of Charles Grodin films (Midnight Run).

All eight are classics in their own way, each eminently rewatchable and hold up well in modern times. As a group, they contain a breadth (comedy, drama, action) that tops the Alamo's mostly one-note list. While none are mentioned in the hushed tones of Blade Runner or E.T., as a group it made for a summer of entertainment we would be lucky to ever see again. So we're gonna go ahead and call a tie here, if not a straight-up win. Before you agree or disagree, allow us to complicate matters by injecting five other memorable movie summers into the mix to see if any of them swing your vote. Arguments begin below in the comments.

Five Other Great Movie Summers

1980
The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, Caddyshack, Dressed to Kill

1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, The Great Muppet Caper, Stripes, Escape From New York, Blow Out, An American Werewolf in London, Body Heat

1984
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Sixteen Candles, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Neverending Story

1986
Top Gun, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Labyrinth, Aliens, Stand By Me, The Fly

2009
The Hangover, Star Trek, The Hurt Locker, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up