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10 Summer Popcorn Movies That Don't Suck

Although we’re pretty sure it’s playing on every single screen in the country and its Fourth-of-July weekend release is timed to make its ingestion some sort of a patriotic duty, we here at Flavorwire would like to officially discourage you from seeing Transformers: Dark of the Moon, because it is soulless and empty and loud and stupid and basically the personification of all that is derivative and evil in contemporary Hollywood (it is the second sequel to a film based on an ‘80s cartoon based on a toy line — in 3-D!).

And no, we haven’t seen it. You don’t have to have had chlamydia to know it’s not enjoyable. The scorching reviews are warning enough for us: “More leering shots of hot cars and hot women, the absurd gravitas of a military propaganda film, the ‘comic relief’ robots with foreign accents, and an editing style that’s either legitimately avant-garde or timed to the wing-flaps of a deranged hummingbird.” (Scott Tobias); “I miraculously survived a preview screening with a throbbing headache and slight nausea; others may not be so lucky.” (Lou Lumenick); “This is an empty husk of a cinematic entertainment, one that’s knee-deep in shiny computer effects but entirely bereft of anything resembling wit or creativity or craftsmanship. It’s the world’s largest drum kit falling down an eternal flight of stairs.” (Scott Weinberg); “It provided me with one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had at the movies.” (Roger Ebert); and so on.

But the thing is, we’re not art movie snobs around here. We like big, brash summer blockbusters, and Hollywood does them better than anyone; we have the resources to make them well, which is why it’s so depressing that the summer movie season has become a glut of Fast Fives and Pirates 4s and Transformers 3s. The problem is the fundamental misunderstanding that making a film for the widest audience does not have to mean making a film for the lowest common denominator. It is possible to make a big-budget summer movie that blows stuff up real good without insulting the intelligence of the moviegoing public. Don’t believe us? Do yourself a favor this weekend: save the inflated Transformers ticket price, and return to one of the truly great popcorn movies we’ve listed below.

Jaws

It all started here. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestseller is widely regarded as the first “summer blockbuster,” primarily because Universal adopted a wide-release strategy that was, at the time, quite unusual; until then, big movies used a “platform release” strategy — similar to the one that’s still used for most independent and art-house flicks — whereby a film would premiere on a few screens in a couple of big markets, then slowly expand to more and more cities as word of mouth grew. But audience reaction was so strong at Universal’s previews, and public anticipation was so high due to the book’s success, that when the film opened on June 20, 1975, it did so on an unprecedented 464 screens, expanding a month later to 675. It was also — astonishingly — the first major release to use national television spots as part of its advertising strategy (according to Peter Biskind’s indispensable Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, “television was still regarded as a rival medium, not an adjunct to movie promotion”), which paid off handsomely. The movie grossed an unprecedented $7 million in its first weekend in theaters, and the wide-release, media-saturation strategy of summer movies forevermore was born. For that, it’s easy to get pissed off at Jaws, but the trouble is, for whatever it wrought, it is an indisputably great adventure yarn, filled with distinctive characters and rich humor. It is also a study in contrast to current trends; both in an attempt to craft Hitchcockian suspense and because of the mechanical difficulties of the practical prop, the shark itself was seen only occasionally, and the first glimpse was held until nearly halfway in. If anybody tried to make Jaws today, the antagonist would surely be one of those terrible CGI Deep Blue Sea sharks, and we’d see him by the five-minute mark.

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