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The Biggest Summer Blockbuster Movies from the 1980s, Ranked – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

The Biggest Summer Blockbuster Movies from the 1980s, Ranked



In the 1970s, Jaws created the concept of the summer blockbuster. As a result, many unique films were scheduled for the hottest time of the year to maximize profits. This trend continued in the 1980s, with every potential hit being released during the summer months. In this article, we rank the top summer blockbusters from the 1980s.

10. Gremlins (1984) – Warner Bros.
Gremlins is a horror-comedy about Billy and his adorable friend Gizmo. When Billy fails to follow three simple rules, chaos ensues. Directed by Joe Dante, the film used its unique premise to become the second-highest grossing movie of the year.

9. Batman (1989) – Warner Bros.
Tim Burton’s Batman was a surprising success that changed superhero movies forever. Starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, the film showed the power of marketing and a talented director. It became Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing film until the Harry Potter franchise.

8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) – Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? mixed noir elements with cartoons to create an innovative, unique movie. The film is about detective Eddie Valiant and his reluctant partnership with cartoon character Roger Rabbit to prove his innocence. It was the biggest box office success of the year and even brought together Disney and Warner Bros. characters.

7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Paramount Pictures
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off captures the high school experience with a fun adventure. Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris, who breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. The film’s message of living in the moment is a good one, and despite Ferris not being the best influence on his friends, he proves his love and care for them.

6. Blade Runner (1982) – Warner Bros.
Blade Runner is a futurist noir film where Harrison Ford’s Blade Runner must find and kill replicants. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie has action, philosophy, and a timeless feel. It influenced every other movie set in the future that came after it.

5. Ghostbusters (1984) – Columbia Pictures
Dan Aykroyd’s idea for Ghostbusters became one of the most strange, funny, and surprising franchises ever made. Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver starred in this comedy full of visual effects and ghosts. It became the biggest blockbuster of 1984 and still has sequels almost forty years later.

4. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – 20th Century Fox
The Empire Strikes Back continues Luke’s journey with Jedi Master Yoda, while Princess Leia and Han Solo fight Darth Vader. It had one of the biggest cliffhangers ever and an incredible revelation that made audiences gasp. It left every character in the worst place when the film started, making the three-year wait for Return of the Jedi the longest time for franchise fans.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Paramount Pictures
Raiders of the Lost Ark showed Harrison Ford could sustain a franchise with thrilling adventures. Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas, it changed adventure films forever. For a short time, archaeologists and fedoras were cool.

2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Universal Pictures
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was one of Steven Spielberg’s most personal movies. It tells the story of Elliot and his alien friend and discusses kids going through a divorce. The fantastic child acting, soundtrack, and practical effects make it a must-see for every kid.

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1. Back to the Future (1985) – Universal Pictures
Back to the Future tells the story of Marty McFly, who goes to the past and meets his parents when they were teenagers. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film made Michael J. Fox a star and deservedly so. It has a mix of comedy, drama, romance, and an incredible rendition of Johnny B. Goode. It also has Doc Brown, one of the greatest characters of all time.

After Jaws created the summer blockbuster in the 1970s, most unique films were scheduled for that time of the year, as the studios wanted to make as much money as possible. That idea continued in the 1980s, when every movie that looked like a possible success was scheduled for the hottest time of the year. Here are the biggest summer blockbuster movies from the 1980s, ranked.


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10 Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins movie showing Billy carrying Gizmo in a backpack.
Warner Bros.

Gremlins is a story about the friendship between Billy (Zach Gilligan) and a nice, adorable creature named Gizmo, and how everything goes to hell when Billy doesn’t follow three simple rules: avoid bright light, don’t get them wet, and don’t feed them after midnight. This horror-comedy directed by Joe Dante had a fun, unique premise and used it smartly, making Gremlins the second-biggest hit of the year (only behind Ghostbusters) and creating a world that was even funnier in its sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

9 Batman (1989)

Batman (1989) how much do you weigh
Warner Bros.

“I’m Batman” still gives us chills when we hear it. Before superheroes were Hollywood’s bread and butter, these kinds of films were few and far between. That’s why Tim Burton’s Batman was such a surprising success and changed superhero movies forever, becoming Warner Bros’ highest-grossing film ever, until Harry Potter.

The film starred Michael Keaton in what was a polemic decision back then, as the actor had only done comedies, and Jack Nicholson in an incredible gonzo performance as the Joker. If that wasn’t enough, the romantic interest was non-other than Kim Basinger, a sex symbol at the time. The movie showed what marketing and a good director could do for superheroes, and created the first successful franchise in the genre since Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

8 Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? mixed noir elements with cartoons, making for an innovative, unique movie. The film is about detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) and how he has to reluctantly work with the cartoon Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to prove the rabbit’s innocence, as he’s been accused of murder. The movie was one of the first times that cartoons and humans interacted realistically, evolving every technique used until then to merge both worlds and become the biggest box office success of the year. This film even got Disney and Warner to collaborate, as both their characters appear here (there are not many instances where you can see Mickey Mouse interacting with Bugs Bunny).

About doing the film, cinematographer Dean Cundey told The Wrap: “Our job is always to create illusion and to get an audience to believe and then want to come and see and tell their friends it’s awesome. How to do that stuff is always left to the few pioneers who either are determined or able to understand it and take the techniques to the next step.”

7 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off tells the story of Ferris (Matthew Broderick), Cameron (Alan Ruck), and Sloane (Mia Sara) on a day they ditch school to have a fun adventure. The film made by John Hughes captures the high school experience, making for a teen comedy with some fun flourishes, like Ferris breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience, or his running through the neighborhood patios. The movie’s message about living in the moment is a good one, and although Ferris isn’t the greatest influence on his friends, he proves how much he loves them and cares about them.

6 Blade Runner (1982)

blade runner
Warner Bros.

Blade Runner is a futurist noir film where a Blade Runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford) must find four replicants and kill them. Directed by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best Philip K. Dick Adaptations, as it has action, but also philosophy and leaves you thinking about it once you leave the cinema.

The idea of a messy, dirty future, mixing American and Japanese cultures was a new one, and influenced every other movie set in the future that came after it. It’s a timeless movieprobably because it was ahead of its time in the locations, the soundtrack, the performances, and the whole idea behind it.

5 Ghostbusters (1984)

A scene from Ghostbusters
Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters is a horror comedy where ghosts exist, and four New Yorkers decide to create a business to combat them. Dan Aykroyd had the idea for this film, and with the help of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman, they created one of the most strange, funny, and surprising franchises ever made.

The movie is a comedy full of visual effects and ghosts, a mix audiences didn’t know they needed. It worked so well that it became the biggest blockbuster of 1984 and made stars of Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver, (although both were already known) in this film about a group of scientists who become ghost hunters for a small price. The Ray Parker Jr. song still works today, and the film was such a success that we still have Ghostbusters films almost forty years later.

4 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Luke and Darth Vader fighting in The Empire Strikes Back
20th Century Fox

The Empire Strikes Back is all about Luke (Mark Hamill) learning his Jedi powers with Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), while Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are trying to keep the galaxy safe from Darth Vader (David Prowse, but voiced by James Earl Jones).

Although the first Star Wars movie was a surprise hit, everyone was waiting for the sequel, which had one of the biggest cliffhangers ever and an incredible revelation that made audiences gasp all over the world. The ending leaves every character in the worst place when the film started, making the three years of waiting until Return of the Jedi the longest time ever for all the franchise fans.

Related: Here’s Why The Empire Strikes Back Is Still the Best Star Wars Movie

3 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

A scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark
Paramount Pictures

Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first Indiana Jones film; one that showed the character could sustain a franchise as his adventures were thrilling, action-filled stories. Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas, the movie confirmed Harrison Ford was a star, and that audiences loved a movie with adventure, but also romance and comedy. It changed adventure films forever, that’s for sure, and for a short time, made archeologists and fedoras cool.

A scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Universal Pictures

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is all about Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien friend he makes and hides at his home. Steven Spielberg dominated the ’80s blockbuster boom, but this is one of his most personal movies, as he had always had an obsession with aliens, but also talks about kids going through a divorce and what happens to a young one in that circumstances.

The great child acting (this was Drew Barrymore’s first film ever), the soundtrack, and the practical effects, made for a fantastic movie every kid between the ages of seven and 10 should see, as it proves how magical films can be. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has comedy, drama, and heart, and it’s the only film ever to make a dramatic, heartbreaking moment of two simple words: “Phone home”.

Related: Here’s Why E.T. is Still One of Steven Spielberg’s Best Movies Of All Time

1 Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future movie with Christopher Lloyd and Michael Fox by Robert Zemeckis
Universal Pictures

Back to the Future tells the story of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who goes to the past with the time machine his friend Doc Brown has created and meets his parents when they were teenagers in the 1950s. He must go back to the future, but doing it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

This film made Fox a star (he replaced Eric Stoltz after a couple of months, as Stoltz couldn’t navigate the mix of genres as well as Fox), and deservedly so, as he’s able to navigate the mix of comedy, drama, romance, and an incredible rendition of Johnny B. Goode. It also has Doc Brown, one of the greatest characters of all time.

​​​​​​​This movie was such a success that it created a whole trilogy of films where Marty and Doc go to the future and the wild, wild west. Audiences loved Back to the Future so much that it stayed in cinemas for almost a year, proving that, back then, before streaming and video, when a great movie was made, audiences loved to see it more than once on the big screen.

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