The Best Summer Movie Seasons
Here’s a hypothetical: you’re programming a throwback summer movie festival, May through August, and your big hook is that you want to mimic a previous year’s summer movie season in full. What year do you go with?
It’d be easy to choose a year with a few all-timer summer movies (1982, for example), but too often the centerpieces are surrounded with duds — this is a situation that calls for both quality and quantity. Figuring out that balance is much tougher, but fortunately for you I’ve done the research and can confidently give you two equally great options to pick from.
A quick note: given the Hollywood-centric nature of summer movie season, I’ve only considered films that received an American wide release during the months in question, according to The Numbers.
May Highlights: River’s Edge (5/8), Ishtar (5/15), Beverly Hills Cop II (5/20)
Elaine May’s unfairly lambasted romp Ishtar is your main draw this month, but an early Keanu and a Tony Scott/Eddie Murphy team-up make for excellent filler.
June Highlights: The Untouchables (6/3), Predator (6/12), The Witches of Eastwick (6/12), Roxanne (6/19), Withnail & I (6/19), Spaceballs (6/24), Full Metal Jacket (6/26)
That June 12th weekend double bill of Predator and The Witches of Eastwick has incredible energy, nicely balanced out by Roxanne and Withnail & I a week later. Sandwich those between a De Palma and a Kubrick and you’re in great shape.
July Highlights: Adventures in Babysitting (7/3), Innerspace (7/3), RoboCop (7/17), La Bamba (7/24), The Living Daylights (7/31), The Lost Boys (7/31)
July has something for everyone: family adventure comedies up front, a brilliantly violent action satire in the middle, a music biopic as a palate cleanser, and a double feature of a Bond and some pure 80s pulpy horror comedy to close out the month.
August Highlights: Masters of the Universe (8/7), No Way Out (8/14), Dirty Dancing (8/21), Hamburger Hill (8/28), The Fourth Protocol (8/28)
Can’t get around the fact that things are going to slow down in August, but there’s enough variety to keep folks coming back. Dirty Dancing may be the film that pulls in the crowds, but your secret weapon is No Way Out, a nifty little Kevin Costner vehicle that absolutely rips.
May Highlights: The Mummy (5/7), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (5/14), Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (5/19), Notting Hill (5/28)
Yes, Phantom Menace may be one of the worst Star Wars movies, but people are still going to show up and watch it. More fun will be The Mummy and Notting Hill (one of the GREAT rom-coms of the era), plus some star-studded Shakespeare for a change of pace.
June Highlights: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (6/10), Tarzan (6/16), Big Daddy (6/25), South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (6/30)
The second Austin Powers still holds up, Tarzan will be good for a family night, and Big Daddy helps round out a comedy-centric month. Pro-tip: screen the South Park movie as a sing-along.
July Highlights: Summer of Sam (7/2), American Pie (7/9), The Blair Witch Project (7/14), Eyes Wide Shut (7/16), Lake Placid (7/16), The Wood (7/16), Drop Dead Gorgeous (7/23), Deep Blue Sea (7/28), Runaway Bride (7/30)
Now we’re cooking. The month starts with an underseen Spike Lee and a classic teen comedy, but the middle of the month is where the action is — it would be fun enough to show Blair Witch and Lake Placid back to back, but you also have the opportunity to use those films as bookends to Eyes Wide Shut of all things. Plus you can close out the month with another Julia Roberts rom-com, as well as the dark horse contender for most fun screening, Deep Blue Sea.
August Highlights: Dick (8/4), The Iron Giant (8/4), Mystery Men (8/6), The Sixth Sense (8/6), The Thomas Crown Affair (8/6), Bowfinger (8/13), Perfect Blue (8/20), In Too Deep (8/25), The Muse (8/27)
Talk about a front-loaded month: that first Wednesday to Sunday is an absolute cinematic feast. It’d be tempting to shut down after that — and I’d maybe even recommend a closing night of The Iron Giant or The Sixth Sense — but you’ve got enough left in the tank to keep folks coming back as you taper off.
If, for some reason, these slates don't hit the spot for you, one of the other contenders might catch your eye: 1997, 2003, 2008, or 2019. Happy watching!