Summer is generally a time for running into an air-conditioned theater to watch elaborate escapist fare like “Blade Runner,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Harry Potter” flicks. But some arty gems have also snuck into the summer roster through the years, mixing things up in a way that makes it a season with surprise blended into your CGI popcorn.
Here are the 10 finest hot-weather entertainments of all time.
A sort of female answer to “The Hangover,” this outrageous marital romp was an unexpected treat as it veered from interesting character study to hilarious gross-out comedy to well-earned bonding experience. The cast — including Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Oscar-nominated Melissa McCarthy — couldn’t have been better as the diverse and funny bunch of rice queens.
“The Lion King” (1994)
Summer is a big time for animated films that draw out the whole darned family, but this one towered over the rest because it mixed fun hijinks with great majesty, plus a classic score of pop songs and ballads by Elton John and Tim Rice. Rarely does a cartoon elicit such a mix of playful fun and stirring dramatics. In fact, Simba’s coming of age story was so well received that the Broadway puppet version is still packing ’em in like meerkats.
“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)
Summer movies don’t have to be about car chases and strange walks in the woods. This Wes Anderson film was a gentle, funny and utterly delightful comedy about a pair of kids who flee their New England town, leading to a frantic search involving characters played by the Anderson ensemble — Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Whenever things seemed like they could go in the direction of “a little too twee,” Anderson pulled back the reins and kept the magic going — and glowing.
An ex-pilot with a mortal fear of flying has to takeover the cockpit in this high-octane spoof of disaster films, and the result was a relentless barrage of jokes, sight gags and malapropisms that resulted in so much hilarity you never wanted it to land (or crash). Jim Abrahams and the Zuckers helmed a funny cast that included Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Nielsen, making for a flight that’s still imitated 34 years later. One famous exchange: “Can you fly this plane and land it?” “Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.”
Also unofficially known as “The Amity Horror,” this landmark scare film helped define the summer movie as a three-popcorn thrill ride. The Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of the Peter Benchley book virtually brought a Great White shark into your lap, and the tendency was to jump onto your date in fear. As a result, many relationships — and babies — were pre-conceived during showings of “Jaws.”
“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)
Harrison Ford and Karen Allen toplined this breathlessly exciting adventure tale involving a 1936 search for the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis could get hold of it. (Happens all the time.) The homage to old movie serials was dazzling, from the wacky banter to the giant rollerball coming atcha. Sequels were inevitable.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
Spielberg got high summer-movie scores again with this all-time classic about a 10-year-old boy (Henry Thomas) who befriends a stranded alien, ultimately helping him go back to his planet. The view of the vulnerabilities and triumphs of youth was engaging, and the buddy aspect involving the kid and the ultimate offbeat best friend also spoke to the masses. Thomas and Drew Barrymore were wonderful, and the adults were OK, but the star was E.T., an irresistible creature with something extra.
“Jurassic Park” (1993)
There’s no stopping Spielberg when it comes to summer fare that’s better than fair. This one had a theme-park power outage resulting in the dinosaur clones getting to run free and wreak lots of big-budget havoc. The cast — which included Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough — was terrific, but (as in “E.T.”) the stars were the creatures, rendered in brilliant strokes of special-effects wizardry that made this so much more than a summer escapist film. At times, it was downright poetic.
“Toy Story 3″ (2010)
When the toys mistakenly end up at a daycare center, they come to realize they have to get their wooden and plastic selves home. That’s the plot frame upon which the characters (voiced by the likes of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head) go about their wacky interactions and personal dramas. Not since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” has there been such a great third film of a series. In fact, this one was nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture prize (and it won for Best Animated Feature and Best Song, “We Belong Together”).
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” (1993)
What’s a searing musical biopic got to do with the usual summer roundup at the cineplex? Well, when a movie is this good, who cares? Hardly your typical seasonal blockbuster, “WLGTDWI?” was a powerful drama centering on r&b singer Tina Turner’s explosive talent, as well as her bravery in dealing with hubby Ike Turner’s abuse, which she ultimately broke free from and triumphed. Angela Bassett’s performance as Tina was “simply the best,” and her love of Tina’s fiery soul has got a lot to do with it. Bassett’s turn was passionate and powerful — just what a summer movie needs more of.
Michael Musto is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.